Asparagus is a real spring treat. It's a perennial veg, which means that it crops year after year. Once established, you can expect 10 plants to yield about 3kg of spears over a six-week period for up to 20 years.
Best Buy asparagus varieties
What it looks like
If you prefer an asparagus with a degree of natural bitterness, this is your best bet– it combines a good asparagus flavour with a pleasing bitter aftertaste. The slender raw spears were bright green with purple tints to the tips and it remained an appetising bright green when steamed. It is not an all-male variety, but has a reputation for producing a good yield of high-quality spears when grown in the UK, and is widely available as crowns.
What it looks like
This all-male variety, which was developed in the Netherlands, is widely grown commercially in the UK. It’s a RHS AGM variety, which produced an average harvest of 11 spears (200g) per crown in the RHS trial. Its straight, thick, mid-green stems are fairly uniform with closed purple-tinted tips that taste slightly sour. It’s a pleasure to eat, with a fresh flavour that has notes of pea, and a slightly grassy aroma. It benefits from watering while the foliage develops, if the weather is dry.
What it looks like
Although not an all-male variety, this is a high yielding cropper, with eye-catching spears in a range of dark green to purple shades. It was the tastiest variety we tried; sweet with a hint of bitterness, with an attractive balance of fresh asparagus and pea notes. As a mid-season variety it is useful for extending your asparagus season, and is so tender that it can be eaten raw, added to salads or dipped in dressing. It loses its colour if boiled, but retains purple tints if you steam it.
Our panel of tasters, who are trained to identify and rate the individual components of taste, assessed how appetising the spears were both uncooked and steamed (the best cooking method to retain their colour).They were looking for bright and fresh-looking spears that were straight and firm, evenly sized and with tight tips. Spears should smell grassy and green when uncooked and develop a slight hint of pea when cooked. But they lost marks if the taste or smell had a tinge of compost about it. We looked for varieties that had a fresh asparagus flavour, moderately sweet, with a slight bitterness. Spears should be firm but tender when cooked, ideally without woodiness, grittiness and astringency.
Grow asparagus on well-drained neutral or slightly alkaline soil that is free of perennial weeds, such as dandelions, or in raised beds. Dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as spent mushroom compost. For a quicker first harvest, plant one-year-old crowns in April.
Allow 40cm between the plants in a row, and 90cm between rows. Dig a trench or hole wide enough to spread out the roots, place the crown on a mound 10-13cm below the soil surface, with the roots radiating out to the sides. Cover with loose soil. It’s best to leave your first major harvest until the plants are three years old.
In March, apply a balanced-fertiliser or mulch of well-rotted organic matter to established beds. Keep the asparagus bed weed-free; it’s best to weed by hand because you might damage the shallow roots with a hoe.
Harvest in: April-June
Cut the spears when they are 10cm long and have a tight bud. Use a sharp knife and cut 2.5-5cm below the soil. Stop cutting spears of two-year-old plants in May to allow the ferns to develop further, and in mid-June for established plants.
Cut the dead ferns down to ground level in October or November and clear away the debris to remove asparagus beetles hibernating there.
Asparagus beetles are small yellow-and-black beetles with red heads. Their buff-coloured grubs eat the ferns, weakening the plants. Pick them off from early May.