It’s asparagus season! Local restaurants are featuring all sorts of dishes with fresh local asparagus. We took the kids out for Mexican food last night at Santiago’s and had a Fabulous chicken enchilada burrito that was big enough to feed all of us! The restaurant owner told us about the asparagus he buys each morning from the Fruit City fruit stand in Union Gap, on the south edge of Yakima. He said he is buying about 40 lbs each day to keep up with the special enchiladas he is serving.
We decided to go find Fruit City today and take a look and buy some asparagus for ourselves. Here’s what we found:The prices were amazing–$1.39 to $1.59/pound, depending on how much you bought. The farmer/owner taught us about how the asparagus is grown and harvested. Their family farm is south of town in Sunnyside (remember the photos I took there of asparagus fields about a week ago ?)
Here are a few interesting facts I learned from this farmer: Asparagus plants live up to 20 years. You plant what’s called “the crown” which looks like an octopus of roots about 18″ underground, with plants about 18″ apart. The soil is mounded up over the crown. It takes a year for the roots to establish themselves. Do not pick the first year! When the spears start to grow, they come up one at a time, sometimes several on a plant. One spear can grow up to 6″ in a day. Every day, cutters walk through the fields cutting the spears that are long enough.
Here’s the thing that surprised me–old tired plants produce thin spears. I always thought those were the tender little new ones. Nope. There is as much “wood” on the small spears as on the thicker ones, but you get way more tender meat on the thicker ones, so they are really more sweet and more tasty. Thickness of the spear has nothing to do with being tough or woody. (I would have picked out all the skinny spears, thinking they’d be more tender. Not so).
The growing season is up to 65 days, and one plant can produce 100s of spears during that time, but they must be cut or picked one at a time, by hand, bending over to cut them just below the surface of the soil.
If you break the ends off, they will break where the tender part ends and the woody part begins. That’s how you tell where to trim or cut them when you’re ready to eat them. Fresh asparagus also tastes delicious raw.We fixed these for dinner tonight!
Here’s an article about how to grow asparagus:
Asparagus is easy to grow and really doesn’t need anything special except a place where you can grow it for many years because it is a perennial vegetable that can thrive in the home garden for 15 years or more when well cared for. Asparagus plants should grow for at least 1 season in the garden before they are harvested. (Our 2 year crowns, available only in the fall, will be ready to harvest the next spring!) Click here to shop for asparagus crowns.
Asparagus is most productive on deep, well-drained, sandy loam soil, but it will do well on other soils if it has good drainage. Many people grow it in large raised beds where it will thrivoe in nice soft soil with lots of mulching every year. The crown itself (the bud type thing at the top of the long spaghetti leg roots) is what will sprout the asparagus spears. Asparagus crowns planted close together will produce smaller, thinner spears and spacing them further apart will produce larger spears. Mulching well will keep the flavor sweeter and milder.
Asparagus should be planted in the early spring or in the fall when temperatures are cooler. Before planting, add compost and organic fertilizer to amend the soil. If pH is below 6.0, lime should be added to correct pH. Dig a V-shaped furrow, 6 inches deep. Plant crowns with the buds up in the bottom of the furrow, and cover them with 1 – 3 inches of soil. Space the crowns 12 to 16 inches apart within the row. Allow at least 3 feet between the asparagus rows or the next closest vegetable crop.
The First Growing Season
As the asparagus begins to grow, gradually fill in the furrow with soil. (Be careful not to cover any of the asparagus foliage.) The furrows should be filled to ground level by the end of the first growing season. Add organic fertilizer (about 1/4 cup per plant of granular) spreading the fertilizer on each side of the asparagus and cultivate it lightly into the soil. Good soil moisture is important during the first growing season. Irrigate or water your asparagus enough to wet the soil 8 inches deep every week.
DO NOT harvest the asparagus spears that grow from 1 year crowns during their first season. Allow all of them to grow into brush which looks like dill or a ferny bush. Late in the fall of the first growing season, after the brush has turned completely brown, remove the brush (old stalks) and any weeds. (Note, in the fall, we have 2 year old crowns of Mary Washington asparagus that can be harvested in Spring of the following year.)
The Second Growing Season
Early next spring, sprinkle some lime as needed to maintain the proper soil pH. (about 1 lb for a 10 X 10 bed) Add compost and organic fertilizer again. Thorough watering (1-2 inches of water) slowly applied every two weeks during dry weather is sufficient. Remove the brush each succeeding fall after it has turned brown.
Each succeeding spring, before the asparagus emerges, add lime if needed and add compost and organic fertilizer. Rake the fertilizer and lime into the soil gently, 1 to 2 inches deep. Take care not to damage the asparagus crowns.
Use a knife to harvest spears. Use one hand to hold the top of the spear you are harvesting. Cut the spear off about one inch below the soil line. Be careful not to cut too deep – it will damage the asparagus crown.
Harvest all the spears that come up during the harvest season. A good general rule for length of harvest season is the 2-4-6 week sequence. Harvest for 2 weeks the second year the plants are in the garden, 4 weeks the third year, and 6 weeks the fourth and all following years. Each succeeding fall, remove any brush after it has turned brown.
If you harvest asparagus that will be eaten later, wash the spears and place the cut ends in about 2 inches of water. Like fresh flowers, they will keep in the refrigerator for several days.remove the brush (old stalks) and any weeds.