Distinctive for its fat, one-and-a-half-inch-thick stems, Asparagus 'Conover’s Colossal' was developed by S. B. Conover, a produce commission merchant in New York’s old West Washington Market. It was introduced by the seedsman J. M. Thorburn & Company of New York in 1868, yet it was not until Peter Henderson, an influential market gardener and author, wrote an extensive article about this new asparagus in the January 1870 issue of the American Agriculturist that growers were finally convinced of its merits. He judged Conover’s superior not only for its stem size but also because each root produced anywhere from fifteen to forty sprouts. That kind of productivity would impress any market gardener for its profitability. His glowing testimonial doubtless gave Conover’s Colossal the boost it needed. Soon thereafter, it became one of the most popular varieties of the nineteenth century. The delicately flavoured young shoots of asparagus are one of the great luxuries of the vegetable plot, much of the mystique surrounding their cultivation is unwarranted. One of the most sought-after vegetables, asparagus is not difficult to grow if kept well fed and weed free. 'Connover's Colossal' is a traditional cultivar that gives good yields from selected crowns. The quality of these bright green spears with deep purple tips, and huge yield, is exceptional for a non hybrid. This heritage variety, popular since the 1870's is still grown and maintained by many home gardeners and commercial growers. Asparagus does not need traditional wide raised beds, nor is it the luxury crop often assumed. The plants have very decorative ferny foliage and may be grown in single rows in the kitchen garden, or even in groups in a flower border. All-male varieties have revolutionised cultivation - they are much more prolific than traditional kinds, earlier in their lives, and do not waste energy on producing seeds. If you are starting a new asparagus bed, remember that it should remain productive for at least 15 to 20 years. It is advisable both to plant the best variety available as you may never get to choose a variety again if your bed produces that long! Plant this perennial vegetable just once and enjoy the succulent spears for years. Asparagus Connover’s Colossal has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM). It is also recommended by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany
Choosing a site: Avoid frost pockets and exposed areas. Do not replant on an old asparagus bed as diseases may be a problem. Asparagus will grow on most soil types provided they are well drained. On heavy soils consider creating raised beds, acidic soils may need liming. Soil preparation is essential. Clear the ground of weeds. On heavily compacted soils consider double-digging, otherwise cultivate to a spade’s depth, incorporating well-rotted farmyard manure.
Planting: Sow indoors in Late Winter to Spring Soak the seeds in water overnight. Sow seeds singly into modules at a depth of 1.25cm (½in). They will germinate in 2 to 8 weeks depending on soil temperature. The optimum germination temperature is 20 to 28°C (60 to 85°F). After 12 to 14 weeks, they will be ready to be transplanted outdoors, do this no earlier than four weeks after the last spring frosts. Fork over the prepared area and dig a trench 30cm (12in) wide and 20cm (8in) deep. Work in well-rotted manure in the bottom, cover with 5cm (2in) of the excavated soil and make a 10cm-high (4in) ridge down the centre of the trench. Place the crowns on top, spacing them 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) apart (right). Leave 45cm (18in) between rows and stagger the plants. Spread the roots evenly and fill in the trench, leaving the bud tips just visible. Water in and mulch with 5cm (2in) of well-rotted manure.
Cultivation: Asparagus beds must be kept weed free - best done by hand as the shallow roots are easily damaged by hoeing. Mulching discourages weeds and retains moisture. Apply a general fertiliser in early spring and repeat once harvesting has finished. To avoid top-growth breaking off in wind and damaging the crown, use canes and twine either side of the row for support. Allow the foliage to yellow in autumn before cutting it down to 2.5cm (1in). Late frosts will cause distorted growth: protect with a double layer of fleece.
Harvesting: Do not harvest for the first two years. In the third year, pick from mid-April for six weeks. To harvest, choose spears that are thicker than a pencil. Cut with a sharp knife 2.5cm (1in) below the soil when they are no more than 18cm (7in) tall. In warm weather, harvest every two to three days for best quality spears.
Troubleshooting: The main pests to affect asparagus are slugs and snails, and the larvae and adults of the asparagus beetle. Thin spindly shoots may be due to inadequate moisture, especially with young crowns. In established beds the cause is more likely to be overcropping or competition from weeds.
Companion Plants: Tomato, Parsley and Basil.
