The Secret Life of Asparagus
Asparagus is in your share again this week, for one last time. This week marks the end of our 2012 harvest , which began this year on April 20th.
Asparagus is one of those mysterious vegetables that spends most of its life either underground, or in its “fern” form, which is unrecognizable to most people. The spears that you buy in the store and are receiving in your tote this week represent a small fraction of the asparagus life cycle. So, in honor of our last 2012 asparagus harvest this week, and in the spirit of heightened vegetable literacy, here is a host of fascinating asparagus factoids:
- Asparagus is a long-lived perennial. An asparagus crown, or root, can live for 25 years or longer. Our asparagus crowns are 5 years old.
- There are male and female asparagus plants. Commercial growers like us choose all-male hybrid varieties (ours is called Jersey Knight). Why? The male plants produce more spears, while the female plants produce fewer spears and little, green-turning-to-red fruits (they look like tiny cherry tomatoes) full of asparagus seed.
- You can start asparagus from seed, but most people buy “crowns,” or roots to plant.
- Fat spears are the most tender, contrary to popular belief. All the fiber and toughness is in the outer skin of the spear. Fatter spears have a higher flesh to skin ratio, compared to skinny spears, which are more skin and less tender flesh. (By the way, skinny asparagus is not “baby” – it’s just skinny). Spears that grow more quickly (in warmer weather) will be more tender.
- Asparagus can grow 6 to 12 inches in one day, when conditions are right! They grow the most quickly at temperatures around 70 degrees.
- Growing asparagus is an exercise in delayed gratification. You shouldn’t harvest any spears until the second year if you plant crowns, and the third year if you plant from seed. And even then, you can only harvest for a couple weeks. Not until the third year that your crowns are in the ground can you enjoy a full 8-10 week harvest window.
- Why is asparagus – especially organic asparagus – so expensive? Because it costs a lot to produce it. We value our asparagus at $5/pound, and that barely covers our cost of production.
- First off, asparagus takes up space all year, but you only get to harvest it for 8 weeks. That means that you can’t grown anything else on that land, so the asparagus has to earn enough money to justify taking up the space.
- Second, weeds! In organic asparagus production systems like ours, we have to do all of our weeding by hand (we can’t and wouldn’t want to use herbicides to kill weeds). For eight months of the year, the ground is practically bare in an asparagus field, which creates all kinds of opportunities for weeds to encroach. It’s a lot of labor and time to keep the weeds at bay. That adds to the pricetag of a pound of asparagus.
- Third, you have to harvest asparagus daily to cut them at the optimum stage, but you only get a little bit at each harvest – which means lots of trips up and down the rows for not a lot of poundage, every day. More labor time.
- Finally, you have to wait three years before you can really harvest your crop, which is a huge investment in land, labor, and crowns before you see any cash return.
- This week we will stop harvesting our asparagus spears, but the plants will keep growing. The crowns will continue to send up spears, which will reach a height of five to six feet and leaf out into a lacey, green, fern-like canopy within a couple of weeks. This canopy will do the hard work of photosynthesis all summer long, storing food in the crown for next spring’s growth. In November, once the ferns have all died back and turned yellow, we will mow them down. In February, we’ll cover the whole asparagus patch with black plastic to help kill winter weeds. When the plastic starts to “tent” up in late March, we’ll pull it off to reveal our once-a-year harvest of white asparagus (blanched by the plastic). So begins our asparagus season all over again, powered by all the sun’s stored energy from the summer before...
Enjoy your last bite of brave, unique, tender, delicious, Valley Flora asparagus. Until 2013!
U-Pick Strawberries Galore!
Our new “we-pick” planting of strawberries has been slow to come on this season, but the u-pick side of the field is pumping! There’s heaps of new red fruit every day. The first flush of berries was badly damaged by our last rain, and we have been trying to clean out the spoiled fruit every chance we get – but nevertheless, more and more big, beautiful, red berries keep ripening. It’s a great time to fill your freezer or pick for jam!
If you are planning to come pick, we encourage you to bring your own containers. We often have small containers and boxes available, but not always.
