Freeze takes away asparagus for Mother’s Day
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Lowell, MI- I walked into Bob Kietzmann’s farm on Grand River Drive yesterday, in the wake of the bad news of Monday’s frost damage to Michigan asparagus.
The barn was empty with all but a scale and a can with the label touting asparagus for $2.50. Empty yellow caddies were laying all around. There was also a black notebook, the Kietzmann’s Asparagus Ledger for people to sign off on their purchases. The sale of asparagus at the farm has been based on an honor system since it started 24 years ago.
Usually, there are yellow boxes loaded with firm green stalks of asparagus, people digging in and picking for the best ones, and a bunch of recipes on the table. The bustle lasts well into mid-June on a normal year..
And the week of Mother’s Day is always the busiest time for asparagus, according to owner Bob Kietzmann.
It didn’t take too long for Kietzmann to arrive on the vacated barn scene. Yes, there wasn’t even a sales sign off the busy road that parallels I-96, near the Lowell exit.
“Can we help you?” asked Kietzmann.
“Sure, I want some asparagus,” I said.
“Well, the good guy up there arranged that we won’t have any, until next week,” said Kietzmann tilting his hat as he squinted into the late afternoon sun. “Mine froze too.”
We walked into Kietzmann’s sunlit office to chat about the asparagus that has been damaged by the frost. Kietzmann estimated he lost approximately 20 percent of his crop.
“It’s really hard to say,” he nodded.
Three years ago, kids from the Saranac FFA (Future Farmers of America) planted 50,000 crows of asparagus over four nights on a six acre parcel.
“It takes six years for asparagus to be profitable,” Kietzmann said.
However, asparagus is a fast growing plant. It can grow anywhere from two to three inches overnight at 50 to 60 degrees.
“It grows best at night,” said Kietzmann.
We took a ride into the nearby asparagus field. Kietzmann pointed out the translucent asparagus stalks damaged by the frost wilting into the ground.
The good news is that the first and second pickings were early this year at the end of April due to warm weather.
“Anything that is in the ground didn’t freeze,” said Kietzmann. “We already had two rounds.”
On a good harvest day, one picking is in the morning around 7 a.m. and the other one is at 6 p.m.
The picking height of asparagus is from seven to 10 inches, and there is hardly any waste.
Kietzmann started picking wild asparagus in the ditches along the road as a kid dreaming of a day when he would have a ½ bushel for himself.
“I’ve been picking it since I could walk,” he said.
Well, that day came after years of milking cows and building farm equipment.
“We’ve picked asparagus in the snow in May,” he said. “We’ve only had three year like this with the frost damaging the asparagus.”
And Kietzmann loves meeting customers from all over Michigan.
“I have guys come in here buying asparagus for their mothers,” Kietzmann laughed. “They’ve never even tasted asparagus.”
Some customers ask for asparagus bunches like they find at the stores.
“Well we don’t have that here,” he said.
The rider for picking asparagus has two blades that cut the asparagus in two rows and throws it in the bin. Now, due to frost, asparagus will have to be sorted from the damaged stalks.
By July, the asparagus plants tire out or fern out.
“Then it’s done for the year,” he said. “I spray for weeds after we’re done picking.”
At Heidi’s farm market stand on M-50, there was some asparagus from Hart still left, that was cut last Sunday.
Luckily, the shortage is only temporary, until next Monday.
The annual asparagus festival takes place in Hart, Michigan on June 9, 10, & 11.
For more info on Heidi’s go to www.heidisfarmstand.com
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