It is asparagus time. Our soil is perfect for growing it - sandy and dry - and although you have to wait a few years for your first harvest, once you have  the crop will continue for about 20+ years. I have been cropping asparagus for about 12 years now. The first couple of years it was ready at the start of May but nowadays I start cropping in the middle of April depending on how warm the weather is.

But things are never that easy, are they? For the last 6 years or so Asparagus beetle has been a constant companion and I think it is worse in warm dry years. They are red, yellow and black and about 12 - 18mm long which is just long enough to tuck yourself into the developing leaves on the spears. There is a beetle in this photo and you can see the damage it has done by nibbling the outside of the spear!

Whilst gardening books say you can spray with pyrethrum, I wouldn't. If you get it into all those cracks and crevices on the plant, I am not sure you could wash it all out particularly well. So that means hand-picking to get rid of it. 

The beetles are really clever and as your hand approaches the plant they sense it, the shadow I think, and move around or drop off the plant onto the soil and then you definitely can't see it. You have to cup your hand, bend the spear over it and then shake the spear so that the beetles drop off into your hand. You can then squash them.

If you don't remove them they devastate the plant, removing all the leaves so that you end up with a green stick rather than a leafy fern. As the energy for the next year's growth is created by the leaves this is a problem and overtime will weaken and kill the plant.

I have found that you need to check the plants as often as you can because if you have asparagus near you, new beetles will just move in. It isn't onerous but is worth doing.

The other thing that is worth doing is removing the beetle eggs. They are small and black and stick out at right angles from the plant. They can be removed by just running your thumb down the stem of the spear. This will reduce the number of beetles that overwinter on your plot.

If I am making asparagus growing sound negative, it isn't. It is one of the best crops to grow because the taste is nothing like the asparagus in the supermarket. It is one of those veg that needs to be picked and eaten as soon as possible to retain its sweetness.

I picked 2kg of asparagus this evening which would be worth about £20 worth at Sainsbury's prices of £1 per 100g. I wouldn't ever buy that much but have a look at the Tesco packets of organic asparagus which they do not have in stock. How many spears in a packet?

It is definitely worth 10 minutes of beetle management. Sadly, the photos are all mine!

Recipes that I like to use are:

Asparagus soup

Asparagus and new potato fritatta

Asparagus dipped in mayonnaise

Asparagus risotto