Archive for the 'Germany' Category

“One of the central hubs of German biodynamic plant breeding community”. We were told this by many people through our travels and we decided that we had to visit Dottenfelder-hof (translated version). After a nice hike in the morning from the train station we arrived invigorated to meet with our host Martin Kern, a very personable character with many years of plant breeding experience. Martin showed us all around the Hof, with brief stops at many of the farm’s constituent areas. . In German biodynamic tradition the site is the collection of many integrated and collaborative facets. Some examples of these endeavors are the plant breeding programs, dairy cow and chicken production, cheese and bread making, anthroposophical educational programs, and a biodynamic storefront. Many of the people who worked there lived there too and with all that was going on, it was a bustling scene (about 100 people living and working there).  I could compare it to intentional communities in the US but that would be misleading. The place seemed more like a well organized, fairly self-sustaining village. Lots of people making a living centered around an agricultural and educational foundation.

Carrot breeding carrot selection carrot storage
Rodelika carrot tasting, selection and overwinter storage

Some of their achievements in the area of plant breeding:

Carrots – Dietrich Bauer has spent over 20 years breeding vegetables. What he is most famous for is his carrot variety ‘Rodelika’, available in the US through Turtle Tree Seeds. This carrot is famous for its flavor, especially when juiced.  “Rodelika” juice is available in the juice section of many stores that carry biodynamic products, right next to the standard “carrot” juice.  More marketing with variety names is something that could help expose people to the diversity of crops and help preserve those crops actively within society, like an old story or play. While at Dottenfelder-hof we helped select Rodelika lines for flavor and yield. Getting both flavor and yield simultaneously is one of the more difficult aspects of plant breeding. By the way, the carrot juice is excellent.

(more…)

3 Comments Andrew Still on Jan 27th 2007

From Switzerland we traveled back north up to Germany for a visit with Ulla Grall of Bio-Saatgut. The name of her company says it all: “Organic Seeds”. Ulla offers through her catalog seeds that she produces herself and those grown by several small contract growers, as well as seeds from Sativa Rheinau and a French seed company called Ferme de Sainte Marthe. Ulla told us she wants to grow more of her own seed herself, but also takes pride in the fact that she offers seeds from two other countries. Because of the EU seed laws it is difficult for many people to order seeds from other countries, or they simply don’t think of it as an option. Through her seed company, Ulla offers many varieties that would otherwise be unavailable to German gardeners.

sta74599.jpg Ulla Grall Ulla Grall
R to L: On the streets of Armsheim, Ulla grall in her garden, more of her gardens.

Ulla became involved in seeds initially as a translator and marketer for Ferme de Sainte Marthe in Germany more than a decade ago when the company was trying to expand into the German market. After Ferme abandoned this project, Ulla took on selling some of their varieties personally. What began as a small mail order resale company has since blossomed into one of the only independent organically certified seed companies in Germany.

(more…)

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 26th 2007

After another pre-dawn start, we left the company of the kind folks at Bingenheimer and headed south towards Nuremberg and beyond. Our next stop: Gerhard Bohl’s home and gardens in the hamlet of Rednitzenbach. Gerhard and his wife Susanne are the brains, braun, and brilliance behind Das Sortenbuch (= the variety handbook), a mail-order catalog collection of more than 2,000 tomatoes, 380 peppers, 700 beans, and hundreds of other rare and unusual vegetables (written in German).

sta74396.jpg sta74375.jpg sta74392.jpg
The crew: Susanne, Peter and Gerhard; Filderkraut – the ultimate Sauerkraut cabbage; Jelly melon slightly useful cucurbit.

Gerhard trades straight across with gardeners and fellow “collectioners” to the tune of some 20,000 seed packs per year. He distributes another 30,000 seed packs per year through other venues, mostly through his mail-order catalog with gardeners in other parts of Germany. Gardeners must write him by post and send five Euro for a copy of the Sortenbuch. If they decide that they want something from the buch, (how can they not?), they write again and send one Euro for every seed pack that they order, or if they are seed savers they can send in seeds from something they have grown in lieu of the cash. To encourage his customers to participate in the exchange and the stewardship of varieties, the Sortenbuch has several pages in the beginning that instruct people how to save seeds. This information is an important part of Gerhard’s work, as German-language editions of seed saving books are not common.

