Asparagus officinalis is a spring vegetable, a flowering perennial plant species in the genus Asparagus. It was once classified in the lily family, like its Allium cousins, onions and garlic, but the Liliaceae have been split and the onion-like plants are now in the family Amaryllidaceae and asparagus in the Asparagaceae. Asparagus officinalis is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, and is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop.
Venerated as both a vegetable and medicinal plant, it has a long history of cultivation. It is represented as an offering to the Gods carved on an Egyptian friese (a carved stone bass relief) from 3000 BC. It was known in ancient Syria, Spain and both the Greeks and Romans ate it fresh in season, dried it as a preserve and even froze the fresh shoots in the snow of the Alps. A recipe is written up in one of the oldest cook books still in existence: the De re coquinaria by Apicus in the 3rd century AD. Apicus was a famed Roma pizza maker who operated a successful takeaway at the Coliseum called ApicusSnackicus until sparks from his wood fired oven started a fire which destroyed not only his business but the livelihoods of many non-christians associatted with the Coliseum. Catholic’s today celebrate the event by walking slowly around the remains of the Coliseum 3 times counter clockwise while snacking on fresh bagels and gravlax while being accosted by dubious persons in fake gladiator outfits demanding cash to be photographed with you. Its a fun day!
“The ancient Greek physician Galen (prominent among the Romans) mentioned asparagus as a beneficial herb during the second century AD, but after the Roman empire ended, asparagus drew little medieval attention. until al-Nafzawi‘s The Perfumed Garden. That piece of writing celebrates its (scientifically unconfirmed) aphrodisiacal power, a supposed virtue that the Indian Ananga Ranga attributes to “special phosphorus elements” that also counteract fatigue. By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. (mais de grossiers mon Dieu!) Asparagus appears to have been hardly noticed in England until 1538, and in Germany until 1542.”
The finest texture and flavor is found in the tip of the fresh young shoots. Known as the “points a’lamour” or love tips they were a delicacy served to Madame Pompadour; well up until she died of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a disease of the lungs (and other organs) and was what we died from before smoking was common and gave us lung cancer. Very few people now die of Tuberculosis and not because we eat more asparagus but because as a disease it has gone out of fashion.
Know as “shatavari” in Sanskrit, “ashadhi” by the Indian sub language group the Kannads, in Thai its “no mai farang”, Vietnamese refer to it as “mang tay” Turks call it “kuskonmaz” meaning “bird cant land” and the Chinese who produce over 6.9 million tons of asparagus annually know it as “louseun” or “givemedollar” well actually givemedollar I just made up.
China is the top annual producer at aforementioned whopping 6.9 million tons while Peru comes in at 340,000 tons followed by Germany at 92,000 tons. There are 3 main varieties grown of which white asparagus or white gold is the most tender and less bitter and is the preferred product in Europe, Spain and France but especially Germany. In the “sparalsaison” or asparagus season more than 50% plus of Germany’s total tonnage of white asparagus is sold locally through road side stalls and or open air markets. There are some 80 million Germans so 50% of the annual production for white asparagus in Germany of 57,000 tonnes is ummmm I think its about 2.5 kilos of asparagus for each German. They sure love there sparalsaison.
Green and to a lessor extent purple asparagus is grown commercially in many countries including New Zealand. Boyds Asparagus based in Cambridge in the North Island is a main grower and supplier of asparagus through out NZ. There are about 90 growers who together produced some 2000 tons of asparagus in 2009 from some 600 hectares of land. Approximatly 50% was consumed by the local market with the remainder exported or processed. The major NZ fresh export market is Japan where in 2009 some $5.1 million in export earnings were generated. There is a New Zealand Asparagus Council made up of growers which meets 2 to 3 times a year.
The top importers of asparagus are: (2004) USA @ 92,000 tons, European Union @ 18,500 tons and Japan @ 17,000 tons. I’m sure the Asparagus Council has their eye on these markets.
