Here it is the first of June and we probably still have another meal of asparagus to pick from our garden. Last night’s supper of mushroom risotto with asparagus was delicious, almost as good as it would have been if that was the first we’d had this year. From our wild crop we’ve already picked more than ten pounds.
Our route runs along country roads over a total distance of about five miles, not too much to cover in an hour or so by bicycle, with most of that time devoted to gliding along looking for the telltale gleam of a new stalk. If we hadn’t been doing this for a few seasons already I’m sure we’d cruise right past most of our meal, because asparagus is hard to spot. It comes up just about the time the new grass is high enough to hide it, and it comes up fast. In a couple of days it’s two or three feet high and branching out, already too tough to eat. You have to be there at the right time.
Even when you know where it is, asparagus can be hard to spot. It’s a slightly paler green than the grass it grows with, and if it’s much taller than the grass you are probably a little bit late. You can snap the stalks any time before they begin to branch out and there will be plenty of tender vegetable, and actually if you pick wild asparagus when it’s only eight inches high, the base will be a bit too tough.
On a windy day, new asparagus stalks stand out from the weeds because they don’t move in the wind like the grass and other plants around them. Different plants sprout at different times, depending on how much warmth they get from the sun, so a north facing plant may be below ground when a south facing plant has begun to leaf out.
The easiest way to find asparagus is to begin about now, when it’s too late to pick. The plants will be obvious, bigger than everything else around them. Locally they may peak anywhere from two feet to eight feet high, and the biggest stalks may be nearly two inches thick at the base. If you spot a good stand of it, jot down some notes and list some landmarks. You’ll probably not need to consult the notebook next year, but it will mark the spot in your mind anyway. Next year when the redbuds begin to bloom, keep an eye on the roadside. Before the leaves open on the hardwood trees the asparagus will be poking through last year’s grass.