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Asparagus is supposedly a favourite luxury vegetable that is widely cultivated and native to western Asia and Europe, although some of the offerings in greengrocer shops in England come from as far a-field as Peru. Records of it being grown go back to 3,000 BC where it features as an offering on an Egyptian freeze. Asparagus also features in the earliest remaining copy of a recipe book dating to 300 AD and more recently, history records show it being grown by French Monks in the 1400’s and apparently records also show it being grown in England during Henry the 8ths reign around the early 1500’s, although it is said that the Romans brought it over to England long before that. With this long history of cultivation it is little wonder that it has been credited with all sorts of health benefits some of which are born out by modern science.
Claims that it is an Aphrodisiac have never been substantiated, but it seems that it can help cure hangovers as it helps flush toxins from the Kidneys and also break down toxins in the liver by improving liver function. Added to this Asparagus is a diuretic that can help those suffering from Edema and high blood pressure by assisting in the removal of excess salt and fluid from the body which can also help prevent kidney stones.
However, Asparagus contains Asparagusic Acid that, is high in sulphur, and is released when the Asparagus is digested which this results in making your urine smell very strongly. The effect can happen within just 15 minutes of eating Asparagus and can last for anything up to 14 hours later.

As with many cultivated plants there are quite a few varieties, coming from the different regions of the plants natural habitat, with totally different appearances and uses. A couple of types from Africa spring to mind as my mother used to grow and sell them as ornamental house plants at her garden centre many years ago. Asparagus Sprengeri and Plumosa are forever popular pot plants that look like indoor ferns, but are not related to ferns at all. Indeed they, like all Asparagus, belong to the Lily family and are closely related to Garlic, Onions and believe it or not, to Tulips. However, in many ways Asparagus, with its feathery foliage, both looks and behaves a little like true Ferns, although non produce Spores and some even produce small bulbs. As Ferns will sometimes discolour and burn, some Asapargus varieties will often go yellowish in the full sun because they prefer a little shade. Also like some Ferns, Asparagus grows well in free draining, even sandy soil, because it is in fact a seaside plant. However, Asparagus can grow very quickly, up to 10cm a day here in England, and as such is a greedy feeder. When planting it as a vegetable, it is always recommended to liberally add plenty of manure around, but not on, the roots and when it is established it should be fed with either some sort of feed, or ideally, mulched heavily which will also suppress any weeds. This will have the added benefit of preventing the need for digging to weed and the possibility of damaging the Crown of the plant.
Asparagus is a fairly easy plant to grow as a crop, as long as it doesn’t become water logged over winter because this will even kill mature plants. It is a good idea to dig in plenty of Horticultural grade grit when planting and it is worth making the effort to plant them properly because plants can easily live for 20 years after planting, so you shouldn’t need to grow more and replant every year. Indeed, it is recommended not to crop any newly planted specimens for 2, or 3 years after planting to allow the plants to bulk up and build up decent energy reserves.
After the crop is taken every Spring, plants need to rest and re-energise ready for the next season. To do this they should be allowed to produce their fluffy, green, candy floss like growth, throughout the Summer until the late autumn frosts take it and the dead growth can then be removed. Sometimes flower arrangers like to cut a little of this foliage for use in making up Bouquets and other arrangements.
There is just one word of warning when growing asparagus and that is that their bright red berries are poisonous to Humans and should never be eaten.

The method for growing Asparagus is different in most of Europe, because Europeans prefer their Asparagus to be of the white kind rather than its natural green. It is said to have a milder flavour and is sometimes called the “Vegetable of Kings,” “Edible Ivory,” or “White Gold.”
To turn the stems pure white, growers “Earth Up,” the rows in giant ridges somewhat like our farmers do for Potatoes. In this case though, the rows are also covered in black plastic film so that, as the Spears grow out of the ridges and are ready to cut, they don’t turn green. To cut the Spears the harvester has to plunge their arms down into the soil ridges to get a decent length. This makes harvesting much more time consuming and laborious resulting in a much higher price for the crop. If you want to easily grow white Asparagus in an Allotment, I have found that simply placing an upturned, black, builder’s bucket, over the Crown, will achieve the same effect. You may want to put a brick on the bucket though to hold it down,

Asparagus is one of the first vegetables to produce a crop in the new year so much is made of the start of each new season here in the UK. Traditionally the new season starts on the 23rd April, or St Georges Day and then goes on for some 8 weeks until Midsummer’s Day, which this year, is the 24th Of June. However, with modern growing facilities and the wonders of the Poly Tunnel, some UK harvested Asparagus, is sold as early as February when it has been grown under cover. The Vale of Evesham is where the majority of English Asparagus is grown and where celebrations, with a big charity auction, are held to mark the start of each season. The season is much the same in Germany where the Spargelzeit, or white asparagus season kicks off with a Spargelfest, Asparagus festival, on the first Saturday of May.


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