By DOUG GRAVES
WILMINGTON, Ohio — Just hold on there, corn. Not so fast, soybeans. Won’t be seeing you anytime soon, wheat.
The rush by growers to get these crops in is on, but in Ohio, one vegetable has already emerged from the soil: Say hello to asparagus.
During summer and fall at the Clinton County farm of Brad and Marcia Bergefurd, visitors will find tomatoes, sweet corn, berries, pumpkins, melons and a host of other goodies. Standing alongside their quarter-acre pond and looking in every direction, a different crop can be spotted.
Set aside to itself on just one acre is asparagus. This cool-weather perennial vegetable is a favorite of the Bergefurds. It started out as an experiment for this couple. Now it’s one of their staples.
“We were thinking of a crop to grow that would come along when our strawberries came about,” Marcia said. “After a lot of thought, we chose asparagus. It’s all weather-dependent.”
The recent cool, wet days of April have been ideal for their asparagus, which is a perfect complement to their early-season strawberries. “If it’s too hot it can shut asparagus down, but this vegetable likes a nice, cold spring,” she added.
A single acre can produce up to 2,000 pounds of the succulent spears in one season and can remain productive for up to 15 years.
The Bergefurds first planted the asparagus in 2006.
“Asparagus was the natural choice,” Marcia said.
The Bergefurds spent a few years prior getting their silty clay loam soil in shape by rotating the direction of the till, adding grain tiles to keep water from pooling and working on weed and thistle control.
Their choice was two male varieties of asparagus: Jersey Giant, a high-yielding variety that produces thick, tender spears, and Purple Passion, with dark jewel-colored stalks and slightly higher sugar content.
“The male varieties are more productive than female varieties, which produce seeds,” Brad said. “The seedlings can take over the patch, choking out the main planting and decreasing the yield.”
Since asparagus often originates in maritime habitats, it thrives in soils that are too saline for normal weeds to grow. Thus, a little salt was traditionally used to suppress weeds in beds intended for asparagus.
Some places are better for growing asparagus than others. The fertility of the soil is a large factor. Crowns (the root system of a year-old asparagus plant) are planted in winter and the first shoots appear in spring.
In 2006 the Bergefurds planted roughly 500 crowns in furrows. It was three growing seasons before they harvested the first pound-bundle of asparagus.
“The crop needs two growing seasons to become established,” Brad said. “If you harvest the second year, it depletes the carbohydrate reserves and the plant never reaches full growth potential.”
According to Brad, while the harvest is modest in the third year, the yield increases as the plants mature, often doubling from one season to the next. Each crown can produce up to half-pound of asparagus per season.
By mid-May the spears start to emerge through the soil and a layer of straw mulch. From one day to the next, the spears can more than double in size.
“We hand-harvest every spear when they reach about 8 or 10 inches,” Marcia said. “We just go down the rows and snap them off where they naturally break at the bottom.”
Asparagus season typically lasts about six weeks, but how long it lasts and how much is picked is totally dependent on the weather.
The Bergefurds sell asparagus at their farm market, located at 234 State Route 350 West, Wilmington, OH 45177. They can be reached at 937-383-2133, or visit http://bergefurdsfarmmarket.com