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.


Springtime Asparagus and a Newfound Favorite Vinaigrette

June 12, 2011
By Holly Jennings

This spring was my first real asparagus harvest. Last season, the bed, then just one year old, was an exercise in restraint; there was just a handful of asparagus large enough to be picked. With asparagus, immediate gratification is a bad thing: If you over indulge when the asparagus bed is too young, and the asparagus are too thin, the roots will not have an opportunity to establish themselves, which is necessary for a good strong bed with years of productivity ahead.* Even this year, there were many asparagus that I deemed too thin to pick. Even so, I had enough to grill, blanch and sauté, and try two asparagus recipes from Crescent Dragonwagon’s cookbook, Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread: Asparagus and White Wine Soup and Composed Salad of Asparagus and Snow Peas, shown below.

The soup, made with few ingredients—basically cream, milk, white wine, and cheddar cheese—and thickened with a roux, is nicely suited to this spring vegetable. (more…)