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Dublin: 19 °C Saturday 8 August, 2020

Spears at the ready: How to grow asparagus

GIY guru, Michael Kelly, says don’t be put off by the hassle factor, cultivating diva-ish asparagus isn’t impossible.

Michael Kelly

ASPARAGUS ISN’T EASY to grow – it’s fussy about the soil it grows in and though it only crops for a little over a month, it takes up space in your veggie patch for the whole year. It also takes three years before you get any crop worth talking about, which will test even the most patient GIYer.

BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’), once you get it going it will produce a delicious spring delicacy for you for up to twenty years. So if you have the space, and the patience, give it a try. This is a good time of the year to have a think about where you might grow it, prepare the ground and find a source for the ‘crowns’ that asparagus is grown from.


You can sow asparagus from seed but honestly – why would you bother? A plant that will crop for two decades is worth investing some money in. Buying young asparagus plants which are called “crowns” will save you a year and given how long this whole business takes, that’s a valuable year. When you get the crowns plant them quickly, as they will start to deteriorate if left out of the soil for too long. Chose your site carefully – they will need good fertile soil in full sun with wind protection. Raised beds are a good choice, particularly if your soil is heavy. Adding sand to the soil is traditional. Make sure the plot is free of perennial weeds before you start.

OK, so some vegetables, like garlic for example, are super easy to sow – you stick a clove in the ground, job done. Asparagus is not like that. Think of it as being like the Mariah Carey of the veg world – somewhat of a diva with some very specific demands. In early spring, start by making a trench 30cm wide and 20cm deep (if you have more than one row, leave 50cm between rows) – add a thin layer of well rotted compost or manure, and then add a 10cm layer of soil in a ridge in the centre of the trench.

Place the crowns 30cm apart on top of the ridge with their roots splayed out. Then fill in the trench with soil, covering the crowns, and give them a good watering. Spread a layer of well rotted compost or manure on top. If you have the space, about ten plants will give you a good crop of asparagus each year.


Keep the bed weed free. Then wait. And wait. Every year, add a mulch in the autumn. Asparagus produces a mass of fern like foliage that grows unexpectedly tall – up to 6ft. It will need supporting with canes – otherwise it will fall over.


Don’t harvest for the first two years – you are trying to build up some strength in the plants. In the third year (see what I mean about patience?) you can harvest some spears, but only a few. Thereafter you can harvest for about six weeks from May. Cut them with a sharp knife when they are 13-15cm long and about the width of your finger.

Recommended Varieties

Connover’s Colossal and Jersey Knight F1. The latter is a good bet if you have heavy soil.


The main problem is (surprise, surprise) slugs – they will eat the shoots before you if you let ‘em. Solution? Show them no mercy. In damp conditions foot and root rot can be an issue – if it strikes, remove the plants and destroy. Do not grow asparagus again in that spot.

GIY Tips

Asparagus needs to be grown in soil that has a pH of 6.3 to 7.5 so buy yourself a testing kit and measure your soil pH before planting. Make sure the bed is free of perennial weeds before sowing and add plenty of organic matter.


The home of the GIY movement and our brand new food education centre, GROW HQ, is finally open in Waterford city. In addition to our 65-seat home-grown food café and shop, we’ve a range of growing and cooking courses happening weekly. For courses happening this month, check out

Recipe of the Week – Crispy Chicken and Asparagus Pie

shutterstock_326791067 Winter warmer: chicken and asparagus pie. Source: Shutterstock/Tei Sinthip

Sometimes a pie is just the job. Other times it feels like it will just take too long to pull it all together for a mid-week dinner. But this is a really simple and quick, grill-cooked healthy supper that you can throw together in 20 minutes and it feels a lot like a pie.

Asparagus is seasonal in May-June so until then you can replace with another seasonal green – sprouting broccoli perhaps?


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • knob of butter
  • 100g asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 100g green vegetables (we used baby spinach and defrosted peas)
  • 100g ham, torn
  • 100ml crème fraîche
  • 50g fresh breadcrumbs


Heat grill to medium. Spread the chicken out evenly in a shallow baking dish. Dot with half the butter and grill for 7-10 mins, turning occasionally until cooked through. Meanwhile, put the vegetables in a bowl and pour a kettle of boiling water over them. Leave for 2-3 mins, then drain.

Scatter the veg and ham over the chicken, dollop on the crème fraîche and season to taste. Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs, dot with remaining butter, then slide under the grill for 5 mins more until heated through and the topping is crisp.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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