The Ups and Downs of Asparagus

I’m far from being an expert on asparagus. In fact, I’ve been a little disappointed in my asparagus harvest, so I decided to do some research to see if there’s something I can do to improve it for next year. I thought I’d share what I’ve learned, along with my experience, the ups and downs of asparagus.

A Favorite Veggie

We love asparagus! It’s so easy to prepare, and even tasty right there in the garden. It’s amazingly sweet and delicious. It’s also a perennial, which means it comes back year after year. It can grow in part-shade which is a bonus to gardeners that don’t have enough full-sun areas, but it’s more productive in full sun. It’s also one of the first harvestable vegetables, coming up in early spring. When you’ve gone through the winter without harvesting anything from the garden, it’s a sight for sore eyes!

The first emerging spear. How exciting!
First Lessons

I don’t remember when I planted my first crowns, I’d guess about five or six years ago. That first batch I planted in one of the raised beds in my veggie garden, along with strawberries. They actually grow very well together, but I found that when it came time to harvest strawberries that it was annoying trying to find and pick them while asparagus ferns were poking me in the eye or getting caught in my hair. Also, when I planted them I really didn’t know how large they would get. With that first bit of experience I decided I wanted to move them out of the raised bed and to somewhere in the ground where they wouldn’t take up that valuable real estate and would have more room to grow. I tried to dig up those crowns to relocate them. A few I wasn’t able to dig up at all, and the ones that I did get out and tried to transplant didn’t make it. Another lesson learned: plan carefully where you want to put your asparagus, it can live twenty years or more and does not like to be moved.

The above picture shows a few of the original crowns sending up some spears earlier this season. You can see the various stages of growth. The very tallest one is starting to make a fern. The next tallest ones are beginning to separate the tips. Then there are a few visible ones that are at the perfect stage for harvest, about 8-12″ with tightly closed tips. (The strawberries relocated themselves to another bed, so those are some older plants, too, but that’s a different story. In the back right corner is some cilantro, and in the background you can see some guineas at work in the yard. In the foreground is a “walking onion.”)

New Experiment

Just about a year ago I decided to plant some new young crowns in my front yard flower garden. I may live to regret it, but I thought I’d try planting some among my flowers.The Ups and Downs of Asparagus The ferns are actually kind of attractive in bouquets, and as a backdrop to the other plants. Some of the crowns have taken off and are doing very well. I think they’re the ones near other plants that draw my attention when watering. Others, in more remote areas of the garden are slower to get going. At the moment, I’m glad I did, because the roses make a pretty backdrop to the asparagus, and the contrast makes it easier to see the fine foliage. The ferns get quite tall, about four feet, and quite often flop over.

The Ups and Downs of Asparagus
Although my camera didn’t focus very well on it, the rosebush behind it makes it easier to see this fern developing. It’s about four feet high.
The Ups and Downs of Asparagus
Close-up of fine foliage.
Genders

Did you know that asparagus has male and female? They’re quite easy to tell apart. In fact, if you tried, you might be able to guess what their differences are.

Female plants send up shoots that are thinner and shorter than males, and they also produce seeds. I didn’t have a photo of the seeds, but they’re just little red balls. I was showing my son the asparagus and telling him about them. I found a few seeds so I gave them to him and he sprouted them, along with his other seeds. Here’s a picture of his seedlings to help you with identification.

The two straight seedlings are those of asparagus. They, too, will form tiny ferns, and that’s the stage I discover them in the garden.
Close-up of asparagus fern

The male spears are thicker (stronger) and taller. Their spears are often as thick as my thumb. If you look back up at the photo from the raised bed, you can see that some of the spears are noticeably thicker and taller than the others.

Easy

I’ve found asparagus to be pretty easy and low-maintenance. They can get pests and diseases, but I really haven’t had a problem with either. They perform best in enriched, well-draining soil, which explains why they liked my raised bed so much.

I’ve been amazed at how easily asparagus self-sows. I find little seedlings quite often in my gardens. If you don’t want that, then you’ll want to collect the seeds. Also, it’s possible to buy only male crowns. Occasionally, I’ll gather seeds and go toss them at the edge of the woods. I don’t know if they’ll grow there, but I thought that would be a fun surprise someday if they did. Can you ever have too much asparagus? I didn’t think so, either. Have you priced it in the stores lately?!

