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From frost to drought: Strong start to Okanagan asparagus season despite challenges

It’s finally asparagus season at a North Okanagan farm after cooler spring weather pushed back the predicted start date, and all hands are on deck picking the crunchy green spears.

For the past few weeks, overnight sub-zero temperatures was a concern for the farmer at Armstrong Farm Co.  

“We got fortunate, there’s not a lot of damage,” said Andrew Reimer. “Frost can be an issue in spring if it’s minus five degrees overnight it can destroy the crop above ground. You miss a day of picking and have to wait for more to grow.”

Now with 30 acres of thriving asparagus to pick, drought is the next concern.

“We’re struggling with getting some wells organized so at the moment it’s a bit of a concern how dry it’s going to be this year,” Reimer said. “Snowpacks are lower and there hasn’t been a lot of rain to date. It’ll affect all (farmers).”

He said wildfires are a risk for the farm buildings, but fortunately asparagus isn’t a crop that is damaged or tainted by wildfire smoke.

Armstrong Farm Co has been producing asparagus for four years, and strawberries for six years.

Reimer grows three different varieties of asparagus from Ontario that are newer and geared for higher production. While asparagus can be planted from seed, he plants his as one-year-old roots called crowns to get a jumpstart on the crop. The crowns are planted into furrows and are ready to be harvested after two years.

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The spears are handpicked, where workers lie down on a machine that travels down the rows as they pick.

When asked if there is a big market for asparagus in the Okanagan, Reimer said he hasn’t been struggling to sell it. Just recently he partnered with Sobeys and will soon be supplying three big grocery chains with his product.

“It’s a big deal for us,” he said. “It’s shaping up to be a good season, providing we get some rain.”

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For food foragers who prefer the wild variety of asparagus, it sprouts in late April throughout the North Thompson in sunny, well-drained areas along roadsides and open trails. The vegetables are perennials that can produce up to 20 years.

The public is welcome to visit Armstrong Farm Co at 4544 Salmon River Road and purchase some delicious spears.

The asparagus is available at a temporary kiosk located at the Canco at 5487 Okanagan Landing Road in Vernon and is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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