The fertility of our soil is the base for a rich harvest. Maintaining or even increasing this is therefore one of the most important goals for us as gardeners. We affect soil fertility, for example, through our mixed-crop cultivation method, which we have already described. But also by mulching with fresh lawn clippings, we enrich the soil with nutrients and stimulate soil life. We fertilize nutrient-hungry plants throughout the season with homemade nettle manure.
One of our most important methods for a healthy and rich soil, with good water storage capacity, is our own compost. Composting is a completely natural process, which can take place very intensively and in a controlled manner in a well-built compost heap. Provided that we create the right conditions for small organisms, microbes and soil animals of all kinds, the decomposition, conversion and build-up processes can take place particularly quickly.
In the process of composting, known as rotting, organic materials are broken down chemically and mechanically. As soon as the plants have died, chemical decomposition processes already begin in the cells, in which various bacteria are involved. Energy is released in the process, which results in heat generation. The more fresh greenery is incorporated into the compost pile, the higher the temperature will be during the initial phase of decomposition. On the other hand, when material is already deposited, hardly any heat is generated. After the initial phase, small animals such as woodlice, mites, millipedes, insect larvae and earthworms provide mechanical breakdown of the plant matter. Bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms then take over further decomposition.
There are different methods of approach to the subject and also different suitable composters. We focus here mainly on our own experience and our method of composting. For our garden, we have chosen composters made of weather-resistant wood and a sturdy metal frame from bellissa HAAS. They are open to the soil, so that soil organisms such as earthworms can easily crawl in and moisture drains away well. The design of the composters also allows for good aeration, which is important for optimal rotting. Besides the advantages for the decomposition process, it is important for us to be able to fill and empty the composters easily. Due to the metal frame, we have the possibility to remove individual wooden planks on all 4 sides at any time, without having to disassemble the entire composter.
We currently have a total of 5 pieces in use. 2 of them are located directly at the vegetable garden, 3 others on our meadow orchard at the cut flower garden. Important in choosing the right location is convenient accessibility by wheelbarrow. A slightly shaded and sheltered place, by bushes or shrubs, is ideal. Elder and hazel are said to have a favorable influence on the rotting process. How good that we have enough of them in the garden. It should be remembered that the soil around the compost heap is strongly enriched with nutrients. It should therefore not be placed in the immediate surroundings of fruit trees in order to avoid an excess of nutrients.
The shaded, somewhat sheltered location prevents both too rapid drying due to direct sun and too much moisture due to direct rain. In times of high rainfall, the compost should be additionally covered from rain. For free-standing compost piles, this can be a cover of straw or leaves. We like to use a layer of cardboard. In case of prolonged drought, however, the compost will benefit from a shower with the garden hose.
We collect in our composters everything that comes up in the garden in terms of organic materials. This includes, for example, our organic waste from the kitchen, such as peelings, vegetable cuttings or similar, harvested plants, lawn cuttings, twigs, etc. but also organic household waste such as unprinted, unglued cardboard or old linen can go on the compost.
Cooked and greasy food leftovers and diseased plants are not suitable. We also dispose of seed-bearing or root weeds elsewhere. In a hot compost these would be killed, but the garden compost, especially at the edges, usually does not get hot enough.
The right mixture of compost material is crucial for decomposition to proceed well. If the material is too moist and fresh, it becomes too compact, is thus poorly aerated and can rot and smell unpleasant. If the material is too dry, on the other hand, decomposition hardly gets going. The moisture in the compost pile should resemble that of a squeezed sponge.
To be able to fill the compost heap with variety, it is useful to collect different organic materials and either mix them directly or layer them alternately. Wet with dry, deposited with fresh, nitrogen-rich, that is “green” materials such as green cuttings, kitchen waste, etc. with low-nitrogen “brown” materials such as leaves, branches, cardboard, etc. A layer should not be thicker than 15-20 cm.
The rotting process is quickest when the compost is built up completely in one day or in a few days. However, for the sake of simplicity, we build our compost in stages. For this we have to accept a slower rotting process. It is true that even one layer heats up, but never as high as a compost pile consisting of several layers, completed in one day. Such a pile will heat up to between 50 and 70 degrees Celsius. This kills germs and weeds, but it also kills living organisms that are valuable for the soil. A hot compost has the great advantage that it is ready and germ-free within only a few weeks. However, it is much more labor intensive. The material must be collected beforehand, the ratio of nitrogen and carbon must be correct, the temperature must be controlled and regular aeration with a fork is also helpful.
To speed up the maturation in a successively applied compost, which, on the contrary, takes several months, is beneficial to rearrange the material. This happens only once a year, when we take out the already finished compost in spring. The top layers, which have not rotted much so far, go down, the outer layers go in and vice versa. When the first fresh materials, such as lawn clippings, accumulate, they are layered in between.
When layering, we like to sprinkle mineral meal, especially before adding fresh material. It serves to bind excess moisture and enriches the compost with microelements. Mature compost or garden soil is a good finish after each layer, because it already contains all the microbes that are important for decomposition and, under favorable conditions, they multiply directly in the new compost pile.
In addition, it is useful to sprinkle some crushed plant charcoal. It has no nutrients itself, but binds them and prevents them from being washed out. In this way, the absorbed nutrients are available to the plants later for a longer period of time. In addition, the charcoal stores water and ensures more aeration by improving the soil structure.
The compost is ready when it smells like forest soil and is dark and fine-grained. We put it on our beds a few centimeters thick in early spring and incorporate it a little.
By the way, we not only use the high-quality composters from bellissa HAAS, but have also been using the lawn edging made of Corten steel in the garden for several years and the brand-new vertical raised bed INALTO at the greenhouse. We have always had damage to our strawberries from the strawberry seed beetle. The new raised bed offers us with eight planting boxes a cultivation area of 1 m². The continuous planting field even gives the possibility to grow deep-rooted plants. As with all bellissa HAAS products, great value was placed on the raw materials used and the possibility of recycling them. We are very excited whether we will have more of our strawberries this year!
*This post was created in cooperation with bellissa HAAS. Even if we were paid for it, we only give our own, independent opinion. About the content and text of the contribution, we had a completely free hand.
We especially love the transition to autumn. At no time is our harvest basket more lush and colorful. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, all field fresh from our own garden. We really enjoy helping ourselves to whatever we feel like. We would not want to miss this feeling of harvesting the fruits and vegetables we have grown, nurtured and cared for ourselves. The taste of the produce is more intense and we have gained a whole different connection to our food. Working in the garden is so grounding and rewarding that we never feel it as a burden, but as an enormous enrichment. Looking out into the garden, or even into our already well-stocked pantry, simply makes us happy.
We are also incredibly grateful for the great village community. We don’t have our own chickens yet, even though we’ve been making plans for two years. Until that time comes, we enjoy freshly laid, colorful eggs from the neighborhood. We are also allowed to help ourselves to the large blackberry hedge in our neighbors’ garden every year. In exchange, we give homemade jam, a jar of honey or a bouquet from our flower garden.
Appreciating our food, using it wisely, and supporting local growers is also at the heart of Le Creuset‘s new Farm Fresh campaign. Cooking with fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients is especially fun in the cast-iron cookware. The sturdy roasters are made from high-quality materials, including 85% recycled iron and steel. The special quality, durability and performance creates companions for life. We swear by cast iron for many years and love working with it in our kitchen.
We’ve never made better fried potatoes, and our cast-iron pans also make the first pancake a success. By the way, Le Creuset’s ovenproof pans are perfect for one of our breakfast favorites: fluffy oven-baked pancakes with a little yogurt, thyme, and fresh blackberries. We’re happy to share the recipe with you!
We’d also like to share a second favorite recipe this season: braised eggplant in a sweet and sour tomato sauce.
There is no vegetable we have been so happy about this year as eggplant. In fact, we had success with them for the first time. So far, our harvest, whether in the greenhouse or outdoors, was not worth mentioning. We almost admitted defeat and accepted the fact that the fruits are not as comfortable here in the rough north as they are in their original sunny and warm homeland. This year we made a very last attempt and tried two new varieties, “Zora” and “De Barbentane”. Once again, the garden has taught us that, on the one hand, no two years are the same and, on the other, you need a lot of patience and not to give up. We hope that we have now discovered great varieties for our region and that the abundant harvest was not just pure coincidence and luck.
In the Le Creuset casserole, the eggplants can be roasted perfectly, without sticking. The tomato sauce is then prepared in the same pot. It is one of those dishes that gets better the longer it sits. So it is worth preparing a larger quantity directly.
Preheat the oven including a high cast-iron pan to 220° C top/bottom heat.
Place the eggs, milk, flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and beat well with a hand mixer.
When the oven reaches its temperature, remove the pan and melt the butter in it. Pour the batter into the pan, swirl to spread and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until the pancake is browned and has risen up the sides.
Meanwhile, stir the yogurt until creamy and pick the thyme leaves from the stems.
Dust the finished pancake with icing sugar, top with yogurt and blackberries, and garnish with the thyme and maple syrup.
Cut the eggplants into rough pieces, salt them and let them sit in a large bowl for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, pour boiling water over the tomatoes, peel, quarter and remove the core.
