Wednesday, May 2, 2012

About Asparagus...

Okay, it's been a long while and I owe everyone an apology for not having posted, but there really was a good reason, which I will share with you in Heaven, but no sooner. Suffice it to say I'm back with bells on, and with lots of good recipes and conversation for you! Thank you so much for being there! Did you ever notice that April is somehow a little different, a little special, that the other months of the year? This year, we had an uncommon surprise—our asparagus actually came up! Now if that sounds commonplace, kind of like, ‘So what?’ let me explain that I’ve been waiting to plant and grow asparagus for the past forty years, but (while my husband and I grew children and grandchildren and friends and businesses in all the many places we lived) we never were in one place long enough to grow asparagus. Oh, we might have planted them, I suppose. Worked the soil and enriched it (gardening is, after all, not at all about the plants—it’s about the soil) and put down the asparagus roots; but then, we might have moved again, and the asparagus, like all our many fruit trees and bramble bushes, as well as the perennials we planted, would have passed to someone else. Welcome as the gift would have been, to give as well as to receive, I wanted one day to eat of our own bounty, to put up pears and applesauce, make apple butter for sandwiches and apple ketchup for pork roasts, to gather our own black- blue- and raspberries, to dry our own meaty tomatoes, and at last, to cut our asparagus and prepare them fresh from the earth. Well, two years ago, we began. I put in 24 healthy young plants, and less than a week later, up came the tiny, delicate fronds, no bigger than a pencil lead, but unmistakably asparagus. What a joy! Then last year, the spears were the size of pencils, but still we thought we would keep feeding the plants and not take any shoots yet. After all ,the asparagus needed to make bigger and better roots and get acclimated to the North Texas earth But this year!~~ This year, in mid-February, the earth trembled (well, if it didn’t quite tremble, it should have!) and up came these big green shoots, thick as my husband’s thumb and two feet tall before I could get out there with an asparagus tool—you’ve seen those—they look like a bent screwdriver with a metal “snake’s tongue” shape at the end. The idea is to jab them carefully beneath the surface of the soil and cut off the asparagus shoot below ground. Well, I went out there a few hours later, and they were about four feet tall, and now they are taller than I am and have an attitude. So I’m waiting until next year, when they’re still groggy from being underground all two weeks of winter, and I’ll nip ‘em in the bud, so to speak. Asparagus is a member of the fern family, you see, and the asparagus that grace our Easter or Passover tables are simply the budding shoots of these same fern fronds. In fact, for the first two or three years, the gardener cannot collect any asparagus at all, but must allow the plant to gain strength and breadth; first so that the plants will be suitable for the table, but also to protect the plants themselves. They are living creatures, even though they are not animals or humans; so as much as possible, we should be good to them; and in return, we can count on their contributing delicious variety to our dinners and healthy phytochemicals and minerals to our diets. I meet a lot of people who tell me, “I don’t know how to grow things; is it hard?” No, it’s not, not if you start off right. As I keep saying, and will keep saying, so expect it, gardening is all about the soil, rather than the plants. You can buy the most expensive plants you like, and water them like mad, but unless you’ve prepared your soil, your plants are doomed. For example, here in North Texas where I live, both our soil and our rain are alkaline. So unless you’re willing to plant xeriscape plants—that is, plants that have been living here since Demosthenes expounded on the rocky hills of Greece, you’d better be ready to add a whole lot of peat moss and a bag of expanded shale to your 4’ X 8’ garden bed. In places where the soil is sour and acid, you will need to lime your soil. When we lived in a place like that, I used to crush my eggshells and add them to the soil wherever I wanted to grow bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus, etc.) I found that it helped immeasurably. Lime (oyster and clamshells, limes itself, and eggshells) sweetens acid soil; expanded shale, peat moss, pine needles and coffee grounds tones down the sweetness of alkaline soil. Tea or opened tea bags are good, too, but you can get free coffee grounds from Starbucks simply for the asking, so it’s smart to go that route. Conversely, to grow azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas, you'll want a fairly acid soil. What to do, what to do? The best thing to do is to test your soil. One way is to take 1 Tbsp. samples from several places in your garden and put them in a canning jar or clean one-pint jelly jar. Add fresh water to the top and stir thoroughly. Then, using your test kit, follow the directions for determining just what your soil needs for optimum performance. Add the suggested material and get ready for a terrific harvest, a couple of years from now, and for twenty or so years thereafter. It may take a little waiting, but, in the long run, you’ll be glad you did!

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