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Green, purple, pink and even white - asparagus comes in many varieties and is equally at home in a simple soup as it is beside a prized cut of meat. The arrival of this highly versatile vegetable always signals the beginning of spring and its wonderful bounty.
So if you have a bit of a green thumb you may be thinking of growing your own asparagus. Asparagus requires some patience to grow and harvest - it will be two to three years from planting until you can start harvesting your own asparagus spears. However, the best thing about asparagus is that they are a perennial vegetable, which means that, unlike most vegetables, they will continue to produce spears for many years from the same plant.
How to Plant Asparagus
Healthy asparagus plants produce spears to harvest for 15 years or more, so ensure that you have a dedicated space in a sunny lit position to avoid re-planting and that won’t be disturbed by other plants. Here are a few steps you need to take to ensure healthy asparagus plants:
The asparagus bed should be prepared well before the planting. This can be done by feeding the soil with organic matter to enrich it in the autumn, followed by applying mulch in the winter.
Check the pH of the soil, which should ideally be between pH 6.0-8.0.
Clear the asparagus bed from any weeds.
Asparagus can be planted in early spring. It is common to start from one-year-old crowns rather than seeds, which also has the added benefit of being able to harvest sooner.
To plant asparagus, start by digging trenches of about 6 to 8 inches deep, 12 to 18 inches apart.
Plant the crowns flat in the trench. Each should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart from each other.
Cover with the soil, entirely, 6 to 8 inches. This once-only filling method will work if the soil is rather loose. Some gardeners, however, prefer to cover the crowns as they grow, 2 inches of soil at a time, until the trench is full.
How to Harvest Asparagus
When you plant from crowns, you can start harvesting the spears after 2 full years, when they are about 6 to 10 inches above the soil level. Here are some tips on how to harvest asparagus:
Harvest spears before the flower buds are open.
Snap the asparagus off at ground level, or cut with a knife.
The harvest season for mature plants can last for up to 6 to 8 weeks, but around 2 weeks for younger plants.
A rule of thumb is to stop harvesting when the diameter of the spear is less than the width of a pencil.
Allow the ferns to grow after harvest season, and cut back asparagus only after the foliage has turned brown or yellow in autumn. Cut everything back down to soil level.
How to Store Freshly Harvested Asparagus
Place the cut asparagus in a plastic bag to protect it from drying out. If you want to store them in the fridge, it is best to rinse asparagus under cold water, dry completely using a clean tea towel, then bundle them up and wrap the ends with a moist paper towel. Place the bundle in a plastic bag and store in the fridge until ready to eat.
Keeping the base moist prevents the asparagus from developing tough fibres. These should always be trimmed off before cooking.
Got asparagus from the garden or the market? Try asparagus in a wide range of dishes from stir fries to soups, alongside red meat or fish. Here are some recipe collections to get you started: