Establishing Asparagus Beds in Uncertain Times

June 30, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Nearly three years ago, Mike and I became first-time home owners, and first-time asparagus cultivators. The first spring at our new house, we had big and exciting plans for gardening and planting, and at the top of list was establishing an asparagus bed: It seems like something you do when you own a property—a given, a natural, and exciting benefit of owning some terra firma. It is not something most do as renters.

That is why I’m impressed with Barbara Kingsolver’s magnanimous, renegade, and altruistic philosophy of establishing asparagus beds, described in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Throughout her asparagus-loving “Johnny-Asparagus-seed life,” she has created beds in all sorts of places—in the property of every house she’s owned and some that she’s rented, and even in “tiny urban lots and students ghettos”—leaving behind her a wake of good eating for others to benefit from for up to twenty or thirty years, if only some basic care and maintenance is given to the beds.

Psychologically, the more transient state of mind associated with the renting life doesn’t suit itself to growing asparagus. After doing the labor-intensive work of establishing the beds you need to wait until at least the second season, and if you follow Barbara Kingsolver’s advice, the third season, before enjoying the benefits of your labor.

The work involves digging trenches and filling them with good compost. (Asparagus like a rich soil.) In our case, before even getting to the trench digging stage, we had to first remove sod, shake as much top soil as we could off the sod, dig out numerous rocks (Dowdy Corners is in Vermont, where, as the saying goes, “it good for growing rocks”) and numerous deep dandelion roots, and mix in compost and some lime to raise the PH. It wasn’t easy.

This spring we enjoyed asparagus from our bed—in soup, salad, and grilled—and they were worth every rock we removed and every shovelful of compost we piled on.

In years to come, I hope, whether renting or not, I will follow Barbara Kingsolver’s unselfish model, and establish beds wherever I am living, even if I’m brought to tears. The transience and uncertainty associated with the rental life—you never know when the building you live in may be sold, for example, or when the rent may be raised—is often contrasted with the supposed certainty of home ownership. The crash of the housing market in 2008, and the high numbers of mortgage defaults since then, has, for many, eroded the illusion of stability associated with home ownership. So in the face of all this, why not leave behind something with longevity that will give pleasure to and help sustain others for years? Establishing asparagus beds is great way to do that.

Leave a Reply