Asparagus, also called Spa-ragus, Sperage, or Sparrow-grass, is an esculent plant, which is reared with great attention, and much esteemed on account of its delicate flavour. There are ten species, but one only is cultivated for the table, viz. the common asparagus, which has an erect herbaceous stalk, and bristly leaves : the other species are sometimes kept in the gardens of the curious, but more for the sake of variety, than on account of their utility.
This useful plant is best propagated from the seeds, and its successful culture almost entirely depends on the proper quality of such seed. Hence, some of the most promising buds should be marked with a stick, and when the seed begins to ripen, and the stalks to wither, they ought to be cut, and the berries being rubbed off into a tub or other vessel, water should be poured upon them. After they have been stirred, the seeds will subside, and the floating husks may be poured off with the water. The seeds must then be spread to dry, and thinly sown, in the beginning of February, on a bed of rich earth. They should be trod into the ground, and the earth raked over them. - During summer, the bed should be kept clean of weeds, and about October, when the stalks appear withered, a small quantity of rotten dung should be spread over the bed, about half an inch in thickness. In the following spring, the plants will be in a proper state for transplanting; when the ground should be prepared for them, by trenching it, and disposing a large quantity of rotten dung in the trenches, so that it may lie at least six inches below the surface ; after which, the w hole plot must be levelled, and all the loose atones carefully picked out. The most eligible situation for such hot-beds, is a south-eastern aspect, sheltered from the north ; and the soil should be neither too moist, nor too firm, or hard. If the season be forward, and the soil dry, the asparagus should be transplanted in the beginning of March; but, in a wet soil, it is preferable to wait till the beginning of April, at which time the plants begin to shoot. The roots should, at this season, be carefully raised with a narrow-pronged dung-fork, shaking from them the adhering earth, separating them from each other, and laying their heads even, for the greater convenience in planting them; which should be performed in the followiug manner: Lines are drawn across the bed, at a distance of one foot horn each other, after which they must be dug in the form of small trenches of six inches in depth, into which the roots must be laid with their buds upwards, so that, when the earth is raked over them, they may be two inches under the surface.. A space of two feet and a i should be left between every four rows, for the purpose of affording room to cut the stalks. At the time of planting, onions may be sown on the ground ; after the lapse of a month, the asparagus will begin to shew its buds, when the former must be thinned, and the weeds carefully removed. By August the onions will be fit to be collected. In October, the shoots of the asparagus should be cut within two inches of the ground ; but, with respeft to this process. the following circumstance deserves attention : as often as a stalk is cut, a new one springs up, and every plant running to seed deposits a new bud or eye, as it is called by gardeners, beside the new shoots, which sprout the following spring. Hence, the cutting ought not to be too long continued, as this practice would prevent the new shoots from sprouting, and deprive those which are in bud, from acquiring sufficient strength.
Young asparagus fit for table, may be cut the second spring after planting ; but, as this early fruit is with many a desideratum, the following directions, properly attended to, will enable them to produce it at any time during the winter : Take some good roots of one year's growth, and plant them in a rich, moist soil, about eight inches asunder; the second and third yean after planting, they will be fit for removal to a hot-bed, which should be made rather of heating materials, especially tanner's waste and horse-dung, about three feet thick, and covered with a stra-;th, six inches high. The plants should then be laid against a ridge made at one end without trimming or cutting the fibres : between every row, make a small ridge of fine earth, and thus proceed until the whole is planted; planted ; next, let the bed be covered to the thickness of about two inches with earth, and encompassed with a straw-band. About a week after, the whole should be sheltered under frames and glasses, and three inches of additional earth laid on the beds; the proper season for constructing which is from November to March.
Dr. Darwin advises the loosening, or turning over the earth, around and above the roots of this plant annually, for the purpose of admitting air into its cels or cavities, to convert a part of the manure, or carbonaceous soil, with which they have been supplied, into ammonia, or into carbonic acid, and thus to afford them both warmth and nutriment.
The roots of this plant have a slightly bitter, mucilaginous taste, rather inclining to sweetness ; the fruit is of a nearly similar flavour; but the young shoots are the most agreeable to the palate.
Asparagus is allowed to promote the appetite; and affords a delicious article of nourishment to the invalid and valetudinarian, who is hot troubled with flatulency : on the other hand, when eaten plentifully, it is attended with diuretic effects, and therefore a salutary food to those whose urinary passages are liable to obstructions, and a defective secretion of that fluid.
As a substitute for asparagus, the young buds of hops have been recommended, as they may be more easily procured, and are both grate-fid and wholesome.
Asparagus. In the 13th vol. of the " Repertory of Arts, " etc. a new method of rendering asparagus more productive, is communicated by Mr. Richard Weston ; who observes, that the male plants yield a greater number of shoots than the female ones ; though the former are of an inferior size. He consequently advises males only to be selected for the formation of beds ; and, to prevent mistakes, they should not be planted from the seed-bed, till they have flowered. After having grown 12 months, Mr. W. directs them to be removed into beds, at the distance of six inches from each other, where they ought to remain another year, in which they generally flower ; a small stick must then be driven into the ground, contiguous to each of the male plants, in order to separate them from the females, the latter of which are then to be pulled up.
Towards the end of July, especially if the weather be wet, the stalks of the asparagus should be cut down, the beds be forked up, and raked smooth. In case the season be dry, Mr. Weston irrigates the beds with the drainings of a dung-hill; leaving them somewhat hollow in the centre, for the better retention of the water or rain. In the course of 12 or 14 days, the asparagus begins to appear ; and, if the weather be very dry, the watering ought to be repeated once, or twice, every week. - By such method, he observes, a constant supply of this vegetable may be obtained, till the month of September, when hot-beds will become necessary; so that, by making five or six of the latter, during the winter, a regular succession may be procured, throughout the year.