Asparagus is a friendly and common green veggie. It’s packed with vitamins, low in calories and sugar, and has a delicious, mild taste and texture that lends itself well to recipes from around the world.
From stir-fries to salads to grilling and roasting, many Americans are used to enjoying asparagus year-round. It’s part of a healthy diet, thanks to plenty of vitamins A, C and E, plus fiber and a high-water content.
But do you know how asparagus is grown and harvested? It might not look how you imagine! Asparagus fields are a fascinating and even hurmours portion of the farm.
And growing asparagus is a long-term investment that takes some patience. Of course, a bit of waiting up front, can yield years of abundant harvest.
When asparagus is first planted, it’s left to grow for one year without harvesting. This allows the roots to take a firm hold of the soil, so the plants are well-established in their soil environment. Then, the following spring, it’s harvest time. The first harvest is generally small and short. It will be a bit longer the second year, and by the third year, farmers can harvest asparagus nearly every day for up to eight weeks.
Stalks are picked by cutting with a knife or snapping by hand when they’re about 10 inches long.
The plants grow more prolific each year, growing closer together and filling in the spaces between plants. After a few years, an asparagus field in full bloom looks like long, neat rows of green spears shooting out of the ground.
Unlike many vegetables, asparagus plants can last decades. This means that farmers do not need to replant the crops every year, or even worry about crop rotation in the asparagus field. However, asparagus is a vegetable that needs to be hand-harvested, as different spears mature at different rates. On large-scale industrial farms where harvesting machinery is the norm, this can be a drawback to growing asparagus.
Eventually, when the weather gets warm enough, the spears will bolt, or go to seed. This looks like long, wispy and thin asparagus fronds that flap about in the wind. In fact, they can grow to be waist-high. It can make the field look like a bad hair day, but in fact it’s a normal part of the plant’s growth pattern. Bolting is also a signal to farmers that the plants are tapping out for the season, but they’ll be back next year, and for years to come, more vibrant and prolific than ever.