The asparagus plant is a flowering herbaceous perennial that grows 100 – 150 cm tall, with stout stems and a feathery foliage. The female plant sets bright red berries that are poisonous to humans. The male plant grows the edible asparagus shoots. Flowers are bell-shaped white to yellowish in color and while there are male and female flowers there can also be hermaphrodite flowers. The needle like leaves are modified stems (chalodes).
New plants can be raised in prepared beds from either seed (a four year wait period for harvest) or from 1 – 2 year crowns with 1 year giving the best result. Asparagus has a tolerance of salty soils, prefers a pH 0f 6.5 – 7 and dislikes alkaline soil conditions. Crowns are planted in winter with new shoots appearing in Spring. The initial shoots (sprue shoots) are thinned out allowing for new thicker harvest-able shoots. The commercial growers of green asparagus Boyds of New Zealand cut their crop at 20 to 25 cms tall.
The white asparagus grown in Europe etc is a more labor intensive product as the crop requires soil “hilling” of the shoots to keep them white or blanched in appearance. For all varieties of asparagus only the young shoots are eaten as the buds open on older shoots it becomes woody and unpalatable. Older and discarded shoots might be used as an animal fodder or composted depending on the preference of the producer.
Asparagus is 93% water. It is low in calories and sodium (salt). It is a good source of dietry fibre, vitamins b6, C, E and K. Riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, mangenese and selenium. (trace amounts are necessary for cellular function in many organisms, including all animals and is an ingredient in many multi-vitamins) and well as chromium a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. . The amino acid asperagine is named after the asparagus as asparagus is relatively rich in this compound. All in all a power package of good eating, especially as in a ( Cassolettes Régence–a salpicon (or rough mix) of chicken breast and truffles in a velouté (velvet) sauce (a mass of butter, flour, a chicken or fish stock, salt and pepper), topped with asparagus tips with a border of duchesse potatoes. Yum.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||85 kJ (20 kcal)|
|Dietary fibre||2.1 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||
The asparagus makes a good companion of tomatoes as the tomato repels an asparagus beetle and the asparagus in turn repels some harmful nematodes that effect tomatoes.
The purple variety “Violetto d’ Albenga” that has been developed in Italy, is higher in sugar and has lower fiber levels. There is some breeding work done or being conducted here in new Zealand on this variety.
There is also “wild” asparagus but apart from this photo I have not been able to find any information on this variety.
Contraindication sort of….
Its been noticed for centuries that for some eaters of asparagus their urine takes on a unagreeable scent. “asparagus… affects the urine with a foetid smell (especially if cut when they are white) and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys; when they are older, and begin to ramify, they lose this quality; but then they are not so agreeable.” (“An Essay Concerning the Nature of Aliments,” John Arbuthnot, 1735)
In 2010, the company 23andMe published a genome-wide association study on whether participants have “ever noticed a peculiar odor when you pee after eating asparagus?” This study pinpointed a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in a cluster of olfactory genes associated with the ability to detect the odor. While this SNP did not explain all of the difference in detection between people, it provides support for the theory that there are genetic differences in olfactory receptors that lead people to be unable to smell these odorous compounds.
Personally as a general rule I don’t sniff mine or any others wee so I have nothing further to add to this.
End of Report.
A Planting and growing guide for the private gardener.
Planning the crop
Asparagus does best in a fairly open position, sheltered from wind. It needs a rich, well-drained soil, so the initial preparation of the bed is vital to the plant’s success. It prefers sandy loams with a pH of 6.5–7. It will not grow in very acid soils, but it is tolerant of coastal sites with salt-laden winds. In the autumn before planting, dig a bed 1.2 m wide to accommodate two rows. Dig well-rotted manure or compost into the topsoil at the rate of 1 bucketful to 1 square metre. Lighten heavy soil by adding gritty sand. If the soil tends to become waterlogged, grow asparagus in a raised bed. The following spring, rake the bed level and work in 120 g of pelleted organic fertiliser per square metre.
How many to grow- Calculate on the basis that six mature plants – those that are more than four years old – should yield one average helping of spears a week during their six-week season.
