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Asparagus

Nutrition ~ Preparation ~ Cultivation ~ Storage ~ Selection ~ Varieties

Asparagus is a perennial that provides one of the first vegetables harvested from the garden each season. Best of all, once a planting is established, it will last for many years, perhaps a lifetime. A vegetable garden in Vermont has had the same producing asparagus bed for more than 100 years.

Preparation

Asparagus is deliciously prepared in a variety of ways, and can be eaten cooked or raw. It can be easily incorporated into stir-fries, casseroles or salads.

Asparagus may be steamed, microwaved, roasted or grilled and eaten as a side dish. Each method takes approximately five to 10 minutes.

Add a handful of steamed asparagus pieces to an egg-white omelet along with feta cheese. Add chopped tomatoes for more flavor and color.

Saute asparagus in extra virgin olive oil and add some minced garlic, black pepper, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Add chopped asparagus to your next salad, sandwich or wrap.

Coat asparagus with olive oil spray and grill on medium-high heat for about 5-8 minutes until tender, turning if needed.

Make asparagus soup, or garnish your favorite soup with asparagus tips.

Serve raw asparagus with your favorite dip for an easy appetizer.

Toss cooked asparagus into cooked fettuccine, along with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and your preferred spices.

Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice over asparagus, wrap up in foil and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or until asparagus reaches desired tenderness.

Add asparagus, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to a zip-lock bag. Shake until asparagus is coated and bake at 400 degrees until crisp.

Nutrition

Asparagus is loaded with folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin K, and has a great ratio of potassium to sodium. Loaded with fiber and anti-tumor compounds, asparagus contains quercetin, which is anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting. One cup of this vegetable has just 30 calories.

Selection

When selecting asparagus, check out the tips to ensure they are nice and tight, firm, and closed.

Choose odorless asparagus stalks with dry tips that are deep green or purple in color. Look at the bottom portion of the stems where the asparagus has been harvested. If the asparagus has been in the store for a while, the cut stem ends will be dry. Avoid limp, wrinkled or wilted stalks.

Storage

You can refrigerate asparagus for up to four days by wrapping the base end of stalks in a wet paper towel and placing in a plastic bag.

Asparagus will be least expensive when it is in season (from April to June). During the off-season (July to March) a person may find frozen asparagus nearly as cheap as fresh asparagus.

Before enjoying asparagus, you may need to trim the woody bottoms slightly.


Cultivation

Late winter or early spring is the best time for planting asparagus. Crowns, not seed, are used to establish the plant. Check with area garden centers early in case the crowns need to be ordered.

Asparagus grows best in fertile, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. A soil test should be taken to determine fertilizer and lime needs. If adding lime to raise the pH level, it should be plowed in before the crop is planted. This is especially important for perennials such as asparagus since the soil once the bed is established it should not be disturbed again.

Asparagus crowns that are one year old are best to use when establishing a bed. Be sure to add organic matter such as animal manure or compost. Adding the appropriate amount of commercial fertilizer will pay good dividends. Use 50 pounds of 6-12-12 or 5-10-15 per 1,000 square feet before setting crowns. Annual split applications of 6-12-12 or 5-10-15 at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet should be adequate to keep asparagus actively growing.

Plant asparagus at the edge or side of the garden where it won’t be in the way of garden activities.  Be sure to loosen the soil about a foot deep and incorporate well-rotted manure or compost to increase the drainage and organic matter.

Prepare a shallow trench no deeper than six inches and space the crowns 12 to 18 inches apart in the row. Then lightly cover the crown with soil and gradually fill in the furrow as shoots emerge. Never completely bury the developing asparagus fern.

Asparagus is dioecious, which means the male flowers are on one plant and the female flowers are on a separate plant. The green foliage is fern-like and produces excess food that is stored in the fleshy storage roots. The spears, which develop in early summer, are doing so at the expense of this stored food. For this reason, the harvest season should be regulated to allow sufficient time for the plant to replace this stored food.


Asparagus Roots, Jersey Supreme
Asparagus Roots
Jersey Supreme


Varieties

Asparagus is a dioecious plant, meaning the sexes are on separate plants. The female plant produces larger spears but also produces seeds which become ‘weeds’ in the garden. Because of research and breeding programs, there are several improved varieties of asparagus from which to choose now.

There are 20 varieties of edible asparagus. White varieties are grown in a way to prevent sunlight exposure to the spear, and inhibit production of chlorophyll. These varieties will have a more delicate flavor and texture.

Other varieties exhibit various levels of purple hues.

"It turns out that asparagus-and purple asparagus in particular-is full of anthocyanins, which give fruits and veggies their red, blue, and purple hues. These phytonutrients have antioxidant effects and potential health benefits that boost the nutrient density of asparagus," said Duitsman.

When selecting asparagus, check out the tips to ensure they are nice and tight, firm, and closed.

Choose odorless asparagus stalks with dry tips that are deep green or purple in color. Look at the bottom portion of the stems where the asparagus has been harvested. If the asparagus has been in the store for a while, the cut stem ends will be dry. Avoid limp, wrinkled or wilted stalks.

Examples of older varieties such as Mary Washington, Waltham or Roberts once were good but have since been replaced by improved and more productive all male varieties such as Apollo, Jersey Knight, Jersey Giant, Jersey Queen, Jersey Deluxe and Jersey Gem.

Asparagus
Asparagus
direct from the grower

Asparagus Roots, Mary Washington
Asparagus Plants

Mary Washington

Asparagus, Jersey Knight
Asparagus Seeds

Jersey Knight

Asparagus Roots, Mary Washington
Asparagus Plants

Mary Washington



Sources:
Jay Chism, agronomy specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Frank Watson, University of Georgia Extension agent in Wilkes County, Georgia

Dr. Pam Duitsman, (417) 874-2957, University of Missouri Extension


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