Brushing Up

Okay, now to do a little reading to see what I might be able to improve upon. Here are a few mental notes I made:

  • I read someone suggesting to cover asparagus crowns with leaves for the winter. With my gardening practices that happens on its own. I usually leave some of the dead stems, simply to mark where the growing crowns are so I don’t accidentally damage them before the new spears start to appear again. Asparagus also likes organic material, so that seems to be a good practice.
  • There are some references that describe how to prepare an ideal bed for asparagus. I felt like that was done in the original raised bed, but not so much in the front yard. If you’re getting ready to plant yours, you might want to follow Rodale’s advice.
  • Asparagus, especially young crowns, doesn’t like to compete with other plants. I’ve read to weed around them and heavily mulch them.

I’m thinking that I may just need to keep up what I’ve been doing and be patient. The crowns in the front yard are still very young, and there aren’t very many of the older ones in the garden. I didn’t find anything that I’ve done terribly wrong. Patience may be the key word with asparagus.

Harvesting

When – You want to harvest asparagus when it’s about a foot tall, or so. You want the tip to still be tightly closed. Asparagus grow amazingly fast, so you’ll want to check it often during its growing season. Once it begins to make a fern, it’s too late. You don’t want to harvest all of the spears because the plant needs to store energy through the ferns for the next year, so leave some spears to mature. Later in the season when they’ve yellowed, you can cut them back, or remove them altogether. I like to leave a few “stumps” just to mark where the plants are, for their protection and also so I’ll know where to start watching for spears the next spring. The harvest season varies with the age of the crowns. You don’t want to harvest any for the two years. The third year you can harvest for about four weeks. When they’re four years or older, it’s about 8-12 weeks long.

How – I think the easiest way is just to grasp the spear and snap it off. You can use a knife to cut them off, but you might not get all of the woody part off, or conversely you might cut off some of the tender part. If you’ve already cut them, or bought some from the store, hold the spear with both hands and bend it until it snaps. It will snap in the perfect place! Easy! Fun, even. Show young ‘uns how to do it and let them help. Harvested spears will keep pretty well in the refrigerator for several days. I put a little water in the bottom of a glass, stand the spears upright in it, and put it in the fridge.

Eating

One of my favorite ways of cooking asparagus is amazingly easy. I place the rinsed asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over it. Roll the asparagus around a little, then sprinkle garlic salt over it. I roast it at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, taking it out halfway to roll them around a little more. If I’m baking fish I’ll sometimes add the asparagus around it.

I also like to chop up fresh asparagus to add to salads, and it’s also awesome to add to creamy pasta dishes!

Preserving

I haven’t had enough asparagus to worry about preserving it. I really don’t like it canned because it’s too mushy. I might try freezing it if it gets to where I have more than we can eat. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful with that.

If you have tips on growing and preserving, please share them. I would love to learn more about one of my favorite vegetables!

This post was shared on the Simple Homestead Blog Hop and the Homesteader Hop.

The Ups and Downs of Asparagus

 

Poultry for the Homeplace ~ A Practical Primer

Poultry are not paltry on the homeplace. They each serve a purpose and are profitable. Poultry refers to a variety of domesticated birds that are raised for their meat and eggs. It includes chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas.

Plumage

I think of our birds as feathered flowers. They all have different colors and patterns, and are all beautiful in their own way. I marvel at God’s creativity and imagine Him as he created each one, thinking “how can I make this one different?”

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Guineas are downright comical. They’re the clowns of our homestead. Look at that funny “helmet,” their bright red “wattles,” and their polka-dotted feathers.

We’ve raised several different “heritage” breeds of turkeys over the years. I’ve enjoyed the Toms, in particular, as they puff their chest and strut their stuff. They prance in a circle, dragging the tips of their wings and making a drumming sound. They’re persistent in their pursuit of proper admiration!

Geese aren’t as varied in their appearance, but their feathers are wonderful for pillows and bedding. Not that I’ve used them for that, but just wanted to mention it.

Production

Not only do the birds have different colors, but their eggs do, too. I really enjoy having our own fresh eggs, and I also appreciate them for their beauty. The color of eggs varies with the breed. Duck and goose eggs are white, guineas’ are brown-speckled, and chickens come in a rainbow of colors including blue, green, pink(ish), white, and various shades of brown. You can’t buy eggs like these at the grocery store!

Goose and Chicken Eggs

You are probably familiar with chicken eggs, but the eggs of other poultry are edible as well. Duck and goose eggs are richer and great for baking! Guinea eggs are pretty small, so you need more of them, but you can eat them.

Pests

Living in the country, there’s no end to the pests we live among, whether they prey on us and our pets, like ticks, chiggers, fleas and snakes; or our plants, like beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers and bugs. I try to garden organically, and our birds are great partners!

Chickens are omnivorous and if you aren’t already experienced with them then you might be surprised at some of the things they’ll eat. Of course, they eat grain, seeds, plants, fruits and vegetables, but given the opportunity, they’ll eat frogs, small mice and snakes. Turkeys’ diets are similar. They will also eat acorns, which we have an abundance of.

