Asparagus is a member of the lily family. It has been grown for more than 2,000 years and is quite popular in the home garden today. Asparagus is one of our earliest spring vegetables and is an excellent source of vitamin A, B, and C and contains significant levels of calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine. Also, asparagus is easy to grow and a plant will last for many years.
Asparagus is known in colloquial terms as sparagrass or sparrowgrass. It is an important commercial and garden crop throughout many parts of the United States. Four states, California, New Jersey, Washington, and Massachusetts, grow more than 90 percent of the asparagus shipped to fresh markets in the United States.
Asparagus plants are perennials. The underground portion consists of stems, or rhizomes, and roots. The edible aerial stems (spears) grow upward from them. Young “crowns” consisting of roots and rhizomes are grown from seed and planted in beds. Under the best conditions the beds can remain productive for 30 years or more. The average life expectation of production would be about 20 years.
The tender succulent aerial spears are cut in the spring for 2 or 3 months; then, the greenery (fern) is allowed to grow to nourish the underground part for the following year’s crop. Asparagus has both male and female plants. The female plants have the little red seed-bearing fruits, which turn black on maturity. Plants of both sexes produce spears of edible quality.
Asparagus should not be harvested the year it is planted. A light harvest of about two weeks the second year will increase the number of buds on the crowns and result in subsequent higher yields. They may be harvested for about four weeks the third year and six to eight weeks thereafter. The best was to harvest is to snap the spears off at the ground level when they are 6 to 8 inches tall. This will result in less damage to unemerged spears and less chance of introducing disease into the plant than the traditional harvesting method of cutting the spears below the ground level.
It is best to harvest at least every other day during cool weather and every day during warm weather to prevent spears from growing too tall. Too many spindly spears indicate weak storage roots. Stop harvest for the season if too many spindly spears appear. Additional fertilizer may be needed and the harvest season may need to be shortened in future years.
Asparagus should be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting but can be kept in a refrigerator just below 40 degrees for a couple of weeks.
Asparagus may also be frozen. Select young tender spears. Wash thoroughly and sort into sizes. Trim stalks by removing scales with a sharp knife. Cut into even lengths to fit containers. Water blanch small spears 2 minutes, medium spears 3 minutes and large spears 4 minutes. Cool promptly, drain and package, leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze.
Sources: West Virginia Cooperative Extension; University of Tennessee Cooperative Extension
So Easy to Preserve
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon canola oil
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
In a bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. In a nonstick skillet, sauté the asparagus in oil until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the orange juice and tomatoes. Heat through. Yield: 4 servings.
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese
Place the asparagus in an 11 in. x 7 in. baking dish coated with nonstick spray. In a small bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, vinegar and mustard. Pour over asparagus. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees, for 12 – 18 minutes or until tender.
Sandra R. Cain is an Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences in Bladen County.