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Gardening — Monty Don

Your kitchen garden

ASPARAGUS

You can easily buy fresh asparagus, but it is nothing like as good as spears from your garden. Like sweetcorn, new potatoes or peas, this is a harvest that diminishes in quality almost by the minute.

You can grow it from seed, but it is more usual to buy crowns or one-year-old plants. They’re best planted 30cm apart with 15cm of soil above. Spread the roots very carefully as they are brittle, but never let them dry out. I left a batch in the sun for just half an hour once and not one grew. If you start with crowns planted when the soil has warmed up you’ll take your first harvest the following year, a more substantial one the next, and tuck in with relish in year three. Each plant can give 30-40 spears over the season. In humid weather the spears can grow several centimetres a day, but in a cool week there can be very little growth - a layer of fleece or cloches can help.

It grows well on any fertile ground but drainage is key, so grow on a ridge or add lots of grit and plant 15-23cm deep. Male plants are often healthier - try ‘Lucullus’, ‘Grolim’, ‘Purple Passion’, ‘Backlim’ and ‘Gijnlim’.

Stop cutting in July and let the shoots develop foliage, then cut back in autumn and mulch in early spring.