“The fresh stems have the tight, shiny sex appeal of dressed-up matrons on the dance floor of a Latin social club, but they lose their shine and crispness so quickly when the song is over.” – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
I am so excited about today’s post! Born out of my LOVE for fresh vegetables and abundant gardens, I have requested the advice of my talented Aunt on how to grow one of the best vegetables on earth, Asparagus! Why Asparagus? Because it is known that no asparagus tastes as sweet as the one picked that day.
My Aunt was the first person to open my eyes to the world of gardening and harvesting, as I can so fondly remember visiting her in the summers and picking fresh blackberries from her backyard. You can imagine my wonderment, being a child from Los Angeles, as I was able to pick and eat food directly from the earth. There was nothing more magical than that moment, as it planted the first seed of my growing dream of creating an expansive garden of my own.
Now for the woman of the hour! Take it away…
My love affair with asparagus started four years ago. My sister, who lives in upstate New York, casually mentioned her great asparagus crop. She is an avid gardener and we always compare the progress of our gardens in the spring, as spring usually arrives a few weeks earlier here in the Northwest. I casually replied that I had never grown asparagus. “WHAT! You’ve never grown asparagus? What kind of gardener are you?” my sister lamented. Obviously, her love affair with asparagus had started years before mine! Within a couple of weeks I was the proud owner of 10 beautiful asparagus crowns (these are the roots of the plant), thanks to my sister and a mail order seed company in New York.
Now, here is the good news and the bad news about asparagus. The bad news is that you have to wait at least 3 years to get a bountiful crop. The good news is once those crowns are in the ground and tended to properly, they have the potential to produce for 15 years or longer!
I began my asparagus journey by scoping out a good place to put the permanent crowns in my garden. I live in Oregon on 10 acres in rural Clackamas County. Our neighbors tend to Christmas tree farms and holly farms. A fabulous view of Mt Hood is just a few miles up the road. This is also deer and slug country – my two most dreaded garden pests. So, in my search for the perfect spot for my crowns, I had to take into consideration how I was going to deter these pests from my new plantings. A few years back, looking for a natural deer repellent, I had come across something called a “scarecrow” sprinkler. You simply attach the sprinkler to a garden hose, turn it on, and when a deer (or another pesky critter) walks within its range it is sprayed with water. The sprinkler is triggered by heat and motion. The surprise factor and the water keep the deer away. One problem solved.
The slugs were a tougher problem. You can always use the old tried and true beer in a bowl trick, but that seemed too labor intensive (and wasteful!) so I researched other methods. I found out that wood ashes help to repel slugs and also mulching with oak leaves which are plentiful on our property.
The asparagus planting day finally arrived. I prepared the soil and gently placed the crowns in. Now came the waiting. The first year beautiful ferny green plants shot up in the early spring. Second year was more of the same, but I also was surprised by a few spears the size of my finger. Third year, finally! Instead of the ferny plants and small spears, beautiful, large spears poked their heads up through the soil. My first home grown spear was eaten raw, straight out of the garden. My sister had told me that there is no better way to eat them and she was right. Delicious! My patience and diligence had paid off.
Tips For a Successful Asparagus Bed
- Prepare the soil in early spring by using rich, organic material such as compost, rotted leaves, manure
- Crowns should be planted in a sunny spot about 1 foot apart in a trench 6 inches deep and covered with two inches of soil.
- Water weekly if you do not have rain.
- During the first year, do not cut the shoots. You want the foliage to grow and die off in the fall. This provides food for the roots.
- During year two you can harvest the stalks being careful to snap the stalks off at the base instead of cutting them with a knife which might harm immature spears.
- Year three should finally yield enough asparagus for a family dinner! Harvest the stalks when they are about six inches tall. They can grow inches overnight so keep a close eye on your crop during this time.
- Apply manure and other organic material once a year after the cutting season is over.
- Purchase Heirloom, Open-Pollinated seeds. A great place to purchase them can be found here.
Interesting Facts About Asparagus
- An imported favorite of Thomas Jefferson
- Asparagus officinalis is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia
- It appeared on a 5,000 year-old Egyptian hieroglyph
- The name comes from the Persian word for sprout.
- In medieval Italy, the rhizome was thought to be an effective form of birth control
- Louis XIV built greenhouses dedicated to this “food of kings”.
- Caesars chartered ships to scour the empire for the best spears to bring to Rome.
- Roman charioteers would hustle fresh asparagus from the Tiber River Valley up into the Alps and keep it buried there in snow for 6 months, all so it could be served with a big “Ta-daa” at the autumnal Feast of Epicurus. Talk about Frozen Food!
- In the early 20th century, Japanese food scientist Ikeda, first documented that asparagus had a flavor that lay outside the range of the four tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Its distinctive tang derives from glutamic acid, also called “the fifth taste” or umami
- People in the Netherlands celebrate the first cutting of the asparagus with a holiday where the restaurants feature all-asparagus menus and they hand out neckties decorated with asparagus spears.
- Fat spears are no more tender than slender ones.
- White spears are botanically no different than their green colleagues. The same plant can produce both.
- Europeans of the Renaissance swore by the roots of the asparagus as being a potent aphrodisiac, which led to the church banning them from nunneries.
Now that we have Asparagus on the mind, what is your favorite way to eat it?