Why is the British asparagus season so short?

The British asparagus season runs from May until the end of June – just a handful of weeks to enjoy this most seasonal of crops.

We caught up with grower Chris Chinn to ask him why the season is so short – and find out why asparagus gives your pee that peculiar smell…

Plus, find recipes to try.

Why is the British asparagus season so short?

Why is the asparagus season so short?

It’s short because the plants run out of steam. Effectively, they work like demons and use an enormous amount of energy when the conditions are right. You can almost see asparagus growing. On a sunny day, you can cut a spear from a plant in the morning and return to the same plant in late afternoon to find another spear has grown in its place. They can grow up to 10cm in one day, which demands a huge amount of energy. Not surprisingly, the plants can’t keep going for any great length of time.

How many spears does an asparagus plant grow?

The number of spears a plant can produce in any one season is dependent not only on the weather, but also on how much sunshine there was the previous summer after the season ends. At the end of the season the plants ‘rest’, grow into ferns and use their leaves to soak up the energy of the sun to turn into sugars. That energy is stored in the crown (the heart of the plant) underground until the following season, when it draws on those reserves.

Because the plants need plenty of time to stock up reserves for the following season, all asparagus growers in Britain stop cutting spears on 21 June – Midsummer’s Day – which is the traditional date for the asparagus to end. Any new spears that appear after that date are left to grow into ferns and help the plant prepare for the following season.

All asparagus growers in Britain stop cutting spears on 21 June – Midsummer’s Day – which is the traditional date for the asparagus to end.

So why does asparagus make your pee smell?

First of all, this isn’t the case for everyone. Your genetic makeup determines whether your pee has the odour as only some people have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down the sulphurous compound that creates the smell. Interestingly, not everyone is able to detect the smell, either.

Can we get asparagus any other time of the year?

Yes, by using polytunnels to improve the climate and control the rainfall. There’s now an autumn crop harvested in September and October in the Wye Valley. There are rumours that Christmas-to-Valentine’s Day cropping could be on the horizon. Will you give it a go? Depends how much of a purist you are, I suppose.

How many asparagus varieties are there?

There are hundreds but only a handful are used commercially. Gynlim is the most common. Asparagus is traditionally not sold by variety, but new premium lines in some retailers are bucking the trend.

British asparagus is regarded by chefs and food lovers to be the best in the world

Why is South American asparagus in the shops all year round?

Equatorial climate and desert conditions with irrigation means growers can control the crop to produce in a cyclical system, so there’s always one patch in production. But British asparagus is regarded by chefs and food lovers to be the best in the world, as our unique climate and growing conditions make for full-flavoured and tender spears. Turns out being temperamental does have its upsides.

Four asparagus recipes to try

Try these asparagus recipes from delicious. – they won’t disappoint!

All our asparagus recipes

For more information on this wonderful British crop, visit www.british-asparagus.co.uk

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