Here are some simple dos and don'ts about growing asparagus.
- Feed your crop with lots of composted cow manure. Asparagus loves a good organic soil. I add 4 " of the stuff on top of my beds most years in the spring.
- When you are through harvesting, which should be no later than early July here in zone 5, let the green shoots flower into their 6 foot ferny glory. They need to regenerate their root stock. Do not cut the foliage down. Let is brown out in the winter and clean it up in the spring.
- Don’t can your asparagus harvest; what a sorry substitute hot-packed asparagus, which turns an olivey color and takes on a slippery texture, is over fresh. Freeze it instead by simply sorting for size (big ones take longer to blanch than small), then lightly steaming or blanching spears before chilling them fast in ice water, drying, and packing in freezer bags with the air squeezed out. Blanching may take 1-3 minutes or thereabouts. Spears can be frozen whole or cut into pieces (the latter are great for future stir-fries, frittatas, and such).
- Don’t grow the old-fashioned varieties like ‘Martha Washington’ that include both male and female plants. The newer “Jersey hybrids” are all-male strains, and male plants live longer, are more prolific (because they don’t waste energy making red berries and seeds, the way females do). Hybrids also have many forms of disease-resistance bred in, besides 20 or even 30 percent greater yields. Many people have the older varieties in their yards, producing mightily after a decade or even two. But if you’re planning a new planting, think male.
- Most commonly we think of asparagus as being green; however, “blanched” or white asparagus is created by keeping the emerging spears in the dark, preventing the development of chlorophyll. The white asparagus has a much more delicate flavor in addition to being more tender compared to green asparagus. Purple asparagus is also available in some farmer’s markets and as a variety to grow at home. Purple asparagus is generally thought to be sweeter than the green varieties. The purple color comes from the pigment anthocyanin, which masks the green chlorophyll. Be forewarned, if you steam or cook purple asparagus in water the result will be green spears. Anthocyanin is a water soluble pigment that is washed out. If you grill, roast or pan sear purple asparagus, it will retain more of its color.
- Lastly, more evidence that eating locally and seasonally is better for you and the planet. . Don’t buy imported asparagus when there is local or at least domestic available. In fact, how about not buying asparagus out of season at all? America's and Britain’s hunger for spears year-round is having a devastating impact on the water supply in Peru, among other negative impacts, such as the decline in U.S. production from competition, and resulting farm subsidies. It all started in 1990 as a way to shift agriculture in the Andes region away from drug production (Coca farming) to something else…so while asparagus is in season here, why not stock up? Here is a website where you can learn more about this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/sep/15/peru-asparagus-aid-policy .
That's all for now. Happy gardening.