Our biodynamic nursery is located in beautiful Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, about 20 km from the state capital of Schwerin, between Hamburg and Berlin. The location of the nursery with its greenhouses right next to a biogas plant for food waste is since we can use the waste heat generated there to heat the greenhouses. Although the soil there is poor sandy soil, we have been able to improve it in recent years through many soil-building measures. Our aim is to make the soil on which we work ever more fertile. The soil is therefore not exhausted or polluted by the cultivation of vegetables, but is constantly improved through a variety of measures, while at the same time producing high-quality and tasty vegetables.
Before we built the greenhouses there, corn had been growing on the area for a long time. Various types of heat-loving vegetables are now growing there, and wild plants between the greenhouses provide a food source for many insects. But let's be honest: Everything seems very technical and busy in and around the nursery. A few comments on this. We live here on the 53rd parallel, as does Canada, southern Alaska, and parts of Siberia. All areas that are not necessarily associated with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, or ginger. And if people who live in these areas still want to eat fresh exotic fruits, then they either have to have them transported long distances or grown in greenhouses, which are large solar collectors, and combined with heating. Both options require energy.
In our neighboring biogas plant, waste is recycled, and renewable electrical energy is produced. At the same time, waste heat is produced, which we use in the greenhouses. This involves some technical effort. And at our nursery you can see, hear, and sometimes smell it immediately. Although it looks very technical, the core of our work and our effort is to protect the soil, this thin layer that is the basis of all our life on this planet- not only to preserve it, but to improve and regenerate it and increase diversity so that the soil becomes more fertile while growing healthy and tasty vegetables.
In the biogas plant, the energy source for our cultivation, waste from food processing, leftovers or spoiled food are fermented into methane gas. No corn is used as a fermentation substrate in this plant, only waste. The gas engines that are powered by it drive generators that generate electrical energy. The waste heat from cooling the gas engines is then used to heat the greenhouses. To keep the distances for the waste heat water as short as possible, we built the greenhouses close to the biogas plant. We hear it at work and sometimes we smell it too.
And although we look more like an industrial area than the idealised image of an organic farm, we enjoy every day how we have managed to continuously improve the soil on a former corn field and how diverse flora and fauna have flourished in the greenhouses. In particular, the world of insects fascinates us again and again. By planting plants that promote beneficial insects, we can support them in a targeted manner and establish them in the greenhouse. It is also very important to us to promote soil life through appropriate measures so that it can contribute to balanced and healthy plant growth. An important measure here is covering the ground with fresh grass clippings or hay. On the one hand, the soil is protected from too much sunlight, and, on the other hand, these organic materials are a constant source of food for earthworms and many other soil creatures. Depending on the imbalance in the soil, weeds can be an indication of what is missing. So, the soil produces the weeds that help it to regenerate. We picked that up and spontaneously greened the paths between the plants with the weeds that appear there. These penetrate the soil intensively and thus partially take over the tasks of a cover crop or crop rotation. So that the weeds do not get out of hand, they are regularly mowed above ground.
In addition to ginger, we also grow peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. We grow a variety of salad greens in winter. While we have plenty of waste heat available, there still needs to be a balance between available sunlight and temperature. That's why we only grow lettuce in winter that is happy with less light and only needs to be kept frost-free. We always like to try out new crops. This is how ginger came into our business a few years ago.
A special feature of our nursery is the use of grass clippings to fertilise the vegetables. A mixture of grass, clover and herbs has been growing on our meadow for many years. These plants are mowed regularly from May, driven into the greenhouses, and distributed between the plants. For this reason, we have hardly had to buy any organic fertilisers since the nursery was founded in 2009. Finely ground rock flour is regularly added to supply trace elements. In addition, we apply clay powder to the areas every year to improve the very sandy soil. By using the biodynamic compounds, we bring the growth in the plant and the exchange of the roots with the soil into a harmonious relationship. Since the cultivation areas are protected from natural precipitation by the greenhouses, no rainwater reaches the plants directly. The rainwater can seep into the grass next to the greenhouses and thus continues to fill up the water table. To water the plants, we use water from our own well through nozzle pipes or drip irrigation. It is also watered regularly from above to increase the humidity, which the tropical ginger likes very much.
Except for the gentle cultivation of the soil with a spading machine pulled by a small tractor, all work in the greenhouses is done by hand. Mowing and transporting the grass clippings is also done with the tractor. The harvest is purely manual work. The plants are dug up, the foliage is cut off and the fine roots are removed from the rhizomes. Then the ginger is washed and sorted. We pay particular attention to the fact that only healthy rhizomes are selected. The sorted-out rhizomes can still be processed, especially into juice. The cut leaves are composted like all other organic waste at the nursery.
At work, Silke and Stefan each have their own priorities. Stefan takes care of the technology, organisation, and marketing. Silke's focus is on the cultivation of crops and the use and promotion of beneficial insects. Bookkeeping is also one of her responsibilities. Planting, harvesting, and mulching are often joint actions. Five permanent employees from the surrounding villages have found jobs with us that are subject to social security contributions. Some of them have been with us for 9 years.