There is an increased tendency to cut a small percentage of the shoots the second year. The majority of growers regard it a mistake to cut before the third year, and yet there are examples of growers harvesting $50 worth of shoots an acre the second year without any apparently injurious effect upon the cuttings of subsequent years. The cutting season of the third year should not continue longer than three or four weeks. It is well understood, of course, that the renewal of the shoots is an exhaustive process, and it is possible to reduce materially the vitality of the crowns by cutting too severely. It is true, however, that the average length of the cutting season is longer today than ever before. Formerly, it was thought that the plants would not stand a cutting period of more than six or seven weeks. Then the period was lengthened to eight weeks, and now nine is common. Successful growers sometimes cut for 10 or 11 weeks, but this is possible only when the season is very early and beds or fields are in prime condition. Whenever the shoots begin to show weakness it is certainly time to stop cutting. In the North, harvesting generally begins during April and continues until June 15, or two to three weeks later. If the bed is to be abandoned, cutting can be continued in the summer as long as the crop pays.
In foreign countries the shoots are nearly always removed with the hand, breaking them neatly without injury to other shoots and without leaving a stub to decay. In this country, special tools have been devised for the purpose. The point of the knife is shoved down the shoot the required distance, the handle moved from the stock to form the required angle and the knife then thrust through the shoot. As asparagus bunches vary from 7 to 10 inches in length the cutting of the shoots must be regulated accordingly. Then, too, the height of blanching and consequently the depth of cutting under ground must be regulated by market demands. White "grass" is cut just as soon as the tips appear. Green "grass" may be cut at the ground or there may be a compromise, cutting 2 to 4 inches below the surface. Many growers who claim they are selling the green product are really offering a compromised article.
In very cool weather it may not be necessary to cut more than twice a week, but when the season is well advanced and the weather is warm, this work must be attended to daily and sometimes twice a day to prevent loss. It is a general practice to cut late on Saturday afternoon in order to avoid Sunday cutting. The cutting of Saturday is bunched and placed in shallow trays containing about 1/2 inch of water. In this way it may be kept in perfect condition until Monday morning when it is sent to market. Every shoot, large and small, is cut unless some are reserved for seed purposes or for lure plants, on which poison is placed to destroy beetles.
The shoots after being cut are usually placed on piles and then collected in baskets or in carts. Some growers believe that time is saved by placing the shoots as fast as cut in strong, flat baskets which may be collected rapidly and hauled to the packing house. These baskets hold from 8 to 1o pounds. The actual cost of cutting in an 18-acre field in New Jersey averaged 1 1/2 cents a bunch.