(more…)

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 19th 2007

Bingenheimer’s resident plant breeder, Ute Kirchgaesser, is on to something. Really, she’s probably on to many things, but to describe them all would take a book and I only have one blog posting.

Ute has what equates to a master’s degree in horticulture, but her German title sounds much better; Meistergartnerin. She got her start in plant breeding with a family run seed company where she learned the basics of traditional plant breeding, and has combined that knowledge with a more esoteric knowledge of an anthroposophical kind. All of these experiences combine to make her something more like and Ubermeistergarternerin if you ask me. But if you ask her, she is just a vegetable breeder.

sta74266.jpg sta74272.jpg sta74244.jpg

Ute is working on developing a summer fennel. She is in the process of improving some leek varieties, and also is working to re-invigorate some old kales. She is in charge of the on-site seed production for Bingenheimer’s catalog. And she is also working on a project that even she can’t explain.

In 2002, she began to study what effect musical intervals have on plants. Previous studies have been done that show that plants respond well to classical music, and not so well to death metal. Ute wanted to know if a particular sequence of notes effects plants more than another, and she wanted to know if this effect can be seen in subsequent generations. She set up a research project working with some lettuces, which she surmised would show results quickly due to their rapid growth.

(more…)

1 Comment Sarah Kleeger on Jan 17th 2007

We left Greifswald for Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, the largest biodynamic seed company in Germany, Leaving super extra early on Tuesday morning, we traveled via “Mitfahrgelegenheit” through Berlin and on down to a small town northeast of Frankfurt. “Mitfahrgelegenheit” is the musical word for ‘organized rideshare’, and there are several websites that one can use to post rides wanted or rides offered. People in the US use Craigslist for this purpose, but in Germany the practice is more widespread and therefore more effective. Mitfahrgelegenheit costs about half as much as a train and can get you there twice as fast, and it is a good way to meet people. Since we traveled so far, we pieced together two rides and had a few hours to hang out in Berlin. We were delivered to the door of Bingenheimer, 13 hours after the start of our journey – not really twice as fast as the train but still half the cost!

sta74228.jpg sta74245.jpg sta74263.jpg

We stayed, worked and learned with the kind folks at Bingenheimer for three work days, from Wednesday through Friday. This was our first visit with a seed company, and we learned a lot and had a really good time. Andrew was in heaven being surrounded by so many seeds, and the sense of community there really impressed me. But these are just two of the indicators that Bingenheimer Saatgut AG is not your average seed company. It is primarily Biodynamic. It is the hub for a network of 30 Biodynamic vegetable breeders in Germany. It was once part of and is still affiliated with the Lebensgemeinschaft Bingenheimer, a Camphill-esque community that fully integrates people with developmental disabilities into the tasks of daily life. As such, the Saatgut Werkstatt (seed workshop) is one of five workshops that employ disabled people in the community; they also rotate through candle making, woodworking, ceramics, and weaving workshops. Additionally, some of them work on the biodynamic dairy farm and others in the gardens, helping to grow food for the community and seed for the seed company.

(more…)

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 16th 2007

We left St. Petersburg by bus on Friday, January 12, and 36 hours later found ourselves in Berlin. Two hours after that we were in the town of Greifswald, on the Baltic Sea but identified as Eastern Germany more than Northern. Nevertheless, as we proceeded north on the train we noticed more and more “grunkohl” (= a curly leafed, bright green kale common in Denmark) in people’s dachas (the Russian word for little gardens away from one’s home).

We were met at the train station by Mareen Protze, one of the members of the board of directors for Naturschutzjugend Deutschland (NAJU). NAJU is Germany’s largest youth environmental action organization, with over 80,000 members throughout the country. NAJU has many local and national environmental initiatives, including an internet game program where members score points based on different conservation/preservation activities, such as cleaning streams or building birdhouses.

sta74216.jpg sta74209.jpg sta74212.jpg
Photos L to R: Mareen & Sarah, place of study, northern germany at sunset.