Nomenclature: Asparagus was first domesticated by the Greeks and then the Romans took the culture of growing asparagus from eastern nations, from which they also took the old Iranian word 'sparega', which means shoot, rod or spray, referring to the plants habit, becoming 'asparagos' and 'asparagus' in Greek and Latin respectively. The specific designation 'officinalis' indicates its inclusion in official listings of medicinal plants. The variety name 'Connover’s Colossal' is generally spelt Conover, with one 'n' in America, after the breeder S. B. Conover. In other parts of the world it is spelt with a double 'n'.
Origin: Asparagus has its origins in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Siberia. It is a large genus comprising of about 150 species of herbaceous perennials, tender woody shrubs and vines. Some of them are grown for their ornamental value (ie Asparagus plumosus, A. densiflorus, A. virgatus) or for their medicinal value (ie A racemosus, A. verticillatus, A. adscendens). The wild species A. acutifolius has cultural roots in Spain and Greece. The only species cultivated for is tender shoots is Asparagus officinalis. The asparagus of the past was rather tall and narrow, very similar in appearance to wild asparagus. The fat-stemmed types with which we are more familiar evolved in the eighteenth century. Yet for all the claims about their relative merits, there were only two basic types: green and white, based on the colour of the spears. The old dark green varieties were often tinged with red or violet on the bud end. It is out of these that the modern purple-stemmed varieties have been developed. One of the first detailed guides on how to raise asparagus is traced back to about 65 A.D. by the Roman Columella. Romans spread the culture of growing asparagus along with their empire throughout Europe. In all Europe, except Spain the decline of the Roman Empire brought a decline in its cultivation, which was confined only to some feudal lords and monastery gardens as a medicinal plant, until the Renaissance, when it was rediscovered as an appreciated vegetable.
Breeding: The Renaissance brought an increased interest in neglected species, becoming the growing of asparagus popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Germany, France England and the Netherlands. Asparagus populations began to be identified according to countries and towns where they were grown, arising proveniences as Riga, Ghent, Vendome and Violet Dutch. During the nineteenth century Argenteuil from France and Braunschweiger from Germany gained reputation, replacing populations and landraces currently planted by that time. Subsequent selections were conducted from Argenteuil in many countries, yielding Early and Late Argenteuil in France, Reading Giant in England and Palmetto in the USA. In the beginning of the 20th century, in France and Italy selections of advanced cultivars were derived from Argenteuil, while in the US, a great effort of breeding was carried out by JB Norton in the search for rust resistance (Puccinia asparagi) yielding Martha Washington and then Mary Washington cultivars. Each cultivar was the advanced first generation progeny of two selected plants derived from Reading Giant and probably Argenteuil. Martha Washington was hugely successful and still available today.
Introduction: Distinctive for its fat, one-and-a-half-inch-thick stumpy stems, this variety was developed by S. B. Conover, a produce commission merchant in New York’s old West Washington Market. Conover created his new asparagus from an unnamed European variety introduced in 1863. He selected seeds over a period of years with an eye for size, and his asparagus evolved into a unique variety. His experiments were undertaken in the fields of Abraham Van Siclen of Queens, NY, USA. At the time, Van Siclen was well known for his vegetables, especially for his Oyster Bay Asparagus, a variety then popular with New Yorkers. Asparagus 'Connover’s Colossal' was introduced by the seedsman J. M. Thorburn & Company of New York in 1868, yet it was not until Peter Henderson, an influential market gardener and author, wrote an extensive article about this new asparagus in the January 1870 issue of the American Agriculturist that growers were finally convinced of its merits. The perennial problem was that mammoth varieties of asparagus appeared from time to time only in the end to cause disappointment, and very few people in the 1860s were willing to believe that the vegetable could be improved. Peter Henderson admitted his own scepticism until he saw the asparagus first-hand, and his glowing testimonial doubtless gave Conover’s Colossal the boost it needed. Soon thereafter, it became one of the most popular varieties of the nineteenth century. Peter Henderson went to inspect Van Siclen’s asparagus side by side with Conover’s and judged Conover’s superior not only for its stem size but also because each root produced anywhere from fifteen to forty sprouts. That kind of productivity would impress any market gardener for its profitability. Yet while Conover had a talent for breeding new varieties, Van Siclen, his partner in this deal, was the true key to success because he developed a method for raising asparagus that has been recommended ever since.
|Average Seed Count||50 Seeds|
|Other Common Names||No|
|Natural Flower Time||No|
|Time to Harvest||No|
|Time to Sow||No|