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How not to pick asparagus. June 13, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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This spring, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood wandered over to our neighbor’s yard to see how her two raised veggie beds were coming along. She’s a newbie gardener, and just put up and planted the beds for the first time last year. One of the things she’d put in were asparagus crowns, and we wanted to see if they’d survived the winter and were showing any signs of life.

We were too late. Here’s what you’re supposed to do when you plant asparagus: The first year after you plant asparagus, you let all the spears come up and mature to strengthen the crowns. The second year, you can harvest a few spears from each plant, but again, you let most of them remain on the plant and mature. The third year, you can harvest a few more spears from each plant, again letting a majority remain and mature. After that, you can harvest as many spears as you like, ceasing to harvest when the spears begin to look spindly, then letting all remaining spears mature. By exercising some self-control, you can look forward to 25 years of abundant harvests from your original planting.

And about those harvests: The “proper” way to harvest asparagus is to grab each spear just below the soil line and snap it off at the base. (If this seems too intimidating, you can always take your pruners and cut them off just below soil level.)

Bear in mind that asparagus spears grow amazingly fast once they’ve poked their heads out of the ground. Your goal is to harvest them while their buds are tight and firm, before they start loosening up and elongating into side branches. If you don’t get enough spears from one day’s harvest to turn into a dish, harvest the ones that are ready anyway and put the cut ends in a glass of water as you would a bunch of flowers or fresh herbs, then put the glass in the refrigerator to await tomorrow’s additions. And here’s a myth-buster: Plump, firm stalks are the most succulent and delicious, however “gourmet” those bunches of anorexic little stalks may look at the grocery.

But to return to our neighbor’s garden: It looked like the aftermath of a forest fire. Every single asparagus stalk had been chopped off at the top, leaving about 18 inches of stem sticking out of the ground. The skinny, pitiful little topless stems made us realize what bad neighbors we’d been. Next time Silence saw Joan* in the garden, she rushed over just in time to prevent further slaughter of what were now 1/8-inch-thick stalks. Joan enthusiastically exclaimed over how delicious her asparagus was and how much she’d been harvesting.

Silence had her work cut out for her explaining to Joan that she really couldn’t harvest even one more spear if she wanted to have anything to harvest next year. She tried to point out that we’re surrounded by farmers’ markets that carry delicious homegrown asparagus, and Joan could satisfy her asparagus cravings at them while sparing her own plants. (Silence wisely decided to save the issue of how to actually harvest the stalks ’til next season.) 

We still don’t know if Joan was able to resist temptation and take Silence’s advice. But please, people, if you’re thinking about planting asparagus, do as we say, not as Joan did. We know it’s hard, but some things really are worth waiting for.

* Not her real name.

Comments»

1. narf77 - June 15, 2012

We inherited a property hell bent on exponentially increasing the asparagus population of Tasmania all by itself. You would be AMAZED at where asparagus is sprouting from! I find this incredible considering everyone keeps telling me how very hard it is to get asparagus to grow…we have it (seeded by birds) growing down the driveway, in the driest and wettest areas of the garden, a large stand of it is growing adjacent to an enormous conifer and yet more pokes its overextended branches laden with more red exponential asparagus futures through the shrubbery. We just let it go and harvest from the original site that we cleared out and rediscovered underneath a mountain of banana passionfruit to our delight. I like to eat it raw and wander about the garden harvesting the occasional sprig here and there and leaving most of them to grow, seed and be propagated by the local wildlife. Tell “Joan” from me that her future will be asparagus rich if she can only wait a few years…so very hard when it comes to buttery pepper laden heaven…

How wonderful for you, Fran! And you can imagine my envy over the “mountain” of banana passionfruit! Our asparagus tends to come up in odd places, too. None weirder than the lawn!


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