The Martins have been growing asparagus - a star vegetable in spring cuisine - for ten years on their land in the Ardéche. We visited them there to find out how this oblong-shaped treat grows. 

Asparagus, a springtime delight

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A family affair 

Tournon-sur-Rhône is an Ardéchois town on the banks of the river that marks the border between the departments of Drôme and Ardèche, in south-eastern France. This is where we find Frédéric and Véronique Martin. On the market-gardening pair's lunch menu today are homemade "caillettes", a local specialty made with minced pork and vegetables (chard, parsley, etc.). The vegetables were all grown on the 26 hectares (64 acres) of land that make up their farm, which they made organic in 2019 at the behest of their son, Antoine. "I am fascinated by the variety in vegetables!", begins Frédéric, as he takes a spoonful of compote of Tournon onions, a variety native to the area that he is the last person to grow. Amongst the oca, Chinese artichokes, rhubarb, and other vegetables, one hectare (2.5 acres) is dedicated to growing asparagus. This April, they are still struggling to grow, due to the chilly nights and occasional frosts.  

© ©Philippe Vaurès Santamaria.

All good things come to he who waits 

"We started growing asparagus in 2011. It likes the alluvium from the Rhône. Our soil is poor and draining, but composed mainly of sand, which this vertical vegetable loves." Sandy soil which warms up quickly when winter comes to an end. "In the right weather conditions, an asparagus can grow 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8") in a day. The quicker it grows, the more tender it will be. And with the right amount of warmth, it will even grow straight." However, anyone wanting to grow asparagus will need to be patient. "You have to wait three years before you can harvest it! The first year, usually between 15 February and 15 April, you plant the crowns, the name given to the asparagus plants that we buy from a nursery. They look like octopuses, with long roots and at the end, one or more spears, which is the part you eat." The plant gradually takes root: it settles in. To help the asparagus stem grow longer, the Martins extend its route to the surface by adding new layers of soil each year. Only in the third year, when the spear is around 20 cm (8") long, is it ready for the dinner plate.

© ©Philippe Vaurès Santamaria

Green or white? 

It's the way the asparagus is grown that determines its color and to some extent its taste and texture. "Green asparagus has a delicate, herby aroma. It grows outside of the soil and turns green naturally in the sun. Once it is ripe, between April and the summer solstice, it is picked using a sharp knife. White asparagus, which are often softer and sweeter than their cousins, grow under a mound of earth and never see daylight. They are harvested with a gouge, a long instrument that allows you to cut the asparagus below the mound." The choice is yours! 

Les Légumes des Îles Feray 
9, chemin des Îles, 07300 Tournon-sur-Rhône 
Vegetables sold from the farm every Friday from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.

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