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That's the spear-it

Asparagus is a nutritious, attractive vegetable

Asparagus is a nutritious, attractive vegetable

June 16, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Michael James doesn't have any fancy recipes for asparagus. He likes them simply steamed - just long enough to turn them bright green, he said. If the color goes to dull green, they'll be soggy, he said.

James, 26, graduated in 2001 with a degree in plant science from Cornell University, but the science of plants has been part of his life since he was 10 years old, helping his family and friends farm organically in Clear Spring.

The cooperative farmers usually travel to a producer-only market at DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C., more than 20 weekends a year, but they're taking a break this season.

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But James still drives to the capital city. He works as acting curator of art and artifacts at the U.S. National Arboretum.

They grow asparagus on a three-acre field owned by Michele Dyer, who said she likes to eat them raw. The asparagus harvest season is over for the Clear Spring enterprise, but the plants will continue to send out stems until the plant is exhausted, James said. Then it will get to be like a fern, he added. The mature fern re-charges the plant for the next growing season.

Asparagus, a member of the lily family, needs soil with a neutral pH - the degree of acidity or alkalinity, James said. The soil should drain well and be rich in calcium.

The spears grow from a crown planted about a foot deep. A crown will send up spears for about six to seven weeks in the spring and early summer, according to information on the Web site of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board at www.asparagus.org.

Under ideal conditions, a spear can grow 10 inches in a 24-hour period, according to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

James smiled at that prospect, but hasn't measured and timed his asparagus. He just enjoys them.

Asparagus has been cultivated for more than 2,500 years. The Greeks and Romans used asparagus for medicinal purposes, including treatment of bee stings, heart ailments and toothaches. It also was valued as an aphrodisiac, according to the California Asparagus Commission.

Asparagus are pretty - sometimes used in decorative arrangements - but they also are nutritious.

They are high in folic acid, which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth and prevention of liver disease. Asparagus are low in calories and sodium, fat and cholesterol free, a good source of fiber and potassium.

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