I adore asparagus. It makes me horny, and not just because it looks like a leafy green penis and makes my pee smell delightfully swampy – which, interestingly, doesn’t happen for everyone. Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan, and some individuals have an enzyme that quickly breaks this down into the same byproducts found in rotten eggs, skunk spray, onions and garlic. Within minutes of eating asparagus, these people, and anyone within whiffing distance – perhaps the gentleman at the next urinal trying to catch a glimpse – will notice a rather strong odor to their urine. However, the presence of this enzyme is dependent on the ethnic and genetic makeup of the asparagus-eater. So you may have no idea what I’m talking about because you’ve never experienced it. More’s the pity.
But I digress. The real reason asparagus makes me horny is Ted Skovgaard, Jr.
I was raised in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. Our spread was northern and high-altitude, and spring was always late in coming. Finally, though, the fields shed the barren yellow pallor of hibernation and took on a glow; a lush, verdant aura so vivid that it nearly pained our winter-glazed eyes.
One of the first signs of spring was the wild asparagus tips peeking through the sandy soil near the irrigation ditches. They paused momentarily to bask in the faint sunshine, their white noses pointed skyward like some just-surfaced subterranean mammal, before they undertook the task of reproduction. By mid-summer they would have spread their delicate fern-like tendrils three feet or more above ground and set them with red berries.
The asparagus was not alone in this procreation urge. The birds and bees – and every other life form that occupied this border niche tucked between farmland and wilderness – embarked on the annual race to propagate. Spring’s first warmth was the starting point, and the mad dash to pollinate, breed, set seed or give birth before the return of winter’s chill was an unstoppable wave of biology that washed away common sense. No one, not even the local farm boys, were immune to the power of the hormones.
Ted Skovgaard was my local farm boy. At sixteen years old and six feet tall, he was a model of good Scandinavian genes: a well-proportioned bundle of blond-haired, blue-eyed muscle. Ted was the recipient of my first true boy crush. But I remained invisible to him. I was younger, just twelve years old my last birthday, and too much a child to be included in Ted’s circle of friends. I loved and lusted from afar. This invisibility, it turns out, worked in my favor.
My mother, whose last nerve was more than a bit frayed by the rambunctious rustlings of her cabin-feverish ruffian, sent me out – away from her – to gather asparagus one spring day. I was creeping through the underbrush in search of spears when I happened upon one I hadn’t anticipated: Ted Skovgaard’s. He was hidden in a budding thicket near the old stock pond, propped against a cottonwood tree with his denims around his ankles, a pilfered Playboy magazine in one hand, and his (quite impressive!) manhood in the other.
I knew immediately that I wanted to do what he was doing, and since my own knickers sported a prepubescent rise, I followed suit. Peeking through the new growth, I watched him through to completion; the final frantic pumping, the arcing spurts, the quick clean up with a paper towel (my Ted was nothing if not a thoughtful pre-planner). I matched him step-for-step, except for the paper towel trick. Good thing it was my first experience; there wasn’t much clean up involved.
He zipped and left, blissfully unaware of his admiring voyeur, and I continued with my asparagus foraging. But a new era dawned for me that spring day, and asparagus has since occupied a space near and dear to my queer heart.
In honor of Ted, I have grown asparagus in two home gardens. I have also mastered the arts of self-pleasuring and sneaky voyeurism. Thank you, Ted. And while I fully support any queen’s wishes in the two latter endeavors, I have to draw the line at growing asparagus. It’s just too damn difficult, time-consuming, and requires too much space for an appropriate yield. They sell this stuff at Safeway, you know. But if you are determined to have homegrown, here’s how.
First you must prepare the soil, a considerable effort akin to hours on a chain gang. Asparagus won’t grow in anything but sandy, well-drained, high pH soil, you see, which describes approximately 0.05% of the available garden plots in the US. Because it can take a great deal of experimenting to get the correct pH level (around 7.0 is best), you should begin the soil preparation at least a year in advance of any actual planting.
“A year!” you say, incredulously.
“Ha!” I answer, “It gets worse.”
You can’t actually harvest asparagus from your new bed until the third year of growth, which translates to a three-year-plus time investment before one edible spear is produced. Still interested? Come on, if you are a gay man, that’s exactly two years longer than your longest relationship.
How about if I tell you that the crowns must be planted at one foot intervals in rows (trenches, really) that are four to five feet apart? And since each crown will produce only about three spears per cutting for the first few years, for a dinner party for six – only four spears per guest – you will need approximately 25 square feet of surface.
You still insist? OK, here goes:
First, dig a trench at least 18 inches deep. Remove the soil. Discard it. Fill the pit with a mixture of ½ sand and ½ compost and work lime into the mixture in small amounts until you have reached the correct pH level. This can take several weeks, if not months, of lime and soil ratio adjustments. Be careful not to touch the lime with your bare skin: it can cause a serious burn. When finally the pH level is correct, go inside. Mix yourself a martini, treat your burns, and let the soil rest until the next spring.
Then plant. Make sure you use one-year-old crowns and place them about one foot apart in the four-foot distant rows, approximately 4 inches below the surface of the soil. Put a small amount of phosphate fertilizer below each crown. Keep moist, but never to the point of standing water, and fertilize with a high pH fertilizer according to package instructions. Just watch it grow for two years. No harvesting! The third year you may pick spears for the first four weeks of growth (and for the first six weeks of growth in years thereafter) but allow all subsequent spears – those that emerge after the harvest weeks – to develop the fern canopy. The fern is the mechanism by which energy is transferred to the crown and without energy, the crown will die.
Ah, but it gets even more complicated. Late season fern growth is not healthy for asparagus as it doesn’t allow the carbohydrates – the plant energy – to return to the crown. Therefore, withhold water and fertilizer after mid-August and let the ferns brown naturally.
While you re-read this missive to make sure you have the instructions committed to memory, I’m going to Safeway. There’s a sale on asparagus, and I will have mine now, not in four years. Besides, the checkout boy reminds me an awful lot of Ted Skovgaard, and I can’t help but wonder how big his spear is. I find that if I hide just so behind the apples in the produce aisle, I can sneak quick peeks at him. . .