Drain the water released from the eggplants and fry the pieces of eggplant in olive oil until browned on all sides. Here it is important for the taste that the eggplants get proper color and thus roast aromas.
Finely chop the onion, garlic and dates. Heat some olive oil in a casserole or large pan and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent.
Add the tomatoes and dates and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Add the eggplant to the tomatoes and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the eggplants are soft and the sauce has reduced.
Meanwhile, add enough olive oil to a small saucepan to cover the bottom. Heat the oil, fry the sage leaves in it and then drain them on a paper towel. Be careful not to let the oil get too hot so that the leaves don't burn.
Roughly chop the hazelnuts and roast them with the pine nuts in a pan without oil.
Season the tomato sauce with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Spread the hazelnuts, pine nuts and sage leaves over the braised eggplant and serve with freshly baked sourdough bread.
Some of you might wonder if we’re living a completely self-sustaining lifestyle. While it’s possible for us to cook mainly with homegrown fruit and vegetables during the fruitful harvest season from June till November, we still need to fill in with store-bought food outside of the bountiful summer and fall months when the plants in our garden are either in hibernation or just waking up from their long winter sleep at the beginning of spring.
When it comes to groceries we prefer to use high-quality, regional and organic food, that we can buy in farm shops in our area.
We think it’s a special experience to visit the local farm shops, cozy neighborhood cafés and producers, which you can find on the comprehensive but pocket-sized map made by Landurlaub MV where regional farmers and their products are listed. A collection of more than 100 regional producers, small gardening shops, handicraft businesses, farmers’ markets and shops as well as cafés are found there.
You can even visit the producers in their factories to get to know the people behind the concept, learn about their way of manufacturing and taste their specialities. Freshly picked wild herbs, locally grown mushrooms, liquors made of regional fruit, old varieties of apples, bread freshly pulled out of the oven of old neighborhood bakeries… basically everything you can wish for is found on this map.
We think the variety of different mills in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is particularly interesting: salt-, oil-, mustard- or coffee mills are located here. You can even find the state’s only regular producing windmill not far from where we live, where organic flour made of rye, wheat or spelt is made like it was done more than 100 years ago. We used one of these traditionally produced flours and other local ingredients for the following recipe.
* This post is created in cooperation with Tourismusverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern e.V. and Fachverband Landurlaub Mecklenburg-Vorpommern e.V.
Even though we were paid for this article, we give our own opinion uninfluenced. We had full rein over text and content of this article.
In the first year in our settler’s house we were mainly focused on vegetable growing in the garden. With all that was still to be done in the house, there was neither time nor nerves to think much about other garden design. That was a good thing, because we could watch the transformation of bare, desolate areas into lush and flowering corners week after week. Since we bought the plot in winter, we could not guess which bulbs, perennials and seeds would appear in spring and summer and which of the shrubs would bloom lushly and fragrantly. Many early bloomers, aquilegia in many different colours, the flowering fruit trees, lilac, peonies, elderberries, daisies, forget-me-nots, peasant jasmine, rudbeckias, irises, hydrangeas, butterfly bush, asters.
Admittedly, before we had our own garden, we didn’t even know some of the plants by name. Again, the decision for the house made us dive into a whole new theme. It is unbelievable how many different species and cultivars there are! We quickly had to realize that the plant stock on our property, roughly, resembled every other garden in the villages around us. The same species, the same colours. They were planted here and there, without a recognizable concept, without considering the demands of the location and also without the partly necessary care. We started by cutting trees and bushes that had already passed their best times or had grown so wild that they replaced other things and clearing corners completely overgrown with nettles. This alone has already brought great changes in some cases. Suddenly, plants appeared that had previously received no attention at all. Among other things, a great white currant or a small apple tree amidst long hanging spruce branches. Both now get light and space to grow with new energy.
But there accured also places for new plants. Last year we already planted and sowed the first perennial and annual flowers. Foxglove, sunflowers, verbena, snapdragon, dahlias, poppy, lupins, larkspur, echinacea, garden cosmos, hollyhocks. Even the edible perennials around our greenhouse bloomed beautifully for months, to the delight of wild and honey bees.
Behind the small ruin of a former washhouse, which serves us as a sitting area, is a lush pine tree. Unfortunately, directly in the first spring it got heavy damages by a wet snow cover. It was split in the middle of the crown and some big branches are broken off. Only because of this we have intensively studied the area under and around the tree. A handful of wheelbarrows full of nettle roots were stuck in the ground and loosened it nicely. The humusy soil is now home to shade-loving plants and has become a favourite place in the garden. By cutting back the damaged branches, an old pump came to light, which is inhabited by birds and bumblebees. Around the tree there are now small paths made of stones that we have lifted out of the ground over the course of the two years and we have used mossy, rotten branches as borders. Tree trunks in different heights in front of a fence made of hazel rods have become a small seat in the middle of our so-called forest. From there you look down on a carpet of wild strawberries, woodruff and ground ivy, from which foxgloves, hostas, ferns, Caucasian forget-me-not, cranesbill and alumroot grow.
The bare crown of the pine tree is said to be overgrown at some point by a climbing rose and clematis.
Some other things are already in the making, but will only develop into what we have in mind in a few months or years. Last autumn we planted a wild fruit hedge, which in the future will not only serve as shelter and food source for small animals and insects, but will also bloom beautifully. Climbing roses stretch out their tendrils on the house wall and trees, new perennial beds were created and a more than 400 square meter large flowering meadow has finally been sown. More and more areas are growing in the garden, which are both beautiful to the eye but hopefully also contribute to a greater variety of flora and fauna.
Seeing everything in bloom in abundance, with the certainty that two or three cut stems would not stand out or would be missing, has also led to ever new colourful bouquets decorating our dining table or window sills. A new, colourful and pleasantly fragrant world opens up for us. Suddenly we are concerned with how flowers are cut correctly, combined in bouquets, artistically put together or dried.
Especially when guests are visiting, the best thing is to help yourself from your own garden to decorate the tables with flowers. That is why this year, in addition to all the vegetables we grow, a large number of cut flower seeds have been put into the growing pots. As with growing vegetables, it is exciting to experience the whole process and get a feeling for the effort and care that goes into each individual flower.
Hundreds of tulip, daffodil and allium were already planted in autumn and we eagerly awaited the first flower heads. While the tulips were already in the shop windows in the flower shops from February onwards, we had to wait patiently for weeks for our flowers to bloom. The daffodils started in the middle of April and even only at the beginning of May the tulips. Sure, here in Mecklenburg the climate is a bit rougher and nature is a bit behind. While only 200 kilometers away in Berlin the fruit blossom is already over, the first buds are opening here. But is it possible that a season is postponed for several months?
Since we have never really dealt with cut flowers, only a few times a year as birthday greetings or souvenirs for an invitation, the question of where exactly the flowers in the shop actually come from did not occur to us. Mass produced abroad under partly bad working conditions, treated with pesticides, cultivated in monocultures, grown under glass with high energy input, is unfortunately exactly what you find in many flower shops. There are more and more people who are creating an awareness of this issue (Slowflower movement) and are focusing on seasonality, regionality and sustainability in flower growing. After all, with a beautiful bouquet you want to bring a piece of fragrant nature into your home and not a guilty conscience. So if you are not lucky enough to have your own garden and still don’t want to do without cut flowers, you should ask the florist the next time you visit and make a specific decision for regional and seasonal flowers.
In our last post we already gave you an insight into how we organize ourselves so that we don’t lose track of seeds, varieties and cultivation. The next step is to get the vegetables into the bed in such a way that we can harvest a varied and abundant crop over as long a period as possible. But before we share our bedding plans for the new season with you, we would first like to write about an exciting topic on which all our planting plans are based.
Even though our garden structure is very geometric and orderly, we basically like it wild. With different plants, which bring different colours, heights and structures into the garden, we break up the straightness again and give the kitchen garden, even if it is artificially arranged, the necessary naturalness. We find combining plants with each other to be wonderful from a purely visual point of view. For us, however, it has another, much more important meaning.
In order to leach the soil as little as possible and prevent diseases, we grow our vegetables in mixed crops. The plants are combined in such a way that they can benefit from each other. This allows one plant to absorb nutrients from the soil that the neighbouring plant does not need or only needs in small quantities. However, plants themselves also release various substances from their metabolism that can be useful for the soil and their neighbours. This creates an interplay of giving and taking. It can take place underground through root excretion, or above ground through scents such as essential oils. Other plant properties also favour certain combinations. For example, deep-rooted plants are combined with shallow-rooted plants or high-growing plants with soil-covering ones.
This interaction promotes plant growth and, in the best case, even fends off pests and plant diseases or counteracts them preventively. Such a balance makes it possible to intervene little and can save a lot of work and annoyance.
All ecological cycles that nature has perfected over many millennia are based on this principle. Take a forest or a meadow. The individual species growing there have adapted to each other over time to form a community in which everyone gets the amount of light, water, space and nutrients they need. The goal in our bed planning is to take advantage of just such good neighborhoods between the cultivated plants and avoid bad ones. Fortunately, we can draw on knowledge and experience based on decades, sometimes even centuries, of observation to achieve this. Step by step we would like to be able to better understand and comprehend these relationships.
