Swisttal/Bornheim The asparagus and strawberry farmers in the Vorgebirge and the Voreifel are in the starting blocks. They are also working again on the former fields of Spargel Ritter. But there is still one thing needed for a good harvest.
Spring and asparagus belong together. But it is still clearly too cold for the white spears. Here and there asparagus is already being harvested - on fields with "underfloor heating". Farmers in the Rhine-Sieg district on the left bank of the Rhine do not use this, however. So the first vegetables are not expected until the first week of April at the earliest, and only if the weather is warm and dry over the next few days. Most of the farmers have already put up the insulation, the foils have already been applied. The greenhouse season for strawberries also starts shortly after Easter. Seasonal workers are already at work here and there, and the Corona hygiene concepts from last year will also be in full effect in 2021.
Karl-Heinz Steiger, for example, from the vegetable farm of the same name is well prepared. The farmer from Waldorf left his farm to his daughter Margarete Ribbecke in 2017, but even as a pensioner he is still involved in the farm's activities. Every now and then he goes to one of the 50 rows where the asparagus is growing - nothing can be seen yet, the spears have only grown a centimetre on the rootstock.
The soil is still too wet
Due to the rain in the past weeks, the fields in Waldorf could not yet be banked up, the soil was too wet. Once the dams are in place, black film and possibly mini-tunnels - depending on the weather - will ensure that the season does not start until mid-April at the earliest. This means that the asparagus harvesting season begins "quite normally for the farm. We have a regular spring - no climate warming," the 68-year-old sums up.
Due to the drought in 2019 and the resulting lower leaf growth, the 2020 harvest was 10 to 15 percent lower, a result Steiger expects for this year as well. Two Romanian seasonal workers are already helping with care and harvesting work of other crops, and from mid-April four more will join them to help with strawberry picking as well. "The strawberries look good," says Steiger happily. The first tunnel variety will be sold in the farm shop at the end of April, a week earlier than usual, because "autumn was nice. We were able to set up the tunnels well and there was enough sunshine despite the cold," says Steiger.
Farmers wait for warmth
Colleague Johannes Saß is also waiting for warmer temperatures. The farmer from Uedorf has long since completed his preparations. The banks have been pulled, the black and white foils laid. "For the canes to grow, the soil temperature must be between 18 and 20 degrees. So we need open-air weather that lasts at least a week," explains the 39-year-old, who wants to start planting in the first 14 days of April, which would be similar to 2020.
"Depending on the sun, I can then start on 5 or 15 April," says Saß. The asparagus from the mini-tunnel will be harvested a little earlier than the asparagus covered with black and white foil. "Because with the asparagus in the mini-tunnel there is an air cushion between the foil and the tunnel cover, which reduces the cooling of the banks". Saß expects the spears to be a little thinner than in 2020 - a consequence of last year's drought.
Less pest infestation
Leonhard Palm, an organic farmer from Uedorf, is also a little impatient. Last year and in 2019 he was already busy in the asparagus fields around 1 April, but the chairman of the Bornheim asparagus growers does not expect the first spears until three to four weeks from now. Last week he erected his banks, and currently the mini tunnels are being placed on top of them. "We were spoiled with early asparagus in the past two years. 2021 is a normal year even with early harvesting - even earlier by local standards," Palm explained.
He is very satisfied with the development of the strawberries. The plants planted in July/August came through the winter well, and the intervening frost periods were even good. "The pest infestation of aphids and fruit flies is lower. They migrate into the soil in winter. If they get frost there, they reduce." The fields are covered with foil, tunnels are no longer planted, "because the earliness is disproportionate to the amount of work involved," says Palm. It is still too cold for the plants to flower. "Only when these are visible can we say that in about four weeks the fruits will be ripe.“
Bumblebees pollinate the strawberries
"We were able to make a clean preparation," Klaus Langen noted. The farmer from Kerpen, who took over the fields of his insolvent colleagues Claus and Sabine Ritter, first had to remove their residues in the form of old film as preparatory work for the upcoming season. The Bornheim native grows asparagus and strawberries on ten hectares. The 52-year-old is extremely satisfied with the development of vegetables and fruit.
"If the weather plays along", the family man wants to start planting in the first week of April. "We really had optimal conditions for high-diking, a decisive prerequisite for the entire subsequent harvesting of the asparagus," said the expert. A few days ago, Langen discovered the first strawberry blossoms; at the end of March, the bumblebees will be used for pollination. Then it will take another four weeks at the most for the delicious fruits to appear.
The greenhouses are buzzing
Bees and bumblebees also pollinate the plants at the Hensen strawberry farm in Swisttal-Mömerzheim. The first fruits from the glass or foil houses are offered at the sales stands on 9/10 April. "It would have been nice to start at Easter," said Irmgard Hensen, wife of farm manager Ralf Hensen. The greenhouses are buzzing and humming everywhere, the insects are going about their work. Hives borrowed from a beekeeper stand between the rows of plants. The bumblebees were supplied by a Belgian company that also regularly brings beneficial insects such as ladybirds, lacewings predatory mites, predatory bugs and hoverflies against all kinds of pests (tripes, aphids, spider mites, harmful butterflies).
Above the shelves and every few metres between the plants, the Romanian seasonal workers have applied adhesive and glue strips against adult whiteflies. "Since we have glass houses, we work with beneficial insects to use less pesticides," the boss tells us. The first outdoor berries are harvested in June. Already at the end of May, the number of seasonal workers will be increased to 300. "Then we'll see what Corona tells us about it," says Hensen. (Original text: Susanne Träupmann / Translation: Mareike Graepel)