Category Archives: Asparagus

So long, asparagus!

asparagus

We sold our last bunch of asparagus for the season today. As of June 1, the farm is closed to the public (except for professional photographers and CSA pickups) as we get ready for summer produce to come in.

See our photography policy here. 

We will re-open for produce sales in late June, as soon as our sweet corn comes in. At that time, you can look for all of your favorite summer produce at our roadside stand.

Thanks for buying Snead’s Farm asparagus!

If you’d like to visit a local farm while you wait for Snead’s to re-open, we highly recommend Braehead Farm in Fredericksburg. They’ve got pick-your-own strawberries!

Asparagus: A wonderful time of year

AsparagusEMMETT SNEAD / THE FREE LANCE-STAR

HERE ARE some of the questions I’m commonly asked by asparagus buyers:

  • How do I store asparagus in the refrigerator?
  • Why do you leave the bottoms on your asparagus?
  • How do you freeze asparagus?
  • When does asparagus season end?
  • Why is some asparagus so tough?

The only tough part of fresh-picked asparagus is the skin at the bottom of the asparagus. The skin can be peeled or skinned off with a carrot skinner. It can then be cooked with the rest of the asparagus or snapped off, puréed and frozen to make soup stock.

Asparagus that has been in a chain store or warehouse for three weeks or longer will start to get “woody” at the bottom. This is especially true of asparagus that was not handled correctly (not kept turgid and not cooled immediately after picking to get the field heat out of it) on the farm from where it was harvested. It is also true of asparagus that is allowed to go limp while it is stored prior to being sold.

Immediately after I pick asparagus, I place it and the picking container that it is in on a pallet, wash it off, stow it in a walk-in cooler and lower the temperature to 39 degrees, in a matter of minutes. Then I take it out of the cooler and place it, snugly, in 5-gallon buckets (tips up) so that all the asparagus is standing straight up. I add 2 to 3 inches of water to the bottom of the bucket. I then put the asparagus back into the cooler and sell it the next day.

This process perks the asparagus and eliminates crooked asparagus because being placed tightly in the bucket, in a dark cooler, causes it to straighten up overnight.

THE BEST YEARS

Asparagus season, in the Fredericksburg area, generally runs from the last week of April through the first week of June. In the last 51 years, I have had asparagus come in only two times before April. The first time, March 18, 1988, it started snowing before we finished cutting. That year, I did not see any asparagus again until the end of April.

Last year was the best year I have ever seen for growing and selling asparagus. The first cutting was March 17. Then it started coming in heavy on March 26 and we cut it continuously until May 25. We had eight weeks of picking asparagus daily when you normally get only five weeks. It usually gets too hot by the first of June, which causes asparagus to go to seed.

Since spring came a month early but the summer heat came only a week early, it was like having two seasons for the price of one. Or like having twins when you were anticipating just one child. If you always plan for a good crop, occasionally you get a bonus crop. On the other hand, if you plan for a bad crop, i.e., fail to put in all the preliminary effort, then you’ll always have a poor crop, no matter what.

THE ANSWERS

The following should answer the first three questions:

Soak freshly cut asparagus in cold water to restore firmness and to remove dirt and grit. No one wants their teeth brushed while they are eating asparagus.

Store asparagus in a sealed plastic bag after draining out all water and air from the bag. Then lay it flat in the refrigerator.

Do not snap off or skin bottoms of asparagus until ready to cook. Leaving the bottoms on asparagus helps to retain moisture, freshness and flavor. When it is fully turgid, snap asparagus where it would naturally break, if you prefer not to skin it.

(Trying to snap limp asparagus is like trying to snap limp string beans. Neither does the cook any good.)

Another thing: If you have asparagus spears that are different sizes and you want them all to cook together evenly, just split the larger ones down the middle up to the neck area. This also creates more surface area for flavorings to enter while cooking.

To freeze asparagus, steam blanch until color turns dark (two or three minutes), and cool immediately in ice water. Pat dry and freeze in sealable plastic bags.

Emmett Snead operates Snead’s Farm along Tidewater Trail in Caroline County.

 

 

Some asparagus tips, but not the roots

Advice on growing asparagus from a local expert on the matter, farmer Emmett Snead.

THE TWO most common questions I get about asparagus: Why is my asparagus so skinny and poor? How do you grow asparagus?

I grow asparagus by first selecting a well-drained area away from trees. Next I take a soil sample (get information on how and where to send sample at the local library or Virginia Tech Extension office). Third, I apply the recommended amendments to the soil and plow in.

Then I open a furrow approximately 8 inches deep. In addition to soil sample recommendations, per 100 feet of row, apply 20 pounds of 5-15-20 plus trace elements (tobacco-type fertilizer), 30 pounds of gypsum (contains large amounts of sulfur and calcium), and 30 pounds of dolomite limestone (contains large amount of magnesium) on the bottom of the furrow. Work it into the ground with a hoe fork before placing the asparagus roots into the furrow.

Asparagus is a salt-tolerant plant. Once the fertilizer is worked into the ground with a hoe fork, no salt damage from the fertilizer should occur to the asparagus roots.

This is your last chance to apply nutrients directly into the root zone for the life of the asparagus roots, and that should be at least 15 years. With this extra fertility available in the root zone, your soil should support “high density” asparagus.

I lay the roots in the furrow one on top of the other, like dominos, with the crowns 7 inches apart. I don’t spread the roots out or apart, but you can if you like. One long single row is best because you can mow the weeds off on either side of the asparagus right up to where the stalks come up out of the ground without injuring the asparagus. Drive the lawnmower in the direction that would expel the cuttings away from the row of asparagus.

Asparagus shoots are very tender, and the force of the cuttings hitting the asparagus will make them grow crooked. Some people like crooked politicians, but no one likes crooked asparagus. Also, a single row allows for better air circulation, helping to minimize disease.

A single row also results in better yields because of more sunlight per plant. And more asparagus in the row competes more effectively with the weeds within the row of asparagus along with manual weeding.

When people say their asparagus is skinny, I ask them if they planted it near trees. Nine times out of 10 they say yes. By “near trees,” I mean close enough to either be shaded by the trees during the day or to have roots that reach the asparagus bed.

Remember, an asparagus bed should last at least 15 years, so look around, and if you see trees, imagine how big they’ll be in 15 years. Asparagus cannot compete against trees for sunlight, moisture or nutrients in the soil.

My grandfather would dig a trench a foot deep below where the asparagus was to be planted and fill it with well rotted cow manure mixed with dolomitic lime and gypsum. You may do this if you like (or if you want organic fertilizer). I find it to be too much squeeze for the juice. Using commercial fertilizer, especially with five or seven different trace elements, is much more effective.

I do not sell roots. That would be like selling the goose that lays the golden egg. I recommend buying the roots and other supplies from Roxbury Mills.