Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April Asparagus

Purple Passion Asparagus

Do not adjust your monitor. That's purple asparagus your looking at. Isn't it pretty? When I started my asparagus patch in the spring of 2006, I was delighted to find out that there was a purple asparagus! I had never seen purple asparagus before and didn't really know what to expect. Like most purple vegetables, it does turn green when cooked. Of course there's nothing that says you can't eat your asparagus raw, especially when it's freshly harvested from your own garden. It's so tender, if you do opt to cook it, it only needs a minute of cooking... seriously.

The first spears emerge in my garden the third week of April. We'll be harvesting into May. This is the first vegetable I get to eat from my garden in the spring. As I harvest the first few spears, we will only get a few here and there. So I cut them up and add them to a salad. That way we each get a taste of asparagus.

Most people have not seen what asparagus looks like as it grows in the garden. So I thought I'd share some pictures. The asparagus spears we eat are tender new shoots that emerge from the crowns below the surface.

Asparagus has a permanent home in my raised bed garden.

Asparagus is a hardy perennial. My favorite kind of veggie. I planted it once and it grows back each year. A well cared for asparagus patch can live for 25 to 30 years, or so I'm told. I'll have to wait a while to find out for myself. Most people plant one year old crowns purchased from a nursery, as I did (here's a good source for crowns, Nourse Farms). You can also start your own asparagus seeds, but you'll have to wait a couple years longer to harvest any spears. Conventional wisdom says you do not harvest any the first year after planting. All you get to do is look at them. This allows the plants to get established.

I'll admit, it was pretty hard not harvesting any spears the first year. I let all of the spears, fern out and grow to maturity the first year. Henry found it to be a nice place to take a shady nap. He would curl up under the ferns as I would work in the garden. He's looking pretty sleepy here. It's just about time to lay down for a nap.

Asparagus is not just for eating. Henry likes it as a cool summer spot.

The second spring, you may harvest 2 or 3 spears per plant (third spring if you're starting from seed). I think I harvested even less than that, cautious of over harvesting. I wanted my plants to get well established. The third spring, is the best because you can harvest any spears that have a diameter greater than 3/8 of an inch and let all the skinnier ones fern out. The purple passion asparagus does turn green as it ferns out. Only the newly emerged spears are purple. I also have green asparagus in my patch, Jersey Giant. Ironically, my Jersey Giant asparagus is smaller than the purple passion. This one pictured below was too small to harvest. You can see the tip of the spear is beginning to loosen. Soon it will grow taller and fern out.

Jersey (not so) Giant asparagus.

Asparagus likes a neutral pH soil. That would be a pH of 7. If your soil is naturally on the acidic side, you'll need to add lime to the soil to make the asparagus grow happily. A pH lower than 6 and you'll have hard time growing it.

No comments: