Here on the East Coast, asparagus is always the first of the spring produce. It starts to show up in mid to late April. On the West Coast, particularly parts of California, asparagus pops out of the ground about a month earlier. Wherever you are when the local asparagus starts to grow, you can be assured of one thing: it's a sure sign that spring managed to beat winter back once again.

Asparagus is a low-maintenance vegetable. Once planted, it returns every year, and some asparagus beds can keep producing for up to 20 years. It takes a few years for an asparagus plant to get established. After planting seeds, you should ideally wait three years before harvesting, but once established, it will provide years of abundance.

But how do you know when is the right time to harvest?

Signs asparagus is ready to pick

harvesting asparagus Asparagus spears aren't pulled out of the ground, they're cut just above the soil line. (Photo: Menzl Guenter/Shutterstock)

As with all produce, there's an optimum time to harvest asparagus to get the best quality. The Old Farmers Almanac has advice on when that optimum time is for asparagus.

  • Spears are ready to harvest when they are about 6 to 8 inches tall and at least a half-inch thick. If the tip of the spear has started to open and produce foliage, otherwise known as going to seed, you've waited too long to pick it. It's still technically edible, but it will be woody and tough.
  • To harvest, cut the spear with a sharp knife of scissors right above the soil. Do not pull it out by the roots.
  • The harvest season is done when the spears start to get thinner, and their diameter is about the size of a pencil.

Once harvesting is done, it's good to let asparagus plants continue to grow and wait to cut them down to the ground until after the first frost. This replenishes nutrients for the following year's growth.

How to use asparagus

bean salad This salad is a great way to use leftover vegetables prepared for other recipes. (Photos: Jaymi Heimbuch)

Once you've harvested your asparagus, there are many ways to use them up. Here are a few.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

How to know when asparagus is ready to pick
What to look for to know asparagus stalks are ready for picking.