Varieties- Connovers Colossal was traditionally the most popular variety and is still widely grown. Mary Washington is another excellent variety for the home garden. It is high yielding and reliable, with well-sized green stalks. UC157 is also reliable, while Fat Bastard produces prolific large, plump spears. Violet asparagus from Italy is being grown increasingly for its flavour. The spears of most varieties are green with a purple tinge to the tips that varies in intensity depending on the variety. But there are also all-purple forms that generally have a finer flavour and can be eaten raw.
You can grow asparagus from seed, although it takes about four years to begin harvesting. For quicker results, buy one- or two-year-old plants. Don’t try to transplant roots older than this. One-year-old crowns are best, but they will not yield spears large enough to eat for two years. Male and female plants occur separately. Male plants produce more and better quality shoots. Female plants produce numerous red berries.
Sowing (seed crop) spring, year before planting crowns; 1 cm deep, 30 cm between rows
Thinning (seed crop) late summer to autumn, year before planting crowns. Select male plants.
Planting crowns first year, spring; 45 cm apart, 1 m between rows
First harvest third year, spring to early summer
Cutting back Third year late autumn to early winter; 15 cm Fourth year onwards early winter
Main harvest fourth year onwards, spring to early summer
Plant in spring
Use a spade to make trenches 60–75 cm deep, 1 m apart, and wide enough to take the plants’ roots when spread flat. Put back 5 cm of soil to create a low ridge all the way along the trench base. Remove plants from their packing and set them 45 cm apart in the trenches. Spread out their roots and cover them as quickly as possible with soil to stop them from drying out. Cover the plants with 8 cm of soil and firm the surface. Fill the trenches up gradually by drawing soil from the sides as you hoe during summer. By October the bed should be level.
The first two years
For the first two years, lightly hoe to keep weeds down. Water thoroughly in dry spells. In late May, when the stems turn yellow, cut down ferns to within 3 cm of the soil and mulch with rotted manure or compost.
Keep well nourished
Each spring, dress rows with a pelleted slow-release organic fertiliser at a rate of 60 g per square metre. Or use blood and bone. Follow this routine: organic manuring in autumn, fertiliser in spring.
Ridges or flat?
The third spring after planting, you’ll need to decide whether to grow your asparagus crop in ridges – which will produce longer, blanched spears – or on the flat, where the stems will be shorter but can be cut earlier. To make ridges, use a hoe to draw up the soil to a height of 12 cm just before the crop is ready to be cut. Level out the ridge again in autumn. On the flat, simply leave the soil as it is. When the bed is established, cut back the foliage to 15 cm from the ground when it changes colour each autumn and burn it.
Raising new plants
Asparagus can be raised from seed, but it will take an extra year to produce spears for cutting. In September, soak seeds overnight in lukewarm water and sow in drills 1 cm deep and 30 cm apart. When the seedlings are about 15 cm high, thin out to 15 cm apart. Opt for male plants over female plants – the females’ red berries make seedlings easy to sex. Water well during summer and plant out in their permanent bed the following spring.
Pests and diseases
The pests most likely to occur are slugs and snails. The principal disease of asparagus is a phytophthora root rot. Resistant varieties are currently being bred in New Zealand. Asparagus rust has just recently arrived as a disease in commercial crops in Australia. Home gardeners with small plantings are unlikely to be affected for some time.
Harvesting and storing
Do not harvest shoots grown from one-year-old crowns during the first two seasons. In the third year take only one or two spears from each plant. In subsequent years, harvest for only six weeks, allowing the later shoots to grow into ferns. If the plants are encouraged to grow in this way, the bed should continue to produce good crops for at least 20 years. Harvest the ripe spears when their tips are about 10 cm above the soil. Use either a special asparagus cutter or a serrated knife to cut the base of the spear down to 10 cm below soil level. If you aren’t going to use the spears straightaway, stand them in iced water for a few hours, then wrap and store them in the refrigerator until they are needed. That way, you can cut several spears each day, saving them until you have enough for a meal. This is better than leaving them in the ground and allowing them to become too large. Asparagus spears can also be frozen successfully.