Monday, April 25, 2011

Waiting For Asparagus

The beginning of asparagus season is torture.
When the spring days are cool and cloudy, as they have been this spring, the torture is prolonged.
During the first week of April, I start checking the asparagus bed every time I walk by it (which could be several times a day), looking for the first asparagus tips poking through the soil.
The first tips usually don't appear until about the second week of April, so I torture myself longer than necessary by checking early.
Finally, the first pale tip appears and my trips by the asparagus bed come even more frequently. That first spear grows slowly, but finally, one day I have it. One asparagus spear goes in the refrigerator to await companions.
When the weather is warm and sunny, a few more spears may appear rather quickly. On a really warm day, they can go from barely poking through in the morning to ready to pick by evening.
On Saturday, I discovered a couple of dozen asparagus tips coming through the soil. It has been rainy and cool since, though, so they are growing slowly. Yet, this morning I picked three more spears, making my total harvest 13 spears so far. Finally, enough to do something with.
According to an old Organic Gardening article, just 25 plants have the capability of producing 20 pounds of spears a year. When well cared for, plants can produce for up to 20 years, or longer. Many old rural homesteads can be located by ancient stands of asparagus.
It takes about three years for asparagus to get into full production. My first planting is just three years old and I will always know how old those first dozen plants are. They were planted the day my son’s daughter was born.
After staying up all night to meet my granddaughter, I drove an hour to get home and on the way stopped to buy asparagus crowns. I planted them as soon as I got home. Another dozen or so were planted the following year.
Asparagus prefers light, well-drained, rich soil. I give them a healthy helping of compost each year, adding some well-composted horse manure this year. To keep them out of the tight clay soil that predominates our hilltop, the asparagus is planted in a raised bed.
Asparagus is relatively easy to grow. Just keep it weeded and feed it once or twice a year, then cut back the tall fronds at the end of the growing season. Asparagus beetles are the main pest of this crop, but cutting the dead plants back each fall decreases the problem. I have seen asparagus beetles in my stands, but experience little damage.
I hope to have an abundant harvest this year. I would like to freeze and pickle some. My mother-in-law also has been asking how our asparagus is doing. She is probably waiting for us to offer her some, which I will gladly do when the harvest is coming in strong.
Although it grows all summer, don’t harvest asparagus all summer or you will weaken the roots. Stop harvesting once the spears are no bigger around than a pencil and let them develop into frilly fronds. A bed full of mature asparagus fronds is quite lovely, especially when covered with a late fall frost or heavy dew.
Mature asparagus, 3 years old or more, can be harvested for 6 to 10 weeks. Younger plants should not be harvested for more than 4 weeks. One horticulturist recommends letting two or three of the early spears mature into photosynthesizing fronds, which should allow you to continue your harvest for at least two weeks longer.
I grow a variety called “Purple Passion,” mostly because I prefer the red or purple varieties of usually green vegetables. However, this variety also is quite tender, with a milder, sweeter flavor than some other varieties. It also contains less of the compounds that produce a strong odor in the urine of people who eat it.
Asparagus is rich in a number of important minerals, B vitamins and folic acid. It has a long-standing reputation as an aphrodisiac, as well. Just look at an asparagus spear, what does it remind you of?
By the end of the week, the temperature is suppose to reach the 70s, but then fall back to 60. I hope those temperatures are warm enough to end the torture.
Mature asparagus on a frosty autumn morning.

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