But first of all it helped us a lot to get an overview of the different plant families. Plants of the same family are usually not good partners. They do not have a positive effect on each other, because their nutrient requirements are similar, they attract the same pests or are vulnerable to the same diseases. So whether you grow a whole row of cucumbers, or alternate them with pumpkins and courgettes would have no effect on plant health, as all three belong to the same plant family.
At the end of this article, we have put together a detailed table so that you can easily read which crops are good neighbours and which should not be planted together. We would like to introduce you to a few mixed cultures that we have already planted successfully.
Pumpkin, corn and beans
One of the probably oldest mixed cultures is the so-called “Milpa”. For centuries the Maya and their descendants have combined the “three sisters” pumpkin, corn and runner beans. The mutual benefit takes place here on very different levels. The corn plants serve as a climbing aid for the beans, which in turn supply corn and pumpkin with nitrogen via their roots. The pumpkin covers the soil with its spreading leaves and protects it from dehydration and unwanted weeds.
Cabbage, celery/celeriac and tomatoes
Last season, one of our patches consisted of cauliflower, celeriac and tomatoes. The nutrients that the celery cannot utilize are growth-promoting for the cauliflower and thus more easily accessible. Celery’s scent also keeps cabbage pests at bay. The tomatoes also keep cabbage whiteheads away and protect the celery from rust diseases.
We also plant red and white cabbage together with tomatoes to reduce the infestation of cabbage whiteheads.
Leek and carrots
The gases emitted by the growing carrot root have a growth-promoting effect on leeks. This in turn, like other onion plants, keeps the carrot fly away.
Kohlrabi and spinach
A nice mixed culture in spring is kohlrabi and spinach. The spinach secretes saponin, which promotes the growth of kohlrabi. Many other vegetables can also benefit from this. The saponins improve the absorption of nutrients by neighbouring plants. The spinach also shades the soil and thus keeps water in the soil and annoying weeds away.
Onion plants and strawberries
Between our strawberries we put onions and garlic, as both are effective against spider mites and soil fungi due to their bactericidal and fungicidal agents. Other onion plants such as chives or leeks can also protect against strawberry grey mould.
Herbs and flowers in mixed crops
A large part of kitchen herbs can be enriching for vegetable plants. Thyme, hyssop, rosemary and sage are said to drive away cabbage white butterflies, cabbage or carrot flies by emitting scents. In general, herbs, spices and medicinal plants are among our favourite mixed cultures.
Beans and savory are not only a good combination in the cooking pot. The herb expels the bean fly and the black bean aphid. The fragrances of the savory also promote the growth and aroma of the legumes. Beetroot and salad also benefit from the seasoning herb.
French Marigold and calendula
Tagetes and calendula protect against certain species of nematodes. The nematodes occur in several thousand different species and can be useful, but most of them are harmful. By penetrating the root system, nematodes can severely impair the metabolic cycle of plants. Peas, beans, carrots, cabbage, beets, onions, leeks or potatoes especially like these usually microscopically small worms as host plants. It is therefore a good idea to cultivate them together with tagetes or calendula. Tagetes are also said to keep away certain viruses, whiteflies and lice. Between the rows, calendula have a beneficial effect on e.g. tomatoes. They excrete plant-promoting substances especially through their root system.
On the edges of beans and peas, between lettuce and spinach, chamomile promotes resistance to fungal diseases. It is also said to have a positive influence on the growth of tomatoes and their flavour.
Borage does not only look pretty in the patch, it also attracts countless insects with its many flowers. Thus it acts as an excellent pollination aid. Cucumber, zucchini and pumpkin benefit from it in particular. The spice and medicinal plant is also said to have a pest-repellent effect on kohlrabi and other cabbages. The hairy leaves also keep snails away. However, the plant should preferably be placed at the edges of the bed, as it grows enormously and can quickly compete with cultivated plants for light, water and nutrients.
It fends off harmful insects, especially lice, with its pungent odor. Here, however, you should opt for a small, ground-covering variety, as otherwise it will spread quickly in the bed and, like the marigold, will leave a lot of seeds at the end of the season. These should be harvested before maturity if the plants are not to spread wild.
Sunflowers can serve as soil conditioners. This year we want to integrate a low-growing species in the kitchen garden.
Basil also grows in various places in our garden because of its beneficial effects. We use it against mildew and whitefly, for example on cucumbers or cabbage.
Dill promotes the germination capacity of seeds and its fragrances keep pests such as aphids at bay. Carrots, cucumbers, cabbages, beetroot, onions and broad beans benefit from it. We sow dill, in many of our beds, between the vegetable plants.
Of course, it must be added that planting in mixed crops does not guarantee that you will not have any pests in the vegetable patch and only drag out full baskets of harvested produce from the garden. But growing vegetables in mixed cultivation can make a good contribution to a healthy garden. We also think it looks beautiful how the different types of vegetables grow together in the bed, colourful and on different levels.
Mixed crops table
|Artichoke||Eggplant||Cauliflower||Brokkoli||Bush bean||Chili||Chinese cabbage||Peas||Lamb's lettuce||Kale||Cucumber||Autumn turnip||Potato||Garlic||Fennel||Kohlrabi||Lettuce||Pumpkin||Leek||May turnip||Chard||Carrot||Bell pepper||Parsnip||Broad bean||Radishes||Radish||Brussel sprout||Beetroot||Red cabbage||Arugula||Black salsify||Celeriac||Asparagus||Spinach||Runner bean||Tomato||Green cabbage||Savoy cabbage||Zucchini||Sweet corn||Onion|
Good neighbours Bad neighbours
The new year is just two weeks old and already we are back in garden fever and oscillate between seed bags, tables and notes from last season.
If you, like us, grow more than 100 different varieties of vegetables, you need a little planning, especially at the beginning, in order not to lose the overview. Therefore we have created a table with which we work throughout the year.
In addition to the varieties, we note here the approximate amount of plants that we would like to grow in that year and advice on how often we should replant the crop to achieve the longest possible harvest period. In the table we find information about whether and when to germinate seeds indoors (orange colored), when they can be planted out or sown outdoors (green colored). Whether the crops should be planted outdoors or in the greenhouse and with what plant spacing. Whether they are heavy, medium or light feeders and where we have obtained the seeds from in order to buy them later if necessary. A small database that helps us to plan our garden year.
Thanks to calendar columns we can work through the list month by month and coordinate the cultivation. We use the first column in the table to mark a variety as “already sown” or, using traffic light colours, to get an overview of which varieties need to be seeded or planted in the current month with which priority.
We already made the table for the last season and so this year we only had to make a small inventory and added new varieties to the list or removed crops that we no longer want to grow. For this year, for example, we have added a few more beans and for tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers we have chosen varieties that are especially suitable for outdoors, as we would like to plant less varieties in the greenhouse.
Last year there were almost no salads in our garden. So we have extended the list for this season.
If you keep such a table year after year, it helps to develop a good routine. We can keep track of what we have planted and in what quantities, and after the season we can evaluate what we want to optimise next year. Of course the list is based on our preferences and garden size. It is our personal seed plan. Nevertheless, we would like to share the table with you, as our approach, cultivation quantities and certainly also our choice of varieties could be exciting for one or the other.
In 2018, we have just really started growing vegetables and are currently testing ourselves through different varieties to discover which we like best, but also which are well suited to our location. This is one of the reasons why we cultivate so many different varieties. We love the variety of shapes, colours and flavours and use different varieties of one species in the kitchen for very different preparations. Whether, for example, our tomatoes are freshly picked and served on bread, boiled down to make tomato sauce or dried is determined by the size, consistency and, of course, aroma of the fruit.
Our seeds are organically grown and seedfast. This enables us to obtain the seeds ourselves for certain crops. Over time, our own seed adapts itself better and better to our location and thus thrives as well as possible under the conditions prevailing here. At present, we only harvest seed from a few crops, but we would like to expand our own seed production in the coming years. Here we have to learn something new again! So it never gets boring while gardening.
Here you can download our updated seed table 2022 as ZIP file. The archive includes an Apple Numbers, Microsoft Excel and PDF file.
The garden season is slowly coming to an end. The first tomato plants in the greenhouse are harvested, the berries produce their last fruits, the potatoes are all from the ground and the walnuts fall from the tree.
Looking back on the last few months, we cannot really grasp how many full harvest baskets we carried into the kitchen. Since June we have been able to harvest the fruits of our hard work in spring, when we completely replanted our kitchen garden. Now red and white cabbage, broccoli, black cabbage, beans, leeks, celery, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, a few other varieties and lots of herbs are still growing in the garden. So we will be able to supply ourselves with the fresh harvest and our stored and preserved food for a few more weeks.
It feels so good to be able to cook with what we’ve grown ourselves. We know exactly what is involved, namely only nature. But we also know how much work and what resources we have spent to grow the vegetables. When the basis of life, food, comes from our own garden, this not only gives an enormous appreciation and a direct reference to what lands on the plate, but also an unbelievable satisfaction.
However, we cannot currently imagine being completely self-sufficient all year round. At this point it might make sense to briefly explain the term, the possible gradations and our view on it. Self-sufficiency refers to an autonomous life in all areas. One creates one’s basis of life by producing one’s own food, but also other necessary products such as clothing, medicine, etc.
