Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The end of the Asparagus season

Received wisdom tells us that in England you should stop harvesting Asparagus on 21st June - Midsummer's Day. You mustn't keep on cutting those lovely succulent spears - at some point you have to allow the plants to grow some fern (leaves) in order to photosynthesize solar energy to build up their strength for the next year. This year I stopped harvesting mine in the first week of June, because we had rather strange weather in the Spring, and everything came on much earlier than normal. I started harvesting early, so I felt Ishould also finish harvesting early.

Here's a photo sequence that explains a few things about growing Asparagus. First the Asparagus bed in production mode - you can see that each plant has put up several "spears" or shoots. The spears of the variety I grow (Gijnlim) are purple as they emerge from the soil, but they gradually turn green on exposure to the light.


When the spears are about 12" / 30cm tall you harvest them, cutting them about an inch or so below the surface of the soil. This is what you get:


The bottom part of the spears will be a bit tough and fibrous, but the rest will be lovely and succulent. When preparing the spears for cooking, gently bend them and you will find that they snap at the point which is the boundary between the good bit and the not-so-good bit. Very convenient!

Eventually, when the harvesting season draws to a close for another year you must resist the temptation to cut more spears, and you just have to let them grow. Like this:


The two-foot tall spear in the centre of this picture may at first sight look like a complete one-person serving of lovely Asparagus, but it will already be beyond the usable stage. Look closely at the tip:


The leaf-buds are already swelling and beginning to separate. Before long they will fall away from the main stem and look like this:


Eventually the plants will produce a lot of fern, and the bed will look like this (photo from 2010):


Hey, this picture from last year nicely demonstrates my crop-rotation! Climbing beans were in the bed where the roots are now (at left); and on the right of this photo (in the bed where my climbing beans are this year) you can see the plants that grew up to produce all that wonderful Purple Sprouting Broccoli this Spring...

I find that the tall Asparagus ferns eventually get top-heavy and will flop about all over the place, especially when wet, so it is best to provide them with some sort of support - like some string suspended from stout posts.

In the Autumn the fern will go yellow and die, at which point you need to cut it off at ground level. It will also probably produce some little red berries - its seeds. I suppose you could sow these and try to raise some new plants, but I haven't tried that so I can't offer any advice in this area. My Asparagus was bought as
1-year-old plants.


This week I applied a top-dressing of general-purpose fertiliser to my Asparagus bed to help it to recover from my recent depredations. Since then we have a had a bit of rain, which is welcome, because it will have helped the fertiliser to work its way into the soil.

13 comments:

  1. Really useful post.

    We aren't growing asparagus this year, in fact I have never grown it, even when I had my allotment.

    It is definately on our list of crops to have if we do get another allotment.

    Martin

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  2. That is very pretty! I had no idea asparagus looked like that when it grew up. very cool.

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  3. Very educational. Thanks. Mine's only a year old so I'll have to remember your advice when the time comes.

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  4. Fascinating cycle.

    Asparagus is one thing we haven't tried to grow yet. I rather like it, but I'm the only one here who does. Still, I'd like to find a little space some day... the foliage is so striking later in the season too. Lovely.

    Sara

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  5. Around here, In the country you can find asparagus growing along wire fences. It's from the asparagus berries that the birds eat. The birds eat, rest on the wire, mother nature calls, and then later you get a nice plant.

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  6. Asparagus are quite decorative really. They look like a waterfall when they have the ferns. Remind me of fennel a bit too. Some day I hope to grow asparagus.

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  7. I enjoyed this post. I had no idea how asparagus grew as I've never grown it before! Thanks!

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  8. Learnt a lot about Asparagus from this post. The fern with red berries is rather pretty.

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  9. Oh wow, this is a really interesting post Mark - thank you. I love the huge spear - it really does look like the feeding of the five thousand!

    I have bought some asparagus seeds and have been meaning to research them to see how they grow. Now I will just come here to look, how fabulous :)

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  10. Thanks Mark! I didn't know Asparagus set seed! This is great information!

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  11. In coastal parts of Croatia, there are wild asparagus to be found in fields. They are rather hard to spot (you have to have a 'trained eye'). They are considered a delicacy and are rather expensive. My asparaguses sets fruits and seeds too.

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  12. The fruits are very pretty. Dangling like bulb on Christmas tree.

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  13. WE use the fern in with cut flowers. We have grown new plants from the berries but not for eating just for decorative fern.

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