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Emergence of cool-season crop signals springtime

PALMYRA, VA—Perhaps this season’s early emergence of asparagus spears is a springtime reward for Virginians who endured a dreary, wet winter.


With a short harvest window usually beginning in April, this popular perennial vegetable is a top seller at Hidden Springs Family Farm’s booth at the Fluvanna Farmers Market. Farmers Dewey and Barbara Haines said asparagus is always a high-demand item.



Research indicates asparagus roots can grow 10-15 feet deep.



That demand may be even stronger, as fewer Virginia growers are harvesting asparagus, as revealed in the preliminary findings of the 2022 U.S. Census of Agriculture. Mostly harvested for fresh sales, Virginia-grown asparagus was cultivated at 157 farms on 123 acres in 2022. In 2017, 190 farms grew asparagus on 176 acres.


The Haineses grow Millenium asparagus, known for its high yield, long life and soil adaptability; and the Purple Passion cultivar—sweet, nutty and tender, turning green when cooked.


Millenium spears were already pushing up in their garden beds by mid-March.


Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialists report that the spears of this cold-hardy crop develop daily from underground crowns during the eight- to 10-week harvest window, and stems should reach 5—8 inches aboveground before harvesting.


Snap the spears at the soil surface when they are the width of a No. 2 pencil, or fatter, said Dewey Haines, who said a family friend eats spears straight from their garden while walking his dog.


Growing good asparagus is an exercise in patience. While this perennial vegetable can be productive for up to 50 years in some cases, asparagus should not be harvested the first season after crowns are set.



Harvest lightly for three to four weeks the second year, Extension recommends. The fleshy root system needs to develop and store food reserves for growth in subsequent seasons. Plants harvested too heavily too soon often become weak and spindly, and crowns may never recover.


The Haineses planted 2-year-old crowns in 2022 and refrained from harvesting the following spring, letting them seed and turn brown.


“Starting June 1, we leave the crowns because that’s what feeds the plant,” Barbara continued. “The leaves are little solar panels absorbing all that energy, overwintering and feeding the crowns next year.”


Unharvested asparagus produces fern-like foliage with tiny yellow flowers and red berries that help support Hidden Springs’ birds and honeybees. Their foot-deep asparagus crop is a companion planting to shallow-rooted strawberries.


Visit bit.ly/4ab7Yom for more Extension tips. To find fresh asparagus near you, visit the Virginia Grown website at vdacs.virginia.gov/vagrown.

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