Turn Out the Lights!!!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bird Back 40 Asparagus Patch
As Dandy Don Meredith of ABC's Monday Night Football would croon at the end of games (especially blowouts):

"Turn Out the Lights...
The Party's Over...
They Say That...
All Good Things Must End...
Call it Tonight...
The Party's Over...
And Tomorrow Starts...
The Same Old Thing Again..."

Willie Nelson wrote those amazing lyrics and sings that amazing song. But I don't know if it would be quite as popular today, had not one of the best Color Commentators in all of football crooned that same, signature song again and again and again.

It's the song that comes to mind when looking at the asparagus patch pictured above. Venus and I planted asparagus crowns just last spring, really not knowing what to expect. After all, we'd never grown asparagus before. Have you? Was it supposed to erupt in a tangled mass of ferns like it did last summer? Because it most certainly did.

Asparagus Spears Allowed to Flower and Fern
Hidden most of the summer by the Bird Back 40 corn crop, those tiny root systems for Jersey Knight and Purple Passion bolted into a cacophany of fern growth that promptly grew straight up and then flopped over on the ground after reaching a height of three to four feet. Any fern that flopped was immediately replaced by another spear -- which also proceeded to fern and flop.

There were many times during the summer, I might add, where Bill Bird was more than just a tad tempted to cut that fat green or purple spear literally jumping out of the raised bed that holds the Bird asparagus patch. So was the wife that is Venus. But we managed to resist that urge -- knowing all the while -- that each fern would most likely result in a multitude of fat asparagus spears next spring.

That's the hope anywho. Like I mentioned earlier, we've never attempted anything like this before.

We had plenty of questions -- but very little in the way of answers. Was this fern growth normal? Should we be doing anything special to the asparagus patch during the ferning and flopping process -- rather than fawning over it every third day? Should we allow the ferns to flop? Stake them up? So many questions -- so little answers.

Asparagus Ferns
Normally -- in times of need like this -- I turn to one or more gardening mentors like Farmer Fred Hoffman, Don Shor of Redwood Barn Nursery fame or former Sacramento Bee Home and Garden Editor Dan Vierra. But, to be brutally honest, I really do bug these people too much with incessant questioning. It was time to do some searching on my own, and as a very wise man once taught me, "Google is your friend."


The most helpful "how too" articles that I came across were "Growing ASPARAGUS in the Garden" from the UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Station and "Growing Asparagus in the Home Garden" from the University of Ohio Horticulture and Crop Science Extension service. Both were loaded with tips (asparagus tips I might add) -- and both confirmed that Venus and I were off to a rather rousing start.

In fact -- the best bit of advice came from Carl J. Cantaluppi (University of Ohio) when he wrote: "The year after planting, asparagus can be harvested several times throughout a three-week period, depending on air temperatures. Research shows there is no need to wait two years after planting before harvesting. In fact, harvesting the year after planting will stimulate more bud production on the crown and provide greater yields in future years, as compared with waiting two years before harvesting.

This was indeed -- tremendous news. Venus and I had been under the belief that it would be at least two seasons before we could harvest our first spears. Yet here was plain advice from a crop scientist advocating to pick, pick and pick away after just one year of fern growth. Do you know what this means?

Asparagus Ferns Removed (Cut Back)
It means that the bed that has now been cut back of dead fern growth will be throwing out delicious spears of asparagus this spring, just in time for Easter Supper at the Bird Ranch. Nothing -- I mean absolutely NOTHING -- is better than what you can grow in your own little patch of yard. This is a rule that applies to all produce -- and I can only begin to imagine what kind of taste surprise will result from our own home-grown asparagus.

These same articles (links are above) -- while confirming that we were indeed on the right path -- also contained tips that I never would have crossed my mind (unless someone told me to do it). Those ferns that had erupted from the asparagus crowns (roots) that we planted last spring were actually quite beneficial. They were sending all kinds of important nutrients into the crowns (root systems) below. The more fern activity -- the better. More ferns result in more spears -- bigger and better spears I might add.

But there also comes a time when enough is enough. Those ferns don't last. In fact, as you can tell from the photos, many of them have turned brown. Some -- much to my surprise -- completely withered away. I discovered this as I hacked the fern growth back to ground level. The instructions that I encountered online advised a "haircut and close shave," as those former spears that erupted into ferns will become quite woody and quite *sharp* during the overwintering process.

We don't want to be slicing up fingers when slicing tender shoots of asparagus next spring, now do we?

Asparagus Hidden by Ferns
That "shave and a haircut (two bits)" is now complete. What's more surprising, although the thought did cross my mind, is that the removal of the dead and dying ferns revealed the growth of ASPARAGUS SPEARS! Sure enough -- what may be the first tender shoots of spring-time growth were popping just above the soil line.

Now -- it's entirely possible that this growth will also result in additional ferns -- which will be cut back later this winter. Then again, the growth rate might be so slow that these spears may be the first we actually harvest during our short, three week, asparagus season. This season, by the way, will expand with time and additional years of growth. But, for the first year? Three weeks is all you get.

That's fine by us. As the wife that is Venus says -- three weeks is better than no weeks. We're looking forward to a rather tasty backyard harvest. See you in the spring!

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