Guineas march around the yard peculiarly, almost in formation, pecking at pests, large and small. They eat many of the same things that chickens do, but they don’t scratch, so they’re gentler around plants. With all of the tick-born diseases, I’m especially grateful for their help with eradicating them. I’ve read accounts of guineas encircling large snakes. Although I haven’t personally witnessed that yet, I do think that they would help by eating them, chasing them off, or alerting us to their presence.

Poultry for the Homeplace
Crested Ducks, Lucille and Lincoln

Ducks eat slugs and snails, as well as insects and grass. They are credited with being lower-maintenance, hardier, and quieter than chickens.

Permaculture

Poultry offer prodigious perks to participants in permaculture. Chickens and guineas will seek out pests that might threaten your home, garden or orchard. As they’re doing that, they’ll periodically pause to poop, thereby naturally fertilizing.

In the orchard they clean up fallen fruit. This helps to lessen disease and insect problems. By scratching around the base of the trees, chickens can pick out grubs that later in the season would emerge and infect the fruit.

Chickens working the compost pile

When I’m working in my garden, I collect weeds and other waste in buckets. When they’re full,  I dump them over the fence into a compost pile in the bird yard. The birds excitedly race over to rummage through it. They eat all the weeds, seeds, and insects. Their scratching also turns and breaks down leaves. Let’s just say they help process the compost more quickly. The variety of things they eat makes for flavorful and nutritious, orange-yolked eggs.

If you have other livestock such as horses, cows, or goats, flies can be a problem. Chickens can help combat the fly problem by scratching through manure and eating fly larvae.

Geese helping with the weeding

We have African Geese and I’m amazed at how they eat grass and weeds. The bird yard is large, and it’s picked clean. My husband made an opening into a small paddock, and so far they’ve kept it under control, too. When I’m working in the yard, I love opening the gate and letting all the birds have access to our whole homestead. I especially appreciate the geese working the fence lines where it’s hard to control the grass and weeds.

Protection

While they may not actually attack anyone, birds can certainly alert you to the presence of people or predators that don’t belong, giving you the opportunity to investigate the situation.

Birds can be pretty intimidating. Have you ever been “goosed?” Recently, we had a delivery and the woman jumped out of her truck to greet our two large, barking, guard dogs. But I had let all of the birds out and when the geese started running towards her, flapping their large wings and honking menacingly, she asked me, panic-stricken and poised to jump back in her truck, if they were attacking. So don’t under-estimate the guard potential of birds.

Guineas are well-known for their prodigious pandemonium. When anything is amiss, or they detect a predator or intruder, they sound the alarm. Here is a little video to give you a peek at their prattle:

Personality

The simple country life is not complete, in my opinion, without the presence of the peculiar personalities of poultry. I’m perpetually pleased by their picking and pecking, plucking and peeping. It’s my idea of paradise.

Post Script

Did you know that poultry were so profitable? They are definitely a valueable resource for the homesteader. If you’re considering adding a new breed to your homeplace, do some research to learn even more about them and make sure that they’re a good fit.

I’ve only covered the poultry that I have personal experience with, but there may be others. Do you have something to add? I invite you to share in the comments.

Please pin this purty picture:

 


City Girl, Country Woman ~ Living the Homesteading Dream

I grew up as a city girl, but I always longed for the country. My mother was a city girl who married my father, a country boy, and I’m an equal mix of them both.

Childhood Memories
Aerial View of My Grandparents’ Farm

My Dad grew up on a farm in northeast Kansas and I was always fascinated when we visited his parents at his boyhood home. They had a beautiful farmhouse, which seemed enormous to me as a child. It was surrounded by cornfields, and there were usually some animals, although they varied over the years. At times they had chickens, pigs, or cows, and there was usually at least one dog and some skittish cats. Trying to lure and catch them would keep my sister and I entertained for the better part of our visit.

I was always enthralled by the animals. I remember once when I was very young, for some reason I ventured into the muddy pig lot. I guess I wanted to pet them, but the mud was so deep that I sunk up to my thighs and I couldn’t get out. As the pigs ran frenzied circles around me, my Grandpa ran to my rescue. My mother was hysterical, fearing for my safety. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about, or why the pigs didn’t want to be petted.

My Grandma had a vegetable garden beside her house, and if we were visiting at the right time I got to tag along as she did some harvesting. It seemed like such a treat to eat foods raised right there on their farm. They really did seem to taste better.

