LOUISA, Va. — Fresh asparagus is a sure sign farmers are working hard to get the prolific vegetable to market.
“Once they start coming in, you have to pick them twice a day to get them before the tip opens,” explained Louisa County farmer Susan Hill, co-owner of Hill Farm, a diversified produce and community supported agriculture operation.
“Our season will be April, May and June, and then we have a little resurgence in the fall, generally in the month of September.”
Thanks to modern transportation, asparagus often is trucked across the country to grocery stores year-round. But Hill said nothing beats the taste of freshly-picked asparagus.
“To see if it’s really local, (the packaging) should have the farm name on it. And also the asparagus will be a brighter green color, with no browning on the tips,” she explained. “Most stores now are identifying the farm itself, so that buyers can see that it’s truly local.”
She also recommends checking the base of the stalks to see if they’ve been soaking in water for an extended time. “That’s a good sign they’ve come from farther away.”
Growing asparagus presents unique challenges for farmers, Hill noted. They have to wait a full year after planting before the first harvest to allow plants to mature. And it’s difficult to weed, she continued, because pulling grass out of the beds disturbs the plants’ roots. The asparagus beetle also can be a serious pest, especially for organic growers like herself.
“We pick off as many beetles as we can and smother them in a bucket of soapy water,” Hill explained. “That’s another reason we harvest twice a day, to keep the insect pressure down.”
Depending on weather patterns and where you live, Virginia’s asparagus season typically ends by mid-June. The plants grow fast when temperatures are in the 80s but go dormant once it gets hotter.
To find Virginia asparagus at a farmers’ market near you, visit vafb.com/MembershipWork/News-Resources/Farmers-Markets.
— Virginia Farm Bureau Federation