When we speak of complete self-sufficiency, we are personally concerned with the cultivation of food. Fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, but also staple foods such as cereals and potatoes, own production of oil, seasonings and, if necessary, animal products such as eggs. The fact that one of us sits at the spinning wheel in the evening and carves the other wooden plate could be quite funny for a change. As a daily routine this way of living is far away.
We are often asked whether we can make a living from growing our own vegetables. The answer is quite clear: no. Many of us, and we include ourselves in this, are not even aware of the quantities of food we consume each year.
The per capita consumption of potatoes alone is just under 60 kilograms. This is probably just the total amount of potatoes we were able to harvest this year from about 100 cut potatoes on 8 x 8 metres of bedding. It is estimated that we had to share half of the harvest with the voles. But that is part of it and has to be taken into account.
Unfortunately we won’t make ends meet with our own potatoes for long. (We love potatoes and also like to eat several kilos in one week). But that is not our goal at the moment. Then we would probably already decide differently when choosing the seeds or the seed potatoes. We choose the varieties we want to plant according to taste and, for our work as food photographers, also according to appearance. They should offer us an enrichment to the commercial assortment. We are not interested in selecting the most productive potato or carrot that will bring us through the winter. Variety is more important to us than yield. So this year we ended up with our 150 different vegetable varieties.
The usable area of 200 square metres, plus potato fields, strawberry fields, fruit trees and berry bushes, which we currently cultivate, would in any case be sufficient for the self-sufficiency of two people over the year. However, we would have to organise ourselves much better in order to harvest regularly over a long period of time. This requires experience, but also a certain routine, which we simply still lack in the second garden year. Even though everything is growing splendidly here and we are incredibly satisfied with our harvest, we must not forget that we are only at the very beginning. Trying out and learning new things is a not to be sneezed at part of gardening. Again and again we research, read, implement ideas that are either directly successful or not. Then we have to start all over again. All this is a lot of fun for us, but it also requires time, which you have to invest.
The active work in the garden, on the other hand, hasn’t been so time-consuming in recent weeks. We do not have a time clock and can therefore only estimate. On average, we walked through the beds twice a week and did what we noticed: tying up an open-air tomato, piling up the leeks, sowing, removing overbearing weeds, adding mulch, fertilizing with liquid manure or similar. From the end of June, when the majority of the young plants had grown in the ground and so far that they no longer needed so much care and attention, we were not busy for more than one or two hours a week in the vegetable garden. So the effort is absolutely within limits.
If you grow in mixed cultivation, you have less to fight with pests, because of a thick mulch layer only few weeds prevail, you are not so busy with watering and you do not have to loosen the soil between the plants. With simple means we save a lot of work, which is often not conducive to a healthy soil life.
An exclusive self-sufficiency with fruit and vegetables from our own garden we can only cover this season, or at least, for about 4 months. During this period we harvest not only for our daily needs, but also large quantities that have to be processed first. The amount of work involved should not be underestimated.
Many glasses are already piled up with supplies for the winter: Preserved, fermented, dried, boiled and pickled. Of the almost 60 kilograms of tomatoes harvested so far, a good half were boiled down to tomato sauce. In the end there are still only a dozen bottles, which are incredibly delicious, but will certainly not last until the next season, not even into the next year.
As expected, the apple harvest was worse this year. After a record harvest last year, the trees first had to recover. Nevertheless, we brought more than 100 kilograms of apples to the organic moster and processed another 20 kilograms into apple sauce and stewed apples. The (small) harvest alone and the trip to the moster took almost a whole day. Picking apples, sorting them, packing them for transport, repacking them in the cider factory. Another day was spent processing the remaining apples. How many days would one spend washing, peeling, cutting, cooking, filling apples into sterile glasses and drying the skins in order to get the supplies over the year?
And that’s not all, because of course we want a colourful pantry in which the apples make up only a small fraction. Here the romantic country life, in which you wander dreamily through the blooming garden, pick something here and there and put it in your mouth, quickly becomes a full-time job.
Since we have been eating seasonally for many years anyway, we knew at least what would be on our menu at what time, how we could process and preserve the food. That was not a big change for us. Nothing has changed in our diet. We grow so many different varieties that we don’t have to do without anything. Quite the opposite! In our garden we grow wonderful vegetables, which you can rarely find at selected organic weekly markets, but never in the supermarket.
A conversion and an underestimated time factor for us was actually the processing in large quantities. This requires not only the necessary know-how but also various utensils which have to be purchased. A large preserving pot, a selection of preserving jars for the various purposes. Iron-on, twist-off or alarm jars. There is no right or wrong, better or worse, somehow every technique fulfills its purpose.
In order to process the large quantities, we have, for example, purchased a large dehydrating device but also, already last year, built multi-storey sieves on which we can dry walnuts, among other things. Crates for storage had to be brought in, an external second refrigerator, in which the enzymes are put after a few weeks, as we have no cellar. But in the long run we need more storage space. Be it just an earth rent or maybe even a small earth cellar. All this occupies us now in our spare time.
We think that vegan self-sufficiency, throughout the year, can also be possible with relatively little effort. However, only when you are 100% familiar with the system, have found a functioning system for yourself and, above all, when you have gained a lot of experience and understand the processes in nature. It will probably take years until that is the case.
The fact that we can already provide for ourselves over a relatively long period of time is not necessarily due to a green thumb, our thirst for action and knowledge, but also to the fact that there were already some treasures on our property.
An important basis for self-sufficiency are perennial crops such as trees or berry bushes, for example. In our garden there is a huge walnut tree, four cherry trees, four apple trees and a plum tree. Even if they are not all in their best years and some of them carry only little, we are very grateful not to start from scratch and to have to wait years until we can harvest anything from newly planted trees. Grapes, black, white and red currants, elderberries and raspberries have already grown here. Even meadow mushrooms are currently sprouting in large quantities from the soil. All these plants offer a maximum yield with a minimum of effort. For this reason, we would like to plant even more perennial plants in the garden and have therefore decided on our edible perennials. They form a renewable basis of herbs, which we can fall back on again and again. The same applies to perennial crops such as strawberries, rhubarb, artichokes and asparagus. Once planted, you will enjoy it for many years at best.
We are working to build a system that is as sustainable as possible, with a stock of plants, a wealth of knowledge, experience and routine, so that it is easier for us from year to year to extend the period of our self-sufficiency. Always with the premise that it must be fun for us and enrich our lives.
We live in a global consumer society. We use and consume a wide variety of consumer goods on a daily basis, often beyond our needs and resources. How can we manage to consume more consciously and sustainably and still not live in renunciation?
Together with Manufactum* we have approached this topic and invited to an event in our settler house. Many of our thoughts on conscious, sustainable consumption are reflected here. Be it in the design of the rooms, the handling of resources such as water and firewood or our food.
For us, the first thing that comes along with conscious consumption is the question of what we need in our lives and everyday life at all. These can be vital things, such as food, pots and pans to prepare them, a bed to sleep on, clothes on the body. But these can also simply be things that bring us joy every day and enrich our lives. A beautiful cast-iron teapot, a hand-forged sickle for garden maintenance, a wonderfully fragrant soap. Products that do not necessarily care for our physical but for our mental well-being.
We have consciously decided to furnish our settler house in a minimalist way. We want to avoid the accumulation of unused things, which is why we let purchase decisions go through our heads for a long time.
The reason why we often end up with the “Department Store of Good Things” when we decide on certain products is that Manufactum is very concerned with the criteria that are also important to us when it comes to purchasing new items. Since the company was founded over 30 years ago, it has been important for the company, as a counterpoint to the throwaway society, to track down products that are manufactured in a way that conserves resources and is socially acceptable, that are durable and timeless, and that convince in function and aesthetics. Tradition and proven knowledge of those craftsmen who know how to process products masterfully are just as important as new, forward-looking manufacturing processes that conserve our scarce resources. Values such as sustainability, innovation and regionality do not represent ideal rarities for Manufactum or for us, but are state-of-the-art quality characteristics. It is not only what ends up in the consumer’s shopping basket that counts, but the whole way to it and the people behind it.
We wanted to take a closer look at these points in a small round on a relaxed day in the country. For us, getting a direct connection to the products is an important step towards conscious consumption. We now have this connection directly in our own garden. During a tour of the kitchen garden, we clarified our approaches to near-natural cultivation using mixed crops, seed-solid varieties or fertilizers without chemicals. To experience how many steps are necessary and how much time passes from the small seed to the fruit bearing plant, we have created a completely new awareness for food. Our already vegetarian, regional and seasonal cuisine has been transformed by our own garden. It was important to us to share this appreciation with our guests. But also suggestions on how to make the garden more attractive for insects, birds and small animals in autumn were important to us.
Conscious consumption for us also means not wasting anything. As you know, we conserve our surplus harvest by preserving. Instead of colourless preserves, as they are still piled up in various cellars and dust, we store sauerkraut kimchi, zucchini chips, semi-dried tomatoes in oil, spicy cucumbers, bright red dried strawberries, forest fruit jam and Co. in our larder. In a small workshop we introduced our guests to the different methods of preservation. Together we put our noses into all the jars of fermented and dried food, tasted them of course and then prepared a cucumber kimchi and sauerkraut from red cabbage and apples. We have found all the necessary utensils for preserving such as drying utensils, dry grids, preserving jars, cooking pot, cabbage slicer, etc. in the extensive assortment of Manufactum.
