Where did asparagus come from?
The asparagus also only changed color in the 19th century. While it was previously grown exclusively as green asparagus, people had now come to know and appreciate the more delicate taste of white asparagus and in Germany it was now grown almost exclusively underground.
The white asparagus was found by chance. Clay hoods over the shoots, which were supposed to store heat and protect against vermin, had meant that the asparagus underneath remained pale. From then on, this was cultivated by piling soil over the plants and cutting the poles underground.
During the two world wars, asparagus production was almost completely stopped because asparagus supposedly had no nutritional value and was therefore not used as a filler. As soon as the Second World War was over, asparagus cultivation experienced an enormous boom, which continues to this day.
It also resulted in the asparagus acreage increasing by 50 percent to around 18,000 hectares between 1995 and 2005 alone. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the area under cultivation was even higher in 2020, at around 22,000 hectares.
Germany is now one of the leading asparagus producers in Europe.
The asparagus plant
Asparagus is a monocot which grows mainly underground and belongs to the lily family. It occurs in around 300 different species almost all over the world. The variety "Asparagus officinalis" is particularly widespread in our latitudes.
When the ground slowly warms up in spring, the asparagus plant shoots its buds from roots up to six meters long to the surface of the earth, where they form branching shoots. These buds are the asparagus spears suitable for consumption. They stay white until they grow out of the ground.
In the sunlight, the asparagus stalks first turn purple and then turn green. This is also the reason why there are white asparagus, purple and green asparagus. The color of the asparagus has nothing to do with different types of plants, but solely with the cultivation and harvesting method.
If you let the asparagus shoot, so you don't cut it off, a shoot up to two meters high will grow. The flower is small and rather inconspicuous.
There are male and female asparagus plants. The female develops red berries almost the size of a pea. They are on the menu of various bird species, which thus contribute to the natural distribution of asparagus. However, the berry is inedible for humans and leads to stomach pain and vomiting.
Growing asparagus is a long and arduous business. It requires quite a bit of preparation and knowledge of the soil. Asparagus is best grown on light, sandy soils. They heat up faster in spring and the workload is less on light soils than on heavy ones.
In the year before planting, the soil must be thoroughly prepared with organic fertilizer. In the second year, the asparagus is planted 25 centimeters below the surface of the earth and then essentially left alone.
Even now the asparagus cannot be harvested. An exception is preferred asparagus from container plantings for private gardens.
The plant is not yet vigorous enough for a continuous harvest. Nevertheless, the noble vegetables require a lot of care. Weed killing, watering and fertilizing are necessary. The asparagus straw that has turned brown is cut off in November.
In the third year, the asparagus can finally be harvested for the first time over a longer period of time. In the case of white asparagus, a pile of earth is thrown up over the roots in February or March. It prevents the asparagus spear from turning green as it grows.
The sprout can grow in peace in the earth dam. However, the farmer also has to provide light soil for the dam, because compact, heavy soil often leads to unsightly adhesions and prevents the rod from growing straight.
Now comes the most laborious work: the harvest. The asparagus farmer and his harvest workers have to walk the rows of asparagus every morning and evening and see if a stick is floating through the ground. The experienced asparagus harvesters can see this from a fine crack in the surface of the earth.
The soil is carefully removed from the shoot to a depth of 40 centimeters and the asparagus is then cut off ("pricked") with a special knife. The harvester must make sure that he does not destroy any other growing shoots.
Then the earth is neatly thrown into the hole that has been created and smoothed with a trowel so that the next growing sprout can be discovered before it emerges into the light.
Green asparagus is much easier to use. It grows out of the flat ground and is harvested with a sharp knife when it reaches its correct size.
The asparagus harvest ends on June 24th (St. John's Day). The asparagus has to rest to gather strength for the next year. Of course, as in the years before, the asparagus farmer must provide nutrients and moisture. After ten to twelve years, the asparagus field and the plants are exhausted. By then, the next field should already be prepared for growing asparagus.
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