Due to the special geographical position of the village, white asparagus thrives very well. Walbeck is situated on the upper middle terrace of the landscape on the left bank of the Rhine. The Maas-Niers dune with sand, clay and loess, which was washed up millions of years ago, created ideal conditions for asparagus cultivation. After Major Dr Klein-Walbeck was the first to start asparagus growing, many Walbeckers soon followed him and in 1929 founded the Walbecker Spargelbau-Genossenschaft, the first and to this day only asparagus growing cooperative of its kind in Germany. The then inconspicuous and remote heathland village grew into a quaint, cosy and endearing asparagus village, whose name became increasingly well known and developed into the Mecca for asparagus connoisseurs.
The ancient Roman Cato called asparagus "flattering to the palate", his colleague Pliny thought it was the "most beneficial food for the stomach", and the German botanist Bock praised the white stalks in 1551 over the green clover as "a sweet food for foodies". At that time asparagus had already been cultivated for 4,000 years. The Egyptians had already tasted asparagus in the time of the Pharaohs, and the Boötians even made bridal wreaths from it. Emperors and kings cultivated asparagus in "pleasure gardens" and medicinal plant beds. The Greeks used it as a medicine. Even in Germany, where asparagus still grew wild until the 16th century, a doctor took care of it. Johann Casimir, personal physician to the Count Palatine of the Rhine, harvested the first tamed asparagus spears in 1567. (Hans Dieter Hartmann, Asparagus, Stuttgart) Even today, asparagus is not only regarded as a royal delicacy, but also as a panacea and beauty product for "spring cleaning". The active ingredient is called asparagine, an acid in asparagus that purifies the organism.
Growers have always tried to produce better asparagus varieties by crossbreeding and selection. These are intended to achieve, for example, firm heads, straight and not too thin spears, early budding and above all a good taste. One of the most important asparagus growers was August Huchel, born in 1889, a graduate farmer. In the 1920s he studied agriculture at the universities of Halle, Königsberg and Berlin. In 1927 he settled in Osterburg / Altmark as an asparagus grower and founded the Deutsche Spargelzucht-Gesellschaft Osterburg". For three decades August Huchel worked on the problem of making asparagus growing more profitable. However, his life's work was destroyed by the invasion of Russian tanks, which drove over his asparagus cultures. So he fled the former GDR in 1953. Through contacts with West German experts, he found conditions in the vegetable department of the Rhineland Chamber of Agriculture to continue his work. He moved to Walbeck and founded the "German Asparagus Breeding Station Walbeck". Now he could finally present his results to the experts and his asparagus plant became known as "Huchels Hochzucht". His breeding successes later led to the trademarked asparagus variety "Huchels Leistungsauslese". Since then, breeding has continued to progress. Modern breeding methods bring new varieties onto the market from year to year. The main requirements are: High yield, constant harvesting period, late-onset ageing, high proportion of commercial classes, high pole quality such as closed heads, uniform diameter of 16-26 mm, late-onset fibre formation and the lowest possible susceptibility to disease. Most important, however, is the taste.
Officially, the asparagus season begins on 1 May, May Day, and ends on 24 June, St. John's Day. Various tricks are used to give the asparagus plant the impression of warm weather. It is therefore possible to harvest asparagus in heated greenhouses as early as the beginning of March. However, only one asparagus farmer*in Walbeck (2002 - Hanni Leuker) grows asparagus in unheated greenhouses. Cultivation under foil, which retains the heat in the asparagus wall, is very common. This anti-condensation or anti-dew film ensures that the film does not fog up and the view of the asparagus wall remains clear. For some years now, films have been used that are black on one side and white on the other. One side attracts the sun's rays and the other reflects them. This allows asparagus growers to control the harvest according to demand. The harvesting time can be brought forward by two to three weeks, depending on the amount of sunlight.
Dependence on growth and taste
The special asparagus flavour develops depending on the quality of the soil, water and solar radiation or heat. As the underground shoot (known as "white asparagus") is pierced and eaten as a vegetable, the growing conditions for the asparagus are particularly important.
Weather - Depending on the growth rate and variety, the "fibrousness" of the asparagus is Thus some stalks can be "woody". The speed of growth depends on the temperature. The "lignification" of the stalks occurs less at high temperatures than at lower temperatures. In cool and wet weather, the fibre retention becomes stronger. The asparagus, which grows only slowly, develops fewer flavourings. This means that all factors that inhibit growth lead to increased fibre formation (lignification). At a temperature of 12 C, the asparagus begins to grow. The ideal outside temperature for the tasty, sweet-tasting asparagus is an average temperature of 20 C.
Location - Open, flat, slightly south- or south-west facing areas are suitable for growing. Northern and semi-shady areas are not suitable. Windy areas are also unsuitable; on these sites, the soil is blown over with plant curvature until the summer shoots break. Forests are only beneficial if the trees shield the field to the north and do not interfere with the sun's rays. Deep locations, so-called fog and frost holes, are not recommended. The soil must be free of stones, squawks and other root herbs. An optimal ground water level is 1.5 to 2.0 m. The roots will sprout to this depth.
Cultivation and harvest
White asparagus is grown in Hamburg, Lower Saxony, the Rhine-Main area, the Palatinate, Baden, Bavaria and, of course, the Lower Rhine region. Preparations for a new planting must begin at least 1.5 to 2 years in advance so that a uniform, well supplied area is available for planting.
Asparagus replanting problem - Due to the high demands that asparagus places on the soil, the desire to reuse an asparagus field once used for asparagus cultivation is more than understandable. However, it has been shown that asparagus cannot, or can only with great restrictions, be grown again on land on which asparagus was previously grown. The new crop would only yield greatly reduced yields for a few years. Even after 10 to 15 years, the harvest performance of a replanted area will still lag behind that of an asparagus plant on fresh soil. This phenomenon is called replanting disease of asparagus. Its cause was not known until a few years ago. The cause is probably mould spores in the soil. Field trials have shown that on replanted areas, the roots of the cultivated asparagus are conspicuously heavily infested with the mould " Fusarium oxysporum". Many lateral roots seem to be downright rotten. The fleshier roots have brown spots. No damage was found on the soil surface. Although intensive research is being carried out, there is still no method to control the mould spores in the soil. On very water-permeable soils with optimal growth conditions for asparagus, replanting may still be possible with severe limitations after a few years of interruption. This is because mould has less chance of damaging the plants when growth is strong. Only areas that are really particularly well suited to growing asparagus are eligible for replanting. It is also important to ensure that the plant material is of a very high quality, healthy and suitable for growing without damage.
Harvesting is still a tedious job. Harvesting by machine is not possible, because every square centimetre of the asparagus walls must be checked by the asparagus cutters. Cracks in the smooth soil tell the asparagus cutters that the tip of an asparagus spear wants to come to light. The asparagus spear is dug out with the index and middle finger and "pricked" with a long knife. The hole is then filled up with earth and smoothed out. If the asparagus is discovered too late, it will turn violet or pink due to the sun's rays. The asparagus can belong to the 2nd class (category) at most. Harvesting takes place twice a day, once in the early morning hours and once at noon. After 24 June, the plant can recover and the asparagus spears are left in the fields throughout the summer. However, when an asparagus crop is in its last year, the asparagus growers offer their delicacy for another two weeks. Because growing, harvesting and preparation are so labour-intensive, quality asparagus has its price.
Norbert Deckers, Heidelberg 2002