By the way, it was really uncomfortable up here in the north in the days before our event. Wind whipped the rain to the windows and we just wanted to hide in bed. Therefore we are incredibly grateful for the great weather at the event! So we were able to prepare dinner on the fire as we had wished. Potatoes were sizzling in cast iron pots next to young carrots and mixed mushrooms. Our preserved supplies were part of our recipes. We served baked potatoes with grape chutney and fried sage, apple with tarragon oil and elder capers, fried mushrooms with herbs, grilled carrots with fermented garlic and hazelnuts. As a sweet finish, there was fried pear with walnut-rye crumble and a sauce of rowan ash.
In order to be able to enjoy the menu guaranteed in dry and warm weather, we have transformed our shed, which over the years had accumulated many layers of dust and cobwebs, in which shingles, stones and junk piled up, into a cosy room for dinner in the preceding days. With muscle power, verve, shovel and broom we faced the whole thing. But the preparations for the day had also started weeks or even months before on many other levels. Especially for the event, we planted certain flowers in our garden, so that this time the decoration would be completely in our own hands, also from the point of view of conscious consumption. The energy expenditure for our flowers went to zero. No transport routes, no cooling, not even a regular watering of the beds was necessary. Besides the fresh flowers like dahlias and sunflowers, we started to dry strawflowers and grasses in summer. We can use the dried bouquets again and again and reassemble them with fresh seasonal elements. It was a lot of fun and with the result of having gained a new room, we are incredibly happy.
To let this special day end at the fire was the crowning conclusion of the event for us.
We would like to thank our guests for taking the road here, Manufactum for trusting us again and making this day possible in the first place. A big thank you goes to Ben Donath, who supported us again in the kitchen and to Lisa Strube for her energetic help!
*This post is created in cooperation with Manufactum. Even though we were paid for this article, we give our own opinion uninfluenced. We had full rein over text and content of this article.
Our garden is in full bloom, or should we say: in full fruit? It is not tending the plants which is effortful these days, but the harvest itself. Every day we have something in our basket and the work in the garden stretches into our kitchen. We cannot consume all the vegetables and fruits while they are still fresh. Without a cellar or a huge fridge, we lack the storage, thus having to preserve all the veggies shortly after we harvested them. By preserving, fermenting, bottling and pickling them, we preserve the fruits and vegetables for the upcoming cold months, when our garden will be almost empty, apart from some winter vegetables.
We want to introduce you to another method of preserving: dehydrating. While browsing Keimling Naturkost a few years ago, we discovered the dehydrator Excalibur Mini. For everyday use in our two person household it is perfect. It is light and space-saving. However, we outgrew it with our garden and the masses of cherries, apples, berries and different vegetables. We needed something bigger! The dehydrator Excalibur EXC10EL made of stainless steel has been on our wishlist quite some time now. Thus, a request for a collaboration with Keimling came just in the nick of time. Keimling Naturkost stands for a raw diet, offers only vegan high quality and is the right port of call for sustainably produced products and which fit the vegan nutrition. Of their enormous range of products we especially value the devices for processing food like the professional blender, juicer and dehydrator. Our Personal Blender, the juicer by Kuvings and the powerful Vitamix have been reliable heavy workers in our kitchen for years. We could test the professional dehydrator, too. In contrast to its smallest brother (Keimling offers different sizes and models of Excalibur and other dehydrators), which we could unpack and wrap again when we needed it, the new device has its own place in our kitchen now and is used on a regular basis now. We never prepared so much food in the dehydrator as this year!
Before we will tell you more about the device, we want to focus on the method itself. In times when fruits and vegetables are available in supermarkets all year round, only few think about the old and a bit dusty method of dehydrating. Yet, it is a great method of conserving seasonal food for the winter months even if you don’t own a garden. If you buy seasonal you are not only buying more sustainable and cheaper, but also get the best possible flavour and rich nutritions. Why should you buy tasteless fruits and vegetables out of the green house or from the end of the world if you can preserve the taste of summer perfectly?
Dehydrating is one of the oldest and easiest methods of conservation. By dehydrating the food, microorganisms lack the livelihood, thus extending the storability. Furthermore, the fruit’s or vegetable’s flavour intensifies.
If you have ever ate dried strawberries you know it is hard to get away from them. Especially children are excited about them. Yannic still remembers the fruit leather his mother made and which he and his sisters loved so much as children. We love adding dried fruits like berries and cherries to our oat meal or as powder to desserts. Taste and optics of fruit powder is just unique.
However, this season we experimented especially with savoury recipes. We tried granulated vegetable broth of carrots, celery, parsnip, onion, garlic, parsley and lovage is a natural, self-made seasoning, and also different salts with Mediterranean herbs or dried tomatoes.
We rolled onions in flour, fried them in a pan and dried them afterwards, so now we have fried onions at hand. We already snack zucchini and black cabbage chips or spicy crispbread while we make it and they probably won’t even make the first weeks. The dried mushrooms smell delicious, and our noses just don’t want to get out of the glasses with the dried flowers. We already showed you a herb tea mix on our blog, now we also have a fruit tea of rose-hips, apples and calendula. What a flavour!
The list could go on and on, and the ideas for recipes we want to realize with the dehydrator won’t get less, either.
The good news is, we can experiment endlessly. Drying is very space-saving as the volume of the dehydrated goods decreases a lot. Instead of producing oodles of the same type of jam or a ferment, dehydrating concentrates the flavour on small space. This saves storage and does not have to be cooled. Also, you don’t have to prepare anything apart from cleaning, cutting and maybe seasoning the fruits and vegetables, which makes dehydrating also a time saving method. Additionally, you don’t have to consider too much, so you don’t have to agonise about whether you did everything right. You should only cut off damaged spots and dehydrate at low temperature to keep as much goodness as possible.
Let’s get to the facts about the Excalibur EXC10EL Dehydrator. The device has a digital thermostat ranging from 35°C to 74°C and a timer. You can easily program everything you need to get a prefect drying outcome. No overdrying when the dehydrator dries too long over night or you left the house while the dehydrator did its work. The device being made of stainless steel is a plus for us, despite the weight. Because of the sturdy construction we can be sure to have decades with it ahead of us. 10 slides provide a large drying space, on which we can dehydrate fruits and vegetables in bucketfuls. Due to the see through two-winged glass doors you always see what’s happening inside and can easily take out the slides or put more in. A compartment for crumbs makes cleaning easy, special drying foils enable the drying of purees and prevent moist ingredients from sticking to the sheets.
We don’t want to get too technical, but some of the details are definitely worth mentioning. The Excalibur EXC10E works with hyperwave technology. The air temperature is always about the chosen temperature. The reason is that surface moisture evaporates fast as soon as the air temperature rises. The fluctuating air temperature (hyperwave technology) supports keeping a constant temperature. Also, the dual dehydration mode is about evaporation chill, which we are really excited about. The dual dehydration mode enables us to program two temperatures. Starting the dehydrating, the temperature within the goods is, due to the evaporation chill, lower than the programmed temperature. Because of this, you can easily program a 10°C higher temperature and still dry in raw food quality to keep the vitamins in fruits and vegetables. Afterwards, the device changes the temperature and time to second programmed ones. This way, the process of dehydration is way faster, of course.
We are incredibly excited to tease out pure flavour in the dehydrator and to handle fruits and vegetables in all new ideas.
*This article was written in cooperation with Keimling Naturkost GmbH. We were remunerated for it, yet we share our own unaffected opinion. We had free reign over content and text in this article. Thank you for the wonderful cooperation!
Again and Again we tell you about how the people in our neighbourhood in Mecklenburg delight us. All the wonderful, inspiring acquaintances contribute a lot to us feeling so home here. You have probably already read about one of them, Olaf Schnelle*. We put his ideas to rearrange our garden to work and now have the beautiful perennials around our greenhouse. He gave us the crucial impulse to completely start over this season and to bring everything from the back part of our garden to the front of the greenhouse. The work paid off!
We’ve been following Olaf’s work enthusiastically for years and are happy about the exchange with a professional for gardening and fermenting like him. About the last topic we’ve been talking recently when we visited him in his garden. We raved about his wild romantic paradise and how it inspired us in another article. In his garden, it is so easy for us to let our minds wander and to get creative. Together, we tinkered some recipes in which Olaf’s ferments where the main part, plus some vegetables from his nursery, roasted over open fire. A perfect combination. The result were five different dishes. It was an exciting, creative process which culminated in a delicious dinner!
Our little summer BBQ menu included a refreshing cucumber drink with dill and the juice of Olaf’s sauerkraut with grand fir. The stems of the lettuce Olaf marinated in oil and his fermented chili paste. He mixed fermented lavender beet with dill and a bit of olive oil to a dressing. We were especially inspired by the stems of the flowering lettuce because we never thought about them being edible. Learning never stops!
