Spring is one of the most exciting times at Gravetye as the garden erupts into life and in the walled kitchen garden we are busy making sowings to harvest through the summer. We try and concentrate on growing things which have the best flavour when they come directly from the garden. Asparagus is a good example of this and is just coming into season now.
Asparagus is easy to grow, as long as you have free draining soil and plenty of patience and is such a good crop that we are currently planting some new beds. April is the best time to plant the crowns and we have selected a perfect sunny south facing weed free bed to do so. The crop should hopefully be there for a long time so we prepared the bed well by digging in plenty in of well-rotted horse muck and gave it a dusting of bone meal fertilizer before planting, just to give the plants a boost at the start.
There are lots of good nurseries out there that supply crowns; I like to use Blackmoor, as they have always given me good plants, which arrive promptly by post. It is good to plant a selection of early mid and late variety’s to achieve the longest season possible. ‘Gijnlim’ is a good early Dutch variety and ‘Connovers Colossal’ is a brilliant mid-season cropper with good flavor. ‘Guelph Millennium’ is probably the best late one, raised in Canada, but I am particularly interested in trying a new variety called ‘Purple Passion’. Although it loses its purple colour when steamed it could be really fun raw, in a salad.
Crowns are planted at the bottom of a ten-inch deep trench, and then ridged up with soil as they grow, to establish a good root system. Then comes the difficult bit; you have to wait for two years for the plants to establish, before you can start eating them. Although this is not the quickest crop to come into production the patience should pay off because once established an asparagus bed gives good production for over 20 years.
In England we always eat our Asparagus green, but on the other side of the channel, white is usually the favored variety. This is actually the same plant which has been grown in darkness. By blanching out the chlorophyll, it has a subtly sweeter flavour and can also grow bigger in its search for light. Traditionally this is achieved by heaping sandy soil over the asparagus as it grows and then cutting it, under ground. This is however quite a lot of work. But because chef is so keen for this lovely ingredient, which is so hard to get in England we are going to try a row under a black plastic tent. This should exclude the light enough to give us the result and it should be much easier to harvest.