Friday, 10 May 2013

More about asparagus

Thank you for comments left yesterday and Bridget left a message to say my asparagus picture had inspired her to buy some asparagus  plants to grow. The trouble is that there is a bit of a wait between planting and the first time you can eat any because it takes the crowns 3 years to get established. 
This is something I wrote in June last year for the Suffolk Smallholders Newsletter.

When we first looked around this smallholding on a cold January day in 1992 the owner pointed to an empty patch and said "that's the asparagus bed". Sadly by the time we moved in 5 months later it was a few straggly asparagus shoots amid a sea of weeds and grass. Reclaiming the bed was not top of our list of priorities and it wasn't until 2006 that we eventually got around to doing things properly. We built a proper raised bed, with good drainage and planted good quality crowns. After resisting the temptation to eat any for a couple of years and then restricting ourselves to just a few for the next year, we looked forward to a good number of spears, but then came  two dry years and several crowns just disappeared, so we still haven't had the chance to be really greedy. Even so fresh cut asparagus is one of the best things to have when nothing else is around.
Searching through my books on more information on asparagus I discovered it has been cultivated since Egyptian times and grows wild in many parts of Europe, Asia and North-West Africa. The Romans would force it by covering to grow blanched stems. In this country, for many years, it was usually only grown in the lavish kitchen gardens of grand houses,but the railway age allowed it to be quickly delivered to  wealthy city dwellers, where street-sellers called it "Sparrow Grass". I'm guessing that in the past it would take up too much space for a small return in cottage gardens. In his Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency  John Seymour says " Do not be put off by any puritanical ideas that as a luxury crop they are somewhat sinful!" 

So if you've got the room and don't mind the wait it's well worth the effort. 

The crowns I bought in 2006 were 6 each of 4 varieties, ( supposed to spread the eating over a longer period) to fill up the bed. If I was starting again I would only buy 1 sort because by having 4 varieties and then losing some of the crowns in the drought years and then the wet summer of last year there is not enough of each for a meal until the whole lot get going.
 We will eat them often for about a month and then they have to be left to grow up into tall feathery plants. If you keep eating for too many weeks then the plants weaken so that they have fewer shoots the next year. At the end of the year when the stems have turned brown then they are cut off quite close to the soil.Then they need a good feed and weeding and hopefully next year they will appear again just in time to fill the hungry gap.
I seem to have been fiddling about all day again. Him Outside had to go to see the nurse for a blood test first thing this a.m. ( He has been suffering with rather too much indigestion recently and has to go to hospital for nasty tests soon - poor old thing!) so I went and did a quick dash round Co-op in the hope of some yellow label things on the meat counter. There were 2 Pork chops at half price so they were snaffled up to put in the freezer and I was just debating that a half leg of lamb reduced to £6, still seemed expensive to me but would make a meal for when we have visitors, when a bloke reached around me and grabbed it! Oh well. That's the joy of having no choice for shopping out here in the sticks - The reductions are hardly cheaper at all. They had a trolley of " reduced price" cauliflowers but their idea of a reduction was from £1.20 down to 80p !! Luckily we still have a bit of purple sprouting broccoli left but if the weather stays warm it will soon run to seed. 
Well, that's my lot for today. I'm not sure what else I've done except the normal house and campsite cleaning, egg collecting  and meal preparing and a bit more herb sorting.
Maybe tomorrow will be more exciting!


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