Asparagus is the only vegetable that I can think of that is a perennial. All other veggies are annuals, meaning they grow, set seed and die, only for the cycle to resume the following season. Granted, it does take three years until you can start harvesting asparagus spears if grown from seed (you can deduct one year if you purchase one year old crowns such as the ones I’m selling in my plant nursery). But with a little patience, it’s a great long term investment as once established, asparagus will continue to crop for 20+ years. It’s therefore worth putting in the effort to set up the area you want to plant asparagus in properly but once this ground work is done, asparagus requires very little maintenance and can be left undisturbed in the ground. Given how expensive asparagus is in the supermarket, it’s worth considering growing some of your own. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and is very easy to grow. We set up an asparagus bed about five years ago and it’s honestly one of the best things we have done in the garden. Every September and October, we are able to harvest 1-2 bundles of asparagus per week from a relatively small space in our city garden.
Asparagus is rich in fibre and very low in fat. It also contains many vitamins, including vitamin A and C, as well as minerals such as iron. Asparagus can be consumed in a variety of ways. Asparagus always tastes best eaten as soon after harvesting it as possible. My favourite way to eat asparagus is freshly steamed. We don’t add anything to it, not even butter, salt or pepper. It’s simply delicious eaten like this on its own. Asparagus is extremely versatile and can be used in other dishes such as frittata. Chances are you’ve been invited to a party or function where you’ve been asked to bring a plate. You can pretty much guarantee that someone will bring asparagus wraps – spears of asparagus wrapped in buttered bread.
You can expect to pay an average of $3 per bundle in supermarkets in New Zealand during the spring when asparagus is in season. Homegrown asparagus tastes so much fresher, sweeter and tenderer than store bought spears. With the help of this guide, you’ll hopefully be on your way to growing your own asparagus successfully in the garden.
When to sow
As it takes three years until maturity, you can pretty much sow asparagus from seed all year round. I prefer sowing asparagus in the spring so it can develop over the summer. I plant seedlings out in early autumn so they have time to become established before the cold weather sets in.
To soak or not to soak?
Some gardeners prefer to soak hard-coated seeds prior to sowing them, including asparagus, in order to aid germination. Other examples of seeds that gardeners might soak include edible sweet peas, snow peas, ornamental sweet peas, beans, corn and okra. I generally soak asparagus seeds for a few hours prior to sowing them.
If you’re planning to grow asparagus from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours. Traditionally, asparagus is green but it’s also possible to find purple asparagus, which looks quite cool. There are quite a few different varieties on the market in New Zealand, but the one which Egmont Seeds has available is called IC157 F2 Hybrid. This is a proven variety of asparagus that is tolerant to rust. It produces high yields and the spears are large in size. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
Growing asparagus from seed
Asparagus can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Asparagus seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinated seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I placed the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then placed the incubators on a heat pad indoors and sprayed plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture was very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully.
From now on, it’s warm enough to simply sow asparagus seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix and simply leave them outside to germinate naturally.
How to care for asparagus seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their corn seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from September onwards. Palmers stock asparagus seedlings. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade asparagus seedlings delivered direct to your door. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings, delivery is free. At the moment, Awapuni has the variety Mary Washington in stock.
I also have a variety of asparagus seedlings available for sale in my own plant nursery. I am currently selling one year old green Mary Washington asparagus crowns in punnets of 6 plants for just $2 each. This means that you can knock off one year and they will start cropping in just two years from now! I am also selling purple asparagus seedlings in punnets of 6 plants for $2 each. To reserve yours, please text me on 021 02762091.
How to care for asparagus plants
Be sure to water plants every day while they are still in punnets or seed raising trays, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. In November and December, plants are in their most active growing phase. Liquid feed asparagus weekly to encourage the growth of healthy, strong leaves.
How to prepare an asparagus bed
For the best results, pick a sunny spot in the garden that receives at least six hours of sunshine per day. Make sure that the soil is well drained in the area you are planning on growing asparagus. Add compost, sheep pellets and some general garden fertiliser. Dig into the soil and rake the area so that it is nice and level. Space the plants at least 5 cm apart. To give you an idea of how many plants to put in, from our bed of approximately 20 plants, we are able to harvest 1-2 bundles of asparagus per week when it is in season.
Note that after asparagus has finished cropping the plants go to seed. They send up very tall fern-like foliage which can look untidy, which is why our asparagus bed is at the back of the house where no one but us can see it.
Harvesting your asparagus
The asparagus crowns underground will send up spears each year (even in the first three years, but they will be immature and thus unsuitable for harvesting). Pick spears as they crop up and are large enough to harvest, as this will encourage the growth of further asparagus.