This whole process brings you joy through at least four of your five senses. To see the fruits of your labor on the vine brings joy. Holding those prized vegetables in your hands satisfies you. Their smell when freshly picked or when they’re cooking in your kitchen is sheer delight. And the taste of something that you’ve grown is just always somehow better than anything you could buy in a supermarket or even from a farmer’s market. I reckon you could grow some peas, shell them, and shake them around in a dishpan, and the sound would delight your ears.
Now, most everything we grow in our backyard gardens render joy in one growing season, from planting in the spring to harvest in the fall.
Which makes me wonder if I was crazy last year to plant the one vegetable that cannot bring joy in one year — asparagus.
Every different crop requires a different level of skill and tending to make the journey from seed to fruit. But the most arduous journey belongs to the asparagus and its gardener.
Yeah, you heard me right.
Your job is just to keep those delicate plants properly watered and mulched, typically under wood shavings because other mulches are too heavy. For the first two years, you simply let the plants come up and let them die back in the winter, always keeping the bed mulched.
I expect you’re tired already just from reading this.
But then, in the third year, amid the feathery plants, you will see asparagus stalks starting to rise. When they grow to the length you typically see in the supermarket, you can just cut them off at ground level and eat them. And because asparagus is a perennial, the same bed that you originally planted can feed your family for as long as 40 years.
Think about that: 40 years of asparagus from one planting.
With spring coming, Stacy and I are in year two of our asparagus adventure. We hope we’ll have asparagus to eat in the fall of 2022. Our adventure began in the early months of 2020, before the pandemic came. The year before, someone had given me a packet of asparagus seeds. I read the instructions and immediately saw the rough road ahead of me, but I thought, “Why not give this a whirl?” We have a spot in our basement with an enormous window that gets full afternoon sun, so I planted the asparagus seeds in little starter pots along with a few varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. It amazed me to see how many of my asparagus seeds came up, because, you will remember, I had been warned otherwise.
But it wasn’t until the pandemic descended on all of us that the weather warmed up enough to move them outside and plant them in a raised bed, which I dedicated only to asparagus. I gently replanted them in that bed, rigged up a little irrigation system that wound its way among the plants, and covered the entire bed with wood shavings.
At the time, it felt like one of the most contradictory actions I had ever taken. Here I was in the middle of a pandemic, a disaster unlike any I had experienced in my lifetime, taking a giant leap of faith on the hardest crop to grow.
Have I gone nuts? I wondered.
But I’m sure you will recall how you felt last spring. I think we all felt unsteady then. So many things we trusted in and counted on were disappearing. Seeing friends and hugging and laughing with them? Gone. Going out to hear live music? Gone. Being forced to hunker down in our own homes, to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe when we went out, just seemed too much to bear.
We’re not in the clear yet, and it looks like we’re a few months from getting there. But most folks I talk to aren’t as scared as they were a year ago.
A couple of weeks ago, for one of her deviled-egg-plate giveaways, Stacy asked the people who watched her video to leave a comment about what they had learned during the pandemic.
“This pandemic has brought acceptance,” one person wrote.
“I have learned to live for the moment and not take anyone/anything for granted,” wrote another.
More than 50 people weighed in to talk about how they’ve become grateful for learning how to wait patiently, how they have more appreciation and gratitude for the ones they love and live with. They wrote about how the 90-mile-an-hour lifestyles we were living pre-pandemic had made them neglect reaching out to beloved family members and friends — and how they had resolved never to do that again.
Almost every day, I go outside and look at the asparagus bed. I see the yellowed, dry stalks of last year’s sprouts, and I hope beyond hope that in a month or two, I will see new green sprouts. I now believe planting that bed of asparagus was like a prayer, a physical manifestation of the hope that Stacy and I share — with all of you — that better days will come soon.