Gene Logsdon and Friends

Burning Off The Asparagus Bed

In Gene's Weekly Posts on May 7, 2009 at 6:55 am


From GENE LOGSDON

We are overwhelmed right now with asparagus. We eat it steamed, creamed, and teamed with morel mushrooms, omelet, pasta, and salads. Nothing vegetative tastes better to me and in my opinion nothing makes a safer or more effective diuretic. I even have a theory that asparagus can slow down, if not reverse, enlargement of the prostate  if you eat lots of it. Lots of it is every day from mid- April to mid- June, and at least twice a week the rest of the year.

We had our first asparagus this year on April 5, which is very early for northern Ohio. I have another theory (I am full of theories) that suggests we can enjoy asparagus  this early because of our spring ritual of burning off the asparagus bed on some dry, windless day in March. The dead, brown stems and stalks of last year’s crop lie thick over the patch at that time, and make a brief, cheery blaze that warms up the soil a little and leaves a black film on the surface to absorb heat on subsequent days.

Burning off the old plants has another good effect for sure. Since we have been doing it, there are fewer asparagus beetles. Evidently the fire kills overwintering eggs.

Burning also discourages rabbits from making their nests in that old residue, which they love to do.  Rabbits have been displaced for us however, by deer, a far worse scourge.  Since deer have become part of everyday life on the farm (I’d rather say part of  everyday death) we have to put netting over the bed when the asparagus spears first start coming up. After the crop really gets going, we remove the netting since it is difficult to harvest through it, and (so far) the deer by then have other plants they apparently like better. Some organic growers tell me that sprinkling wood ashes on the asparagus deters the deer.

Weeds are always a problem in asparagus for organic growers.  After the soil has warmed up well and the spears are coming up rapidly, I cover the entire bed with six inches of tree leaves that I piled nearby the previous fall. The asparagus shoots come right up through the mulch, but most weeds won’t.  Then in June, at the end of the asparagus season, I crawl alongside the bed and pull any weeds (especially tiny volunteer asparagus seedlings) that have had the nerve to grow, at the same time stirring and turning over the leaf mulch with my hands. This is a bit tedious, but not as bad  as it sounds because the soil after years of heavy mulching,  is very friable and loamy, easy to churn with your fingers.  Except for a few redroot (wild amaranth)  lambsquarter, sow thistles and an occasional tree seedling, all which have to be pulled later in the summer, that’s the end of weeding for the year.  And of course, the really diligent survivalist knows that amaranth and lambsquarter make good salad too.

The carbon police frown on my practice of burning the asparagus bed. I am contributing to global warming, they say. Never mind all those jets flying high overhead, each of whose engines contributes more carbon emission in one minute than my burning asparagus patch does in a couple thousand years. Those very important people riding around in jetliners are doing the Lord’s work (like dropping bombs on people), while I am just a heathen dancing in this lovely May weather while I scarf down fresh asparagus.
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  1. No worries, the carbon in the dead asparagus tops was already in the atmosphere to start with last year- that’s how it got in the asparagus. It’s the carbon that’s been buried for eons (oil and coal) that causes problems when exhumed.

    So I say, burn away. : )

  2. I, too, was going to say that burning asparagus residue from last year’s growth merely returns to the
    air carbon which last year’s asparagus pulled down from the air. Furthermore, since the asparagus root systems get bigger-older every year, they contain more bio-sequestered carbon every year. So even with burning your asparagus, your asparagus bed is a net carbon reducer. Could the carbon police process that concept if it were laid out for them? Have they even heard of “bio-sequestration”?

  3. I’m going to try asparagus this year. A nursery up the road from here grows it successfully; all they do to sell it is dig some up and you take it home and plant it again. Anything that can grow in windswept Palmer should be able to grow in Anchorage. Having lived in Wisconsin for a while where asparagus grows wild along the roadside, I figured it was worth giving it a try in Alaska. Besides, nothing beats fresh asparagus!

    Gene, I got quite a chuckle from the mental picture of you dancing around eating asparagus. I could just imagine what the neighbors might be saying “Look Martha; it must be spring. Gene’s out dancin’ with his asparagus again.”

    *smile*

    Kerri in AK

  4. Hi Gene,

    Many years ago (I won’t say how many) I found a copy of Two Acre Eden at a church rummage sale for a quarter. It was one of my first inspirations, along with a subsrciption my mother-inlaw gave me to an odd, niche magazine called Mother Earth News, to move to a house in the country and to try my hand at writing. I now have my own little Eden as well as career writing for Storey Publishers. My last book, Just In Case: Ho To Be Self Sufficient When The Unecpected Happens is the result of 30 years of independant living that started with a rummage sale and a book. Thank you!!!!!

  5. Sarah Taber and Different Clue: Glad to know my asparagus flame is not warming up the environment adversely.
    Kerri: Yes, smile. My neighbors surely do.
    Kathy: Your book sounds like the right one for the times. I am glad to have been of some inspiration. Gene Logsdon

  6. Gene –
    I never thought to burn off the weeds.
    We use salt in the spring(from the feed mill)to keep the bed weed free. I just figured that’s what everybody did. Might try it your way next year & see what happens :-)

  7. Granny, I don’t think the burning does much for weeds. The mulch stops the weeds… for awhile. I have to do a hand weeding in June July. Gene

  8. a friend tells of a pig farm in ontario that was around for decades, then the gov. got the folks off the land for reasons and it was fallow for a time. a spring like all and non other came and up like laserus came the mother of all asparagus crops. no one with memory of the times past could recall when it had been an aspargus farm but there it was undaunted by the passage of time or rooting sow.

  9. Thanks for the asparagus inspiration Gene, It’s the beginning of winter here in central Victoria Australia and I have been watching all of my asparagus heading into its winter dormancy as the nearby Garlic thrives in its cold bed. I look forward to the foliage dyeing back completely so I can begin a new winter tradition. Much more fun than just cutting it back at ground level and covering in compost and mulch. Also a quick thank you for ‘Small Scale Grain Raising’ it’s a great recourse.
    Hamish

  10. Like Hamish, I’m at the opposite side of the cycle and watching the asparagus ferns start to die back. I’m going to be digging them up and moving them this year, as they’re in an inconvenient part of the garden. Nothing beats fresh asparagus spears early in the morning, snatched up on the way to feeding the chooks.

  11. I hate to say this of Gene Logsden, whom I generally admire, but the crack about the “carbon police” was unjustified and uncalled for. Maybe he has an ignorant neighbor who says foolish things, but everyone who has been paying attention knows that the first couple of commenters are correct: burning off the spent tops of perennials isn’t adding any net carbon to the atmosphere. And the people who do worry about EXCESS carbon (the “carbon police,” per Logsden) are fighting an important fight against overwhelming societal and economic inertia. It’s cheap and unhelpful to sneer at them.

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