At the start of December we headed to Mangaweka to meet Sam, an asparagus farm manager who gave us a pretty awesome insight into the world of asparagus farming. We learnt a lot. Like, did you know that the small spear that we all love and enjoy is just the shoot of a big fern? And that it takes over 5 years for an asparagus plant to reach maturity? And that in the peak of the season, it can grow 5cm a day?! You didn't?! Well, neither did we.
Read on intrepid internet explorer, have we got a story for you.
Farmers plant asparagus crowns, a stem attached to a long string of roots, which are planted about 15cm under the ground and left there for 7 years or more. Once fully established, asparagus is a very productive crop. However it needs to be managed well to make sure that it can reach it's full potential.
The little spears that we all know as asparagus are just the first shoots of the summer growth. These fast growing shoots are grown from stored energy that the root plant created the previous year. They are allowed to grow to around 15cm and then are harvested for us lucky buggers to pop on the BBQ.
Although it can be tempting for a farmer to pick every single spear that is produced (especially when the price rockets up at Christmas time!), it is important that the asparagus plant is allowed to fully grow and 'fern out' sometimes, instead of being harvested. This fern allows the plant to photosynthesise and store energy back into it's roots again, ready for the next year. If a farmer gets a bit overeager and harvests too late into the season, the the plant won't be able to store adequate energy and the following year will be a poor crop.
For the first year, the asparagus crown is just left to grow and store as much energy as possible. In it's second year, asparagus can be picked for about seven days before being left to photosynthesise. The second-year harvest period lasts for about 14 days; the third-year harvest period is about three weeks. It takes 5 years to be able to have a full harvest, which is around 6 - 7 weeks of picking. At Mangaweka Asparagus farm they have multiple crops of asparagus, all ranging in different ages, meaning we were able to see crops at different phases of their life cycle. The younger crops had already been allowed to 'fern', and it was the more mature plants that were still producing.
On the flip side of this, in the peak of the season, asparagus can grow so fast that it needs to be picked twice a day! Sam explained that, it's at this time of year where they face a challenge. Around 30% of what grows in peak season doesn't even make it off the farm. There's just too much. And they can't just leave it in the ground, to pick the next day as it would grow too much and become woody and inedible. This is where we hope to step in. We are excited to have Mangaweka Asparagus on board for next silly season, to try and help shift this excess. We're super excited; and we hope you are too!
Even in the best of times, there is still always a percentage of asparagus that grows a little too 'misfit'. Too thick, too thin, a bit bendy, some flowering on top... but we don't mind! This is what has been in your boxes this season. Misfit, yet delicious.
For the first year, the asparagus crown is just left to grow and store as much energy as possible. In it's second year, asparagus can be picked for about seven days before being left to photosynthesise. The second-year harvest period lasts for about 14 days; the third-year harvest period is about three weeks. It takes 5 years to be able to have a full harvest, which is around 6 - 7 weeks of picking.
The beauty of Mangaweka asparagus farm is that their storage chillers are right next to the paddock, meaning the asparagus is chilled almost immediately after picking. This quick turnaround and chilling process helps keep their asparagus of the highest quality.