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.
We're harvesting baskets full of peas and broad beans in the garden these days. In our new cookbook "Erde, Salz & Glut" there are some favourite recipes with these ingredients, like the puree of grilled broad beans (p.59). For this, we like to place the beans on a grill over the embers at the end of a barbecue evening and process them further the next day. Grilling them in their own pod gives the beans a great smoky flavour and a slightly mealy texture, which is ideal for the puree. However, the broad beans can also be roasted in the oven at 220°C on the top rack for about 20 minutes. For a smoky flavour, the bean purée can then be seasoned with smoked salt.
Another favourite at this harvest time are the roasted peas on einkorn wheat flatbread (p.54) or roasted fennel with peas, broad beans and sourdough bread (p.73).
Grill the beans in their pods on a grill rack over the fire for 10-15 minutes until they are soft inside. (Some of the pods will already be burnt.) Allow to cool, remove the beans from the pods and remove the white skins.
Coarsely chop the garlic. Heat the vegetable stock in a small saucepan. Mash the beans and garlic in a large mortar or puree with the hemp oil and add the vegetable stock gradually until you have a fine puree. Season the bean purée with salt, return to the pot, cover and keep warm, beside the heat.
Divide the broccoli into small florets, blanch in salted water for 2-3 minutes, then drain. Grill the broccoli on a grill rack over the fire or in a grill pan for 1-2 minutes.
Pinch the basil leaves from the stems. Arrange the broccoli on the bean puree and garnish with pickled onions and basil.