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‘Mining’ asparagus crop another dimension of Limburg’s appeal

Yield of 12,000 tons ‘white gold’ lucrative to growers

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

HORST, the Netherlands - Mining ‘white’ gold although hard work, takes less effort than previously was the case with coal mining in Limburg. On about 5,000 acres in this province and neighbouring Noord-Brabant, the short spring season of the white asparagus has run its course. For about ten weeks, growers harvested about 12,000 tons of the exclusive vegetable, frequently referred to as ‘white gold.’

White asparagus is grown below the surface only, which explains its lack of green pigmentation. The plant has a wood-like rootstock, its crop is the the young, fleshy shoots of the plant. Asparagus grows best in sandy soil and is planted in rows which are covered by about 30 centimetres of earth. After three years, the asparagus is ready to yield. When the ‘bud’ breaks the ground or is ready to come up, workers cut off the shoots 25 to 30 centimetres below the surface, harvesting fleshy white asparagus. Green asparagus are the tips of the shoots that are allowed to rise above the ground. The asparagus family also has some ornamental varieties.

First cultivated as a vegetable crop in the Netherlands in the 19th century, Aspagargus Officinalis was imported from France, where King Louis XIV and his nobility had taken to the delicacy in a grand way. In those days, the white asparagus also was grown in the Netherlands.

White, not green

At a later stage, growers in the agricultural district between The Hague and Rotterdam, known as Westland, cultivated the plant. After 1918, an asparagus growing centre was set up in the northern part of Limburg. Gradually all but a few growers gravitated to that area, now responsible for 92 percent of the Dutch asparagus crop.

Although most people know asparagus only in its thin and green appearance, the white ‘variety’ is the one cultivated in Limburg. Green asparagus often is imported from Mexico, Peru and China.

The highly nutritional white asparagus, rich in calcium and vitamins B, C, E and K, always has been an exclusive delicacy. They were depicted by Dutch Masters, and in the 19th century merited their own brand of dinnerware, plates and dishes. A selection of such items recently was shown in an exhibition at the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.