After a four year wait, we’re finally harvesting our first bountiful asparagus crop. The reason for the necessary delay in harvest is to allow this perennial plant to grow an extensive root system called a crown. The asparagus ferns spend all summer sending energy to the roots, and when spring comes round the root is able to send up new spears.
These spears grow extremely fast, and need to be picked twice per day. Left unpicked, they will quickly grow to chest height, developing a woody stem with fine green foliage.
On a mature field, harvest can last up to eight weeks. The challenge is knowing when to stop harvesting so the fern grows enough to replenish the storage roots. As with so many things, the challenge is to balance the give and take. Because we have a relatively young field, we are planning a short harvest season.
As with most perennial crops, weed control is one of our big challenges, especially with our USDA organic certification. Conventional asparagus farmers commonly use herbicides to control perennial and annual weeds, even spraying the entire field just before the first spears emerge in the spring. As organic farmers, our two viable options are tillage and mulching. Because of our particular weed problems, mulching would actually increase the weeds. So instead we till, being careful to not damage the crowns.