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Plant Asparagus for a Taste of Spring

12 months of patience will yield 20 years of harvests

     Slender green asparagus is a spring treat. It is a true perennial vegetable in that — once you plant it — it produces for many years. Plant now, and you’ll wait about three years to get to good production. But it is worth the wait. Home-grown asparagus is delicious and nutritious. High in fiber and low in sodium and calories, it surpasses most vegetables in supplying folic acid and is a significant source of potassium, thiamine, vitamin B6 and rutin.
     Asparagus beds can remain productive for 15 to 20 years, so select a good area with six to eight hours of sun. If you’re adding it to your garden, seek a location at the northern end as the tall ferns will shade shorter plants.
     Purchase one-year-old roots from nurseries to produce some stalks by the second year.
     Asparagus loves very rich compost and a pH of 6.5 to 7.5, so you’ll want to lime your bed. Composted manures or Leafgro are perfect. Dig a hole or trench roughly 12 inches deep, and add about one inch of compost in the bottom. Place the crowns in the bottom of the hole and spread the roots out evenly. Space them about 18 inches apart. Cover the crowns with about two inches of soil.
     As the ferns grow, cover with another two inches of soil until the hole is filled to the top. Mulch heavily with straw, and keep well weeded and watered.
    By the second spring, you can lightly harvest stalks that are as thick as a pencil. Use a sharp kitchen knife to cut at soil level. After you harvest the asparagus, let the fern-like foliage grow to photosynthesize food for next year. Weed your asparagus bed during the rest of summer. Only cut down the ferns after they begin to brown.
     In the third year, cut the asparagus as it grows for about two weeks. Each year thereafter, you can harvest for about six weeks. 
     There are many wonderful ways to prepare asparagus.
     For an Asian twist, use about a pound of asparagus cut two inches long with the hard end removed. In a large skillet, place asparagus, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon tamari, 2 tablespoons mirin (rice wine), 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, one clove minced garlic, two teaspoons toasted sesame oil and a pinch of salt. Cover and set the heat to medium. Steam for about four minutes until bright green and tender. Uncover and turn heat to high and cook, stirring until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and sprinkle with two teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds.