How to grow asparagus

When I first left home, my mother would send bundles of asparagus and six carefully wrapped, freshly laid eggs in the post throughout the brief season. (Only rarely did they break. She is the queen of mail.) She had rescued two overgrown and much neglected asparagus beds when we moved and poured in so much love in the form of muck, weeding and asparagus-beetle-squishing that we all gorged ourselves silly on the stuff. For years, I willed a package to appear every April, but those beds belong to someone else now and I have my own.

There are many lessons from this, but the first is it is entirely possible to revitalise a tired patch with a mulch of good compost and some weeding. Asparagus truly likes only its own company and wants its roots in cool, deep, well-drained soil. This is best done by adding as much organic matter as you can every year in the form of mulch. Repeat this in autumn and again after harvesting in early summer.

Weeding should be done by hand and not a hoe, as you can easily disturb the emerging crowns in spring. Once you pick your first spikes they will continue to grow back: harvest them for up to eight weeks, after which they become too tough. It’s wise to offer some support for rapidly growing top growth. If this rocks about in the wind it will damage the crowns and next year’s harvest.

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The second lesson is that an asparagus bed is a wonderful inheritance. Yes, it takes several years to establish and another lot again to get truly prolific, but isn’t that a good gesture to pay forward? An asparagus bed can easily last over 20 years or more if cared for. The cheapest way is with seed: Connover’s Colossal is the standard and can be sown now, direct into the ground. It’s easier than you may imagine, but you are at least five years away from any sort of harvest. Still, sow thick and you can replant the thinnings for cut flowers, leaving the strongest and healthiest to mature for future suppers. Male plants produce more spears; any that produce berries are female and can be weeded out.

The other option is to buy ready-to-plant crowns that are sent out this month till mid-May from all the major seed catalogues. Crowns should be planted in rich, organic soil. Usually this is done by making a trench 30cm wide, 20cm deep, filling it with compost and planting on a ridge, 10cm high, down the middle. Place the crown on the ridge with the spidery roots either side. They should be 30-45cm apart with 45cm between rows. Cover the crowns with compost and water in well. Do not harvest the spears for the first two years.