Our contribution to the BBQ were savoury buns stuffed with tarragon, fermented mustard and a bit honey, a vegetable stir-fry of young fennel, onions and fermented beet root. Additionally, young baked celery which we marinated in the brine of fermented celery with quinces and a bit of salt and honey. Some of the ferments we served as antipasti with oil and herbs, and ready was our special dinner.
At the moment, we are occupied with fermenting, preserving and pickling, or dehydrating to preserve our garden’s harvest. It is pretty time consuming, but we feel more than ever how rewarding a large pantry is. When we lack the time for cooking – or the inspiration – we can easily transform a despicable dish into a culinary delight.
If you don’t have the leisure to experiment, you will find everything you need in Olaf’s shop: beet with woodruff, carrot with elderberry, horseradish mustard, sauerkraut with grand fir, celery with quince or thyme, white beet with lavender, coleslaw, chili paste, herb salt and other exciting ferments are ready for your order. Of course, we have tried almost everything and created, for example, a bean salad with white beet, hummus with fermented beet, or potato pancake with fermented red cabbage. You also find the recipes at Olaf’s. Check it out!
*This post contains several links to the website of Schnelles Grünzeug. We are enthusiastic about the products and would like to support Olaf. We were not paid for this article and have not received any material compensation.
This year, our garden got enriched with many more plants, thus also more insects. Thanks to the uncountable blooming herbs, perennials and flowers, there is humming and buzzing in every corner. What a spectacle! Beside many species of wild bees, bumblebees and butterflies, also honeybees feast on the flowers’ nectar. This is no accident, we became beekeepers! Two bee-colonies are living in our garden this year. We dreamt about this for some time now, because bees just belong to a natural garden. We did not have the pollination or the honey in mind as much as our fascination for these creatures.
We could not get down to work completely clueless, of course. We were especially interested in alternative ways of beekeeping, and stumbled across the species-appropriate beekeeping and Mellifera e. V.. Since the middle of the 80s, the society advocates for a beekeeping which focuses on the natural needs of a bee colony. Sustainable, ecological, and species-appropriate.
The goal: “A world in tune with bee, humans and nature.” Mellifera does a lot of research work at the society owned teaching and experimental honey farm “Fischersmühle”, offers nationwide knowledge transfer, exchange via the regional Mellifera groups and also founded different initiatives like the „Netzwerk Blühende Landschaft“, „Bienen machen Schule“ or the „Bündnis zum Schutz der Bienen“. Mellifera campaigns for the bees and against a bee hostile environment.
We were really excited, so without further ado we took the course “with bees through the year” at the Berlin Princess Garden. At five dates we learned about the species-appropriate beekeeping. Of course, there was not only instructive theory, but also a lot of practical work with the colonies. After the first meeting we knew already we wanted to start with own bees the very same year, to have the possibility to ask for help if any questions occurred. But what exactly does species-appropriate mean?
Species-appropriate beekeeping is guided by the natural need of a bee colony.
Using the species-appropriate beekeeping, the bee is not seen as an individual, but all bees at the colony are viewed as one organic being. One of the important aspects, is reproduction via the natural bee swarm. This is based on a bee queen, created by the own colony, and the autonomous building of honeycombs. This way, a healthy colony life can evolve. A colony organism. Another difference of species-appropriate beekeeping in contrast to conventional beekeeping is reproduction. In conventional beekeeping the queen is fertilized artificially. The semen is taken from only one or two drones. During the natural mating flight, however, the queen collects semen from ten to twenty drones, which provides a way higher diversity and possibility of adaption of the bee. In conventional beekeeping, the bees are adjusted to the needs of the bee keeper, which means the main focus is on an as high as possible honey production. For that, specifically bred gene material is brought into the swarm, natural swarm activities are suppressed, plus you work with prefabricated wax foundation in the frames. You might think this is easier for the bees if a part of its honeycombs is already prepared.
Honeybees have been building their honeycombs since about 100 million years. They not only store the honey in them and raise new bees, but the honeycombs also work as a resonating body which carries on vibes. It is the most important communication tool for the bees, which dance on the combs to let other worker bees know, where they find nectar and pollen. A prefabricated, thick foundation complicates the whole process, of course. The colony manages to withstand this intervention. Without its enormous adaptation ability this species would not have been able to adapt to all the changes in environmental and life conditions during the last millions of years. However, humans have contributed to the bees not being able to survive on their own with their interventions, allegedly breeding optimizations and environmental destruction. What millions of years of evolution accomplished is destroyed by man within a few decades. But enough of the doom-mongering! Actually, we want to write about the beautiful and fascinating experiences we made during the past months.
Let’s start with the birth of a new bee colony and how we got to our bees. In swarming season, which is between May and June, strong bee colonies use the abundance of nectar and pollen to separate. You can recognize it already at the so called queen cells. These are cells in which new queen bees are brought up. The old queen moves out of the hive with a part of the colony before the young queens emerge.
They form a swarm which for example gathers in a cluster beneath a branch. Watching this spectacle of nature is a unique experience. During our beekeeping course, we were able to watch that spectacle even twice. Watch the bees tumbling out of the flight hole like kids out of school at the beginning of summer break. You can literally see the excitement for something new.
In the air above our heads a black cloud of small dancing bees was buzzing, finding themselves to one organism.
Even though thousands of bees rose to the sky, the queasy feeling soon was replaced by pure excitement. In this moment, the bees had neither eyes nor ears for us tiny humans. Loaded with honey for three days, prepared for looking for a new home, there was no thought wasted on attacking. What did they have to defend, anyway? Leaving the hive behind, they had everything they had – the honey – with them.
As impressive as the spectacle itself was the catching of the swarms. One was a few meters high in a tree at Prinzessinnen Gärten. With a high ladder and a rod quite a few meters long, which had a sack to catch the swarm at the end, our course tutor Heinz Risse caught the bee swarm and put it into a swarm box, so it could move into a beehives. We were also just waiting for such an opportunity. Our one-box hives by Mellifera were waiting fully prepared, painted in red and yellow, for the bees to move in. We chose this hive system because it is seemed to be the best for the start. The frame size is ideal for the natural building of honeycombs, and allows a big cohesive nidus. There, the offspring will be raised. The honey stocks will be stored at the far end from the flight hole as bees do it naturally.
Other hives are structured like this hive, as well, but in contrast to the one-box hive, they don’t give too much insight into the bee colony and its processes. We dearly wanted to observe, study and understand. For that, only the inhabitants were missing. We waited impatiently for someone to catch a swarm in our area. At Mellifera’s swarm share you can sign up as someone looking for a swarm to be noticed about swarms to be passed on. At the beginning of May the time had come: our first swarm moved into the red hive. We basically let them come into port. You read correctly. Instead of throwing them into their new home without them having a clue, we rolled out the red carpet. Well, it was white, but you get the idea. And again, we could just watch in awe, mouths agape. The first bees inspected the hive rather fast and happily started dancing to call their sisters. A few followed into the hive and finally, a whole stream of bees entered through the flight hole. If you experienced a swarm this way, you cannot think otherwise of the colony as one unit, a super organism. This mass of bees, no millimeter between them, mouths interacting with each other, small legs clinging to each other.
A bee is like a cell in a human body, the combs like the bones. The wholeness of everything is the living being.
After moving in, the decorating started straight away. After only a few days, the wooden frames were already filled partly in milky white, perfectly formed combs. The building material, small wax scales, the bees sweat from glands on their abdomen. Incredible! Such thing made by nature man cannot outmatch.
Due to lucky coincidence, we were part of catching our second bee swarm. Over the Mellifera network we got to know Helmut Lutsch who engages in beekeeping following the same principles. It was important to us to connect with someone in our region you can exchange knowledge and experiences. Since Helmut, too, does not hinder his bees from swarming, a part of one of his colonies was found at eye level at a staghorn sumac. The cluster of bees was beautiful to watch. We are incredibly thankful for him calling us to be there when he catches the swarm and handing it to us in the end.
Together, we let the bees move in, just like the first swarm. In the weeks after, our new yard inhabitants gave us a lot to think about. Especially about animal farming and man’s impact on nature.
Curiosity is just an inherent characteristic of humans. As much as we wanted the bees to be bees, as much did we want to know if everything is alright. So we glimpsed once a week into the hives. We checked if the young queen bees (both were afterswarms) already copulated, if the bee larvas can be seen in the honeycombs, how much pollen and nectar the bees already had collected.
We wanted to see how the honeycomb building proceeds, if they need more frames, and so on. Every day we were sitting on the bench next to the red hive and watched the busy drive from the outside. We saw bees with full pollen pellets rushing through the flight hole. Beside worker bees (female) we also saw drones (male), which look way more plump, but one bee we could not find: the queen bee. She must have been there since there was new breed, which meant, the wedding flight was successful and the offspring grown in the honeycombs. After four weeks, we finally saw her and the joy was overwhelming.
We quickly learned that every bee colony is as different as every human. The first colony we got, with only a few weeks ahead in the year, suddenly exploded. They built day and night, stocked pollen in every colour of the rainbow in the combs, processed nectar to golden honey, and they became more and more. The second colony still takes its time, builds leisurely, grows slowly. The bees gave us even more trust in nature. We do not understand everything they do or don’t do. There is no manual. Bees are individuals, not machines. We don’t want to direct them, don’t want to show them how to do things right. Because basically they are the only ones to know what they need. How should we humans understand? We are humans, not bees. We are the ones who can learn from them, not the other way round.
