This article originally appeared in the March 28, 2016 issue of The Journal-Leader.
Asparagus is one of the first spring vegetables ready to harvest in Ohio. The enticing green stalks begin to pop out of the ground in early April and asparagus lovers start to get excited. Harvest time typically stretches through June. Did you know that a successful patch of asparagus can produce a crop for up to (and beyond) 20 years? However, getting it established can be tricky.
Asparagus is picky about the soil it grows in. It does not tolerate soils that are acidic and it prefers well-drained sites. Planting crowns (which are segments of plant roots and emerging stems) in your garden is quicker and easier than starting asparagus from seed. It is important to give the crowns or seedlings time to establish before harvesting the stalks. One-year old crowns should not be harvested until they have been in the garden bed for at least a year and seedlings need two years. The reason they need this time is that the stalks, which we eat, will grow out into a fern and make energy to send down to the roots. When you harvest the stalks, energy is lost from the roots and if this happens too early the asparagus will not produce in subsequent years.
Asparagus is diecious (which means it has separate male and female plants). After the female plants growing out into a fern they will produce flowers and eventually seeds. Removing the seed stalks from the plant before the seeds form helps save energy in the roots for the next year. Seed production can be avoided by specifically purchasing crowns of only male plants.
After the asparagus has had time to get used to its new home and harvest time comes, pick it when the stalks are about the length of your hand (7-9 in). You can snap the stalks off at the soil, or to avoid cutting the tough part of the stalk off later, leave an inch or two sticking out. Harvest every week or two until 75% of the stalks are about the circumference of a pencil. To store fresh asparagus, place the ends upright in a shallow tray of water to keep them sweet and tender (if you buy fresh asparagus at a market, look for bunches that have been stored this way to get the best taste and texture). Once the harvest period has passed, let the remaining stalks grow out into ferns again to store energy for next year.
If you’re not a fan of asparagus (like me), maybe it is time to give it another try. The spring issue of OSU Extension’s Chop Chop Magazine features a recipe for Cheesy Roasted Asparagus that I plan to make with dinner sometime this month:
Ingredients: 1 bunch of fresh asparagus, 2 tbs. olive oil, ¼ tsp. salt, ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, and ½ of a lemon
Directions: Preheat oven to 450°F. Spread asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, coating the asparagus. Roast in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until bright green. Sprinkle asparagus evenly with cheese and return to the oven until the cheese melts and turns golden (about 2 min). Remove from the oven, squeeze the lemon juice over the roasted asparagus, and serve.