How to grow

  • Grow at Home: Asparagus

    What it is

    Asparagus (Asparagus Officinalis) is a perennial flowering plant species in the genus Asparagus. It is long lived and once established the plants can last for 20 to 30 years.   Its young shoots are a much sought after spring vegetable.

    Types

    Asparagus_spears_in_soil

    Asparagus is either male or female. The male plants produce more plentiful and larger spears so gardeners often prefer them.  The female plants expend a huge amount of energy producing seeds and so provide less for your table.

    In the past all asparagus varieties produced a mix of male and female plants. However, ways have now been found to effectively propagate all-male varieties of asparagus.  So look out for all male varieties such as the Jersey Series when buying your seeds or crowns.

    Timings

    Asparagus is a vegetable for the patient gardener.   It can be grown from seed or from mature crowns bought from a garden centre. The plant needs to establish a strong root system though so, if grown from seed, the shoots will not be ready for harvest for 3 or even 4 years.  Even if grown from a crown, the shoots should not be harvested until the year following planting.  In short, asparagus epitomises the saying "Good things come to those that wait"!

    Seeds

    IN GREENHOUSE/ WINDOWSILL:             February
    Depth: 1/2" (1cm)

    TRANSPLANT OUTDOORS:                       April to June

    Crowns

    SOW CROWNS DIRECTLY OUTDOORS:   April to June
    Depth: 6" (15cm)

    Both

    DISTANCE BETWEEN ROWS:                     30” (80cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN PLANTS:                  20” (50cm)

    HARVEST:                                                    May and June – (once plant is mature - see Timing above)

    Planting

    Asparagus does not like to have its feet “wet,” so be sure that your garden bed has excellent drainage.  Raised Beds are a great place to plant asparagus and mean a lot less digging.

    How to plant

    Firstly, clear the bed and make sure there are no weeds.  Then, work in a 2"-4" layer of compost, manure or soil improver.
    Prepare shallow trenches about 12" (30cm) wide and 6" (15cm) deep.  You might want to make these slightly deeper if you have sandy soil (8"/ 20cm) or slightly shallower if you have heavy soil (4"/ 10cm)
    Space the crowns 15" to 20" (38-50cm) apart in rows that are 30" (80cm) apart. Spread the roots out in the trench with the buds pointing upward.
    Lastly, once planted, completely fill in the trench with soil.  In your grandfather's day many people used to gradually fill the trenches with soil as the plants grew but no one seems to do this anymore.  When the trench is filled, add a 4-8" (10-20 cm) layer of mulch and water regularly.

    For the first year, just let the asparagus grow to give the crown a chance to get well established. If growing from seed then repeat this for the next 2 to 3 years! The following spring, remove the old fern growth from the previous year.  You should see new spears begin to emerge.

    Pests

    Though not a huge threat, the main threat to your asparagus is the Asparagus Beetle - read more about this in out Pests & Diseases: Asparagus Beetle Blog

    Harvesting

    Only harvest from established plants - see Timings above.  Allow the shoots to grow to roughly 6” (15cm) then cut it 2” (5cm) under the ground with a sharp knife.  This will give a partially blanched stem where the lower stem has had no light.  The French, who are great lovers of asparagus,  like to grow it under mounds, blanching them when the tops peek out.  They then cut them 10” (25cm) under the ground.  So if you prefer your asparagus white then this is an option.

    The spears grow quickly so leave it no longer than every other day to check for spears ready to harvest.  They will quickly become woody and inedible of you miss your window,

    Once an asparagus spear starts to open and have foliage, it’s too tough for eating. Stop harvesting spears when the diameter of the spears decreases to the size of a pencil. At that point, it’s time to let them grow and gain strength for next spring.  

    Immature plants will have a season of only 2 to 3 weeks. With proper care though this will extend to up to 8 weeks for established plants.

