Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis by Dave Hamilton

Asparagus, early springtime is when this most delicious of all vegetables will start to appear. Asparagus is a relative of the lily family. Its name went through a number of changes from the Persian asparag meaning sprout and was for a time known as sparrow grass before, in the 19th century changing to its present name of asparagus.

Mine seem to be choked by weeds this year due to an oversight on my part. When I took on my allotment it was just weeds, a serious amount of them, brambles, couch grass, horsetail, dandelions and about ten willow trees that had seeded from a nearby hedge.

I still seem to have a good crop of asparagus though but some serious mulching is going to have to take place around them when the season is over.  What I have found to be very effective as a mulch, especially for getting rid of couch grass is to cover them up with a weed suppressant sheet known as mypex. This stuff is great put it down over an unworkable piece of land and in 3 – 6 months it’s virtually weed-free.   An alternative to this is straw or cardboard both will rot down and feed the soil whilst getting rid of the weeds. What I will try this winter is to cover the whole area with a sheet of Mypex after I have cut the ferns down.

It is essential to leave some of the asparagus to grow into these long ferns (in about mid-June in the UK, or mid spring) to ensure the roots are fed for a good crop the next spring. The first year after planting they should all be left to grow into these or very few should be cut. The second year you should have a bumper crop.   A must though is the area should be weed free dig to two spades depth beneath the area you are going to plant the crowns and dig in some manure. gardeners will put salt down to feed the plants, as they are a coastal plant and used to quite salty soils.

•  You can add them to soup near the end of cooking to give an extra texture to the soup.

•  They are delicious steamed with a sauce made from a little melted butter with the juice of half a lemon.

•  Try not to over cook them, as they are tastier when they still have a bit of a crunch to them.

•  Keep the water you have cooked them in, they leach out a number of vitamins in the cooking process and this green water is highly nutritious.   It can be used to make gravy or used as a stock, it also makes quite a tasty hot drink.

•  It’s a nice vegetable to experiment with, as long as it is not over cooked it is quite hard to go wrong with it.

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