This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Although there are few vegetables which contain less nutriment than this, it is nevertheless one of the most esteemed products of the kitchen-garden. This is easily accounted for by its being so exceedingly mild and pleasant to the taste; so much is it so, that its culinary preparation is generally of the most plain and simple character, so difficult is it considered to improve upon its delicate flavour. No wonder, then, that it has been long cultivated and esteemed by all who can afford to grow it. It was greatly prized by the Romans and the Greeks. Cato and Columella have spoken strongly in its praise; and Pliny, in speaking of it, mentions some specimens of it which grew in a shady district near Ravenna, three heads of which weighed a pound - a standard sufficiently high for modern growers. But probably it may have been a different variety from the common Asparagus which is found growing wild on the sea-shores of England.
Although the natural habitat of this vegetable is a poor and sandy soil, it is necessary, in cultivating it to perfection, to grow it in a very highly manured and deeply cultivated soil, because its good quality depends on a quick and strong succulent growth. At the same time, it never succeeds well for any length of time on a tenaceous cold soil, and succeeds best on a deep light loam. Hence it is found to thrive so well on the deep light loams of Deptford, Battersea, and other places round London, where it is grown in large quantities for the supply of the metropolitan markets. No doubt one of the chief reasons, apart from its delicate flavour, why this vegetable is so highly esteemed, is, that it comes into use in the open ground at a season when the finer vegetables are not plentiful, and is available daily, till Green Peas take its place, as a first-class vegetable. It is also one of the few vegetables which are most pliable to force for winter use, so that, with very ordinary convenience, it can be sent to table for several months of the year.
Asparagus is raised from seed, and the best time to sow is the end of March or beginning of April. A light dry piece of ground should be selected, and trenched to the depth of 2 feet. A heavy dressing of well-rotted manure should be worked in while the operation of trenching is going on. The manure should not be applied so much in the bottom of the trench as in the top 15 inches of the soil, as the plants are best transplanted when the year-old manure at the bottom of the trench is not so much required. The surface of the ground should be well pulverised with the spade, and finally raked tolerably fine with an iron rake when it is in readiness for the seed. The seed is then sown in drills, 14 inches apart and about 3 inches deep; and as good strong healthy crowms the first year are the object, the seed should be sown thinly, certainly not thicker than one seed every inch. In covering the seed the surface is left rather fine, as the young plants are exceedingly slender when they first make their appearance above the ground.
In light sandy soils, such as are desirable for raising young Asparagus, it not unfrequently happens that a crop of annual weeds comes up before the Asparagus itself; and on this account a stake should be directly inserted at the ends of each row, so that a line can be stretched exactly over them, and the Dutch hoe applied between, without any danger of injuring the young plants. This is much more speedy, and even safer, than hand-weeding the whole surface.
Throughout the summer the Dutch hoe must be kept going amongst the young crop, for the purpose of keeping the surface loose and clean. In autumn, when the tops have become brown and ripe, they should be cut over close to the ground, and a slight covering of half-decayed leaves spread over the surface before severe frosts set in.
Some are in the habit of allowing seedling Asparagus to make two years' growth before it is transplanted, but it is best to transplant the spring after it is sown. When allowed to remain two years in the seedling rows, it is scarcely possible to lift it without severely damaging its long fleshy roots; whereas, when only one year old, it can be moved with its roots almost entire, and it makes growths as strong as two-year-old seedlings.