Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Strong-willed asparagus survives being covered with thick red clay

In spite of the fact that my late husband, Chub Gerard, wasn’t excited about gardening, after we bought this farm, he ordered a dozen three-year-old asparagus plants. They would need the first year to become well-established, and we could begin harvesting the spears the following late May and early June.

When Chub plowed and fertilized a small garden patch between the house and our pond, he made a special place for his favorite green vegetable. He dug a deep, wide ditch, added the recommended fertilizers and was ready when the roots arrived by mail. Chub carefully followed the University of Missouri-Columbia’s instructions for starting an asparagus bed, used natural and commercial fertilizers and read everything he could find about the care and feeding of asparagus. The plants arrived dry and looked hopelessly dead, but he carefully spread the roots out, covered them and watered them according to the accompanying instructions.

It is now 50 years later. Chub passed away at age 88, and I’m still harvesting asparagus from some of those very first asparagus roots - or their descendants. They have survived what we thought was certain death. The prolific, old plants were in the exact spot where a new kind of water system had to be located.

To backtrack a bit: After World War II, the government helped pay for the construction of farm lakes and ponds and loaned the money for farmers to build Rural Electrification lines.

They also taught us to purify water for our homes by using "slow sand filters." Pond water was being purified by passing it through "in-the-ground sand trenches."

The trenches were a significant improvement over cisterns that collected water from roof tops. But within a few years, it was known that the sand clogged with dirt and clay and the water cut new paths by going around the sand.

An MU graduate student, Milton Shanklin designed a slow sand filter that was sand in two 10-foot deep concrete boxes instead of sand in an earthen trench. Chub built our filter according to Shanklin’s plan. It was pure water for family use but not government-approved for washing milk buckets and bottles if the product would be sold to the public. MU received a grant to improve on Shanklin’s filter, and the agricultural engineers asked us to allow them to install the improved system here, including pump, filter and chlorinator - at no cost to us. Two more 10-foot-deep holes had to be dug right next to the old filter system Chub had constructed next to the garden. We were happy to be a part of the experimental study that promised to be the nation’s first successful purification system for pond water - and that would destroy Chub’s wonderful asparagus bed!

We watched the backhoe dig and stack up red clay as the operator made two new 10-foot-deep holes side by side. Red clay piled up 5 or 6 feet deep right over our garden. Weeks later, I discovered something growing out of that pile of red clay. One strong, determined asparagus spear had made it through, near the top. What a will to live! What strength! I crawled up, pulled clay from around the green spear, and it was snow white below the surface. What stamina! When the clay was finally removed and leveled, Chub reclaimed several roots and replanted them in a new location.

Knowing that asparagus is strong, I sometimes pick it close and then mow unwanted weeds and grass. The spears come back within a few days.

Yes, the water system was approved for dairy and drinking water.

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