Asparagus a cut above the rest


I have always considered asparagus a bit of a snob in the ordered world of the veggie plot. 

It requires its own personal bit of dirt that cannot be disturbed, dies down completely in winter, cannot be picked for a couple of years after planting and has a short harvesting season. 

But if you have never tasted freshly-picked, thin heads of asparagus straight from the garden you are in for a major treat. 

Choose a free-draining, weed-free site in sun or part-shade and assheltered as possible – especially from late Wakatipu frosts, as these can damage the emerging spears. 

Seed is sometimes available but most asparagus is sold as one or two-year-old crowns and planted in early spring. It’s important the crowns don’t dry out before planting so either wrap the roots in wet newspaper or soak the crowns in warm water for about an hour before planting. 

Crowns should be spaced 30cm apart in a trench that is 15-20cm deep. Make a ridge in the middle, place the crown on top and gently spread out the roots. Cover the crowns with 5-6cm of soil and gradually fill in the trench as the shoots emerge – but don’t cut them. 

Keep the bed weed free and well watered, especially in the first year. 

It really is essential not to over-crop asparagus. Don’t be tempted as it will reduce future yields. So, do not cut any spears the first summer and only a few the second summer, then by year three the plant will be well established. 

To harvest, when the spears are approx 20cm tall, snap them at ground level or cut them below the surface with a knife. Always leave a few spears to mature and supply energy for the next season’s crop. 

In autumn, when the fern foliage turns yellow, cut down to ground level.