In Greek, asparagus means “first sprout” and in Latin officinalis, the apothecary shop.
Asparagus is a ferny perennial plant of the lily family and grows to one and a half metres tall with both male and female plants (dioecious).
Favourite Growing Conditions
Asparagus likes weed free, deep, friable, rich soil with a pH of about 6.5 to 7. If you have heavy clay soil try growing them in pots or creating a no dig garden above the ground. Asparagus can be used as a border or ornamental hedge, harvesting just enough spears for .your needs. The plants are actually very attractive and ferny, turning a lovely gold colour in autumn.
Plant crowns in late winter or early spring while the plants are still dormant.
If using 2 year old crowns dig a deep hole about 20 cm (10 inches), for the long roots. Then add aged compost with plenty of organic matter so that it is well drained. Make a 10cm-high (4in) ridge of soil in the centre of the hole and place the crown on top of this ridge. Space plants 30-45cm (12-18in) apart. Spread the roots evenly and replace the rest of the soil, leaving the bud tips just visible.
Asparagus suits a temperate zone but is easy to grow in a subtropical climate as it thrives on the rain and is not attractive to parasites, pests or diseases because it produces a compound called asparagusic acid. In the first two years allow the foliage to grow and feed the plant. Keep the plants well watered and weed free and top dress with compost or manure.
After winter, or when the foliage browns off, cut off the old tops about 7.5 cm from the soil surface. Apply a generous dressing of compost and well-rotted manure to feed the bed for its spring flush of growth. Top with a thick layer of mulch.
The flowers on the male plants look like yellowish green bells and male asparagus usually have better quality spears.
The female’s flowers are smaller and quite inconspicuous. The females produce little red berries in autumn, collect them and try to keep the berries from falling on the ground and germinating as too many plants will choke the bed.
Once established the plant lives for up to 30 years growing a thick, fibrous mat of roots.
It takes about two or three years for the sown seedling’s root system to mature before you should harvest the spears. Harvest if the spears are thicker than a pencil and cut them, before the spears branch, usually at approximately 20 cm high. If they are skinnier leave them to develop to help feed the developing crown. In year three harvest for about 4 weeks, then let the plants gain some strength. After that harvest over a period of 6 – 8 weeks, then leave to ‘fern out’, this allows the crowns to restore energy for the next season. Harvesting (in Australia) should stop at the end of December or early January when it gets too warm for the spears to thicken.
Can be eaten raw when freshly picked on the same day or lightly steam. To freeze blanch in boiling water, refresh in ice water, drain and cool in the refrigerator then freeze in sealed bags.
Asparagus is high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and potassium. Asparagus also contains glutathione, an antioxidant that supports liver detoxification. It has good fibre and has been tested for treatment of cancer tumours.