One of the great sendoffs to the season of spring has been the anticipation of our first shoots of green goodness pushing up from the warming soil. I am talking about asparagus. It arrives at a time when our food stores from last year’s garden are limited to some onions, potatoes and a few hard squashes.
Suddenly in the late days of April, stalks of asparagus will appear, offering a fresh green vegetable full of nutrients and vitamins that are absolutely delicious. Few have the opportunity to enjoy the bright flavor of asparagus picked just that morning. I know that in the grocery stores asparagus is offered virtually year round but again you have to ask the question: How far has it traveled to get to your plate? One thing I can tell you for certain, is that there is not a store in the country that can rival the enjoyment and flavor from asparagus picked from your own garden. This incredible veggie can be harvested from its first awakening in late April all the way through the fourth of July. So prolific is this plant that ten or so will feed all of your family and friends.
The best part of growing asparagus is that it keeps coming back every year and requires very little effort once it has been planted. It was ten years ago we planted some at Stoney Ridge Farm and it has been a celebration every year.
So how do you get in the asparagus game? It starts at the root. Yes, you will actually be purchasing the root and planting it. So here goes the process that will profoundly launch you to another culinary plateau.
Consider where you may want to plant some of these jewels of spring. Remember that they will be back every year. After the harvest season they need to be allowed to fern up to fortify the roots for the next season. The ferns will grow up to four feet tall and are a beautiful sight with a fall frost. So give it some thought from an aesthetic standpoint.
The roots can be purchased from most garden stores and are not expensive. They will be offered at different ages, usually from one to three years old. I selected three-year-old roots, as they can offer a limited harvest even the first year of planting. (Sorry, I’m impatient.)
After selecting the area to plant the roots, dig a trench twelve inches wide and eighteen inches deep, allowing a one-foot spacing in the trench between each root. This sounds like work, I know, but spread this short moment of effort over the next thirty years of free, fresh asparagus and the pain will melt away. Besides, if you have kids, let them experience the business end of the shovel. Problem solved and they get dinner.
Place the root into the trench top side up. Directions come with the roots. Spread the fingers of the roots out and cover with about six inches of soil.
Now the cool part: When the roots sprout and start to peek out from the first layer of soil -- a very exciting time, I might add -- place another four inches over the top of the sprouts. Repeat this process until the trench soil is level with the surrounding grade. The rest is left up to nature.
Once the sprouts are established, go ahead and try a few. Remember that the first season is to get the roots to fortify and establish. The next season you are going to have a gold mine.
For those of you that have your own patches, spread the word and comment, it well help the shy ones to give it a try.
Have a question? Then ask away.
Note: Not only will this provide your family with another great food source, but will add to the resale value to your home.