- Asparagus is a herbaceous perennial native to the marshy areas of Europe, Asia and North Africa. Selective breeding and growing techniques have resulted in a thick, fleshy shoot that has long been considered a culinary delicacy.
- Asparagus was a favorite of the Romans who cultivated a spear much larger than our modern cultivars. Recipes for asparagus can be found in 14th century Italian and Catalan manuscript collections.
- Asparagus has long enjoyed a reputation of being a medicinal plant. Its botanical name officinalis means “from the dispensary”. Asparagus is a diuretic, and laxative and was thought to help with a range of ailments including sciatica, eye problems, toothaches, and cramps.
- In the Spring when the asparagus starts coming up, farmers are busy harvesting spears daily as asparagus grows very fast. Up to 1 inch per hour if the weather is right!
- Asparagus is a perennial crop planted in spring or fall from “crowns”. It can grow in the same sunny spot for 20 years, so choose your location wisely.
- Asparagus likes deep, light loamy fertile soil. It will grow well on sand as long as it has plenty of compost. In the fall, compost over cut ferns heavily to feed the asparagus
- 10 crowns can fit into a 4 by 8 foot bed and is generally enough for a family of four.
- Transplant asparagus crowns 45-60 cm apart into trenches that are 15-20 cm deep. (One crown can produce about 10 spears.) Drape the crown’s roots over a small mound of compost before covering the trench up with more soil and compost.
- Water regularly, but don’t let soil get soggy.
- Stay on top of weeds in your asparagus patch as perennial weeds such as quackgrass and thistle are very hard to remove once established. The roots intertwine with the asparagus and can ruin a bed.
- Don’t cut any asparagus spears in the following two springs after planting. Allow a stalk from each crown to go to fern after that. It feeds the crown as you pick the other spears and lengthens the harvest. In the third year, you can start harvesting (check the patch every two or three days) but stop the third week in June to allow the plants to recover. Waiting two years before harvesting gives the plants a chance to become established.
- Asparagus is ready when it’s 15-20 cm tall and a little over one cm thick. To harvest the stalks, snap them off at ground level with your fingers (don’t cut them with a knife).
- White asparagus is grown by heaping sandy soil around growing stems to block out the sunlight, It has a milder flavour than green asparagus.
Asparagus deteriorates rapidly and so it’s best eaten as fresh as possible. There are so many ways to enjoy this treat – steamed, sauteed in oil and garlic, roasted, eaten fresh in salad and even Barbequed.
Since we’re coming into BBQ season, here are directions on how to easily grill your fresh.
- Preheat grill on high heat.
- Lightly coat the asparagus spears with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Grill over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or to desired tenderness. The thicker the stocks the longer it will take. Turn spears every minute or so to ensure even cooking.
Happy asparagus season!