One thing that caused me to want to eat asparagus even more was Barbara Kingsolver’s description of creating an asparagus bed on her farm when she moved to North Carolina. Her depiction of soil prep and care and the fruits of the effort was worthy. When I was about 7 years old, I remember my parents enthusiastically welcoming my discovery of wild asparagus growing at the creek bed behind our home.
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable which can live longer than 12 years. It’s a wonderful spring crop because it does return on an annual basis and because it freezes well if you have excess. During the harvest season, asparagus spears develop each day from underground crowns.
If you choose to grow it, asparagus can be raised either from seed or from 1-2 to year-old crowns. For best results, purchase crowns from a respected farm or nursery. My local urban farmer recommends the following 6 steps:
1. Dig a trench one foot deep in a place with good drainage and full sun.
2. Add a good organic fertilizer to the bottom of the hole and work it in.
3. Per the spacing instructions lay the asparagus roots in the bottom of the trench.
4. As asparagus likes organic rich soil add organic material into the trench along with the dirt that was dug.
5. Let the asparagus grow for a year.
6. In year after the asparagus has grown out finish filling the trench with a good organic mix.
The way asparagus grows is interesting. In the Southwest, asparagus shoots poke their heads through the mulch sometime around the Ides of March. Those are the ones you want to eat! Size matters! Don’t let them get too tall or they’ll get woody and tough. The bed will produce edible shoots for about a month and then tall wispy stalks shoot up looking just like asparagus fern. The fern will grow until it gets cold in the fall and plays an important role in the long-term success of the plants.
The oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third century AD De re coquinaria, has a recipe for asparagus. It’s low in calories and a good source of many vitamins like B6, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium.. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, as the asparagus plant is rich in this compound.
Asparagus shoots can be prepared in many ways, often as an appetizer or vegetable side dish. Last night, as part of our annual ski trip, our friendly chef grilled it quickly after brushing it with olive oil and salt and pepper. Make extra when it’s in season and add it to soups and eggs and pasta. Enjoy it raw in a salad and in order to store it for a long time, try pickling it.
- 1 lb fresh asparagus spears, ends trimmed
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat grill for high heat.
- Lightly coat the asparagus spears with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Grill over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or to desired tenderness.
- Keep close watch as they will overcook or burn very quickly.
P.S. The photo above is the blossom on one of the agave plants in our yard. My boys are insistent that I add that asparagus is known to change the odor of urine. Well, that’s not exactly the way they said it.