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GROWING ASPARAGUS IN THE UK


Asparagus may sound one of the more difficult vegetables to grow but in truth the main drawback is simply that it takes time to get from planting or sowing to harvest. Get over that hurdle and asparagus is very simple to care for and rarely attacked by pest or disease. 

Consider as well the fact that it can easily crop for 10 years and in many cases up to 20 years The crop is produced in May to June time when not many other crops are available.

The calendar for asparagus is relatively uncomplicated which simply reflects the fact that it requires so little effort to care for it.

CALENDAR FOR GROWING ASPARAGUS IN THE AVERAGE UK AREA

Before using the calendar below, why not adjust it to your weather conditions?

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Not only will the calendar below be correct for your area but all dates in this site will also be adjusted. Your setting will last for six months or more and still be set when you revisit this site. If you prefer not to adjust the dates they will be the average for the UK.

Prepare ground - late February to early March

Sow seeds inside - the first week of March 2017

Plant shop bought crowns - the first week of April 2017

Transplant seed grown crowns - the first week of April 2017

Apply spring fertiliser - the third week of March 2017

Begin to harvest regularly - when 15cm high, April onwards

Stop harvesting - the last week of May 2017

Cut down yellowed foliage - when foliage yellows in October

ASPARAGUS FROM SEED OR CROWNS?


Asparagus crowns are simply asparagus plants which have been dug up. When you buy them they look rather sorry for themselves, rather shrivelled and insignificant but that it how they should be. Asparagus can also be grown from seed and there are a couple of advantages and disadvantages to each method. The key differences are:
  • One year old crowns will produce a very small crop two years after planting and a good crop from the third year onwards.
     
  • Seed raised plants will take one extra year to get to the same stage.
     
  • Seed raised plants are much cheaper. For comparison, if you buy 20 two year old crowns of the variety Connover's Colossal they will cost you approximately £1 each plus £5 postage, a total cost of £25. A packet of seeds (70 seeds) including postage will cost you around £3.50, a very significant saving.
     
  • Seed grown asparagus will occupy an extra year's space in your garden / allotment with no crops produced.
     
  • Undeniably, raising your own plants from seed gives a greater sense of satisfaction.

PLANTING ASPARAGUS CROWNS


There are a couple of points to note when actually planting asparagus but ground preparation is the most important aspect. Position the asparagus bed where it gets as much sun as possible and consider that nearby shrubs and trees may well grow larger and cast a shadow. Your asparagus bed could well be productive for 20 years so forward planning will pay dividends.

Because asparagus have very shallow roots they need to be weeded by hand so prepare the ground well beforehand by removing all weeds. The best time to prepare the ground is in mid autumn or late February to early March which will allow the soil to settle before planting begins. Dig the ground to at least a spade's depth and add lots of well-rotted organic matter.

The ideal time to plant new asparagus is the first week of April 2017. We don't recommend planting them in autumn (although they are sold at that time of year) because the young crowns are more likely to suffer from water logging. In addition, the crowns sold in autumn will not yet have gone into dormancy reducing your chances of success. Follow these steps:

  • Dig a trench 25cm / 10in deep and 30cm / 1ft wide.
     
  • Fill the bottom 8cm / 3in with well rotted organic matter from the compost or heap or multi purpose compost.

  • Using the soil from the dug trench fill the remaining hole, so that the peak level of the soil above the trench is 3cm or so higher than the surrounding soil.
     
  • Shape the soil over the trench into mound as shown in the picture below.
  • Asparagus planting

  • Take each asparagus crown and place on the centre, top of the mound and spread out the roots. Cover with well dug soil so that the top of the crown is 7cm / 3in below the surface of the soil. Gently firm down the soil and water well to further settle down the ground.
     
  • Each plant should be 40cm / 16in apart and rows should be 45cm / 18in apart. Allow a border of about 60cm / 2ft around an asparagus bed to let the roots spread.

CARING FOR ASPARAGUS


Asparagus an easy maintenance vegetable to grow and require very little attention throughout the year. The key tasks are:

WATERING AND FEEDING


Asparagus are shallow rooted plants so they will need to be watered occasionally when conditions are unusually dry. As with most vegetables, a thorough drenching with water once is better than several. Feed once a year with a long lasting fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone. One good handful per plant should be sufficient.

