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Asparagus Rises

Time to hook our wagons to energy unlimited

Formidable is the fecundity of the vegetable kingdom.    
    Over just a couple of weeks, Chesapeake County has been conquered by green. So quickly that you have to be looking to notice the creeping change, as leaves, seeds and flowers shoot forth. Trunks, branches and limbs of apparently dead trees have burst into green life.
    Seemingly overnight, leaves have grown from miniscule hands to palms so big they could belong to giants. From the bare earth, flowers rise, expanding while your back was turned from frail sprouts to aggressive life forms. Food is growing in our gardens.
    Not just us in this well-watered, sun-kissed, mostly temperate earthly paradise. The vegetative drive for life is universal. Even in arid climates like the Sonora Desert down Phoenix way, cactus and wildflowers burst into spring bloom.
    All this from seeds often no bigger than specks.
    By comparison, humanity is a 90-pound weakling. Like our babies, our inventions have long gestations. Our planet-wide search for energy, the dominant quest of the last two centuries, has yielded nothing to compare with the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. (Poet Dylan Thomas came up with that phrase.)
    I am riding the boom.
    These are our salad days, when we eat greens from our little well-composted garden rather than from cello-bags. Sweet lettuces and peppery arugula are filling our bowls. Spinach lasagna is in delicious season. Forget dried herbs; parsley, oregano, sage and thyme are fat bushes. Mint and lemon balm are already trying to take over. Even sun-loving basil is forgiving its early planting. Catnip is thriving for naught, for the cat for whom it was planted seems nearing the end of his too-short life. Like poor Jungle Bob, my brown turkey fig tree may be a goner — but the life force is strong, so I’m prepared to be surprised.
    Had I planted asparagus, I’d be cutting my own spears rather than making regular stops at Dick and Jane’s Farm Stand and occasional forays to the grower’s tailgate market on Route 4 below the Route 258 exchange. But as Dr. Frank Gouin writes in this week’s Bay
Gardener, “asparagus is a long-term crop.”
    It also, he says, “requires advance preparations.”
    Either I’m heedless, or I’ve never dared make the commitment. With this column, I’ll no longer have the easy excuse of ignorance. The Bay Gardener tells us how, when and to what depth to dig those asparagus trenches, offering alternatives according to how we wish to cut our spears, above ground (shallower) or below (deeper).
    Asparagus is not the half of it. The wise doctor’s columns not infrequently force me to examine my character, if not my conscience. The clueless gardener of April 24’s Know Your Plants Before You Buy could have been me. I’m cursed with the results of planting things that seemed good ideas at the time. Christmas trees are aspiring to Washington Monument size. Cute bushes have turned into hungry hydras. Innocent-seeming ground-covers have revealed themselves as Sorcerer’s Apprentices. Some time in the history of all those mistakes, could I not have planted asparagus?
    Apparently not.
    Perhaps this is the year, when I’ve vowed to turn over a new leaf.
    My newly drawn landscape plan is my guide on all visits to plant sales and garden centers. So far, it’s working. Flowers, shrubs and trees reach out to tempt me, but I resist. Unless they’re on the plan, herbs or essential annuals, they find no room in my cart, car or garden. I’ve yielded only once, to native bleeding heart touted irresistibly by a garden saleswoman at last weekend’s William Paca Garden plant sale. Three pots of that old-fashioned perennial, one I’ve always loved, took me over my Mother’s Day budget. But the other dozen were all approved on my plan.
    Asparagus wants sun, so my advance preparations begin with watching the hour-spread of light on my little piece of earth. If the light is right, there’s a ready-drawn place in my plan for an asparagus trench. There’ll be no instant gratification should I make this planting. “Do not harvest asparagus spears until the beginning of the third growing season,” the Bay Gardener warns. On this end, that seems so long. In retrospect, three years will be no time.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com