Asparagus offers two major perks to the vegetable gardener. First, it's a sure sign that spring is here and the gardening season has begun. Secondly, asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetable crops. Plant it once and it keeps on giving. There is some up front work to be done, before you can enjoy the harvest, but a well-established bed can produce for decades.
While North and South Americans know and enjoy green asparagus, many European countries favor white asparagus. White asparagus is the same plant as green asparagus, it just hasn't been allowed to see light and photosynthesize. This is accomplished by covering the growing spears with either ridges of soil or tunnels of something like plastic, allowing them to blanch. The final product is smooth, white and virtually fiber free, provided the harvested spears are immediately chilled to prevent the fiber from forming.
Not All Asparagus is Green
I have not had the pleasure of tasting white asparagus but I'm told they taste something like a cross between a mild artichoke and palm heart. Because of the labor involved in keeping them blanched, white asparagus is very pricy. In Europe it is a treat looked forward to each spring.
There is also purple asparagus. The purple varieties tend to have less fibers than their green cousins and to be higher in sugar content. They are grown in the same manner as the green and lose some of their color in cooking.
Some easy to find, yet excellent varieties are:
- Mary Washington is the most commonly found variety. It was bred for rust resistance.
- Jersey Giant is rust and fusarium wilt resistant and yields early.
- Brock Imperial offers high yields.
- Princeville does well in warmer climates.
Here's the nitty gritty on growing asparagus plants in your home garden.