Asparagus is a fast growing spring crop once it gets going. Starting from seed it will take about 3 years to get a small harvest and by the 4th you will be harvesting a good crop. You can hurry the process by planting “crowns” from older plants. Where ever you plant be sure it’s where you want it because it will come back year after year.
To harvest the asparagus, cut when the sprouts are about 6 inches tall and about as fat as your finger. Cut your stems in the morning, the noon day heat will cause the stalks to be stringy and dryer. Be sure when you cut, you cut all that are ready. If a stem is allowed to flower the root will not send new stems for the season.
Asparagus produces a berry like seed at the end of the season, save the male seeds. These are the seeds on the fatter stalks. The stalks that are wispy and fern like are the females, don’t save these. Cut the male stalks and allow them to dry, shake the berry seeds off and store them for next planting once they are completely dry.
If you haven’t pickled asparagus, I would recommend giving it a try. Of course is it great fresh, sautéed or grilled and can be blanched and froze or canned as well.
*** Asparagus seeds are poisonous! Save them to plant and not to eat!
Celery can be a challenge to grow, but if you get some fresh from the garden you’ll never want to buy it again!
Celery has a rather long growing season, 125 days, about, to maturity. It also likes cool weather which is why it can be a challenge. Growing up north, as I do, it needs to be started indoors, then transplanted. Celery, doesn’t give us a whole lot of nutrition, yet it requires a lot to grow. Be sure your celery plot has lots of loose compost and manure. Celery also prefers to be damp, so don’t let it dry out. They should be transplanted when they are about 6 inches tall, into rows about 18 inches apart and 12 inches between plants.
Celery leaves and stalks can be harvested anytime during the growing season. Once the plant has reached full maturity and is of harvestable size it can be cut at the root. Roots can be left in the garden for compost. They most likely won’t be back in the spring.
Saving seeds is easy but a process. Pick the plant that looks the best in the fall. Very carefully dig it without harming the roots. Plant this in a pot and keep in a root cellar in a dormant stage for the winter. Adding some mulch or straw around the base will help insulate it. In the spring return the plant outside where it will bloom little white flowers that will turn in to lots of little brown seeds.
Another note about celery seeds; don’t plant the seeds you find in the spice isle. They are bred to produce a crazy amount of seeds and not edible stocks.
Celery can be stored in a root cellar layered with damp sawdust or sand like carrots. I have never tired this method but plan to this year. I will let you know how it goes. Usually we use ours fresh or freeze it in vacuum sealed packages.
Florence Fennel is not the same as the fennel in your herb cupboard although the flavors do resemble each other. Seeds can be planted in the late spring, thinning the plants to about 12 inches apart. Once they have got going cover the base with dirt. This will blanch the bulb and leave you with a less bitter taste. They are ready to harvest when the bulbs are about 2 to 2/12 inches across.
Fennel can be eaten raw (I love it added to salads or coleslaw) or cooked. It can also replace celery in recipes.
Globe Artichokes don’t get enough press as with most vegetables. I have never had good luck growing them; mostly because they need a long growing season and climates that don’t go below zero. I do like to eat them though. Canned on pizza or sautéed and added to a pasta dish or creamed artichoke soup.
I mentioned artichokes to my dad once his reply was “Artie chokes, three for a buck!”. I guess it was part of a joke he heard in grade school that was pretty funny. However, we have yet to figure out the rest of it. So if you’ve heard the joke I would love to put an end to this mystery.
Rhubarb, originally from Siberia grows like crazy around here. To plant, all you need is a couple roots from an older plant. Plant them in the spring about 2 feet apart. Allow the rhubarb to grow for a year. The second or third year harvest away! The plant won’t spread and take over but it will multiply like a Day Lily and can be spit every few years. This, like asparagus should be planted where you want it to be for the rest of your life. We had a small plant that was doing nothing at our old house. I told my husband not to bother tilling around it this year. Till it up, I just don’t care. That year the plant tripled in size and we have multiple harvests from it.
Rhubarb can be very tarte but cooked and mixed with strawberries, raspberries and/or sugar can make the best desserts, pie filling, bars and jam! Which is what I do with it. It freezes well too for mid winter rhubarb muffins.
I have left a few members of this family out, such as Cardoon, Celeriac, and Celtuce. When I know more about growing them rather than just cooking with them I will revisit them.