Subtitle: And now for some Asparagus.
We are regular visitors to the local Farmers market here in the Hastings Valley, particularly as we intend to be vendors there in the not too distant future. Last weekend was no exception, into town at an early hour to check out what was on offer, and chat with the producers about what had been happening for them that week.
It was the stand from Pembrooke Plants and Poultry that caught my eye – and to be honest it was their sign out the front – ASPARAGUS CROWNS – 10 for $26 – that really got my interest.
I love fresh asparagus.
And the thought of growing our own, for us and our CSA shareholders sends a tingle down my spine.
Now I knew that the planting bed for the asparagus needed special
preparation, and given that these guys produce for 20 years once they
are in place, it makes sense to put in a bit of extra effort. So after
the markets, it was home and into the market garden, and start
preparing the first section of the asparagus bed.
The area has been marked out for awhile now, and about a month ago,
we hired a rotary hoe to knock out the grass cover. So my week was
spent turning the area, adding a trailer load of aged cow manure and
another of compost, and then a good serve of lime, as these guys prefer
neutral (pH 7) soil.
Friday saw me visit the nursery at Pembrooke Plants and Poultry
and collect the asparagus crowns, along with some day lilies (we’ll use
the flowers in our salad mix.) Which means that we spent Saturday
planting the asparagus, and what an effort it took.
After adding all the material to the planting area, ‘trenches’ were
dug with centres approx. 1.5 m (5 ft) apart. These were about 200 mm (8
") deep. The crowns were set out in these trenches with 450 mm (18")
spacing between each. The roots were then splayed out over the slight
ridge that we’d formed in the middle of the trench, bedded down and
then the trench was back filled.
The rows were then given a good water before a thick layer of mulch
was added. Now we just sit back and wait till spring …. next year –
you see you don’t harvest any spears in the first year, and not really
that many in the second year either. So patiently we’ll be waiting ….
know that we’ll tell you all about it here.
And now for some plant information.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
is a herbaceous perennial plant that grows to 100-150 cm (3-5 ft)tall.
Asparagus has been used from very early times as a vegetable and
medicine, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic
properties. Eaten worldwide, green asparagus accompanies eggs in China
and beef in Britain, and is not considered a delicacy as it is very
cheap and easy to obtain. However, some other forms like the white and
purple cultivars can demand a premium.
The crowns that we’ve planted are the favourite ‘Mary Washington’
which is one of the most popular of all heirloom varieties. The shoots
(called "spears") on this cultivar are tender, thick, heavy and
straight and are of a rich dark green colour with a purple tinge. It is
known to produce uniform spears and a heavy yield, and was originally
developed in California, then introduced by the United States
Department of Agriculture in 1949.
So who is Mary Washington? Well Oregon State University has the whole story, stating that:
"Modern American rust resistant varieties trace back to breeding
work done by J. B. Morton at Concord, Massachusetts under heavy rust
conditions. A male plant, A7-83, from a variety called ‘New American’,
was found to be exceptional in transmitting rust resistance and vigour.
When A7-83 was crossed with B32-39, a female selected from the English
variety `Reading Giant’, the resulting progeny was the best of many
hundreds tested. From this progeny came the strain called ‘Martha
Washington’ and the two original parents were known as `Martha’ and
`Washington’. Later, another female selection from `Reading Giant’,
called `Mary’, was crossed with `Washington’ resulting in the
development of `Mary Washington’ the most important U.S. variety to
date. Currently a strain of the `Mary Washington’ type, ‘California
500’, is the leading variety being planted."
So that’s who Mary Washington is, and how this asparagus cultivar
got it’s name. Sounds much better than A7-83 or B32-39, don’t you
Of course, in real life Mary Washington was the mother of the first US President, George Washington, and Martha was his wife.