Friday, May 21, 2010

Asparagus in Bloom

When the young shoots are picked fresh from the home garden, asparagus is a spring-time treat. Shoots which rise daily from underground tubers are picked daily for a short period. After a few weeks of eating the vegetable shoots cooked with butter and raw in salads, the asparagus plants are left to grow into lacy four-foot tall plants. It is important to stop harvesting the shoots to allow the plants to strengthen the tubers through photosynthesis. The asparagus plants will also produce tiny bell-shaped flowers that are quite attractive to honey bees. If you click on the photo, you can see how the honey bees have to learn to hang under the pale yellow-green flowers to access the pollen inside. This forager’s pollen baskets are loaded with bright orange asparagus pollen.

When the bees carry pollen from plant to plant, they pollinate the plant, and small red berries are produced. The berries are eaten by song birds which distribute the seeds. When I find the lacy asparagus plants growing around the farm, I dig up the tubers, or crowns, and move them to raised, mulch-filled planting beds. Asparagus feeds heavily, and it takes about three years for the roots to mature to the point of being able to support a modest harvest of shoots. By the time that I find a plant, the tuber is quite well developed. I have located the lacy foliage of an asparagus plant growing next to an old disk harrow. I’ll move the crown next winter and harvest some shoots in the spring. There is an interesting relationship between the pollination of this vegetable by honey bees, its serving as a food for wildlife, its distribution by songbirds, and its use by humans for food. Asparagus is perennial plant in the lily family, related to onions and garlic. I consider it a delicacy, and I thank the honey bees for helping to propagate it. They are only concerned with collecting the nectar and pollen.

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