The flavor, texture and appearance of asparagus is determined by the weather and the soil in which it grows. Fresh-picked asparagus is crisp with an earthy, mineral taste and an unexpected sweetness. No other vegetable has the same depth of flavor. It’s also one of the most nutritious vegetables in the garden. It’s an excellent source of fiber, potassium, vitamins A and C and several antioxidants. Rachel and I look forward to seeing the first shoots push up through the soil, like little green beacons signaling the arrival of spring.
Asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables that grow in Kansas. An established bed can provide garden-fresh produce year after year, for decades. I’ve seen recommendations to plant as many as 24 crowns per family member. That seems like a lot. Rachel and I really love asparagus and 14 crowns have been more than enough for both of us. If you start off with too many, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and your garden will suffer from neglect. A smaller patch won’t seem like such a burden. You can always plant more in the future.
Try not to harvest your crop the same year you plant it. Hold out for at least two years – three is even better. Give the root system a chance to become fully entrenched and store up enough sugars to get your plants off to a good start. The longer you put off your first harvest, the better results you’ll have. Once your bed comes into full production, you’ll hardly be able to keep up with the output. You’ll have plenty to eat and even more to give away.
Spears will start coming up when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees. After that, the rate of growth is determined by the air temperature. They’ll grow faster as the temperature rises. By the end of May, you could find yourself picking spears twice a day. Harvest when they’re six to eight inches, regardless of their thickness. Make sure the tips are nice and tight. Once the tips open, they lose their flavor and the stems become woody. Many people think that thicker spears are tougher than thin ones. That’s not necessarily true. There is no relationship between size (diameter) and tenderness. You’ll always have different sized spears growing side by side. As long as the tips are tightly closed, they should be equally tender. To harvest, simply snap or cut them off close to the ground. Be careful not to nick the roots. Asparagus tastes best when it’s garden-fresh and prepared simply. Here’s a suggestion for brunch. Try dipping the tips in soft-boiled egg yolks or use instead of celery to garnish a Bloody Mary.
Traditionally, asparagus is harvested for eight weeks each spring. Last year, I unknowingly discovered that it’s possible to have a fall harvest as well. Here’s how. Divide your asparagus bed in half. Harvest half of the spears in the spring as you normally would. Let the other half grow tall and allow it to fern out. In August, cut down the ferns in the half that wasn’t harvested. The crowns will produce new shoots that you can harvest for up to six weeks. Savor the goodness of home-grown asparagus.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org