Working with the Land

A lovely purple asparagus crown. It looks like a rosebud growing out of a crab! Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

This weekend, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years – I started an asparagus bed. Having come to appreciate the nutritious veggies as an adult, it’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t looked into growing them before! You’ve seen photos of my garden, right? It just seems like something I’d do. Honestly, I never considered how to grow them until I visited my friend Regina a few years ago. We stayed at her new home, and she was lucky enough that the land came with an established asparagus patch. It was then that I saw how tall and dainty asparagus ferns could be. It was also when I learned that asparagus take time. They require a few years to settle, but then you can have a reliable crop each year for decades!

When I was lucky enough to find asparagus crowns this year, I selected the Purple Passion variety. Two of them had baby asparagus spears already sprouting. They look like little rosebuds blooming from strange crab-creatures. Asparagus are great teachers for working with the land. It can be dirty and even grotesque seeming, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes you have to look really close.

Asparagus grow best in their own bed. They don’t like to compete with most other vegetables, particularly anything with hefty roots. Due to social distancing currently in place, I don’t have access to a mechanical tiller. My father usually brings one up from his house. I broke ground with handheld tools and back-breaking labor. The process was strangely meditative. Even while my muscles started to ache, creating this space was satisfying. All the while, I chanted and hummed to the land.

After I dug the trenches and set the asparagus crowns in their bed, I worked with our compost pile. I turned it and got to the dark, rich soil that cooked all winter. I mixed it with some chicken manure from the local greenhouse, then added some wood ash left over from the fire pit last year. Once more, I was working with elements of the land I live on. To deter competition, I mulched the space with straw that I got by raking our lawn. We still had plenty of dead grass from last year. Sometimes it pays to be lazy and let the land rest. If we had obsessively mowed in October, I wouldn’t have had what I needed to begin the process again as successfully.

The finished asparagus bed complete with a small wattle fence. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

Finally, I made a small wattle fence to enclose the asparagus bed. I have a few tenacious stumps in the back yard that produce new growth every year. Last year, I discovered that I could use the pliable trimmings to make a boundary around my shade garden. Not only is this free to me, but it’s entirely sustainable. One day, the fences will deteriorate and go back into the Earth. At that time, I’ll make more. And while the shoots may come from stumps, I still made offerings to the tree spirits. I sang to them while I worked. Stripping them of their growth could be more traumatic, but this seems to ease both them and me.

Odds and ends I found in the soil while digging the new bed. I wonder at the people who lived here before. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

Forming a relationship with the land is a central part of my Druidry. In fact, it’s the bulk of my Druidry. If you’re looking to deepen your practice, I highly suggest starting a garden. Even if it’s a container, doing this kind of work is transformative, both inside and out. With time and practice, I have learned to look at the land and what I eat differently. While I have so much to learn, I feel that I’m a chain in a great partnership.

Gods willing, this asparagus bed will help feed us in years to come. When I finally taste the fruit of this labor, I will pause and remember how the food is not simply asparagus, but a marriage of grass, tree, soil, microbes, decomposers, chickens, my muscles, and song.

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

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