It will be a while before the large Belgian asparagus volumes arrive. Lately, there have been more and more reports about their arrival, but grower Leo Henckens does not expect the open-field asparagus to genuinely start until mid-April. "It's a shame that Easter's so early this year. That's also why restaurants are being a bit more cautious about putting asparagus on their Easter menu," he begins. Leo cultivates asparagus and yacon in Belgium.
"Not much is happening at the moment. We wanted to start forming ridges last week, but it was still a little too wet. It has since gotten worse with the rain. Should it stay dry for three or four days, we can start. Still, there's certainly no panic. We have March showers, and the April whims are yet to come."
"But we've sometimes started on March 27 and even April 27. I think we can get started with the new crop around April 20. But don't hold me to that. If the temperature suddenly shoots up to 20°C, we could start in as little as ten days. With open field cultivation, where you dependent on the weather, you never know," Leo admits.
He expects few quality issues this year, "The roots looked good last winter, so I think they'll be all right. If nothing crazy happens, there's no reason for it to be a bad year. I expect a 'normal' season." Despite increased articles, the grower does not see much demand for this 'white gold' yet.
"Every so often, I'll get a call asking if we have them yet because they're already in the stores. That's sporadic, though, because the real asparagus lovers know they'll only be available in large quantities from mid-April. As long as everyone keeps calm and doesn't share the first stalks on social media, our phone will stay quiet for a while," says Leo.
Nonetheless, for many enthusiasts and restaurants, asparagus is the product of choice on Easter menus. "Easter is just, unfortunately, too early for open-field asparagus. That's a shame because restaurants often use it for advertising. Eateries have, however, become more prudent about that. Several years ago, asparagus was put on the menu well in advance."
"But if open-grown asparagus isn't available, that won't work. Then they switch to heated cultivation, which, of course, is very expensive. I guess they learned from that," says Henckens, "because now that Easter is early, they don't dare add asparagus to their menus. We won't have any, so they'll have to wait a while."
Leo and his wife Carine will organize 'Asparagus in the Field' again this year. "We started that last year, and it was a great success. So, this year we'll again organize an asparagus dinner on our asparagus field the last weekend of May and the first weekend of June. You'll see the sun setting over the field, and the five-course menu is, naturally, completely inspired by asparagus," he concludes.
For more information:
Hoeve 't Bommesaarke
3640, Kinrooi, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0) 494 871 791