This was the younger self whose first house purchase was a decrepit 220 year-old Georgian masterpiece, with seven, count 'em, seven fireplaces and a center hall big enough to drive a truck through. The house sat on the edge of a pretty country village and was so big and square on its high foundation that it looked as if a bomb wouldn't budge it. Inside, it was everything that I find most alluring in domestic architecture: light, rational, immense, completely innocent of all Home Depot products, and full of the ineffable mystery of age. It was cheap, too, which was how a couple of 30 year-old idiots wound up owning it.
Its only fault was that it sat at the juncture of two ancient roads, one of which served as a shortcut out of Vermont for a series of logging trucks, farm trucks, and general rape-and-pillage vehicles, all of which would approach the stop sign at our corner by jake-breaking screechingly right underneath our bedroom window, beginning at 3:45 am on beautiful summer mornings.
I knew the house was a mistake when I bought it, but I did it anyway, because it was such an amazing piece of architecture. And I knew it was a mistake when I made my first vegetable garden there, so I never planted asparagus, which I'd read could not really be harvested until year three. I was always about to move.
That was the real mistake. I spent 12 full years in that beautiful, noisy house and never once ate homegrown asparagus.
Now I know better than to put any idea on hold for some future date when conditions will be more favorable. Now I plant as if every whim were written in stone and the present moment is eternal, and of course, I will be here to harvest those hardy kiwis some nine insane years down the road when they start producing and to admire my climbing hydrangeas as a pensioneer when they finally decide to begin climbing and to enjoy that weeping willow some 50 years hence when it's a wall of weepery.
It's better to live the dream and assume that the harvest is assured, instead of pinchedly calculating the probability of happiness and refusing to risk anything when the odds are against you. Or so I've learned from the humble asparagus.
When I made a garden at my new house in the country, which by the way, is an idyll of peeper-song never interrupted by the sound of a truck, I planted my first asparagus roots, a variety called 'Purple Passion' that Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini author Elizabeth Schneider swoons over.
I didn't follow the usual directions, which generally recommend some absurd trenching and digging program and planting the crowns in sculptural fashion on a mound well below the soil surface. It's one of my basic principles as a gardener: Never trust anybody who tells you to dig deeper than a shovel's depth. I suspect that deep-digging is like Scientology, a cult of self-betterment for the gullible. Here's another of my basic principles: The longer the list of instructions, the more worthless the advice.
But I did follow instructions to the extent that I waited three full years until yesterday before a substantial harvest. Asparagus is a perennial plant, and obviously needs to settle in a bit before the gardener starts depriving it of its ability to photosynthesize for weeks on end by gobbling up every stalk.
Now, I've run across this Ohio State University Extension fact sheet which suggests that a limited second-year harvest encourages root growth. Despite Ohio State's ungodly fondness for chemicals, I instantly trusted the sensible tone of this piece, because they don't think you need a backhoe to dig an asparagus bed, either, and because they support my late-season sloppiness in not clearing away the stalks and ferns in fall. Asparagus? Ohio State says, no big deal.
Of course, it is a big deal to me, but only because of the 15-year wait. We had roasted asparagus for dinner last night, and it was sublime, with a melting texture and flavor that makes it officially one of the bigger thrills ever to come out of my vegetable garden.
Here's my advice on the asparagus front, which is entirely worthless, given my 24 hours' experience with this crop: Be bold. Plant it casually. Mulch with compost, since there's almost nothing that won't be happy with that kind of treatment. Don't let the bed get weedy. Venture a hollandaise sauce, despite the danger of the eggs separating. Don't fret. Seize the day.Posted by Michele Owens on May 6, 2009 at 1:01 am, in the category Eat This.