Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gardening Tips- Asparagus

I read somewhere that 90% of all asparagus sold in the US (organic or otherwise) is imported from South America. Peru to be exact. I can not abide store bought asparagus. It is tough. It retains a small amount of asparagus-ness, that asparagus taste, that "asparagus effect" several minutes after ingestion, but little of the sweetness one should find in a spear of asparagus. And of course I failed to mention the frozen or canned varieties that are cooked down to sludge - hard to swallow - literally.

The following is how we grow asparagus. It is simple and it is hard. That is, simple steps but hard work, and it requires a certain amount of patience that Patt and I have only recently been able to achieve. But the pay off is a fresh, crispy, sweet asparagus cooked within minutes of its cutting. We've found also that within a few days of cutting, kept in a jar of water in the fridge, the asparagus still retains most of the asparagus-ness of the asparagus.

 We start with an untouched portion of our garden. We've decided to expand our asparagus crop so we have enough to sell. After two years of dormancy this is what it looks like. Tall weeds, bermuda grass, and other weeds.

We then dig a trench two feet wide and a foot deep. This photo shows the end of one of the recent trenches we've just dug. The center weedy portion we still have to go through and weed out by hand. We try to use no petroleum in the production of our produce so all trenches and weeding are done with hand tools or bare fingers.

Here is the finished trench. You can see the remnants of a former planting of Purple Asparagus. Only two plants survived the drought of last summer and the weeds. Over the next few days we will mix in some well composted manure from in front of our chicken coop (seen in the back ground) and then plant the new 2 year old asparagus crowns, spreading the tendrils out in the bottom of the trench and lightly covering with soil. As the initial shoot grows and begins to branch out, we will add more of this composted manure until the trench is completely filled in and mounded up around the plant. Next spring we will be able to cut fresh spears once or twice and then we will let them all leaf out into ferns. Another year of photosynthesis and strengthening the roots will provide a bountiful harvest the year after next. (this is the patience part)

Here's what it looks like as it sprouts. These spears are in our original bed, now 5 years old (counting the two years the roots had been growing when we purchased them.) We simply cut them off at or below ground level and eat them within minutes. Awesome!

This is a spear we decided to let leaf out. Once the spears you harvest get to be pencil thin, it is time to let the root rest. This spear will grow out into a big bushy fern which we will let stand until the first heavy frost turns it brown. We will then fertilize the bed with some goat and sheep manure, mulch with old hay or straw and then cut the fern down and lay it on top of the mulch to keep the hay in place throughout the winter. Next spring about the time the Irises in our flower garden start developing buds, we will pull back the thick layer of mulch and find, God willing, a new spring crop of asparagus.

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