Always follow the cucumber

Please note: The following text is an interview or story from a previous year. Please do not draw any conclusions from it about currently taking place events or statistics etc.


Spreewald Issue July/ August 2019

Andreas Traube: "In 2018, around 26,000 tonnes of pickling cucumbers and 2,700 tonnes of peeled cucumbers were harvested in the Spreewald."

Spreewald. What would the Spreewald be without its gherkins? The genuine Spreewald delicacies are popular and known far beyond the borders of the Spreewald. They come in a wide variety of flavours - from chilli hot to honey sweet. But how are the gherkins produced in the Spreewald? We got to the bottom of the questions surrounding the harvest time of Spreewald gherkins and asked Andreas Traube, marketing manager of the Spreewaldverein e.V..

Mr. Traube, what is the harvest time for cucumbers?

Andreas Traube (A.T.): Two factors are decisive: Firstly, the time of planting the cucumber seedlings or sowing, which usually takes place in mid-April. Even more decisive, however, is the weather during the vegetation phase. Late spring frosts, for example, can cause the cucumber seedlings to freeze. In this case, replanting is necessary. Sustained high day and night temperatures already in spring lead to an earlier start of harvesting. The main harvest months are July and August. Harvesting begins in mid-June.

How can you tell when the cucumbers are ripe?

A.T.: Harvesting can begin around nine weeks after sowing or planting. But that is only a guideline. The farmer decides on the start of harvesting only after on-site inspections in the fields - always in coordination with the respective pickling and canning companies. This is because they first have to convert their production lines to cucumber processing. The desired main crop is the so-called pickling cucumbers in the 6/9 sorting, i.e. 6 - 9 centimetres long. Only when the farmer finds enough cucumbers of this sort on the plants does harvesting begin. Peeled cucumbers, on the other hand, have to mature and are ready for harvesting when they have reached a stately size of about 30 cm and the cucumber skin turns yellowish-white.

How are the cucumbers harvested?

A.T.: The cucumber plants are picked every 2 - 3 days. To do this, the growers use so-called cucumber planes, consisting of two large wings on the right and left, on which the harvesters harvest the cucumbers lying on their stomachs, pulled by the tractor. The "plane" has an impressive overall width of about 30 metres. A cucumber plane has room for about 40 pickers and covers a distance of 80 - 200 metres per hour. Around 60 - 70 cucumber planes are used for harvesting in the Spreewald each season.

What is special about the Spreewald gherkins?

A.T.: There are three factors that make Spreewald cucumbers special. First of all, the microclimate in the Spreewald is ideal for growing cucumbers. Then there is the centuries-long tradition of cucumber cultivation and processing. Incidentally, a large part of the success and upswing of Spreewald gherkins was due to Dutch clothiers who settled in our region at the end of the 16th century, reoriented themselves professionally and specialised in gherkin cultivation. This long tradition and the associated knowledge gained in the preservation, conservation and refinement of Spreewald gherkins ultimately lead to the difference in taste between Spreewald gherkins and gherkins produced outside the Spreewald. The special taste experience is therefore the recipes with the use of fresh herbs, dill and onions as well as the spicy infusions.

How many tonnes of pickling and peeling cucumbers were harvested in 2018?

A.T.: In 2018, around 26,000 tonnes of pickling cucumbers and 2,700 tonnes of peeling cucumbers were harvested in the Spreewald.

On how many hectares are the cucumbers grown?

A.T.: Pickled cucumbers were grown on an area of about 370 hectares last year, peeled cucumbers on an area of about 80 hectares.

What is the EU trademark all about?

A.T.: Regional protection groups can apply for registration as protected geographical indication (PGI), protected designation of origin (PDO) or as traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG) in various classes of goods for special regional products and specialities. These products must have peculiarities and characteristics, e.g. in the way they are produced or in their taste, that are not found in any other region. The application for Spreewälder Gurken as a protected geographical indication was made in 1996 by the Spreewaldverein as the sponsor of the protection association "Spreewälder Gurken". In 1999, the European Commission confirmed the registration as a protected geographical indication (PGI). With this registration, canning companies outside the Spreewald are prohibited from marketing "Spreewälder Gurken".

Thank you very much, Mr. Traube, for the very interesting interview. Jenny Ruben asked.