If you embark on the fascination of bees, it’s hard to let go.
At least we feel this way. It is incredible how at the peak of a colony development 40.000 individual organisms build on entity. It is almost unbelievable, what every single honey bee achieves for the group, how much one bee devotes itself! In summer, a worker bee’s life does not last longer than six weeks. After the cleaning, nursing and security duty, the worker bees start learning to fly in front of the flight hole after almost half their lifespan. Only then they emerge into the outer world to the flowers. The second half of its short life the bee is flying around and still it adds a lot to the colony. She flies out several times a day, visiting about 1000 flowers on a route of 15 kilometers in total in an area covering 50 square kilometer. For a honey glass of 500 grams bees fly a total of 120.000 kilometers. That are three circumnavigations! If you put so much work into something, you should have the right to feed on it as well. We think, the collectors have the right to their own honey. It is the food storage which provides for the hive during winter. Beside glucose and fructose, honey includes different vitamins, amino acids and minerals.
In contrast to species-appropriate beekeeping, conventional beekeeping just exchanges the fluid gold with mere sugar water, which of course does not contain all the minerals and vitamins. Withal, bees even collect way more honey than they need. They could easily keep the stock they need for the winter and the beekeeper still would have enough bread with honey on it. Up to 15 kilograms surplus you can gain from one colony alone, without taking the dire needed nutrition for the cold months away.
Since our bee colonies are both afterswarms, they needed time but especially energy, and thus a huge part of the collected nectar for building new honey combs. Therefore, we won’t take any honey away before winter, but will wait until spring. We’ll be patient until the bees go on a huge flight again. Only then we can be sure not to be taking away the good so important for their survival. For the rest of the summer, we will be watching the hustle and bustle at the flight hole and hope that our bees collect enough supplies to get well through winter.
f you are infected with the bee fever now, too, and also want to start with beekeeping, we can warmly recommend the bee course by Mellifera. But even without own bees you can help creating a bee-friendly environment for wild and honeybees. Everyone can help providing nutrition. You can plant mixed flowers in your garden or on your balcony. Also, around the lawn you can plant such a meadow for bees. Hedges and fruit plants bring additional blossoms into the garden. Insects love that and we get, thanks to pollinations from the bees, delicious fruits. Who neither has a balcony nor a garden can support the Netzwerk Blühende Landschaften (Network Blooming Landscapes) with a sponsorship.
But also knowledge about and an awareness for these animals can help. At the end of August, a very special conference is held in Berlin with super interesting, international bee experts. Also, you can book a Zeidlerei workshop where you can learn how to build log hives. We are looking forward to this event so much. Maybe we meet one or another of you guys there. All information about the conference you find on the website of Learning from the Bees Berlin.
*This article includes some links to the website of Mellifera e.V. We are excited about the society and want to support the network of species appropriate beekeeping. We were not paid for this article or received other remuneration.
When we look at our garden, we feel a little bit like our grandparents who tousle their grandchild’s hair and say: you’ve grown so much! There is pride, an enormous fascination for nature, her small and big changes, and also bliss.
Before we give insight in what we’ve been doing the last weeks here, we want to show you a most notably enrichment to our vegetable garden.
As you already know, we planted a few hundred edible perennials on over 40m² around our green house in spring. We hoped to improve our garden visually and culinarily, but also to provide a playground for all kinds of insects. However, to look a lush blooming beauty after only a few weeks we never dared to dream. The perennials look like garden veterans already. And when we watch the busy activities of wild and honey bees, bumble bees and other insects, it was one of the best decisions we made for the relocation of our vegetable garden. We did not even had to research or plan, we only discovered the already composed perennial sets by durchgeblueht.de. It is a cooperation by Michael Simonsen and Olaf Schnelle. We decided on „Gruß aus der Lausitz“, „Kräutermischung Halbschatten“, „Mediterrane Kräuter“, „Essbare Blüten blau-weiss-rot“ and „Pizza“. The biggest patch was reserved for the beautiful „Teemischung Blütenelixier“.
We always harvested the herbs fresh for our daily need. Especially the tea herbs grew rampant and needed a first pruning back. We used this opportunity to dry huge share of anise-hyssop, lady’s mantle, java apple, various mints and melissa, sage, lavender, and thyme.
On a warm, sunny midmorning we harvested the herbs in whole sprouts. Before noon, the herbs have the most essential oils. Since we wanted to conserve these with easy air drying, we did not wash the herbs. Shortly shaking them out is enough. By doing this, the drying process is kept short and the flavour is the strongest.
Depending on the herbs, we loosely bound ten sprouts maximum to two dozen bouquets with yarn and hung them on our attic heads down. What a scent! The optimal temperature for drying is about 35°C. When it’s over 45°, some of the essential oils already get lost. Who wants to dry the herbs in a dehydrator or in the oven should not exceed this temperature. When the herbs rustle and brittle easily between the fingers, they are ready. Depending on the temperature, this can take days or weeks. Pluck the leaves as a whole, if possible, from the stems, fill them in dry, airtight glasses and store them light protected. This way you can conserve the summer feeling all year round.
It’s the end of May already and finally, everything in our garden comes together. Since our last report a lot happened. The patches are all encircled and ready for planting. While preparing we encountered a few surprises which cost us hours, ah, days of work. Not to mention our nerves. But we want to spare you from the horrific details and us from the memories. It is way nicer to talk about the most plants being planted and growing great. Diverse herbs, fennel, radishes and spinach were already harvested galore. Peas are twining up the climbing support, and bit by bit the late vegetable kinds are planted. This year, we have over 150 different varieties. 12 different kinds tomatoes alone, and 8 varieties of potatoes. We especially stressed on rare heirloom vegetables. Ideally, the seeds are regional. This way, the plants are adapted perfectly for the climate in Mecklenburg.
Beside the many kinds of vegetables, we also planted a lot of edible perennials on over 40m² around our green house. The count 360 plants, including varieties like adder’s wort, daylilly, echinacea, lavender, anis hyssop, mallow, bluebell, lady’s mantle, sweet cicely, common violet, horned pansy, just to name a few. The perennials are well-matched so we have edible flowers, petals and seeds all year round. With their different leaves and heights the plants not only add to a beautiful scenery, they also go well with their neighbours. They will be a great addition to our cuisine, but also have an effect on our garden. The perennials won’t be planned and planted new every year, unlike our vegetable patches, but are planned for years, thus showing their splendour every year again. The shifted and thus long blooming time will not only bring us joy, but also to the many wild bees we see here again and again. In Germany, there are over 500 different types of wild bees. Crazy, right? However, as you might know, a lot of them are endangered or even at the brink of extinction already. This is mainly due to the specific plants the bees specialised on to feed. Most bees are also specialised on their nesting place and need special building material and other details, which disappear more and more.
Instead of biodiversity the bees only find monocultures. We can see the beauty in the rich yellow rape fields. However, this is barely nature, actually, they even add to the environmental destruction. Don’t even get us started on gen technology, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In our little cosmos, we want to do things differently. We want to see ourselves what it means to enrich nature with our possibilities instead of just exploiting it. Sometimes, that’s not easy. Especially, since we need to gather experience and knowledge to act and live sustainable.
Maybe you remember our first thoughts, over a year ago, concerning our kitchen garden. We had the idea, inspired by books on permaculture, to give every plant the perfect spot on our 3.000m² and create little habitats in which flora and fauna could grow in accordance with and enrich each other. However, already last year we decided on a more classic cottage garden. Clear geometrical structures not only help us with the cultivation but also with the care for and harvest of our vegetables. Of course, we did not tally the idea of permaculture completely. We actually see it more as a philosophy rather than a concrete way of gardening. We want to follow the core idea of this philosophy: with nature, not against it. In a close-to-nature cottage garden a lot of permacultural aspects are important, anyway. Natural cycles can also have structured forms. For us, a deliberate crop rotation and intercropping are part of it as well as a thick layer of mulch made of grass on the patches, the preparing of natural resources as muck, broths, and teas. This just as a quick note, since we wrote about that somewhen else already.
Working with nature also means to provide space for useful creatures. Before we finally find the time to rest in a hammock in our garden, we probably build another house for wild bees, pile stones and wood for hedgehogs, insects, small reptiles and amphibians. Maybe it’s just a drop in the bucket. We can’t stop the drastic changes of our world. But maybe we can inspire one or another to act like us and to discover the fascination for nature’s routines.
It’s been about one year and a half since our last Rustic & Raw workshop, until in the middle of April six new participants hot the road to Mecklenburg. For us, it is an incredible feeling every time again to see how people from Germany, Switzerland and Austria want to be part of this adventure. Our Rustic & Raw workshop is exactly this every time: a little adventure. It is so much more than just a photography and food styling workshop. The four days are intensive, inspiring, personal, and they live off the fact that everyone moves a bit outside their comfort zone.
