This past fall we constructed three new plastic covered greenhouses in the corner of our asparagus field. Plastic greenhouses are faster and more affordable to build than glass ones and work just as well! While they don’t have the longevity of glass, they are a nice happy medium.
Rather than plow under and dig up the old asparagus plants, we left them alone. And now here we are in the spring season, and wouldn’t you know it, we have some asparagus! The greenhouses helped raise the temperature of the soil enough to coax the asparagus up a full week earlier than last year. We are so excited! We’re not harvesting enough to sell yet, but it won’t be long now — we’re crossing our fingers for late next week!
As discussed on a Facebook post recently, an asparagus crop takes a huge investment of time and patience to come to fruition. We plant asparagus from crowns, which are basically baby asparagus roots. Asparagus can also be grown from seed to transplant, but it’s a much longer process. For the first 2 years after planting the crowns, we don’t harvest at all. In year 3 we harvest for just 2 weeks, and by year 4 we can begin to harvest at full capacity. From there we continue to harvest for 10-15 years! Some newer varieties are able to be picked for even longer, close to 20 years.
And so, because of the long-term investment we’ve made into our asparagus crop, we were hesitant to dig up the field under the new greenhouses. And now we’re glad we didn’t, because it’s given us an early taste of our favourite spring veggie! We’re not harvesting enough to sell yet, but it won’t be long now — we’re crossing our fingers for late next week!
Are you familiar with the asparagus harvesting process? Most people are surprised to learn that asparagus is harvested entirely by hand. Our field crew walks up and down the rows with a small knife in one hand, and a collection basket in the other. To harvest a stalk of asparagus, the knife is inserted into the ground on an angle, and a quick, smooth cutting motion is used to cut off the stalk at its base. Each crown (that root system underground) produces approximately 10-12 stalks. And when harvesting, we have to be careful not to damage any of those surrounding stalks. If one was to be accidentally nicked or cut into, that stalk of asparagus would begin to grow crookedly.
As you may have noticed from the video on social media, asparagus harvesting requires a lot of physical labour. To harvest each stalk by end, our field crew must not only walk up and down the rows, but also bend down & stand up repeatedly. It’s not easy on the back! Next time you pick up a bunch of asparagus for dinner – keep that in mind. A whole lot of hard work went into producing it!
Once we start to harvest our asparagus crop on a larger scale, we’ll check back in and fill you in on how we grade, package, and store our asparagus post-harvest. Stay tuned!
Blog post written & photographed by Alex Chesney, RD
Special thanks to Luke Chesney for his additional photography and the video editing skills!