How to Cook Asparagus From Your Garden

Learn how to grow and prepare asparagus fresh from your own garden.

| March/April 1982

  • Asparagus
    Growing asparagus takes a little bit of patience, but the reward is worth the wait.

  • Asparagus

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) has always been one of my favorite vegetables, but until I started cultivating it myself, I had no idea how delicious the tender spears could be. Garden-grown (just picked or home-frozen) asparagus provides an experience in taste that just can't be matched by canned or even store-bought fresh produce. And the tasty plant is nutritious, too — 100 grams of asparagus will supply 2.2 grams of protein, 900 units of vitamin A, only 0.2 grams of fat and only a mere 20 calories to your daily total.

Asparagus has been cultivated since the days of the Roman Republic, when it was considered a delicacy. Later, the French grew the stalks in primitive hotbeds, and honored them in still-life paintings. Eventually, asparagus was brought to America and became popular both as a vegetable and, you may be surprised to learn, as a medicinal herb (it was believed to be a cure for jaundice).

There are a number of popular commercial strains of asparagus available, the most common of which are the Washington varieties. The Mary Washington, which I grow, is both prolific and hardy in my part of Montana. It would probably grow even better in a somewhat less severe climate, although it does require a dormant period during winter months and thus flourishes only when dormancy is induced, which can be done either naturally — by cold weather — or artificially.

I set out my Mary Washington roots in April by choosing a spot where they'd get several hours of sun daily and where I was pretty sure they wouldn't be disturbed by another project in the future, since I wanted to get a lifetime of picking from the bed. For my first planting, I dug a 12-foot trench, eight inches deep, and spread 20 pounds of ground limestone and 10 pounds of phosphate rock in the bottom of the ditch. Then, I followed that with a five-inch layer of compost and manure. Two inches of rich loam went on top of that. Next — after giving the plot a heavy watering — I planted a dozen clusters of roots, spacing them about a foot apart. Finally, each time I weeded during the next few weeks, I added fine compost and good soil until the trench was filled.

As you may already know, asparagus shouldn't be picked during its first year. But the rewards of owning an established bed make the waiting worthwhile. I mulched my asparagus well that first fall, with compost and still more manure. The following spring, I watered the bed heavily, spread additional compost, and hand-plucked the early weeds that had cropped up. (Some people let geese take care of the weeding, but — if the idea appeals to you — make sure the honkers are in their pen when the first green asparagus tips show themselves!)

In Montana, the first spears begin to appear in late May or early June. Let the shoots develop to about six inches before you pick any. After that, keep a close eye on the bed in order to garner the stalks before they go to seed. During that initial harvest season, it's best to exercise a little self-discipline: Allow yourself only two weeks of feasting, and then let the rest of the plants mature. The second time around — and in subsequent years — they can be gathered over a six-week season.

pam jenkins
4/14/2009 9:34:02 AM

I found a large asparagus plant growing in a field in my neighborhood and dug up some of the root to plant in my garden. Now, I'de like to move the roots to a dedicated area just for the asparagus and I don't know how to separate the roots to safely transplant. Can you give me some type of direction?

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