Asparagus Part 2

Larry G. Field
Thursday, March 14, 2019
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All green plants have supportive fibers in their stem/stalk. The older any given portion of the stem, the more abundant and tougher these fibers. Normally about two-thirds of a stalk will be edible. A 3” stalk will have 2” edible, a 9” stalk will have 6” edible. Tricks to increasing your asparagus yield is to allow the stalks to grow to 6-10 inches, then utilize the “good” tender 2/3 of the top of the stalk, then cut more from the less fibrous end of the lower portion into 1/4 inch lengths to shorten the lengths of the tougher fibers, reducing the “toughness.” Use these 1/4 inch pieces in cooked dishes such as omelets. Do not save the very tough parts of the stalk, perhaps the lowest 1/6 of its length; a very few “woody” pieces will ruin the entire finished dish.

An age old dilemma, where do I cut the stalk from the plant? Observation: Note that the commercial growers, the experts, cut at the surface of the ground. Purchase a bundle of asparagus from a grocer. Note that the entire length of most stalks will be chlorophyll green, cut above ground. There is no need to cut below the soil surface to gain additional unfit stem.

Asparagus may be eaten raw or cooked, as can many, perhaps most vegetables grown at 46 degrees latitude. It is a favorite vegetable but one that is difficult to process by cooking. The fibers in the stem are most tender at the tip and least tender at the base; therefore, the top cooks rapidly with progressive delay in becoming “done” as one progresses downward on the spear. Best cooking results may be obtained by beginning with an excess of spears and dividing each into three sections. Cook the tips, 2-3 inch pieces, together, cook the medium/low stems together, the 2 inches below the “tips”, then “dice” the lowest part of the edible portion of the stem into 1/4 inch lengths and cook them together. If you choose to cook the entire spears, target slightly overcooking the tip while slightly undercooking the base. If using asparagus in “dishes” instead of by itself as a “vegetable,” be careful not to “overpower” it with strong flavors (fish, onion, hot pepper, etc) that will mask the asparagus flavor.

I utilize asparagus as a seasonal treat. I enjoy it greatly in the spring when picked fresh but I have never found a preserva- tion technique that yields what I consider to be quality food. One can accelerate the 1st asparagus picking of the season by about one week by planting in barrels which warm faster than the ground. Domestic asparagus in tilled dark soil will normally produce 7-10 days before feral plants which are insulated by dead grass with lighter color than soil and therefore reflects more spring solar radiation. I generally harvest until June 1. Beyond that I allow the plants to regenerate and grow. Plants will continue to produce spears all summer. Young plants will produce progressively larger spears as they age.

Following harvest season the plants will mature into bushy weed looking structures. The female plants will blossom and produce red seed filled berries which will drop and may produce new germination. These seedlings can be transplanted to increase the size of your crop. The asparagus bed will become a choked thicket of plants as tall as the gardener. They will serve as the longest lasting tall plants in the garden and will serve as roosting sites for grasshoppers which can be a “second crop” as fish bait. I allow this thicket to regenerate the root system until nearly all green has died. I normally cut and remove this brush pile in early December, by which time there will probably be 1,000 stems.

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