NEWS that the asparagus harvest started earlier than ever before in this country will come as no surprise to Sally Whibley – but her results do to me.

Announcements by M&S and Waitrose that they have the first asparagus on the shelves, a record two months’ earlier than usual, comes as a result of new varieties, the largely mild winter and inordinate efforts by producers.

They employ polytunnels, fleece and black ground cover membranes to eke out every ounce of heat from a feeble winter sun.

The amateur gardener can produce similar early results by popping asparagus crowns in a pot in the greenhouse.

Isle of Wight County Press: Sally Whibley's exceptionally early asparagus.Sally Whibley's exceptionally early asparagus.

But Sally? All she did was to pop-in the crowns.

In the garden of her new house the first thing she did in her rescue mission at this time last year was to plant some asparagus crowns

“We had loads of spears but kept our itching fingers off them — as you should,” says Sally.

“The bed was mulched with old potting compost over winter, and last week, after similar conditions to when we planted (NW winds and sleet) we now have a bright emerging crop next to our emerging garlic.

“We will definitely cut them this year when they are long enough.”

Gijnlim is the very early variety of asparagus of commercial choice and is also widely available to gardeners.

An all-male F1 asparagus variety with bright green spears and deep purple tips it produces a very good yield.

As with all varieties the one-year-old crowns are best planted between March and May, and though a few spears can be cut the following year, it is best left for two years to build up strength.

Isle of Wight County Press: Asparagus BurgundineAsparagus Burgundine

I’m looking forward to the earlies (which haven’t shown yet in my patch) and especially the later Burgundine supplied as part of the four-variety collection from D.T.Brown.

Burgundine is a hybrid purple and green cross for main season growing.

The variety can also be eaten raw as it contains lower amounts of lignin, the fibrous part of asparagus.

It is said to be exceptionally sweet, juicy and crunchy. My taste-buds are watering at the thought.

Asparagus is now much easier to grow than in days of yore when raised beds were essential on all but the most sandy of soils.

If you buy mail order it is recommended that crowns are planted as soon as possible after they arrive, but all mine sprouted after remaining in their packaging for three weeks while we were trapped abroad in the early pandemic days.

They need a sunny spot, shelter from strong winds and well-prepared soil that ideally has had lots of manure or compost added, preferably in the previous autumn.

Good drainage is important too, so if your soil is heavy and wet, a raised bed remains a good idea.

Isle of Wight County Press: Pictured in the foreground is asparagus ready for cutting.Pictured in the foreground is asparagus ready for cutting.

And, remember, abstinence for two years after planting makes the spears grow into ferns that need cutting down when they brown in winter.

It makes the following year’s spears more profuse and stronger, giving that home-grown taste in these mild times both of a very early spring and early summer.

  • Asparagus facts: Once established, you can expect to reap the rewards of an asparagus bed for as long as 20 years before it runs out of vigour.
  • Crowns have come down in price in recent years but if you want to do it on a real budget (and are prepared to wait an extra year) you can culture your own crowns from seed.

Top tips for growing asparagus on the Isle of Wight

Send Richard YOUR gardening question at richryde@tiscali. 

  • Feed trees, shrubs and hedges with a slow-release fertiliser by lightly forking it into the soil surface.
  • Feed roses with special rose feed or balanced fertiliser as they come into growth and prune roses now to encourage shape and strong new growth.
  • Finish cutting back cornus and salix cultivars, and other shrubs grown for their colourful winter stems. Cut them right back to their bases to encourage new stem growth for next winter.
  • Cut out the top rosette of leaves from mahonia shrubs after they have flowered to encourage branching.
  • Prune over-wintered fuchsias back to one or two buds on each shoot. This will encourage a bushy growth habit.
  • Trim winter-flowering heathers as the flowers disappear, to prevent the plants becoming leggy.
  • Keep an eye out for slugs as the weather warms. Pay special attention to soft, new growth, which slugs love. Use nematodes for an effective organic control.