Our founder Jennifer Irvine, is a keen cook and year-round gardener below she’s share advice for growing and serving asparagus.
Few things bring such green-fingered satisfaction as growing and harvesting asparagus. To me, the difference in taste between home-grown and supermarket asparagus is striking. You can plant it this month, but you’ll need to be patient – it’s best to give it a year to establish before harvesting. Some crops will give you spears the first year, but it’s more likely the patterned spears will poke through the earth the following spring. As with all good friendships, it’s worth investing extra time at the beginning. Treat your asparagus well and the same plant could give you over 25 years of edible bounty! One of my favourite ways to enjoy the spears is with their culinary best friend – the humble egg. I’ll often swing by my chicken coop to collect fresh eggs on my way to the asparagus beds. Then it’s straight to the kitchen for a quick and delicious snack – simply poach the asparagus and eggs together in the same pan, dip the spears in the oozing yolk and enjoy.
How to get started…What to buy
Choose varieties based on what you like to eat – I grow both green and purple. You’ll need to buy the plants as crowns, but don’t let the name mislead you – these are definitely more like alien beings than royalty. But after their incubation in the soil, those tangled tentacles grow beautiful, majestic shoots.
April/ May is the perfect time to plant the crowns. Make sure you choose your spot carefully, as you could be harvesting from it for decades to come. As with most planting, a clear, weed-free bed is important (so they’re not competing for nutrients or water). Asparagus like well-drained soil, so I grow mine in raised beds. My asparagus bed is tucked away at the back of my garden, which adds a tranquil element to the ritual of picking them each spring. Every variety varies and suppliers have studied this in detail, so follow the instructions with the crowns you choose. I planted mine in shallow, 6cm holes in a bed, with about 50cm between them.
Wait a year or so to give the crowns a chance to get well established, then watch the spears poke through the soil. Once your plant is up and running, I’m always amazed how speedily the spears emerge from the ground during harvest time. No wonder they’re known as the Usain Bolt of the veg plot – British asparagus can grow 10cm in one day. You’ll cut some for lunch one day and, before you know it, new spears, green and resplendent, will be poking through just a few days later.
Wait for the spears to poke up to the length you want to eat, then simply cut them at the soil line (I use a regular kitchen knife to harvest mine). You can keep harvesting the spears every couple of days. They’re very forgiving and will keep sending up new spears for a few weeks – some varieties last as long as two months during the season.
How to use them
I like to simply steam or poach the spears. This takes just minutes, so I usually put them on to cook when the rest of the meal is ready and the family are sitting at the table hungry and eager. Eaten with an egg or jazzed up in a stir-fry, asparagus is both robust and elegant when treated well. Try the Roasted Asparagus & Baby Tomatoes with Basil from my book, The Balance Diet.