For us, to host a workshop again after such a long time was special for another reason as well. It was the first one in our own house. The participants were accommodated in Christina’s and Knut’s “Alte Schule” again, but they spent most of the time at our house. How beautiful to share the magic we experience everyday with other people! Within our own four walls, which we also call our living studio, the participants could get a good feeling for how we work. Under which conditions, with which techniques, how our fund of undergrounds and utensils looks like. This way, we could show under real conditions that with day light and few accessories you can shoot beautiful food photos in every room of the house.
Apart from a few theoretic lessons about documentary photography, photo technics, working with daylight, and food styling, we love to give lots of time and room for creativity: cooking together, having a fling on photo shooting or just getting lost in deep conversations. The participants always create an own dynamic, making every workshop unique.
To host the workshop in a week at the beginning of spring was a bit unpleasant concerning the weather, which invited us all to our ovens. Yannic, of course, insisted on cooking over open fire outside. He cooked black bean burger with coleslaw, spicy ketchup and smoked onions. To make sure we did not freeze our asses off, we emptied our green house, decorated it with candles and blooming twigs, and marveled at the sunset. What a special evening!
It is always a wonderful feeling to connect people with our two favourite topics, photography and cooking. Even if it is only for four days we spend together, saying goodbye is always hard. It might sound cheesy, but we do not only farewell participants, but people we have closed in our hearts. Thank you, Lisa, Caro, Deniz, Juliane, Angela and Barbara, for joining us. And a huge thank you to you, Lisa, not only for your help and support, but also for enriching our group!
The time of transition between winter and spring is dreamily beautiful and incredible. Nature changes every day when she awakens from her winter sleep. Here in the countryside we see it even more. Every new little plant sprouting from the soil is marvelled at. Even a simple deadnettle with her soft violet blossoms becomes an attraction. Beside these little joys big feelings grow, too. When the sun tickles the frost from the grass, for example, and the scenery is covered in fog soon after, from which cranes rise, telling you full-throatedly of their existence. It is incredibly fascinating to watch these elegant animals, which are bustling on the field in front of our house since a few days. To wake up like this every morning makes all the little things you rack your brain about during the day seem so unimportant.
Natures euphoric mood wakens our own thirst for action to finally start preparing our garden. Last spring, we prepared patches for weeks, dug them up and edged them. This new gardening season should have less preparation. We planned on relying on the already built structures, just loosen up the earth a bit and pluck some weed, which made itself a home over the winter.
However, we decided shortly to change this plan and to set up a completely new vegetable garden and to give our property a new structure. We fell in love with the idea to combine vegetable garden and green house. It shortens the ways and also makes it easier to care for the plants. So again, we started at zero and had to convert weeded grassland into bed plots. This time, however, not by hand but we brought in the big guns. How nice it is to call helpful gardeners with the necessary machines our friends.
Olaf Schnelle grows heirloom vegetables, herbs and wild plants. We especially love the ferments he prepares from his harvest. Carrot in elderflower, ringed beet with woodruff, sauerkraut with grand fir, celery with quince, or beet root with currant wood are only a few of them. And all of them are delicious and on top of that very healthy.
Next to his vegetable fields, Olaf has a beautiful garden around his farmhouse with a thatched roof. During our first visit we could not believe it is the same size as our own. It feels way more spacious. As a trained landscaper, Olaf knows the little and the big tricks, and with a lot of sensitiveness, he created beautiful places in his garden. We were so inspired we asked him to help us to bring some structure into our 3000m² property. It is not that easy to plan years ahead and to envision how the plants will develop. Thus, we are thankful for all the ideas, the great support, and of course for the culinary inspiration Olaf gave us. People like him are a big part of why we feel so comfortable here in Mecklenburg.
Despite professional machines we still needed our own muscles. Around our green house we created an area of 150m² productive land, on which we want to grow all sorts of vegetables, but also some perennials. The old spot we grew our vegetables on will be used as a further potato field. However, bit by bit we want to convert this part around our barn into a nibble garden.
A wild fruit hedge of blackthorn, juneberry, elder berry, seabuckthorn, cornel cherry and other exciting bushes shall form the edge of the property. But also classics like raspberry, blackberry, and gooseberry won’t be missed between the cherry and apple trees. Yet, we will wait until autumn since the berries will grow better, and we want to concentrate on our vegetable garden for now, anyway.
To structure our vegetable garden we decided to build some raised beds. The larch wood was cut in the sawmill for us, so with drill and screwdriver we had 7 beds in the blink of an eye. Beside being a structure element for our garden, they shall protect the plants from pests, especially voles. For that, we installed a close-meshed wire on the bottom of the boxes. We will see if it works and if we will have more of fennel, celery and other vegetables the little mice are hungry for. Try and learn, that’s our motto for gardening. This way, we had, apart from our success, also some failures during our first gardening season last year, from which we now benefit by improving and optimizing our system (hopefully!).
Part of that is the irrigation, for example. For the energy and irrigation in our green house, Yannic dug a 60 centimeter deep and 50 meter long trench. What a work! But now we can easily access water from water outlets and don’t have to work with kilometers long hoses. Furthermore, this new systems gives us the opportunity of an automatic irrigation like dripping hoses in our green house.
Not only the preparation of our patches is in full work, we also started growing the young plants a few weeks ago. After being pretty late with everything last year, we wanted to be better prepared this year. Some of the plants like paprika are ready to be pricked.
Since we can’t keep all of the young plants in our house anymore, we built a little green house in our green house. With the help of a heating mat we can keep the temperature at a rather constant level, so the little plants won’t freeze over night. The energy expenditure is rather low since we only have to heat a little space instead of the whole green house. Plus, a wonderful climate evolves in the little green house, so the plants don’t have to be watered as often. It is great to start the whole propagation in our green house. Dry and protected from the wind, we have enough space to work and the young plants get the best exposure to light. Even if caring for the plant children has a lot to do with watching for us it feels great to finally work a bit more professional to have the best conditions for a rich harvest.
The reason for all our work with the propagation of seed are the unusual and heirloom varieties we can grow this way. For us it is important to get the seed from our region since the seeds were taken from plants that are used to the climate and conditions. They should feel home right away in our garden and not be surprised by the raw climate in Mecklenburg. But every season has their surprise, no matter how well you are prepared. We take a pot luck how this season goes on and of course we keep you updated.
Almost exactly one year ago we cut the first sod in our garden. We never dared to dream how richly it provided during the first season.
We last reported about it four months ago. After that, we could harvest some longer, but we finally had to prepare our garden for the winter. The raked up leaves serve as a warming layer on the patches and protects our young trees from frost. Also, they serve as a home for hedgehogs, insects and others. The leaves are converted by micro organisms and other small animals into hummus, thus strengthen the soil.
Now, it is quiet in our garden since it is left more or less to itself. However, we still get excited about some small harvests. Red cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, savoy and even some small white cabbages were waiting on the patches to be reaped. At the end of January, we got some herbs and even some small broccolis. Apart from that, we were delighted about our pickled summer vegetables.
The last grilled and pickled zucchini had to go a few days ago.
However, half dried tomatoes in oil, tomato sauce, pickled cucumbers, jams, dried cherries, our ardently loves apple juice, sauerkraut, and other ferments let us remember a fruitful summer. We keep our fingers crossed that it was not just beginner’s luck, and that we even might increase the outcome next gardening season.
We already made new plans. After a careful check on our seeds, the first were already planted. We are looking forward to telling more about our garden, the growing plants and the harvest. We hope to inspire one or the other to grab a shovel themselves.
Even the tiniest spot can bring you the joy of gardening, and be it just the herbs on the windowsill. Not too long ago, we used every free spot on our balcony to grow herbs and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and peas. Every plucked fruit causes joy.
Are you gardening yourself, or do you plan to do it this year? Tell us about your ideas and thoughts!
What comes to your mind when you think of a healthy pantry? Nuts, legumes, fermented or canned vegetables, self-made marmalades, chutneys, broths, pastes, and all kinds of this stuff, filled in glasses, stocked for use? At least, this is what our pantry looks like. Yet, a much bigger, multyfaceted, surprising and incredibly healthy pantry opens before our eyes: nature! Visit Sweden* wants to call attention to this natural pantry with a special initiative.
With ingredients picked straight from nature, the four top chefs Titti Qvarnström, Niklas Ekstedt, Jacob Holmström und Anton Bjuhr created a menu together. The recipes and a detailed manual how to prepare them make it possible for anyone to cook them in nature itself. The initiative is an open invitation to dive into Sweden’s landscape and to enjoy its variety.
It shall bring us closer to what was natural once: the knowledge about wild growing, edible plants. The project wants to show, how easy and accessible healthy food can be. Berries, mushrooms, herbs and much more grows in Sweden’s fabulous and diverse environment. You just have to grab it.
For us, the idea behind The Edible Country could be a base to place confidence again into the grapes of nature. Do you, too, hear your parents warn you “Don’t eat wild berries! The fox tapeworm is life-threatening!” This way, you suck in a fear of nature starting in your childhood. Sure, you should know what you do, and not start collecting without background knowledge, but is this not the key? Imparting knowledge instead of warnings and restraints? Isn’t it absurd that we rely more on what the industry serves us in the supermarkets instead of on the origin of our food, and on the most natural way to collect and process them ourselves? Just this process is balm for the soul.