If you're driving through Mid-Columbia farmland, look closely at the fields. Chances are good you'll spot asparagus spears pushing up to the light.
Growers began harvesting the tender spears within the past few weeks.
"The season is off to a good start. I anticipate we'll all do really well this year," said Bill Middleton of Middleton Six Sons Farms in Pasco, who sent his pickers to the fields March 31.
He's chairman of the Washington State Asparagus Commission and, with 320 acres in production, one of the larger asparagus growers in the area.
Asparagus is a perennial plant that sends up multiple edible shoots every spring. It likes warm soil and moderate temperatures.
"This spring has been ideal. There's been virtually no frost, and while there's been some wind, it's not a big deal," said Alan Schreiber, executive director of the state asparagus commission.
There are 75 asparagus growers in Washington who harvest about 18 million pounds yearly.
About 5,000 acres in Washington are producing asparagus this spring. Another 500 or so acres are nonbearing, either because they are newly planted or old, so there's not as much production and growers aren't harvesting them, Schreiber said.
However, growers have been planting newer varieties of asparagus that produce better yields so the state's production has remained steady, Schreiber said.
None of Washington's asparagus is shipped out of the country.
"Growers have trouble meeting domestic demand," Schreiber said.
Middleton is one of those who has been experimenting with the newer varieties, like Guelph Millennium and New Jersey 1025 and 1113. He has an asparagus nursery where he nurtures the seed into crowns, which then are transplanted into fields by other growers.
He said the seed for the newer varieties is expensive.
"But they're worth it. I can vouch for that, definitely," Middleton said.
If you're an asparagus lover, Bryan Lynch of Columbia Valley Family Farms of Pasco urges you to buy it now "because the quality is excellent. And buy it locally; support your local growers."
Lynch, too is a member of the asparagus commission and, with his family, farms 600 acres of asparagus.
Schreiber said demand for asparagus always peaks at Easter.
"Forget green eggs and ham, it's green asparagus and ham that we crave," Schreiber said, adding that the second biggest demand for the tasty spears comes on Mother's Day.
Asparagus harvest generally runs about 70 days, Schreiber said.
"Which takes us to about mid-June," Lynch said.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org