Its been a few years and I have found the asparagus to be pretty happy in its spot in the vege garden. It gets watered regularly and gets a dollop of compost each time the pile matures and seems to be growing its famous ferny leaves very well....
But I was hoping to grow the eat-y bit!
A bit of a google search later and the secateurs and I went into the vege garden...
Here's what I did...
January 2014 (Winter update below this post)
Asparagus like lots of compost and water but not to be in standing water so make sure the spot drains well. The idea seems to be to build up the size of the crown for a few years by letting the plant do its thing in the spring and summer and when it naturally dies off in the Autumn/Winter to cut it back then. Mine grow easily to 5-6 foot, so again, make sure its some where you can cope with it. Its a big plant for a long time.
Once the plant is established, you can cut the spring growth for a few weeks (up to four weeks) when it appears. Each year as the crown gets bigger and has more food stored, you can extend your cutting season up to a maximum of eight weeks. If you cut them for extended periods of time (like all spring and all summer and into autumn) you will deplete the crown of all its food and the plant will die. It needs its leaves to get to the sun and to photosynthesise with enough time to store enough food to not only get it through winter but to feed you in the Spring!
They are a hungry plant and need lots of compost and compost teas - so feed 'em up and make sure they have plenty to eat and drink. They grow fastest when its hottest - so make sure they have lots of water so they stay tender.
I haven't cut mine far enough down. It seems I should be cutting them at ground level not the few inches above that I have done as you can see in the pictures. But be careful not to cut the new spears coming up that you might not be able to see...
There are some good websites about growing Asparagus to check out for us beginner asparagus farmers:
Organic Gardening - asparagus
ABC - growing asparagus
Back Yard Vegetable Growing - Asparagus
The Australian Asparagus Council - this one is very interesting!
Good luck with your asparagus growing!
July 2014 Update:
Once I stopped cutting the spears for the table in January, the asparagus plant stayed green and happy all summer. It didn't seem to have any problems growing leaves from those funny side shoots. It became as large as it was the previous year. I wanted to cut it back once I knew it was ready to hibernate in the Autumn but never seemed to be ready to die back...! I imagined the leaves would go yellow/brown and the plant would naturally start the hibernation process. I assume that since we had an incredibly mild Autumn and now incredibly mild Winter, the asparagus didn't need/want to hibernate.
We had a bit of a cold snap - it went right down to 10 degrees overnight! - and finally the asparagus decided to give in!
I cut them off at a height that was easy for me to manage and then when I had given all the foliage to the chooks to check through, I cut it right back to nothing - under the soil. There were many dead stems from my earlier harvest and they just pulled out.
I cleaned all the weeds and grass out of the bed as I understand that asparagus doesn't like any competition at all. I also gave it a good water and a bucketful of compost afterwards to give it enough energy to continue its die back. Currently the bed is flat and there was no growth after I cut it back.
Green-ness: 5/5 for growing your own food!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for buying a plant that will feed you for 20+ years!
Time cost: Next to nothing - a very low maintenance plant.
Skill level: Just a once yearly pruning and a two week cutting vigilance using the phrase; "oh my goodness- look how much it grew since yesterday!"
Fun-ness: Awesome fun to munch on the freshest asparagus while still standing in the garden!