Asparagus in Spring Grown From Seed
It took some time but it was worth the wait
In the spring of 2010 we ordered some Mary Washington asparagus seeds from Baker Creek with the intention of getting some homegrown asparagus to munch on a few years down the road. We started the seed in seed starter flats that you can buy at the local hardware store, garden supply, or big box stores. We used a pre-mixed starter mix and sowed the seeds, one per cell, about 1/2 inch deep. It was several weeks before the sprouts popped up and we took the dome off to allow for air flow.
For one reason or another we never got the seedlings planted that year so we stuck them in the cold frame and waited it out. They didn’t look like they were going to make it when we looked at them and saw only browned stalks. In spring we saw hints of life and to our surprise the plants made it through.
To prepare the bed for our little green pals we dug about 12 inches deep and turned in a lot of aged manure. Then we pulled back three rows to about 8 inches deep, planted the seedlings, and as they grew moved more soil on them until we were at even level with the rest of the garden bed. There are thirteen plants in three rows each about 20 feet long. Weeding is constant and we pull every unwanted weed as soon as we can to prevent competition for nutrients.
Being that this is the third year for our asparagus we won’t harvest all of it. We’ll let the stalks grow to ferns and die off this fall, which will add some strength to the root system for next year and beyond. Or maybe the spears will surprise us again and we can pick it all. It won’t be hard to find recipes so we can eat all the spears our patch will provide because we love this stuff!
Susy Morris at Chiot’s Run started a French heirloom variety called Precoce D’Argenteuil and has photo of a little sprout at the blog if you want to see what asparagus looks like when first sprouting. It’s only the size of a toothpick.
The word asparagus comes from the ancient Persian word “asparag,” meaning sprout or shoot. Asparagus is actually a member of the lily family, and the stalks or spears are the sprouts of a fern like leave, which if left to its own devices, would produce bright red berries in the summer. I’ve read these are poisonous to humans. Asparagus beds can produce spears for as long as 15 years, but it takes about three years to start them from seed. An asparagus plant will send up new spears for as long as seven weeks and spears can grow as much as ten inches (25.4 cm) in 24 hours.
White asparagus is asparagus with no chlorophyll. The stalks are made white by covering them lightly with dirt to prevent the plant from producing chlorophyll. Bassano del Grappa, Italy, near the Brenta River is known as producing the finest white asparagus available in Italy. So unique in taste the Italian Government has designated it as “Asparagi DOC di Bassano” blessing it with its own District of Origin (DOC).
Here is a recipe for chicken breast stuffed with asparagus we love and look forward to making this spring with our Mary Washington asparagus! The second recipe is the classic Hollandaise sauce I was taught to make at The Culinary Institute of America by Chef Gerard Coyac.
- 6 chicken breasts without skin -- pounded
- 3 dozen asparagus spears
- ¼ cup melted butter
- ¼ cup dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic -- finely chopped
- ⅛ cup white wine
- 1½ cups bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese -- grated
- 2 tablespoons parsley -- chopped fine
- Blend the butter, mustard, wine and garlic. Dip the chicken into this mixture to coat them. Place 6 asparagus spears on each breast and roll, securing with a toothpick. Roll in bread cumb mixture and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.
- 1 tablespoon shallot, chopped
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 ounces white wine or cider vinegar
- 2 ounces water, as needed
- 3½ ounces egg yolks, about 4
- 12 ounces clarified butter, warmed
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice, strained
- salt and white pepper, as needed
- pinch cayenne, optional
- Combine shallots, peppercorns, and vinegar in a small sauce pan and reduce to nearly dry. Add water and strain into stainless bowl.
- Add egg yolks and set over simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly until the yolks triple in volume and fall in ribbons.
- Remove from heat and set on wet towel to avoid slipping. Gradually ladle in the clarified butter in a thin stream whisking constantly. If sauce thickens too much add a little water or lemon juice to loosen so remaining butter can be added.
- Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Hold in bain marie in hot, not simmering or boiling, water.