Homesteading Dream

Those are some of the childhood memories I had of country life, and I wanted to experience more of it. My husband is kind of a mix, too. He grew up on his parents’ farm where they raised cows. Shortly after he graduated college he left for Houston and that’s where we met. He couldn’t wait to leave the farm and go to a big city, but after we married and started our family, we started to dream together about living in the country and being more self-sufficient.

My Green Thumb Sprouts
Homegrown Lettuces

My family moved around a lot while I was growing up. Scott and I have also moved quite a bit during our marriage, but it seemed each time it was to a house with a little more land, and a little further out of town. When our kids were young I kept busy with them, but I started dabbling with gardening in containers. I don’t remember being all that successful, but, hey, even a little bit of lettuce can be pretty exciting!

A Garden of My Own
Basket of Goodies from the Garden

When we made our big move to “the middle of nowhere” in southwest Missouri, that’s when my green thumb really grew. Scott helped me make some raised beds because we live on a hilltop with rocky soil. He even built a fence to protect it from marauding critters. I love spending time in there. It’s so peaceful. I have a bluebird house that my dad made mounted on one of the fence posts, and bluebirds flit in and out while I’m working. What could be better than keeping company with the Bluebirds of Happiness?! I like the smell of the dirt. I love seeing my seeds sprout and grow into (hopefully) fruitful plants.

A Melon Growing in the Garden

Harvesting the produce makes me feel thankful for God’s provision, and I marvel at His creativity. I think of it as my own little church because I do a lot of praying and singing out there.

The Orchard
Apples!

Over the years we’ve gradually planted our orchard. At the moment we have two peach trees, four apple trees, two pear trees, four cherry trees, and three blueberry bushes. It’s so exciting when they start blossoming and bearing fruit.

It’s challenging to protect them from insects and diseases organically, but I keep trying and learning. For nine years now I’ve grown more and more plants, and increased my experience with organic gardening.

God Provides
A Basket of Foraged Gooseberries

In addition to the plants I cultivate and nurture, I enjoy foraging on our 200+ acre farm. I collect raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, huckleberries, and mushrooms. Occasionally, we’ll get something like persimmons, pawpaws, or possum grapes. I feel gleeful like a kid when I’m able to prepare a meal with foods that we’ve raised and foraged ourselves. It’s a great feeling to be self-sufficient in that way. I’m overwhelmed at how much God provides for us.

Morel Mushrooms
Animal Tales

One of my ideas about country life is that you can have as many animals as you want, so we’ve also had fun raising an assortment of animals. We used to have a dog named Hattie, and she once had a litter of thirteen puppies. It seems like we also had a litter of kittens around the same time.

I’ve loved seeing my kids with all the kittens and puppies, chicks and rabbits. What child doesn’t like animals?!

When we first moved up here our daughter, Margaret, had a couple of rabbits. They actually rode in the back of the suburban with a cat (separate carriers) on the trip from Texas to Missouri. She raised several litters of baby rabbits before tiring of it.

Scott and his father built a nice chicken house soon after we moved here. I was so anxious to have our own fresh eggs. We enjoyed the chickens, and it wasn’t long before we added turkeys, ducks, geese and guineas.

Scott and Piglet

My husband and a neighbor worked together to raise some pigs for a few years. I wasn’t very involved in the caregiving, but I appreciated the pork in the freezer.

Mammoth Donkeys

For awhile we had horses, mules, and mammoth donkeys. I made the hard decision last year to give them up. Our daughter was leaving home, and my husband didn’t really share that interest with me. As much as I enjoyed them, it was time to go a different direction. Those are cherished memories, though, and I’m so grateful that I got to experience them. I’ve never taken more selfies than I did with those donkeys. They made me laugh.

Gypsy

Of course, I loved my horse, Gypsy, too. She was sweet and beautiful, and I learned a lot from her. In giving them up, I needed to feel like I had done everything possible to find them good homes. I prayed about it, and it took awhile, but God provided.

Many years ago we visited some friends in Seattle. While shopping there I bought this beautiful painting by artist Sarah Clementson Yeager. I had it framed and it has always hung where I could see it in the dining room – every dining room we’ve had since then. Although I didn’t think of it as a goal, I think it was kind of my dream in art form. I wanted the elements in that picture – the apple tree, the beautiful country setting, the cats and chickens peacefully co-habitating, even the table and chairs in the shade of a tree. I realized that I’ve attained that dream. There’s nothing I like more than looking over my shoulder out the patio door to see a mix of dogs, cats, and poultry, as well as our young cherry trees. Or some goofy guineas peeking in the window.

Goofy Guineas Peeking in the Back Door

I’m so grateful to God and my husband for this beautiful country life!

