Columns

Gardener's Grapevine 2016.05.18

on . Posted in Gardener's Grapevine

By JO ERBSKORN

Asparagus. You either love it or hate it. I have never heard anyone say, ”I can eat it, but it’s not my favorite.”

Why do we asparagus lovers love it? It makes your urine stink; I’ve had more than one patient come in the office thinking something is wrong due to that. It can be really woody, which is a real turn off, but we go back for more. I personally think it’s the flavor. There really isn’t another vegetable that has that flavor. It is loaded with great health benefits such as lots of fiber; folate; vitamins A, C, E, K; and chromium (a trace mineral that enhances the ability to transport glucose from the bloodstream to cells, thus lowering blood sugar).

Asparagus is a great detoxing compound for carcinogens and free radicals. This detoxing compound is called glutathione and it is found in asparagus, avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts. Asparagus is packed with antioxidants that neutralize cell damaging free radicals. Preliminary research shows a connection to slowing the aging process in our bodies, including our cognitive decline. Folate and B12 absorption decreases with age. It is a natural diuretic high in levels of amino acid asparagine, a natural diuretic. It naturally helps rid the body of excess salt and fluid. This is very beneficial for people who suffer from edema, high blood pressure and/or other heart related diseases. Roasting, grilling or stir-frying is the most advantageous form of cooking asparagus to keep all the great benefits intact.

Asparagus plants are very unusual vegetables in the fact that they are perennials. They come back year after year. The spears that we eat are the new shoots that emerge in the spring. The most important thing to remember is that it takes two years after planting to harvest. 

Plants need to be allowed to mature to harvest. They will remain in the same place in your garden for up to 30 years. Plants need to be able to go dormant so they do well in zones 8 and above, so none of the tropical states, but easily in all the others.

Asparagus needs to be in a sunny well-drained site away from traffic and on the edge of your garden where it will not be disturbed by the activity of planting and replanting of other areas of the garden. Asparagus is planted 6 to 8 inches deep and 12 to 18 inches apart. The first year feed plants with a good quality vegetable food at planting, and twice a week throughout the summer.

A well-drained bed will have minimal disease problems. Black and red asparagus beetles can be a challenge but are easily controlled by hand picking them and depositing them in a bucket of soapy water. 

Harvest asparagus by cutting all the new shoots in spring when they are about 8 inches tall. Snap them off at the soil line, do not use a knife as it can cut nearby shoots that aren’t ready yet. Spears that have begun opening and developing foliage will be too tough to eat. Harvest every other day to avoid this. The season to harvest can last 2 to 8 weeks. Some say just harvest until the spears diminish to the size of a pencil then wrap up harvesting for the season.

Cook spears immediately or refrigerate in plastic to keep the humidity up and prevent tough fibers from forming at the base of the spears. This is why spears from the grocery store or the refrigerator should always be trimmed to remove any tough tissue before you cook them. Fresh asparagus can be stored a week sometimes a little more. It can be blanched in boiling water for 3-5 minutes and frozen.

Let the asparagus plants grow all summer and cut back the foliage after frost turns them brown. Give it a good weeding before winter so that the bed doesn’t get over run with invaders and ruin your hard work. Hopefully, if you are an asparagus lover like I am this will help you enjoy a good harvest for many years to come.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2017