Asparagus: The First Vegetable
And It's Perennial

Asparagus lightly steamed, maybe a touch of butter. Gardening has truly arrived.

It’s usually very early in May or the last week of April, when the garden first yields this wonderful vegetable. It would be a wonderful taste sensation even if it wasn’t the first thing out of the garden. Asparagus continues to grace our dinner plates almost daily until late June. When the excitement of eating it freshly steamed starts to wane we look for other interesting ways to serve it. It makes a wonderful salad or an addition to our ever-changing complete dinner salad.


Why Is It So Early?
Because it is perennial. A good Asparagus bed will produce fresh shoots every spring for 25+ years. It takes 3 - 4 years to get well established but that bit of time is well worth investing. Starting from seed, (and that will get you several choices of variety,) you will not have anything to eat until the third year and even than it will be just a tease. You can buy one year old roots and speed the process by that year. The first decent harvest will come in the fourth year from seed. In the meantime you get to weed it, feed it and admire it.

How Do I Get Started?
Buy a package of seed. There are newer hybrids that produce all male plants, (being thin and willowy is a female trait that is not that desirable in Asparagus.) Plant according to package directions in a seed bed. When they start to appear the second spring, transplant them to their permanent location. Prepare the soil well, they are going to grow there for a long time. Choose the location carefully; transplanting in following years is not easy or terribly successful. Plant the roots into a 10 -15 cm deep trench and keep filling in the trench as the shoots grow. When they reappear the third year you can cut a few stalks for a taste treat.

What Part Do I Eat?
I was amazed by that question from many visitors to my garden on a recent garden tour. It seems that most people have no idea how Asparagus grows. The large perennial root that develops starts to put up new shoots in the early spring. (See top picture.) These shoots you will quickly recognize as the Asparagus that you eat. Snap off these shoots when they are between 15 - 20 cm long and enjoy them. At some point the root will start putting out somewhat thinner shoots because it is running out of energy. Stop cutting at this point and let the shoots grow. They will amaze you. A large, 100 -150 cm fern like plant will develop. Just let it grow and admire the pretty foliage. It makes a great backdrop for tall flowers. This large fern-like plant will absorb the energy from the sun and regenerate the root so that the whole process can be repeated again next year. Cut the stalks down in the fall when they have yellowed. You might want to leave a cm or so of the stalk sticking out of the ground so that you will now where to watch for those first tender shoots next spring.

“All good things are worth waiting for!” is probably truer in gardening than in most other activities and mother nature will force us develop the necessary patience.

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