Me and Joan Gussow

I planted asparagus yesterday. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years at Ghosttown, but as a squat farmer, I hesitated, and hesitated, and hesitated. It takes three years before you get a sizeable harvest, and so I figured it would be folly to plant any asparagus. Looking back on it, if I had planted crowns when I started, we’d have had five harvests under our belts. Oh well.

In the perfect timing department, the crowns came in the mail the same day I got the property tax bill (shit!) as a sweet reminder of the pleasures and pain of land ownership. I bought green California Davis asparagus crowns from Peaceful Valley; and then a lovely fan (Stan!) sent me some gorgeous, huge, crowns for the purple asparagus that he grows up in Arbuckle.

Coincidently, I’m reading Joan Gussow’s book Growing, Older and just got to the part where she talks about planting asparagus, and what a pain in the butt it is, having to dig a two foot deep trench in the garden, soak the crowns in water, then shore them up with good compost. Joan’s 80 years old and has been growing a huge garden and writing about nutrition for over 20 years. She wrote This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader over ten years ago, and has been called the matriarch of the organic movement. In fact, if you read some of her essays, you’ll see that she coined some phrases that other people have coopted for themselves, like “our national eating disorder.”

About asparagus Gussow talks about losing her beds from chronic flooding of her river-front property. Instead of giving up, she decided, in her eighties, that she would start again by planting some asparagus from seed–now that will take a long time to produce! She writes, “…if Nature is willing, I might have, one day, short of my nineties, an actual bed of asparagus.” If an eighty-year old is planting asparagus, you should too. Don’t delay, plant some asparagus today.

The exciting thing is: Joan’s coming to San Francisco! I’m the lucky little devil who gets to interview her on-stage at the Commonwealth Club. Yay! Here are the details:

Commonwealth Club
95 Market St # 2, San Francisco CA 94105-2885
January 25, 2011, 5:30 pm


Another thing not to hesitate about? The scion exchange! My plan is to bench graft a bunch of apple rootstock so I can make a Belgium fence with heirloom varieties! Should take about ten years…The scion exchange is in El Sobrante this year, Saturday January 22, 12-3 at 4555 Hilltop Drive. See ya there!

21 responses to “Me and Joan Gussow

  1. I have Gussow’s This Organic Life….seeing as how I’m fifty, I guess I’d better read Growing, Older. The asparagus went in last year. Strawberries go in this year. I’ve given up on artichokes- I can’t keep them alive, and I’m the only one who eats them anyway. Espaliered the apple trees last weekend. I don’t know about you, but I find plenty to do in the wintertime.

    And if you’d planted asparagus when you wanted to, you most assuredly would have been kicked off the lot.

  2. We’ll have a table at the Scion Exchange on Saturday too!
    There is something about gardening that keeps people young. I remember meeting this older woman once. She was the landlady of my step-uncle. She had a HUGE garden that was absolutely fabulous in Massachusetts. She looked as if she was maybe in her early ’60s. She was 98!!! My jaw dropped when I found that out.

  3. Love the optimism in gardeners. Once planted a Buckeye tree seedling close to my property fence. The 90-year old man next door came over and complained that someday the buckeyes (look like chestnuts) would fall onto his land. Since it takes ten years to produce the nut, THAT is optimism! Hope to be like Ms Gussow someday myself. Optimism and gardening. A farmer said to me this week: “Last year was a terrible season but this year is sure to be great!” 🙂

  4. Hope to see you all at the scion exchange and at the Commonwealth Club. Rachel, I’ll definitely look for your table!

  5. Yeah asparagus!!!! You are going to be SO happy. We planted ours from seed the year after we moved in and it is one of my favorite parts of spring. Nothing is like asparagus from your garden. Even farmer’s market stuff tastes like cardboard in comparison. Perhaps I will see you at the scion exchange as well. I’ll look for your table, Rachel, too. I am bringing some pink pearl apple scions if you’d like to try some of those.

  6. That’s so exciting. I planted asparagus 3 years back and am SOOO excited to be able to have a full harvest this year. Asparagus planters unite!

  7. @Pamina, Yes yes yes!!!! Please!

  8. Good luck with the asparagus! Mine is in it’s third year so I should be getting some this year. By the way, heard ya on NPR and thought that was pretty cool Novella! Cheers!

  9. Those crowns are HUGE! I planted a bed of Purple Pacific as soon as we got our first proper garden. Would love to hear Joan Gussow but a bit too far away in Scotland!

  10. I was just chuckling over Joan’s experiences with asparagus in Growing, Older myself the other day. Asparagus is totally worth growing, but be sure to plant it in the back of a bed or near a fence. I always have to tie mine up so it doesn’t fall across the other beds in the summer.

    Joan is my hero, so of course I already have my ticket to hear both of you speak. See you Tuesday!

  11. I went to West Coast Live in SF this morning, Joan happended to be one of the guests there, she is so full of life, a such happy person, listening to her, never would have guessed she is 82 years of age, I lucked out for this one.
    After reading all the comments about asparagus, I am going to plent some in my garden too and get her Growning, Older book to read.

  12. I totally just bought her book because you made it sound fascinating. Thanks for the tip.

  13. i’m an east coaster who has an interview for an apprenticeship in California. The interview is in about 45 minutes. I came to your blog for a source of brain dusting, because after reading “Education Of…” I figured your words on the internet would be equally stimulating. Today i learned, and will now learn more about Joan Dye Gussow.
    Thanks. I feel more prepared than I did one hour ago.
    you rock (and so does she, apparently).

  14. I just finished reading her first book and I’m awaiting her recent book from my local library! Very good reading. I only hope I can maintain her level of enthusiasm (and energy) for gardening when I’m her age.

  15. What a wonderful conversation you two had. I’m so glad I went. It was a treat to finally meet Joan. And to see you again, as well!

  16. Joan Gussow is keynote speaker in Ohio in March for Ohio Ecol. Food & Farm Assoc conference.Yeah! she’s speaking on Where have we been? Where are we going? And I signed for her workshop “Just Do it!” Yes, Gussow comes to the fly-over part of the country!!!

  17. Still preagricultural here. We hunt the asparaus, rather than growing it.

  18. We were lucky at our last property. Asparagus would spring up after the rain, it was just a matter of grabbing it before foragers came along and swiped it.
    I really should plant some here, since once it’s done I’ll reap the benefits for years to come.

  19. Novella,
    Congrats on interviewing Joan. I just saw her speak on the east coast @ the 92nd Street Y. Annie Novak of rooftop farms interviewed her. Joan is such an inspiration. Thanks-

  20. I’m really excited to see your journey with asparagus growing.

    I always feel that maybe I’ve missed my chance to start gardening, since I know very little about how to actually do it. But then you hear about Joan Gussow planting such a difficult plant at her age and it just makes me feel lazy. Lazy, yet inspired to learn!

    Thanks for such and awesome post. 🙂

  21. Commonwealth Club? Does this mean I’ll hear it on my local NPR affiliate in the near future?

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