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Crop of the Week: Asparagus
• While asparagus is a currently a niche crop in Yuma County, it has a wide homegrown following and known for its exceptional flavor, tender spears and local availability. Field-fresh, Yuma-grown asparagus can be purchased at local farmers markets and is a seasonal, can't-miss vegetable treat.
• Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food high in folic acid and a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamins B6, A and C, and thiamin. It has no fat or cholesterol and is low in sodium.
• Top accompaniments for asparagus are butter, Parmesan, hollandaise and vinaigrette, eggs, bacon or pancetta.
• There are three main types of asparagus: green, white and purple. Green asparagus is “normal” asparagus and is the most popular. White asparagus is green asparagus that has been deprived of light while growing. Some feel it is less bitter than the green variety. Asparagus also comes in shades of purple and red, which turn green only when cooked.
• An asparagus planting is usually not harvested for the first year to allow the plant to develop a strong fibrous root system. A well-cared-for asparagus planting will generally produce for about 15 years without being replanted.
• The word asparagus comes from the Greek asparagos, meaning shoot or sprout.
• Early Greek and Roman records detail growing instructions and medicinal uses of asparagus. Greeks believed the plant could cure everything from toothaches to heart ailments. The Roman emperors permanently employed people to collect asparagus from the wild and the upper class brought it with them as they conquered new lands.
• Asparagus is a member of the lily family. Asparagus spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in sandy soils. Under ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow 10 inches in a 24-hour period. Each crown will send up spears for about six to seven weeks during the spring and early summer. After harvesting is done for the season, the spears grow into ferns that produce red berries and the energy and nutrients necessary for a healthy and productive crop the next season.
• Asparagus thrives as a wild plant, and with its high tolerance of sandy, salty soil it will grow along riverbanks, shores of lakes and coastlines.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 726-3904.