When the icy frosts of winter have sfully ubsided you can prepare your garden bed for another wonderful late winter/early spring crop: Asparagus, which should be ready for an August/September plant. This is an unusual vegetable that you either hate or love, but actually grow to love as I have. Pan fried Asparagus in butter is definitely a summer fave of mine. Asparagus plants are a low maintenance plant once the hard work of preparing the bed is over, and the regular results will be well worth the investment in time. In fact, you could well save yourself a fortune. Asparagus prices are understandably high, due to the hand picking, time-consuming labour involved in growth and harvesting. Asparagus crowns can be purchased from your local garden centre for under $10, so is a smart investment for budget savvy gardeners.
Preparation: It will take 2-3 years to get your crop strong and they need a consistent home. Asparagus will enjoy your garden beds for a long time, so plant them away from your quickly rotating crops, so that they are undisturbed. A month or so before planting make sure that the garden bed is topped up and refreshed with rich compost or manure at various stages to keep it full of nutrients. They should be planted in a sunny spot, with a deep bed, so that soil is able to drain well. Asparagus hate wet feet. Planting them in a moveable garden box is a wise idea if you are not planning on staying around for 5 years or so.
Planting: Plan to plant these in early spring, late August/September, and on the day of purchase as they must not be left to dry out. In fact, it can be helpful to soak the crowns in warm water for half an hour or so before planting. These nutritious plants need a very rich soil to thrive, free from nasty weeds and rocks.
Dig a shallow trench (20cm deep and 30cm wide). Place the crowns in the trench spread evenly throughout the row about 40cm apart. As the plants grow in the initial phases, push more soil into the trench until the trench is eventually level with the garden bed soil, without fully covering the spear joins (the crown).
Maintanance and Harvest: Make sure to keep soil moist, but not saturated, and well fed in August through till October. Again, this is a long growing crop. The asparagus is ready when the green spears fade to yellow. For the first year, as soon as the spears yellow, cut one spear back and wait again for another year’s growth. The second year cut all spears back. These vegetables will not be truly ready for your classic New Zealand asparagus rolls, for 3 years!! In the 3rd year, harvest your spears regularly. But don’t let the long wait time put you off, as these culinary delights will be well worth the long wait, with these juicy goodies gifting you with 20 years of rewards!
By Holly Jean Booker