New season begins at Albert Lea farmers market

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Column: Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

Today at 4 p.m. our local Farmers Market will open the 2012 season. For the past couple months, we have been making plans and getting everything ready. We will again be offering free bus rides to the market, starting in June (sponsored by the Albert Lea hospital). And I am excited to announce that Blue Cross/Blue Shield will again be offering the matching Market Bucks to those persons using their EBT/SNAP benefits at the market. This means for the first $5 in benefits you use at each market (Wednesday and Saturday), they will match that with $5 in Market Bucks to use at the market. You therefore could potentially get up to $10 extra free food each week.

Verlys Huntley

Starting in June, we will again have nonprofit groups serving food each Wednesday at 4 p.m. and are planning to have entertainment at that time. If you would be interested in sharing your talent, call Arnie Mulso at 202-3834 or Verlys Huntley at 297-5546.

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Notes from the garden

Following a mild winter and unusually warm March, some of us gardeners got “gardening fever” much earlier than normal this year. I worked up some of my garden on March 14, and although the soil was dry, it worked up beautifully. I planted radishes, lettuce, beets, carrots, onion sets, peas, potatoes and spinach. We have already been eating radishes and spinach; lettuce and green onions will be ready in another week or two. Most of these early garden crops can take freezing temperatures pretty well, and the potatoes were not up when the hard freeze hit, so they are looking good too. Good Friday is traditionally the day to plant potatoes, and this year that certainly was possible. However, the foliage on potato plants freezes rather easily and can be hit by those late frosts. We even put in some early sweetcorn on April 2, when soil temperatures were 47 degrees, and it is coming along very nicely. This is the earliest we have ever planted sweet corn.

March this year came in (and stayed) like a lamb. I don’t recall many years when we haven’t had that “basketball tournament” blizzard, but this year we were setting records for high temperatures on several different days in March. These unusually warm temperatures brought along perennials and trees exceptionally early. Apple trees began blooming almost a month early, which is not a good thing in Minnesota, where we are almost assured of having freezing temperatures in April and even in the first week or two of May. Apricot trees were blooming already by March 23, and apple trees were beginning to bloom when the temperatures of April 9 through April 11 dropped down to as low as 22 degrees. Those blossoms that are fully open are most susceptible to freezing temperatures, and certainly that freeze will cause a smaller than normal apple crop for us and many others. We had our strawberries covered with straw and held off removing that to try to avoid having an early bloom that could get hit by that late frost. The plants are now in full bloom, but hopefully we won’t have frost now anymore.

We should be fairly safe now in planting peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, green beans and melons. The typical last frost date in this area is between May 1 and May 10, but later frosts are possible, particularly in low lying areas.


Produce of the week: Asparagus

The first vegetable to appear in the spring is probably asparagus, which this year began emerging in late March. Asparagus is a perennial, which is most often planted as a “spider shaped” root, although you can also plant seeds. You plant the roots in well-prepared soil in a trench eight to 10 inches deep. When planting, just cover the roots slightly, and then gradually fill in the trench over the first season. Let the plants grow up into ferns for the first two years, and then by the third year you can begin harvesting. Snap off the spears at ground level. In warm weather, you will need to pick it every day. Harvest only until about the end of June, then let the ferns grow up again to build up a root reserve to get a good crop the following year. A well-prepared, fertilized and cared for asparagus bed can last for many years.

Asparagus is very nutritious and delicious. It is a good source of folate, Vitamin A and Vitamin C and is low in calories. You can steam, boil, grill, stir fry or bake asparagus. However you prepare it, make sure you don’t overcook it. The flavor is best when cooked to the crisp tender stage. It can be frozen easily by blanching for just a minute or so, plunging in cold or ice water, and draining well. Package as desired for freezing. When recooking, place frozen asparagus in container and cook only for a couple minutes to avoid having it become mushy.


Asparagus salad

1 pound asparagus, cut up and cooked to crisp tender stage

1/2 pound strawberries, sliced

Dressing: 1/3 cup honey, l/3 cup vegetable oil, and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Mix asparagus and dressing, adding strawberries just before serving. Colorful, tasty and healthy!


Looking forward to seeing all of you again at the farmers market today!


Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.