Grow it yourself: Asparagus

Grow it yourself: Asparagus

It is said that the asparagus is a strong aphrodisiac. Maybe its phallic shape has something to do with that. But in its white form (when the asparagus is grown without sunlight) asparagus is actually known as ‘white gold’ or ‘edible ivory’. Well, when a vegetable combines sex with money we are intrigued, and so should you be; especially when it makes your pee smell so weird.

By Marco Barneveld, www.braindrain.nu

Grow it yourself: Asparagus

In 1652, Culpepper's Complete Herbal included an entry stating that ‘a concoction of asparagus roots boiled in wine and being taken while fasting, several mornings together, stirreth up bodily lust in man or woman, whatever some have written to the contrary.’

And there is scientific proof! The phallic shape of the stalks might put you in the mood for some fun in the bedroom, but they also act as a diuretic that increases the amount of urine excreted and excites the urinary passages.

Asparagus also contains substantial amounts of aspartic acid, an amino acid that neutralizes excess amounts of ammonia which linger in our bodies and can make us tired and sexually disinterested. “Experiments with potassium and magnesium salts of aspartic acid have overcome cases of chronic exhaustion and increased sexual responsiveness,” one scientist observes.

Asparagus in love poetry

Probably no other food figures in such explicitly sexual and/or obscene love poetry as asparagus does - from the poems of the early Greeks to those of the Roman Catullus. Similar sentiments are expressed in the literature of China and that of India, whose Kama Sutra advises, "Drinking a paste composed of the asparagus is provocative of sexual vigour."

Grow it yourself: Asparagus

Stinky pee

But as soon as you mention asparagus, there comes a moment when the conversation moves towards the toilet. Asparagus makes your pee smell weird. How come?

In 1891 a scientist named Nencki had so very little to do that he convinced four guys to eat seven kilograms of asparagus (that's about three and a half pounds each). He collected their urine, worked some medieval magic on it, and concluded that the smell was due to a metabolite called methanethiol. So there you go. Nencki claimed that as your body metabolises asparagus, it produces this smelly chemical, which your discriminating kidneys see fit to dump into the bladder.

Grow it yourself: Asparagus

Medicinal powerhouse

But that’s not all folks! Not only does asparagus put you in the mood for sex and make your pee smell strange, it also has medicinal powers. Like a spear used as a weapon, asparagus’s javelin-shaped form could be viewed as symbolic for its ability to fight ageing and disease. Asparagus is packed with health benefits.

It’s loaded with nutrients: fibre, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. It’s also a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals. This is why eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers. Plus, asparagus may help slow the ageing process and reduce high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases.

White asparagus

And what about this white variety that they love so much in Europe? Well actually it’s not a variety! White asparagus is the same as good old green asparagus but it has been blanched. Blanched? Yes, that is covered with 8 inch of mulch to keep sunlight and green chlorophyll-producing photosynthesis away from the ripening spears. The spears are harvested just before their tips break through the surface of the mulch. Try it!

Grow it yourself: Asparagus

Patience is a Virtue

Remember, asparagus is a perennial plant, so you’ll have delicious rewards every year around the end of April or the beginning of May. But if you really want to reap the benefits of having your own asparagus garden, you’ll have to wait three years. Then you will see some truly great results. The asparagus spears should not be cut in the first season after planting and only a light crop should be taken in the second year. After that, harvest the asparagus as required from April to mid-June.

For the rest of the summer, the remaining spears should be left to grow into stems and ferny foliage, as this will ensure the plants build-up food reserves for the following year's crop. The young asparagus spears should be harvested when they are 4 – 6 inches in length, by severing the spears 2 inches below the soil surface. The ideal way to do this is with an asparagus knife or a serrated-edged kitchen knife. Asparagus tastes best when eaten fresh but it will usually last three to four days in a fridge.

Tips & Tricks

Leave the beautiful ferny foliage that accompanies asparagus in the ground all year round. Sunlight is important to all plant life, so growing asparagus plants a little distance from the rest of your garden veggies is a must.

Do you have a cold garden with heavy soil? Try the Guelph Millennium variety. It can be planted in autumn or spring. Wood ashes help to repel slugs and also mulching with oak leaves.

Grow it yourself: Asparagus
Plant the asparagus crowns in trenches of 1 foot wide and 5 – 6 inches deep in a prepared weed- and root-free bed of 4 feet long. Make sure the bed is in a sunny spot and that the soil is nutrient rich and well- drained. An asparagus crown can survive for 20 years or more, so pick your spot with care!

How to grow asparagus yourself?

  • Asparagus will thrive in any area where the ground freezes in the winter or dry season. The mild, wet regions of Florida and the Gulf Coast are about the only places where it’s difficult to grow in the USA.
  • Growing asparagus from seed is next to impossible. Because it’s a member of the lily family, only horticultural professionals can really manage to grow it from seed. Instead, purchase a crown that is at least one year old.
  • Select and prepare your asparagus bed with care, because this crop will occupy the same spot for 20 years or more. It can tolerate some shade, but full sun produces more vigorous plants and helps minimize disease. Asparagus does best in lighter soils that warm up quickly in spring and drain well; standing water will rot the roots quickly. Prepare a planting bed about 4 feet wide by removing all perennial weeds and roots.
  • Asparagus crowns are usually planted in late March or April. However, it is possible to plant certain varieties in late autumn, as long as the ground and weather conditions are suitable.
  • During the growing season, keep the site free of weeds. Weed by hand rather than using a hoe to avoid damaging the emerging plants and water well in dry weather. In autumn, the stems should be cut down. Do this to 2 inches above ground level when the foliage turns yellow-brown.
  • To plant asparagus crowns, dig trenches 1 foot wide and 5.5 inch deep down the centre of the prepared bed. A few weeks before planting, dig the ground over thoroughly to remove any weeds and large stones and then incorporate plenty of well-rotted garden compost.
  • Soak the crowns in compost tea for 20 minutes before planting and then fill the trench with soil to just above the level of the crowns. New shoots will soon grow and, as they do, the trench should be gradually (and carefully) filled with fine soil - always leave around 3 inch of the shoots visible. If you have more than one trench, they should be spaced 3 feet apart. Twenty-five plants should do for a household of four.
  • A thick mulch of garden compost should then be spread around the stumps. In the early spring, give the plants a feed with a general fertilizer.

Cook it yourself: Succulent sautéed asparagus

You need three tablespoons of butter, one bunch of fresh green and / or white asparagus, three chopped cloves of garlic and some sea salt. Melt the butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and asparagus spears. Throw the sea salt over it. Stir-fry until asparagus is tender and the tips are crispy. Yummm!

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