Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A pile of manure

Asparagus, a fine spring vegetable and as one reader explained an interesting crop to grow. He was expounded the benefits of adding horse manure to his crop, the results he said were astounding. “You could see the spears actually growing!” I had to confide, my crop of asparagus was a bitter disappointment, not that this was any surprise to me. In my case I had neglected to put in the hard yards first. Success with these hardy herbaceous perennials is in the preparation. What asparagus likes above all else is a well drained soil growing naturally around coastal areas of Europe and North America this makes sense. Having a raised bed also aids in the drainage. Mix with the good draining soil a large amount of well rotted organic matter and you are ready. There are two ways you can begin your crop, one from seed sown in a prepared bed outside in the spring or secondly by crowns in late winter. If you are going to grow from seed, your plants will be small and fern like in the first season, the females of them producing wee berries. The females should be eliminated as they will produce inferior spears later on. If you buying the crowns one would hope they were male plants being sold, ask! When planting the crowns, the roots should be spread out in the bottom of a trench about 20cm deep, with a spacing of 45cm between plants. As the shoots begin to grow, the trench can be filled in. If you like blanched asparagus, as they do in Europe and particularly the Low Countries, then you must continue to mound the soil up around the tips. A minimum of a third of stems must be left to nourish the crowns for next season’s crop. A well prepared asparagus bed should last up to twenty years; imagine your own asparagus rolls each spring! I prefer to lightly sauté the spears in a little butter until tender, and eat immediately or as my reader said, simply eaten raw.

With the longer days, it is now time to be getting all your seeds planted and into the ground. Carrots, beans, lettuce, radish, spring onions and tomato (seeds under) cover. For a head start, buy seedlings if you haven’t the patients for sowing seeds. Before all this is done though, it is important to prepare the soil, with extra compost and manure, well rotted. Exceptions to this are carrots, as too much fertiliser will encourage the carrots to produce twisted split and malformed roots. For this crop it is better to put the fertiliser or manure in the bottom of a deep trench, this will encourage them to grow straight and strong in the direction of their food. Other crops could be started now including the pumpkin family, cucumbers, courgettes, squash and scaloppini. The secret with these plants is lots of compost; in fact they often do best simply growing on the compost heap.

Well I have gotten to hear and haven’t mentioned corn and there must plenty of other crops I have failed to mention, still it’s a start.


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