You know you’re a real gardener when you grow edible plants you don’t even like to eat, just because they’re so darn cool.
Or maybe because your better half thinks they’re delicious.
Whatever the reason, I planted asparagus two years ago, digging in plenty of compost and carefully measuring the plant spacing (spacing plants evenly is not my strong suit, and without careful measuring I invariably fail). The one-year-old crowns, purchased at a local nursery, looked like little more than a few knobby roots when I tucked them into the ground.
But of course, they grew. Few non-gardeners recognize the plant outside of a kitchen. That’s because it looks so weird, and for most of the year it bears little resemblance to the elegant spears we eat.
First up in spring are the spears we recognize. Left to their own devices, these continue to grow, until the leaves (actually, modified stems called, ‘cladodes’) open. The overall effect is of a spectacular fern, though asparagus really belongs to the Asparagaceae family (while ferns belong to one of a number of Pteridophyta families).
Nevertheless, asparagus plants take on a distinctly ‘ferny’ appearance at the height of their growth and, being the glamorous sort, they top off the whole ensemble with bright red berries. No joke. The chickens were impressed too and incessantly eyeballed the small red globes in the sky last summer.
But if you want to do more than admire it, asparagus requires patience. As a long-lived perennial, it can produce for over twenty years, but woe betide the gardener who succumbs to gluttony and starts snapping spears before the plant reaches its third year. In this case, I’m told, the plant becomes stunted and weak, and the harvests never reach full potential. Asparagus needs to take its time and gather its strength, but if you’re patient, it will reward you with many years of tasty spears (if you like that sort of thing). Asparagus seems to be one of those foods that people either love or hate.
Now that I’ve convinced you of how striking the plant is and what an investment of time and effort the final, edible product represents, let me announce with great delight that Kelly conducted our first ever asparagus harvest today. The spears are a motley, mismatched crew, but they sure are cute! Our harvest should increase and improve as the asparagus season gets going. Maybe by the time it’s over I’ll have learned to like asparagus.