One of the joys of spring is the taste of fresh asparagus. The spears usually begin to emerge in late March and asparagus is the first fresh vegetable of the year. From now until mid-May we’ll enjoy the delicious goodness. We stop picking it then in order to let the plants fern out and rejuvenate for another year. If well-tended an asparagus patch can produce for 20 years or more. It is an awesome and amazing food.
Asparagus is a perennial and it takes patience to establish it. In early spring of the first year you must dig a trench 10-12 inches deep. The “crowns” (which are mostly roots that look some kind of science fiction monster) are placed in the trench and covered with 2 or 3 inches of soil. As the spears emerge more soil is pulled into the trench until it’s back to ground level. As tempting as it is, it is important not to harvest any of the asparagus in year one. It must be allowed to grow and become established. The following spring it is OK to harvest spears for 7-10 days, but no more. Only in the third year can the asparagus be harvested for a full season. Because it is a permanent plant, asparagus beds cannot be cultivated mechanically. Keeping the weeds out must therefore be done entirely by hand. And unless you want to douse your food in poison (something that never happens here) the asparagus beetles have to be battled by hand as well.
Growing asparagus isn’t easy, but it is definitely worth it. It has an extraordinary taste and is packed full of nutrition. Asparagus is low in calories and rich in vitamins B, C and K. It is a great source of iron and is believed to help fight heart disease.
We’ve been delivering fresh asparagus to our CSA members for the past couple of weeks and they’re loving it. Fresh organic asparagus is superior to the store-bought kind in many ways. Industrial agricultural practices included not only the use of pesticides, herbicides and plastics, but they also harvest the spears mechanically, below ground. This increases the weight of the spear (and therefore the price) but the bottom of it is woody and inedible. By contrast, we harvest every morning by hand, above ground.
Asparagus has an interesting history. It originated as a plant that grows wild in the Mediterranean, where it is still usually harvested in the wild. During the Renaissance it became very popular among European royalty and aristocrats, particularly in France. It was served on special occassions by those who could afford it, but was generally far too expensive for the working classes. It is still very popular in France, although now much more accessible to folks of all stations of life.
Asparagus crowns were brought to the New World by some early French settlers and today in Quebec it is still called “the aristocrat of vegetables.”
During the Renaissance period (and later) asparagus was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Wives were counseled that they could discover if their husbands were straying (and using asparagus as the Renaissance era Viagra) by the distinctive aromatic side effect of eating asparagus. As Stanislas Martin wrote in the 18th Century, “asparagus has the drawback of giving the urine an unpleasant odor, which has more than once betrayed an illicit dinner.”
We’re harvesting over 2 pounds of asparagus per day now and the amount is increasing.
And we’ve added 115 new crowns. So in a mere 3 years we’ll have many more.
Good things are worth the wait.