This time last year I had already picked asparagus for a couple weeks.
Before I could finish my harvest, however, I was called out of town for a couple weeks and by the time I returned, the asparagus I didn't get to harvest had sprouted into those lovely ferny, tree-like fronds that graced the edge of the vegetable garden the rest of summer. Unfortunately I missed most of the season and vowed that wouldn't happen this year.
This year the asparagus was late, no doubt because of colder than normal temperatures in April. I was unable to get into the asparagus patch anyway because of all the rain and soggy soil, but last week I finally harvested my first fresh asparagus and can't wait to bake some bacon wrapped bundles as a side dish for my dinner.
Asparagus takes an unfair beating by those who don't particularly prefer its unique flavor. When other asparagus-lovers were asked to describe its flavor, they couldn't really come up with anything that was even close, although I have heard it is somewhat like peas or artichokes or perhaps a cross between the two. What is definite is that if you are not a lover of vegetables, you probably won't like asparagus either.
Unless you wrap it in bacon.
Of course, there are other ways to prepare asparagus, but boiling them to death is not the answer. Like most canned vegetables, they can get mushy and virtually flavorless if overcooked. Which is why I never can asparagus, green beans or peas, but prefer to lightly blanche and freeze them instead. That is where there are enough left to preserve.
Asparagus is one of our only perennial vegetables, along with rhubarb, which is also in season now. Like most perennials, including flowers, they have a short period of usefullnessSP during the season. With asparagus, the stalks we eat are the immature plants. These plants need to grow and gather energy throughout the summer, so if we harvest every one that grows, there won't be any plants left to feed the roots for next year's harvest.
Most asparagus gardeners harvest for about six weeks off of established plants, but it takes about three years to get to that situation. When first planting asparagus, some growers recommend not harvesting for three years, I don't wait that long. I don't harvest the first year, but by the second year, I will pick a few stalks the first couple of weeks. The third year I'll go a couple more weeks and by the fourth year, I'm up to six weeks.
One of my favorite parts of vegetable gardening is waiting for those first asparagus stalks to show up. Usually the first of all the vegetables to be harvested. Seasons like this one, when we have so much rain it doesn't seem like we'll ever get into the garden to plant even peas or onions, asparagus is there. In Ohio, new plants can go into the ground from mid-April to late May.
The plants get quite tall over the summer and should be planted on either the west or north side of the garden to avoid shading the other plants. My vegetable garden is fenced, but my asparagus bed is outside the fence so that roots won't be damaged when we prepare for the annual vegetables.
Asparagus can be planted from seed, but it will take much longer before there are harvest-ready stalks. One-year old roots can be purchased from seed catalogs and in some cases can be found at local garden centers that are ready to put into the ground. To plant, dig a furrow or trench about six-inches deep and add a bit of fertilizer to the bottom.
Put the roots in the bottom of the furrow. Some sources say to fan out the roots and others say to simply toss the roots into the furrow because they will grow no matter how they are placed. I place mine about a foot apart along the fence, giving the adult plants adequate spacing for air circulation.
Fill the trench back to the soil line, but don't tamp the soil down. In a week or so, the first stalks will appear above the soil line. This time next year, you'll be harvesting the first of your asparagus too.
Don't forget the bacon.