We’re told it’s been the coldest March for 50 years; on the plot this means that normal progress during the last couple of weeks has stalled. The potatoes are chitting, but no prospect yet of planting. And it’s still too cold to sow seeds in our unheated greenhouse.
But things have been done in the last few weeks: shallots (Picasso), onions (Centurion) and garlic (Edenrose) have been planted, and work has begun digging over the last bit of untamed ground that will become a fruit garden. A cherry tree has been ordered (Stella). We generally buy from DT Brown‘s, and they describe this variety as ‘a reliable and heavy cropping cherry tree’. The fruit is harvested in July. Some sweet cherries need pollination partners, others are self fertile, producing fruit on a single tree. Stella is self fertile.
But the big event of the last ten days was planting the asparagus crowns that we had ordered from the RHS. 15 crowns of the Pacific 2000 variety arrived just as the blizzard moved in from the west. After a week, I took a gamble and, in bitterly cold weather, planted them out. Whether I did the right thing, we’ll see in due course. So far, despite the continuing cold and frosts, the emergent growing tips seem OK.
The asparagus arrived as bare-root crowns with the instruction that they should be unpacked and planted as soon as possible. Asparagus needs a sunny spot, shelter from strong winds and well-prepared soil that ideally has had lots of manure or compost added in the previous autumn. Good drainage is important too, so if your soil is heavy and wet, it would be advisable to grow them in a raised bed. We had a raised bed prepared – manured in the autumn with rotted-down manure, and rotavated last month.
I dug a trench approximately 30cm wide and 20cm deep and worked some chicken manure pellets and blood fish and bone into the base of the trench. I used the excavated soil to make a 10cm tall, arched ridge down the length of the trench and sat the crowns on top. I left 30-45cm between each plant, spreading the roots out and covering them with the remaining soil to leave the tops of the crowns just visible.
The fifteen crowns gave us two rows – about 45cm apart. I hope they survive!
After planting, the crowns should be watered thoroughly and mulched with a generous layer of composted organic matter. During the growing season they should be kept well fed with a dressing of general purpose fertiliser and the bed kept free of weeds.
The first spears will appear soon after planting, but it is important that these are not cut, but allowed to develop into feathery stems throughout the summer. These can be cut back to just above ground level after they have started to die back in autumn. Before the new spears appear in subsequent years, make a ridge of soil over each row and apply a dressing of general purpose fertiliser.
We must resist harvesting the spears in the second year too, as the plant should be left to develop a robust crown before we begin harvesting the spears in their third year. So – 2016 before we get to eat our own asparagus.