Top 5 Reasons to Grow Asparagus

If you've ever tasted fresh asparagus, then you hardly need convincving.

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Harvesting Asparagus

Take two. The year after you plant, you can harvest a few stalks. Stop after two weeks. Gradually harvest more in succeeding years—by the fifth year you should be able to enjoy 8 to 10 weeks of continued asparagus bliss.

Cut on the line. Choose spears that are 6 to 8 inches tall and a half inch thick or more, with tightly closed tips. Cut close to the soil line, never below it.

Keep them a week. Store asparagus spears in the refrigerator. They stay fresh for about a week if placed standing up, with the cut ends in an inch or two of water.

Asparagus Pests and Diseases

New varieties vs. fungus. Asparagus spears in situ look almost comically naked and vulnerable, so you might be surprised to know that they're not troubled much by pests or diseases. Rust and fusarium wilt, two fungal diseases, are the two that have been most troublesome to asparagus growers. Most new varieties are resistant to both, and that's especially good news because the only thing to be done once either strikes is to start again with new crowns in a new location. Rust is caused by too much moisture— its orange, yellow or white blister-like spots can appear anywhere on the plant. Fusarium stunts spears and can turn them brown and inedible.

Beat the beetles. Both larval and adult asparagus beetles feed on spears, creating holes and causing the spear to curl. Handpicking is usually sufficient to control them. For more serious infestations, protect the spears with row covers from early spring until the end of the harvest. The beetles overwinter in old foliage; clear it away before stalks appear.

White Asparagus

Asparagus, as many Europeans know and love it, isn't green—it's white. This is not a different variety, but the result of blanching, or mounding soil over the emerging stalks, depriving them of sunlight and the ability to make chlorophyll. White asparagus stalks are thicker, and many people believe more tender, than their green brethren. Ruth Stout, the feisty evangelist of "no-work" gardening, bluntly disputed the claim of white asparagus' superiority. "Let's just skip the fantastic idea of making mounds over the asparagus in order to bleach it," she wrote in How to Grow Fruits and Vegetables by the Organic Method (Rodale Press, 1961). "That's for the birds—and some Europeans, who were brought up on white asparagus and haven't seen the light. Nowadays, health-conscious people urge us to eat green-colored foods, the greener the better. Assuming that this is a beneficial thing to do, isn't it wonderful that for once the thing that's good for us is less work than that which isn't so good?"

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