APRIL – ASPARAGUS
April is here and for those of us lucky enough to have an established asparagus patch, we will soon be harvesting those delicious spears. St George’s day (23rd April) marks the start of the harvesting season and we can cut away until the Summer Solstice (June 21st).
Asparagus is one of the staples of the ‘hungry gap’ and the end of the harvesting season for asparagus coincides nicely with the end of the hungry gap making way for all our lovely pickings of peas, beans and other veg.
Asparagus is a herbaceous perennial and plants are normally either male or female. We eat the stems and after June, the plant is allowed to grow on to produce feathery, fern-like foliage producing food and energy which will then be stored in the crown over winter ready for the following years’ season. The flowers are small and bell shaped and give way to small red berries which are extremely poisonous!
A short history!
Cultivation and use of asparagus can be traced back to Ancient Egyptian times where it was used for medicinal purposes, offering it up to the Gods in their rituals! It was a staple for the Romans and the Greeks, eating it fresh when in season and drying it for use in Winter. Asparagus gained popularity in France and Britain from the 16th century and was thought to have aphrodisiac effects. King Louis XIV had special greenhouse built to grow it!
Why should we eat Asparagus?
Asparagus is essentially a powerhouse of nutrients, vitamins and minerals and on top of that, per 100g there is only 20 calories! It is a good source of dietary fibre and I am sure we are all aware why we need that! 35% of your RDA of vitamin K can be found in 100g of asparagus plus it is packed full of anti-oxidants!
Studies have shown that Asparagus can improve and protect your heart health due to it’s high levels of Vitamin K and B vitamins. Asparagus also has anti-carcinogenic properties and is also thought to lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
What better reasons could you have to dive into a dish of asparagus!
Unfortunately, one side effect of eating Asparagus can be that your urine starts to smell quite soon afterwards. However, this is just your body breaking down a sulphorous compound called Mercaptan. This smell doesn’t happen to everyone but even so don’t let that put you off this delicious vegetable!
How to grow Asparagus
Asparagus can be either grown directly from seed or can be purchased as 1 year old crowns. Either way you will have at least a couple years wait before you can harvest these lovely stalks!
If sowing from seed, the best time to sow is from April. Seeds can be sown directly into a well prepared bed or can be started off in pots. Seedlings may take up to three weeks to emerge. In a prepared bed, seedlings should gradually be thinned out until 18 inches apart.
If buying from crowns, crowns should be soaked in water prior to planting, and a trench 30cm wide, 20 cm deep. Make a ridge 5-10 cm high in the centre of the trench so the crowns can sit on top with their roots running downward. Space the crowns 30-45 cm (18 inches) apart and cover with about 7cm of soil and water well.
For the first year, you shouldn’t take any spears and just allow the plant to gather strenth. In year two you can take a few spears but don’t take too much otherwise you will weaken the plant. From year three you can start harvesting spears as they grow!
One thing to look out for when growing Asparagus is the Asparagus beetle. Both adult and larvae eat the foliage of the plant eventually weakening the crown. Black eggs can be seen hanging from the feathery foliage and can be picked off the plant and destroyed along with the larvae and adults. Stems should be cut back in Autumn and destroyed and overwintering adults can hide in debris and soil so ensure your plot is kept tidy!
How to cook Asparagus
Asparagus tips are the tender part of the shoots and will be sold in some supermarkets as labelled. Larger asparagus spears will need to have the woody end cut off.
Asparagus can be boiled (2-3mins) or lightly steamed (4-5mins). My personal favourite is to brush the asparagus with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and then grill for 5 mins!
Asparagus can easily be added to quiches, sauces and pies or added to pasta as well as a succulent side dish to fish and chicken. Below are a few recipe ideas you can try!