Monday, April 6, 2015

Practicing Patience in an Asparagus Patch

Longer, warmer days work function as a Siren call to gardeners.” It’s time. It’s time. It’s time to plant.” Tillers and shovels turn over winter-rested soil in plots around town while grocery stores and garden shops advertise seed potatoes and onion sets. Aggressive green thumbs have tiny shoots of lettuce, radishes, and spinach peeking through and stretching toward the sunshine. Our patch isn’t that far along yet, but we’re celebrating a landmark at our house—we picked our first homegrown asparagus this week!

Since I was a child, asparagus has meant springtime to me. This began when the eight-year-old me discovered a bed of the funny looking shoots in an abandoned field on my way home from school. I didn’t know what the alien-looking stuff was so a neighbor boy and I plucked a stem and took it home for my mom to identify. She immediately identified it and warned me not to trespass and steal. I assured her this came from an empty lot that didn’t have a house anywhere near it. Knowing what I know now, I realize this must have been an old, old plot growing where a home once stood.

Not long after that, my mom cooked asparagus for our family, and I discovered it tasted much better than it looked. Once I got married, asparagus became a rite of spring at our house because my husband liked it every bit as much as I did. We had a couple of fronds growing in the yard of our first home, so we looked forward to sampling the few bites we harvested each season.

Once we moved to the country, we found a few shoots growing wild along our creek. Again, we’d relish those fresh spears, but there were never enough to make a mess of our favorite spring veggie. We bought and planted crowns a couple of years in a row, but due to bad weather conditions, they never took off. I swore then that if I ever had a yard with good soil, I’d have my own asparagus bed with enough to share.

Finally, that dream is coming true.  One of first plantings in our new home was a long row of asparagus crowns. We studied the complicated planting procedures and followed them. We learned that successfully growing asparagus takes effort and time. We planted in April and didn’t see a single sprout until August of that year. We’d begun to think we’d wasted time, effort, and money. Despite their slow start, once those shoots peeped through, they thrived.

The patience part came into play the following spring. The asparagus rulebook says you can’t harvest asparagus the first few seasons it grows in your garden. You have to let those roots get well established, so you water it, tend it, trim back the foliage in the fall, and think longingly about tender spears of buttery goodness for at least two seasons. 

That brings me to the moment. We ate our first mess of homegrown asparagus this week. Each of us had enough on our plates that we could gobble to our hearts content.  This wasn’t a tiny sampling. It was a feast. The flavorful shoots were so tender they melted in our mouths. That isn’t something I can say about store bought asparagus.

So thirty-eight years into marriage, we finally have an asparagus bed big enough to harvest more than a few tiny tastes of spring. Watching us savor each forkful, you’d agree that it’s been worth the patience and the work.

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