There really is nothing quite like freshly picked asparagus. So delicious that many admittedly perish even before reaching the pot. One can only but agree with Sarah Raven, who dotingly refers to them as ‘Garden Caviar’, even though I am not quite the Caviar devotee.
After much research, our elected varieties are; Gijnlim, Backlim and Purple Passion. According to various trusted garden scriptures, March is the best time to plant asparagus crowns, preferably on a dry day, which to my luck, was so granted. Most of the editorial on the subject of planting, seem to indicate, to more or less, bung them into the well prepared ground. That is, unless of course, if like us, you have heinously heavy clay soil. If so, you are in for a real treat…
Somewhat comforting, the mighty Monty Don seems to have similar soil conditions. In his magnum opus, ‘The Complete Gardener‘, he shares his perfected method for planting asparagus in heavy clay soil, based on previous failed attempts. In a nutshell, he suggests digging the border, to incorporate a 10 cm layer of grit, further adding layers of compost, then making the ridges over which one lays the crowns and finally covering with top soil. All to improve drainage and soil condition, which sounded very plausible indeed, although not a job for the faint hearted. Not long after starting on my first patch, was I wishing to have purchased just the one set of crowns, instead of three…
Our soil is terribly heavy and as a bonus, pretty waterlogged due to all the recent rain. Digging in these conditions is taxing, particularly when trying to dig, three trenches; 3m long, 40-50cm deep. Carrying and emptying, copious bags of hideously heavy grit, only adds to the pleasure. However, we have done this before when planting lavender and the result is astounding. That thought, and the fact that as Asparagus are perennials, do this once and enjoy the proceeds for many years to come.
Monty advocates a sunny and sheltered position. His asparagus beds are 1m wide and no more than 10m long, as the clever man suggests that any longer and one will be tempted to walk through them instead of around. From that one can only conclude that the crowns require a spot in the garden, where they won’t be disturbed. As with many things, one can only provide what your plot permits. Our Asparagus beds, certainly will have the most sheltered, sunny and peaceful spot in the walled garden. The caveat is that the beds are right next to the wall and the bed is no more than 60cm wide.
Be it limited, the width, should be able to accommodate our single row of plants. Furthermore, with all the digging, loving layers of grit, superb compost, top soil and mulch, I am quietly confident that the crowns will be happy and reward our labours with bountiful garden caviar. The first test will be in May; if shoots appear, the crowns are alive and doing well. My fingers are crossed.
- Do not cut a single spear on their first appearance. It will take every ounce of strength on my part not to indulge, but don’t is the order of the day.
- In November, cut the ferns and ensure you do so, before any berries appear. There is a danger for the seeds to germinate and female plants may grow.
- Next spring, limit cutting to two spears, and only from the strongest crowns.
- The year after that stop cutting on the 1st of June to allow time for the plants to regenerate.
- Finally, in the next year, cut spears to your hearts content!
As they say, the proof is in the pudding, which after allowing for full plant maturity will be in 2015. Until then, yours truly will depressingly be at the mercy of the commercial asparagus trade….