Did you know?
Washington is 2nd only to California in asparagus production. Nearly 5000 acres of asparagus are grown in Washington State. Most of it is grown on 100 family farms within sixty miles of Pasco.
An asparagus spear can grow 7 to 9 inches in one day. The warmer the weather, the faster it grows. Harvest begins in mid-April and continues through May.
Asparagus must be cut every day and it’s all done by hand. It takes one worker for every two acres to keep up with harvest. A healthy field can produce over 10,000 pounds per acre in a season.
Having enough workers is critical for asparagus growers. Last year, a lack of workers forced many farmers to leave asparagus in the field. 50% to 70% of all growing costs are for labor.
When the harvest is over, the spears are allowed to grow tall and leafy. This is called the fern stage. During this time, the plant is collecting sunlight and turning it into energy to store in the roots to use for next year’s crop. The plant must be protected from insects and diseases during this time or it will not produce the next year.
Washington takes great pride in its high standards for fresh asparagus. The “Washington Extra Fancy” label exceeds the standards set by the federal government for U.S. Number One asparagus. Last year’s crop was worth about $22 million to Washington’s economy.
In the early 1990's, Washington grew 27,500 acres of asparagus. Much of it was canned in food processing facilities in Walla Walla County. The Andean Trade Preferences Act of 1990 was intended to get South American countries to stop producing cocoa leaves for cocaine by switching to growing asparagus. Washington’s 55-million-pound canned asparagus industry was wiped out but drug production continued.
Now asparagus is coming back. Planting has been increasing the past two years, but growers are concerned they may not be able to harvest the crop due to labor shortages. Washington asparagus is shipped to every state in the nation and is marketed throughout Europe and Asia.
Buy firm, straight, uniformly sized spears with closed, compact tips. The stalks should be crisp, not wilted. The thicker the stock, the more tender it is.
Asparagus is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables in existence. A 5.3 ounce serving (approximately 5 spears) has only 20 calories, 400 milligrams of potassium, 3 grams of fiber, 60% of the USDA recommendation of Folic acid, and is an excellent source of thiamine and vitamin B6.
The fresher it is, the tastier it is but it stores well, too. Asparagus is very thirsty and likes wet feet. Store stalks upright in a bowl or dish with an inch of water. No room to stand it up? Wrap the cut ends in a moist paper towel, cover with plastic and refrigerate.
Rinse in cool water to clean. Trim the butt end. Boil, steam, or microwave until crisp-tender, about 5-6 minutes.
To learn more about Washington asparagus, visit the Washington Asparagus Commission.
To get to know a Washington asparagus grower, visit the Middleton Six Sons Farms at www.middletonsixsonsfarms.com.