The first big project for this year on Plot #59 is the planting out of an asparagus bed.
Now, this is a serious matter. Actually, that’s worth capitalising – it’s a Serious Matter. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a long-term crop with a long-term return on investment, providing the job’s done properly. Everything I’ve read on the subject recommends that asparagus crowns should be given royal treatment: a patch of ground in a sunny but sheltered spot, with minimal weed interference, fertile soil and good drainage. All of which, in our case, is going to require:
- An initial deep dig to get rid of as much perennial and problem ephemeral weed as possible.
- Secondary digging to excavate a trench, about a spade’s blade deep.
- The addition of plenty of horse muck, mixed with soil and a lot of gravel, for drainage.
- The creation of ridges to plant the asparagus crowns on top of (again: drainage).
- Back-filling to a suitable level, then mounding up as the plants develop.
- Setting up wind-breaks to stop the young plants being bent out of shape as soon as they appear.
Over the past few weeks, weather allowing, I’ve been proceeding with step #1. The patch of ground had already been selected the year before, and covered over with a tarp to help kill off the massive wild geranium clump that was growing in the middle of it. Pulling back the tarp in early January revealed the following:
The patch wasn’t 100% cleared – most likely because the tarp was silver rather than black, but it’s what we had – but it was good enough to make a start on the digging. A few sessions later and I’ve rough-dug a four-by-two metre patch, clearing out three or four rubble sacks’ worth of weed root and rhizome, as well as a large plant pot’s worth of the usual miscellaneous rubbish – glass, crockery sherds, plastic, twine, metal, brick, you name it – that our plot has been so amply supplied with by past tenants. (There’s an actual midden-heap right in the middle of the plot, which has been no end of fun to dig out, I can tell you.)
Next up: manuring and re-digging, then gravelling and ridging. Finally – round about the end of March or early April, when my 30-crown, three-variety order from Blackmoor nurseries arrives, I’ll be planting, back-filling, setting up wind-breaks and then… waiting. It’ll be another two or three years before the crowns are well-established enough to start picking, but hopefully another 20 or 25 before they’re exhausted and need to be replaced. And of course, once they’re in there will be no more need for digging, just plenty of good quality mulch at the appropriate time of year.
As I say, it’s a long-term investment, but given the amount we spend down Bury Market when English asparagus is in season, it’s one with a great potential rate of return.
If anyone has any advice on asparagus planting that I’ve missed, or that scientifically contradicts any of the above, please do leave a comment and let me know!