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Like most things in my life, I like my asparagus prepared simply. I love to just steam it lightly. Then I take some extra virgin olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, a touch of salt and some freshly shredded parmesan. I toss everything together and that is it. I am getting hungry just thinking about it. Unfortunately, the harvesting season for asparagus is for such a short period it is hard to enjoy it all year long. But, the good news is that if fresh asparagus is blanched and frozen, it will preserve well.
Asparagus is typically thought of as being green. But, there are purple hybrid varieties as well. Don’t get too excited about this. If you cook the purple asparagus it will revert back to the green color. That is not the case for white asparagus. It is most desired because it is considered less bitter and more tender. The white color is obtained by keeping the asparagus covered with dirt while it is growing. There is no exposure to the sun so there is no photosynthesis which produces chlorophyll. The chlorophyll is what causes the green color.
- This plant is a perennial, which means that it lives more than 2 years. Actually it will last a lot longer than that. A well maintained asparagus bed may live up to 15 – 20 years.
- The plants grow 39″ to 84″ tall.
- Asparagus is approximately 93% water.
- Plants are either male or female. Female plants produce a red berry which is poisonous. They will appear after the fern like leaves are already open.
- There are some hybrid varieties available that only produce male plants. These hybrids are also resistant to some of the more common diseases that plague asparagus such as Fusarium or crown rot.
- Asparagus does not like to compete with weeds. Be sure to keep your bed weed free.
Asparagus will only grow in zones 4 – 8. You can plant this from seeds, but it will add an additional year onto the time to harvest. Most people will plant crowns. These are 1 year old dormant plants that can be purchased from seed companies. Yes, they are more expensive than the seeds, but considering the lifetime of the plants, I would opt for getting to harvest a year sooner. This is a plant that does extremely well in a raised bed growing situation.
Crowns should be planted in sunny, well drained, loose soil in the Spring and in the Fall in some warmer climates. In the Spring you should plant outside 4 – 6 weeks before the last frost date. It prefers a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. You should test your soil first and amend before planting if needed. To plant dig a trench that is 12″ to 15″ wide and 6″ to 8″ deep. If you are planting multiple rows they should be 3′ apart. Soak your crowns in water for 15 – 30 minutes before planting to be sure they are hydrated . Place a small mound of dirt in the bottom of the trench. Place your crown on this. Be sure to fan out your roots around the crown. Fill in you trench . Water immediately after planting. Cover your bed with mulch to help control weeds and maintain moisture levels. Do not use straw as it may contain seeds.
- Asparagus grows best in temperatures of 65 to 85 degrees F.
- Production is inhibited at temperatures of 50 degrees F or lower.
- Keep your beds weed free.
- Do not over water as this plant does not like wet roots.
- Keep any mulch off of the plants as it may cause rot.
- Fertilize before the spring growth and right after harvest
- Use a fertilizer high in Nitrogen (N) and Potassium (K) and lower in Phosphorus (P)
- cut back stalks to the ground in fall
During the first year you should maintain the plants per their requirements. But, you will not harvest during the first year. During the second year you can harvest lightly. The third year is when the bed starts to come into full production.
Plants should be harvested when they are 6″ to 8″ tall. You should not harvest plants that are under 1/4″ in diameter. With ideal growing conditions this plant will grow rapidly. You should check for plants to harvest daily during the short 8 week harvest period. You should cut the plants at the soil level using an asparagus knife.
Asparagus can be steamed, boiled or blanched, roasted, stir fried or it can be eaten raw. Asparagus can also be preserved by freezing or pickling. It is simple to prepare. The woody ends must be removed. To find where this is you would simply hold each end of the spear and flex it. The best way to do this is to just break it while you are bending it. You can however pile up the whole batch and use a knife to cut off the bottoms. Asparagus should be thoroughly rinsed under water before cooking or eating.
This plant is high in many vitamins, but it has very few calories. It is a good source of antioxidants and has been known to help lower blood pressure. Plus, it is simple to prepare and oh yeah, tasty. Go out and plant some asparagus today!