Saturday, April 13, 2024

A Thicket of Spears

Three years ago, I put bare-root asparagus into a four by eight plot in my front yard.  

I've always enjoyed asparagus, and when my wife suggested one evening that she thought it'd be fun if we grew it, I needed little further encouragement.  While you can grow asparagus from seed, the best way to get it going is transplantable rootstock, and so that's what I ordered.  The little brown tangles arrived in the mail, bare root plants often nothing more than yard detritus.  Into the ground they went, and the waiting began.

Lots of waiting.

Asparagus are sturdy, long-yielding perennial fernish critters, cousins of the lily, and a well-established plot can provide a few tasty weeks of early spring sweetness for decades.  But like so many good things, they require patience.  The roots need years to establish, and if you harvest the spears in the first couple of years, you'll cripple or kill the plants.

So I've been waiting, these last two years, gently weeding in spring and summer, cutting back the dead stems in fall.  In winter, I've tucked the roots under a blanket of leaf-mulch from my yard, and fed the soil with the wood-ash from my fireplace.  Those years have flew, as years are wont to do when one gets older.  This year, I sampled my first harvest.

When the first spears stabbed up through the mulch in early spring, I snapped them at their base, and munched on them right there in the garden.  They were, as all who advised me suggested, quite delicious.  

For three and a half weeks in early spring, we ate all of the produce of that modest little patch.  Every effort of those roots, devoured.  I could have pushed for a week more, but after returning from a short family trip to Texas, the spears had explosively regrown.  

After weeks of being cut back, every growth devoured, every effort stymied, the plants were stronger than I'd ever seen them.  Spears as thick as my thumb had shot up a foot in a matter of days, growth so vigorous and rapid that it felt like one could almost see it.  I'd been so concerned about weakening the plants in the years of their childhood and adolescence that I was surprised at their vitality.

Weeks of traumatizing and retraumatizing them had done nothing more than piss them off.  Their growth felt a little defiant, a little fierce, as living things so often can be when we face a challenge from a position of resilience. 

"Respect," I may have muttered to them, as I weeded around the phalanx of green.

It was time to back off, and let them grow.