U-Pick & Farmstand Hours:Every Wednesday & Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm!
U-Pick Raspberries Coming Soon!
The summer raspberries are just beginning to blush, which means there will probably be ripe fruit within the next couple of weeks. We’ve learned over the years that we don’t have enough hands or time in the week to pick raspberries for the Harvest Baskets, so instead we offer all of our Harvest Basket members a certain u-pick poundage at no charge.
This season, all Harvest Basket members are entitled to 2 pounds of u-pick raspberries at no charge. (Please note this is for Harvest Basket members ONLY).
Your “share” of the harvest is unfortunately smaller this year because the winter flood seems to have wiped out our fall-bearing raspberry crop (we have two varieties: the “summer” variety ripens in late June/early July; the “fall” variety ripens in September). Raspberry canes don’t like to be inundated for more than a few hours. Our fall variety was under water for 24 hours during the January flood, and as a result the plants are sickly and the fruiting canes are few and far between.
That means that if you want to cash in on your raspberry u-pick credit, you’ll want to come pick once the summer crop ripens in the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted as to when the raspberry u-pick is officially open. Stay tuned.
In your share this week:
- Butterhead lettuce
- Braising Mix
- Hakurei Turnips
- Purple Kohlrabi
(No rhubarb this week; still waiting on the strawberries to kick into high gear…)
This means that some pickup locations will receive it this week, others next week – or in a future week.
This is a colorful, spicy mix of mustard greens, mizuna, tatsoi, and mixed kale. It’s great chopped up into a salad to add a little kick, or cooked down if you want to tame both the spice and the volume of greens in your life right now. Steamed or sautéed, braising mix is the perfect side to complement a good ol’ southern meal of cornbread and beans. Don’t forget the hot sauce!
Storage: keep in the fridge, in a plastic bag; stores up to a week.
This is one of the three most alien-looking vegetables we grow (the other two are romanesco cauliflower and celeriac, both of which appear in the fall). You’re getting a purple variety this week (you’ll see a white variety in the near future). Both have a peacock plume of edible leaves, similar in texture and flavor to a hearty, toothsome kale leaf.
The flavor and texture of the kohlrabi bulb (really a modified swollen stem) is best likened to broccoli stems. Broccoli stems!? you’re thinking….that’s the part we toss out! But if you’ve ever peeled a broccoli stem and tried it, you know it’s a tender, juicy, crunchy surprise. Same with kohlrabi. Peel it and you’ll see.
We usually eat our kohlrabi raw: grated into a salad, or cut into crudités and dipped into something yummy like yogurt dill dip, or doused with lime and chili powder for a south-of-the-border snack. It also cooks up beautifully, steamed, sautéed, or souped.
Storage: Cut the leaves off and store separately from the bulb. The leaves will keep a week or so in a plastic bag in the fridge; the bulb will store up to a month in a plastic bag.
Here’s a zingy recipe for a great summer salad:
Couscous with Kohlrabi and Chermoula Dressing
Borrowed from From Asparagus to Zucchini: A guide to cooking farm-fresh seasonal produce.
1-2 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbs. minced cilantro
2 Tbs. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. cumin
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
3 Tbs. olive oil
2-3 cooked couscous, cooled to warm temperature
2 cups peeled, diced kohlrabi
½ cup diced radishes and/or spring turnips
16 kalamata or oil-cured black olives
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
Mix garlic, cilantro, parsley, paprika, cumin and salt to taste. Stir in lemon juice and olive oil. Toss this mixture with couscous. Bring to room temperature. Gently toss with kohlrabi, radishes/turnips, and olives. Sprinkle with feta. Serves 6.
Please note: all of our produce is field-rinsed, not washed. We recommend you wash all of your produce before eating it.
For recipes and ideas, check out these links:
Our own collection of recipes that you can contribute to
Our website’s recipe “search engine,” where you can hunt down recipes by ingredient
A vast collection of recipes, searchable by one or multiple ingredients
A storehouse of recipes, searchable by ingredient