"If the conditions are right, it will grow an inch in an hour," Jared said.
The boys take 2 1/2-gallon buckets down the rows, picking the long green stems by hand. The crops are taken to a cooled building, spread on a long metal table, and sorted into four grades: jumbo, large, medium and small.
"They all sell for the same price," Ray said. "It just depends on how you're going to cook them. If you're putting them on the grill, you want the big, jumbo ones. In a different recipe, you'll want the small."
The stalks are rubber-banded into 1-pound bundles and set upright in water in a 38-degree refrigerated room.
"Freshness is the key to asparagus," Ray said. He recalls eating the fresh asparagus from his grandmother's garden, and then eating some from the grocery store. There was no comparison.
"The longer it sits, the woodier it gets."
Do they have trouble with deer eating the crops?
"We have more problems with the wild turkeys," Ray said. "They come in and take the tips right off."
How did Ray, a construction worker by trade, learn to grow asparagus? He credits retired Cabell County Extension Agent John Marra, who directed him to an agriculture professor at the University of Kentucky. There he learned what conditions were best for growing the crop, including soil pH, weed and insect control.
He points to the vegetation (aka weeds) growing around the stalks of asparagus.
"We leave some of that there, because it attracts spiders. The spiders keep the other bugs out."
Ray loves the cycle of nature, pointing to his 20 beehives on the hill behind his house. "If it weren't for my bees, I wouldn't have any of this."
Jared put in dozens of tiny Christmas trees on a mountain behind the house, knowing they will be a profitable crop in a few years. Ray grows shiitake mushrooms, and collects morels, too.
The family grows strawberries in an old tobacco water bed -- a place designed to give the tobacco seedlings the necessary amount of water before being transplanted into a regular bed. Filled with mulch, it's producing 100-plus quarts of strawberries now.
Ray's asparagus has a great résumé. He used to sell 300 pounds a week to The Greenbrier, but the drive made it cost-prohibitive. His asparagus is served at Huntington Prime, Jewel City Seafood, and is sold through Forth Food Fair in Huntington and The Purple Onion at the Capitol Market in Charleston.
"Allan Hathaway has been a godsend to me," Ray said. Hathaway owns The Purple Onion, and he's helped get Ray's products from farm to market. The Purple Onion sells Ray's strawberries and mushrooms as well as the asparagus.
"I call it a commitment crop," Ray said of his asparagus with a laugh. "I know marriages that don't have the commitment I have to these plants."
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.