    When the harvest is over let the plants grow into fun leafy plants. Always leave at least one spear.  Keep the area around them weeded to keep the plants strong. Cut back the asparagus to about 2" (5cm) above the ground in autumn when the foliage has died back and turned yellowy, brown.

    Lastly, before cutting back, mark the bed well so that you don't accidently dig up your precious plants.  Otherwise your patient waiting will have been for nothing!

    Storing

    Asparagus does not last for long, best to eat the spears as fresh as possible. It has to be one of the main benefits of growing it yourself to pick it straight from the garden to eat the same day.  You can of course blanch them and then freeze them, but they are never as good.

    If you do need to store them then the best way, if you have enough space in your fridge, is to  treat them just like cut flowers and place the spears in a 2-3" of water.  Alternatively, bundle the spears together, wrap the stem ends of the spears in a moist paper towel, and place the bundle in a plastic bag. Store in the salad drawer of your refrigerator. 

    Eating

    Simple is best.  Lots of melted butter or a simple Hollandaise Sauce are perfect accompaniments.

    To see an asparagus bed being put together and get more hints and tips why not visit our YouTube channel and take a look at Madeleine's helpful video Growing Asparagus ?

  • Grow at Home - Chilli Peppers

     

    We’ve enjoyed a bumper crop of chillies this year and have dried and stored the harvest to use in oils, sauces and recipes throughout the year. If you’ve never grown chillies then make this the year you do!

    When to Grow

    Sow from late January - this is one crop that really enjoys being given an early start and plenty of time to ripen before the end of summer.  Many varieties can be grown outside, but most benefit from protection and do best undercover, in the greenhouse or a windowsill at home.

    Sunbubble is a great alternative to a greenhouse for a little extra growing space under cover.

    If you're growing inside then early sowing is idea. If you plan to move plants outside eventually delay until March or April to ensure the temperature will have risen in time for transplanting.

    How to Grow

    Scatter seeds thinly across a tray of compost – Bamboo Seed trays are a robust and sustainable alternative to plastic – and cover them lightly with compost or vermiculite.

    Water well and place in a warm location such as a propagator or sunny window sill.

    Keep the soil moist and seedlings should be large enough to transplant after 2-3 weeks. Vigoroot planters are ideal to encourage healthy compact plants.

    If you're growing your plants outside, place them outside for a few hours at a time to harden off until you feel confident to leave them out overnight, avoiding frosts. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with well drained soil and expect a smaller and later crop than any in a greenhouse.

    Water regularly for a bumper crop and once the first flowers appear a fortnightly feed with a general purpose fertiliser will keep the plant cropping well throughout the season.

    Encourage the fruit to set by gently spraying with tepid water and although chillies are self fertile, a gentle shake of the flowing stems to release the pollen can help them along.

    Harvesting

    Chillies can be ready to harvest from late July depending on the conditions. By early Autumn the fruits will have developed their rich colour, full flavour and heat if that’s what you’re going for.

    Snip the chillies from your plant and cut a little way up the stem to leave the green cap and a short length of stalk intact. Avoid any imperfect fruit, as any blemishes will quickly worsen in storage and may turn rotten, infecting healthy fruits too.

    Storing

    Dry thin-skinned chillies, like cayennes and jalapenos, to hang up in your kitchen and use as you need them through the winter. Any thicker-skinned types, like habaneros, are best frozen whole – chop them straight from the freezer to use in your cooking.

    Thread a large needle with strong cotton or fishing line, then poke the needle through the fattest part of the stem of each chilli. String them together side by side - If you angle the needle at 45 degrees to horizontal, the chillies will sit in a spiral, like a bunch of grapes – the traditional Mexican way of hanging them up, known as a ‘ristra’.

    Aim for a string of chillies about 60cm long - any longer forces the chillies together, making it difficult for them to dry. Hang your chillies somewhere warm and after a couple of weeks they will have dried completely. Then use them to pep up your cooking or to make flavoured oil – a great present for keen cooks.

     

    Try this delicious chilli recipe to add a kick to your winter veg!

     

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