Rhubarb & Asparagus

This is the time of year to plant two favourite perennial edibles: rhubarb and asparagus.

Rhubarb (pictured)
Rhubarb has a long history. It was brought from the east before the time of Christ and was first used as a vegetable. But then it was found that, with some extra sweetening, the acidic stems made a delectable dessert.

Rhubarb, as one would suspect from its large leaves, likes plenty of moisture and fertiliser. Take the opportunity before planting to dig in lots of organic matter (such as well-matured compost) and add some organic Dynamic Lifter pellets or Yates Blood and Bone. Make sure drainage is adequate – rhubarb will rot at the base if the soil is continually damp.

Plant rhubarb crowns (which are sold at this time of year) so that the roots are under the soil but the eye – the point where the leaves will emerge – is at ground level. Sprinkle some Thrive All Purpose plant food around the base at planting time, and water in well.

Don’t begin harvesting until the plant is well established – which may mean waiting until the second year. Harvest by pulling stalks away from the base with a sharp tug. Never cut them. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and should be discarded.

Problems are few. Watch for snails and sprinkle some Blitzem or Baysol pellets during damp periods. Yates Fungus Fighter can be sprayed to control fungal rots. The most common complaint from rhubarb growers is that their stems aren’t red enough. While the depth of colour can vary from plant to plant, it tends to be more intense in colder areas. Feed regularly with a high potash plant food like Thrive Flower & Fruit but, most of all, don’t worry. The colour doesn’t affect the flavour of the rhubarb and a few drops of cochineal can make a great cosmetic difference.

After about four or five years, break up the established clump and spread to new, well- prepared parts of the garden. Don’t forget, too, that rhubarb will grow happily in a large pot.

Asparagus crowns (packaged roots) are also available at this time of year. Because asparagus is another long-lived plant, good soil preparation is essential. Dig loads of organic matter and Dynamic Lifter into a sunny garden bed. In most areas, too, add some Yates Garden Lime or Dolomite. Create a trench about 20cm deep and plant the asparagus crowns in the base. Fill in the trench as the spears grow.

Leave the plants alone for the first year and begin harvesting in the second season. Feed regularly during the warmer months with Thrive or Aquasol liquid fertiliser. Clean up dead plant material after the asparagus clump has died down each autumn.

Ten asparagus plants should be sufficient to supply an average family, and well-cared-for plants will go on producing for at least twenty years.

Microwave ovens have made life a lot easier for asparagus fanciers. Spears that are lightly steamed in the microwave retain all their freshness and flavour. They can be served with a classic Hollandaise sauce or mixed into Asian stirfries.


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