Burning off the asparagus bed
From GENE LOGSDON
Garden Farm Skills
We are overwhelmed right now with asparagus. We eat it steamed, creamed, and teamed with morel mushrooms, omelet, pasta, and salads. Nothing vegetative tastes better to me and in my opinion nothing makes a safer or more effective diuretic. I even have a theory that asparagus can slow down, if not reverse, enlargement of the prostate if you eat lots of it. Lots of it is every day from mid- April to mid- June, and at least twice a week the rest of the year.
We had our first asparagus this year on April 5, which is very early for northern Ohio. I have another theory (I am full of theories) that suggests we can enjoy asparagus this early because of our spring ritual of burning off the asparagus bed on some dry, windless day in March. The dead, brown stems and stalks of last year’s crop lie thick over the patch at that time, and make a brief, cheery blaze that warms up the soil a little and leaves a black film on the surface to absorb heat on subsequent days.
Burning off the old plants has another good effect for sure. Since we have been doing it, there are fewer asparagus beetles. Evidently the fire kills overwintering eggs.
Burning also discourages rabbits from making their nests in that old residue, which they love to do. Rabbits have been displaced for us however, by deer, a far worse scourge. Since deer have become part of everyday life on the farm (I’d rather say part of everyday death) we have to put netting over the bed when the asparagus spears first start coming up. After the crop really gets going, we remove the netting since it is difficult to harvest through it, and (so far) the deer by then have other plants they apparently like better. Some organic growers tell me that sprinkling wood ashes on the asparagus deters the deer.
Weeds are always a problem in asparagus for organic growers. After the soil has warmed up well and the spears are coming up rapidly, I cover the entire bed with six inches of tree leaves that I piled nearby the previous fall. The asparagus shoots come right up through the mulch, but most weeds won’t. Then in June, at the end of the asparagus season, I crawl alongside the bed and pull any weeds (especially tiny volunteer asparagus seedlings) that have had the nerve to grow, at the same time stirring and turning over the leaf mulch with my hands. This is a bit tedious, but not as bad as it sounds because the soil after years of heavy mulching, is very friable and loamy, easy to churn with your fingers. Except for a few redroot (wild amaranth) lambsquarter, sow thistles and an occasional tree seedling, all which have to be pulled later in the summer, that’s the end of weeding for the year. And of course, the really diligent survivalist knows that amaranth and lambsquarter make good salad too.
The carbon police frown on my practice of burning the asparagus bed. I am contributing to global warming, they say. Never mind all those jets flying high overhead, each of whose engines contributes more carbon emission in one minute than my burning asparagus patch does in a couple thousand years. Those very important people riding around in jetliners are doing the Lord’s work (like dropping bombs on people), while I am just a heathen dancing in this lovely May weather while I scarf down fresh asparagus.
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