Asparagus

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Asparagus officinalis

 

Quick Reference

Optimum Soil Temperature 18-27°
Days to Germination 25-30
Days to Harvest Second or Third season from transplant
Direct Sow or Transplant Transplant
Distance Apart 30cm
Soil pH 6.0-6.5
Annual/Biennial /Perennial  Perennial

History

Ancient Egypt cultivated asparagus over 2000 years ago.

The Greeks ate wild asparagus shoots, whereas the Romans cultivated it.  In fact Julius Caesar was said to prefer his asparagus with butter.  The Romans would freeze their asparagus in the Alps for use later.  It was also dried.

According to texts if was grown in French monasteries as early as 1459.  They earliest mention of it in English literature however is not until 1667 by Samuel Pepys

The Persian word ‘asparag’ means shoot.  In ancient Greek this was ‘aspharagos’.  This in term became ‘asparagus’ in classical Latin.  In medieval times with was shortened to ‘sparagus’.  In the 16th Century ‘sperage’ became used in English Speaking countries.  The peasants however referred to it as ‘sparrow grass’.  During the 19th Century the term Asparagus came to be used.

Purple asparagus has less fibre than green asparagus but a sweeter taste and are therefore excellent in salads.  It originated in Italy.  While the spears are purple the ferns are green.  The spears will retain it’s colour well but will revert to green with prolonged cooking.

Growing

Asparagus plants last for up to 20 years, so choose your plot carefully.  It can be grown both by seed or by dividing a crown (usually in late winter).  Crowns are planted out in winter.

Asparagus is NOT harvested the first year after transplant (which is torture).  You may be able to sparingly harvest some the second year.  This allows the crown time to develop fully.  By the third year you should be able to harvest your asparagus every few days when they are 13 to 18 cm high.  Once fully mature the harvest will last for an extended period of time.

Harvest your spears by cutting them with a serrated knife 2-10cm below the ground.  Take care not to cut the actual crown.

Storing harvested asparagus:  You can keep asparagus fresh by placing it in a glass with about 3cm of water.  Place a plastic bag over the the spears and glass and put int he refrigerator.  Asparagus freezes well but should be blanched first (excellent flavour).  Canned (good flavour).  The spears could also be dried for use in soups or stews (fair flavour).

Seed Saving:  Assuming your plants are not F1 you will find the seeds inside the small red berries produced by the female asparagus plant.

Maintenance

Asparagus likes to be kept watered and weed free.

Ferns can grow up to 2 metres tall.  These can be cut back in autumn

Fun Facts

White asparagus is actually just green asparagus that has had soil mounded around it to keep the sun off.  Without photosynthesis the spears will be white.  Growing and harvesting of white asparagus is one of the most labout intensive crops because of this.

it is a diuretic

Like the smell of bitter almonds with cyanide – not everyone can smell ‘asparagus pee’, that unique smell when you pass water after eating asparagus.

The largest grower of asparagus is Chine, followed by Peru and then Germany.

Asparagus is able to tolerate salt better than most other crops.  In previous years farmers have used salt as a herbicide, a practice that is not recommended.

Asparagus plants are either male or female.  The female plant does not produce as many spears but instead produces a red berry.  Commercial growers we have an all male revue as it were.

A good source of vitamin A and C

Spears grow at an incredible rate up to 15cm in one day – you can literally watch them grow!

Oceana County Michigan, USA is the Asparagus Capital of the World.  The National Asparagus Festival is held there in June each year.

Europäisches Spargelmuseum is the European Asparagus Museum located in Schrobenhausen, Bavaria, Germany – well worth a visit!

Problems

Damp conditions can cause root rot.

Pests

Slugs and snails can attack young spears.

Companion Planting

Basil, Chives, Marjoram, Parsley, Tomato