This post has been shared on some of my favorite blog hops.

 

City Girl, Country Woman

Tronchuda Kale ~ A Super Green Worth Growing

I love experimenting in the garden. That’s why I enjoy the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog so much. I’m amazed by the vast array of plants that I’ve never heard of. Reading the descriptions, comparing, and picking out a few new things to try helps me survive the bleakest months of winter. Having said that, though, I’m trying to develop a list of my own favorites – plants that are dependable, productive, and of course…tasty!

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of my links I may earn a small commission. It doesn’t cost you any extra but helps to support my blog.

Baker Creek’s description for Tronchuda Kale claimed that it was more heat tolerant than other types and I’ve found that to be true, at least this year. We had a fairly mild summer, and although the plants slowed down with the warmer weather, they were fairly healthy despite fending off cabbage worms. I planted seeds in my raised beds in the Spring. The plants lived through the summer and started to revive again when the cooler temperatures arrived.

Tronchuda, also known as Portuguese Kale, has a flatter leaf than other varieties which have more wrinkled ones. I think I prefer the texture of these smoother leaves, and they’re a little easier to work with when preparing them, too.

Kale is one of the most challenging crops I grow, mainly because of the battle with my enemies, the cabbage worms. I’ve tried different methods, but I happened on a product that has really made a difference, and that is Captain Jack’s Deadbug . I have to reapply it after it rains, but it has really helped me to harvest some beautiful leaves. 

Tronchuda Kale
Cabbage moth eggs
When to Grow

Kale is a cool-weather plant, so in my area (zone 6b) I can grow it both Spring and Fall. Like I said above, it endured the summer this year so I didn’t need to replant it, but I’m not sure if that will always be the case. Our summers vary, and can be pretty brutal. It takes about 85 days to mature.

Why to Grow

Kale has many nutritional benefits that make it worth growing. Referred to as a “Super Food,” it is low carb and low fat, but very high in nutrients. There are many ways to work kale into your diet. Think smoothies, soups, dehydrated “chips,” and salads. Kale: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts.

Harvesting

I use the cut-and-come-again method. I harvest the middle-sized leaves, leaving the small ones to grow larger, and the large or tattered ones for the plant. You don’t want to take too many, maybe a third, but the plant will continue to produce new leaves over the course of the growing season. You don’t need to harvest the whole plant. Like mentioned above, I’ve been able to harvest kale for an extended period, from Spring through Fall, although its growth was slower during the summer.

Tronchuda Kale
Oh, no you don’t! Cabbage moth on my kale.
Storing

I usually blanch it and freeze it in quart-sized freezer bags if I’m not going to prepare it right away. I’m also starting to experiment with dehydrating it. If you’re going to refrigerate it to use soon, it’ll keep better if you wait and wash it right before you use it. To clean, I submerge the leaves in a sink full of cool water and gently swish it around a little to flush out dirt and bugs. As I transfer the leaves to a colander I look for any cabbage moth eggs or larvae. If the leaves were real dirty, I might rinse them a second time in new water, but that isn’t usually necessary. I use the chiffonade method to cut the leaves. If the stem/midrib is large and tough then I remove it, otherwise I don’t.

Tronchuda Kale
Roll stacked leaves

img_1311Kale should be blanched for 2 1/2 minutes according to online guides. I usually do it for three minutes, though. Blanching is a simple process of briefly boiling/steaming the greens to stop enzyme action. Then the greens are transferred to a bowl filled with ice water to cool, then drained and put in a container for storage. If you’re going to use it for smoothies you could freeze it into cubes using an ice cube tray and then transfer to baggies.

Preparation

There are many uses for kale, but this is the recipe I use most often. I start by dicing some bacon. How much depends on how much kale I’m cooking, but maybe a strip per quart-sized baggie. I dice it and put it in a pot over medium to start cooking. I dice an onion quickly by using my Vidalia Chop Wizard and add that. When it becomes translucent, I add a few cups of water and a teaspoon or so of chicken bouillion. (I use Better Than Bouillion) Then I add the kale. My secret ingredient is Nasturtium Vinegar that I make in the Spring. You can use apple cider vinegar in its place, though, maybe a tablespoon or two. I don’t measure it, it’s one “bloop.” Add salt and pepper to taste. Kale needs to cook approximately 30 minutes.

 

Tronchuda Kale
Yummy Fresh Kale

Greens are a great addition to your garden. They have long growing seasons and can even grow in partial shade. All varieties of kale are worth growing, but Tronchuda is going on my “Favorites” list.

This post has been shared on the Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop.

Helpful Links

Tronchuda Kale from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

10 Health Benefits of Kale