German Asparagus Harvest Arrives Early
The German asparagus season has already begun, all thanks to heated fields.
As apples mark the Fall season, nothing quite epitomizes Spring in Germany like the revered white stalks of Spargel (Asparagus). Whereas other asparagus-eating nations like France, Italy and the United States prefer the green variety, in Germany it’s white asparagus or nothing.
Spargelzeit, or white asparagus season, officially begins in April, and harvesting finishes punctually on 24 June, the Christian celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist. The start of the season coincides pleasingly with the first rays of warm sunshine that follow a long, cold winter, and there’s a palpable buzz in the air when pop-up stands sprout all over towns and villages and the first mounds of white asparagus appear at farmers’ markets.
White and green asparagus are essentially the same species, with the plant grown under different conditions. In order to achieve the pure white spears demanded by German consumers, certain varieties of asparagus are grown underground under piles of dirt called hillings.
Depending on the region, the German asparagus harvest usually begins at the end of March at the earliest. However, some farmers in Germany are already able to harvest the first poles of the cold-sensitive spring vegetables.
In recent years, a number of farmers have come up with the idea of using waste heat to harvest a bit of asparagus earlier than others. They use heated floors and small tunnels made of plastic film, which are designed to drive up the temperatures in the beds. The first farms in Lower Saxony started harvesting at the beginning of March, even if the quantities are relatively small.
The waste heat comes from power plants and even opencast mining facilities. In some cases, wood-chip power plants are used in the operation to heat the Spargel. There are no exact figures on the quantities harvested using this process, but one site in Kirchdorf with almost 500 hectares of cultivated land has just three hectares dedicated to heating asparagus. One hectare delivers as much as 8 to 10 tons of asparagus for the entire season, but the heated fields are only harvested every second day. The yield is currently between 800 and 900 kilos per harvest day.
According to the Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft, about 120,000 tonnes of asparagus was harvested in Germany in 2016 – with around 24,000 tonnes being imported to meet the demand for the “white gold”.