July is the month for establishing perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb and globe artichokes. Perennials, which can stay in the same spot for many years (e.g. asparagus for 20 years) need to be given a separate area in the garden and appropriate soil preparation. The first step is to ensure that all perennial weeds have been thoroughly eliminated from the chosen area.
Asparagus likes deep, friable, rich soil. If you’ve got heavy, clay soil, you’ll need to mound the plants up or dig in plenty of organic matter so that it becomes nice and well drained. The same process will work for sandy soils too! Asparagus loves soil with a pH of about 6.5 to 7 so in most parts of Wooragee you will need to add lots of lime each year. Dig a deep trench, about 75cm, for the long roots – the deeper the better. Then add organic matter. Asparagus is very hungry and needs plenty of organic matter such as cow manure, sheep manure, or old chook poo. Scatter it thickly down the bottom of the trench because the plants will absolutely lap that up. Then 2/3rds fill the trench with a mixture of compost and the soil from the trench. Once the area is well fertilized, it is time to go shopping for your asparagus crowns – these are readily available in most nurseries at this time of year. To plant the crown, make a little mound, like an anthill, in the trench.
Sit the roots of the crown nicely on top of the mound. Plant about 40cm apart. If the roots are damaged cut them back because they are quite fleshy and will come again easily. Backfill the trench and water well, once planted, so the air pockets get away from the roots. Then in spring, little shoots will appear. Feed regularly with diluted liquid manure and/or blood and bone. Do not pick any shoots for the first couple of seasons to allow the crowns to develop a really sound root system – this will ensure a very vigorous plant for many years to come. Apart from slugs and snails in spring there are few pests and diseases that trouble this plant.
When Asparagus is about four years old the fronds will have produced good, thick, strong roots and a good plant. They will then go yellow in autumn and that’s the time to cut them back to ground level. The Asparagus bed will be bare until spring, and then spears of Asparagus will pop up all over the place.
We find that we have to protect the first spears with a cloche made from poly-pipe and plastic to protect the tender shoots from late frosts. We usually put this in place in August. Asparagus is high in potassium, great for fibre, low in salt, and a terrific, healthy vegetable to grow. There is nothing nicer than growing your own crop and taking it fresh to the table.