Mulch once a year in autumn with well rotted compost or similar material. This will not only insulate the crowns from the worst of the winter weather but will also suppress many of the weeds and conserve water in the summer.

WEEDING


Regular weeding will need to be carried out to stop the weeds taking moisture and nutrients from the soil. It's best to weed often because hoeing is not really an option, it will probably the asparagus roots which grow near the surface.

MULCHING


Regular weeding will need to be carried out to stop the weeds taking moisture and nutrients from the soil. It's best to weed often because hoeing is not really an option, it will probably the asparagus roots which grow near the surface.

PRUNING


When the foliage turns yellow in autumn cut it down to 5cm / 2in above ground level. If you don't prune in autumn the stronger winter winds may well pull some of the roots out of the ground and damage the crowns. Don't prune before the foliage is yellow, green foliage will still be absorbing energy and storing it in the roots.

WHEN AND HOW TO HARVEST ASPARAGUS


Asparagus tips should be harvested when they are about 15cm / 6in tall. If you let them grow larger than this much of the tenderness and flavour will lost. As a rough guide, harvesting can normally begin in mid April onwards but let the appearance and size of the spears be your guide.

When an established asparagus bed starts to produce a crop you need to check it and harvest every two days because the spears grow so quickly, 5cm / 2in a day is not unusual.

Harvesting asparagus

Stop harvesting in the last week of May 2017 and allow the remaining spears to grow tall and produce energy absorbing foliage. Do not harvest asparagus plants in their first year of life and only harvest four spears per plant in the second year. After that, harvest as described above.

To harvest, take a sharp knife and cut the spears off about 3cm / 1in below the soil surface. Asparagus is like sweetcorn, the minute it is harvested it begins to loose sweetness. For the sweetest and tastiest spears, cook and eat immediately after harvesting. If that's not possible store in the fridge or freeze.

ASPARAGUS PEST AND DISEASES


For most, asparagus are very healthy plants but slugs, asparagus beetle and occasionally moles do cause problems.

SLUGS - Asparagus are not their first choice but the tips of the spears can sometimes be eaten. Use your favourite slug repellent / trap to solve the problem.

ASPARAGUS BEETLE - Immediately recognisable, these are black and white on their back, with orange on the lower sides and near the head. They are 6mm to 7mm long so are readily visible. In spring when the young shoots begin to appear the beetles lay their eggs (light brown and long-oval shaped) on the spears (remove the eggs by hand as well) which feed on the young spears. Several generations can occur each year and the adults feed on the foliage as well as the spears.

The first course of action is to pick off any you see, in most cases this will get rid of them. The adults are most active in the afternoon.

Clear up the foliage at the end of the season and remove any other leaves and debris around the plants at the same time. The beetles hibernate in debris around the plant. If that doesn't work, spray with a pesticide containing pyrethrum which should be applied just as the spears appear above ground and up to 6 weeks after that.

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

Date: 26 April 2016 From: Not Given
I planted my crown back in March but nothing has come through yet. Have they failed and is it too late to go and plant some more? Thanks
 
ANSWER: It's difficult to be specific because you don't say what part of the UK you come from. Also you don't say when in March you planted them, there is a four week difference between early and late March. In cooler parts of the UK it wouldn't be surprising if they have not appeared yet although in warmer areas they should be appearing now. I certainly wouldn't dig them up yet. Wait at least another month. At that point it may be worth gently uncovering the soil from the top of one of the plants and see if there is any sign of life.

If you need to replant, this can be done in autumn (see the main article above) as well as spring.


Date: 20 July 2015 From: Michael Steele
I have just taken over an allotment plot, which has not been attended for well over a year. There are ten plants across the plot, my neighbour tells me it has been there for three years, it's all overgrown, can I save it.
 
ANSWER: You certainly can and if the asparagus is three years old it is very well worth the effort. You have clearly identified the asparagus plants from the weeds because you say there are ten plants. So, you need to remove the weeds and when that's done the asparagus will come up next spring.

The roots of asparagus are shallow so your only option is hand-weeding. If you persevere you will have an established asparagus bed next year. It may well take a couple of years to completely remove all the weeds.

Date: 19 April 2015 From: Not Given
Should you harvest all the spears on established asparagus or leave some to grow?
 
ANSWER: You need to leave some so that they transfer energy to the root system for next year's growth. Stop harvesting in late May / early June depending on where you live and let the remaining spears grow of their own accord.

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