But there is also an international scope: One of the things that NAJU does is coordinate International Exchanges over the summer, where participants can see what young people are doing on behalf of the environment in other parts of Europe. NAJU provides the organizational tools for any member of the organization to plan an exchange trip with a country and focus of their choice, and then makes the trip available to other people within the organization. Mareen has planned trips to Belarus and Poland in this way. These trips, and many others, focus on social exchange as well as environmental topics. For example, there is one trip this summer between Germany and Serbia that focuses on hip-hop culture in the two countries. As with many social and environmental initiatives, Germany seems to be leading the way with this one.

(more…)

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 12th 2007

Our plans for Poland on the 9th of December fell through, and so we found ourselves in Hamburg with lots of options but no plans. We did what we could to pursue new seed-related contacts, even recruiting the help of Christina and Juan, but we found last-minute arrangements around the holidays to be somewhat difficult in Germany.

We wound up staying in Hamburg until our December 17th flight to Lithuania, mostly exploring various parts of the city and lying low.

e2sta73030.JPG e1sta73025.JPG sta73077.jpg sta73086.jpg sta73096.jpg sta73114.jpg sta73179.jpg

One of the contacts Christina pursued for us worked out, and so we spent a delightful afternoon with Karl-Josef Muller, the head of the Association for Biodynamic Plant Breeders, and his fellow cereal breeder Martin Timmermann. Karl Joseph has been breeding for high quality grains in low fertility, low-input organic systems since 1986, and has developed and registered a variety of “naked” barley, Lawina, on the EU’s common catalogue. Take a Look at their website “Cereal Breeding Research Darzau” it contains a lot of great information.

We first checked out of some of their “nursery” plots and grow-out fields of fall-planted rye, spelt, einkorn, and barley on neighboring organic and biodynamic farms. Then we returned to the research center to see some of the specialized equipment (including custom tractor and special de-hulling machine), and then retired to their offices for coffee and a long discussion of the methods and whys and wherefores of organic grain breeding.

Karl-Josef told us, “Our aim is to develop new varieties, but it does not end there. It is also to develop new ideas for new varieties and to research and tell others (even the conventional breeders) what we have learned. Because if the idea is developed, sometimes that is enough for now. The market/interest (in organically developed seeds) is very small, but it is not our job to improve this. What is important is to develop new criteria for farming, organic farming, human being, these ideas.”

sta73099.jpg sta73109.jpg

It was a wonderful visit, and we left with a few new varieties of grains (Lawina naked barley and a light grain rye), and shared with Martin some of the perennial wheat that we had brought. We also left with our heads full of new ideas and information.

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Dec 18th 2006

Early morning on Monday, December 4, we arrived at the doorstep of Christina Henatch, a pivotal player in the German Biodynamic seed breeding scene, Working at the Gut Wolfsdorf Farm outside of hamburg Germany. Christina was gracious enough to host us for several days during a very busy time of year for her. We talked about a great deal — from nematodes and flea beetles to the reality of so-called “organic hybrids” now on the market. We participated a bit in the process of selecting carrots for next year’s seed crop, and helped process some of this year’s carrot seed crop.

c2dscf1772.JPG c1dscf1767.JPG b5sta72926.JPG b3sta72930.JPG a6sta73013.JPG

We worked a great deal with Juan Richter, Christina’s knowledgable and helpful research assistant, and had what amounted to a four day seminar in the Biodynamic seed world of Germany.

Christina eagerly accepted many of the seeds that we brought, including the broccoli and beans, which are two of her main breeding crops. She was also excited to pass on some of our seed to her colleagues that work with grains, eggplant, salad greens and more. She shared with us some of her favorite carrots, broccoli, and beans, as well as a “naked barley” and some over wintering spinach, and offered us new contacts to explore in her network of Seedspeople.

a7sta72895.JPG a8sta72924.JPG b2sta72927.JPG

Christina is a part of the oldest and largest cooperative of Biodynamic breeders in the world, Bingenheimer. Bingenheimer is dedicated to developing and promoting open-pollinated varieties for the professional gardener/farmer that are of the calibar to compete with and surpass hybrid varieties. It is a pivotal time in the evolution of the seed business, especially considering the introduction of “organic hybrids,” and the German Seed Initiative, comprised of dozens of dedicated seed breeders like Christina, is the only organization taking a pro-active stance to ensure that market gardeners will continue to have access to increasingly high-quality open pollinated varieties.

a1sta72942.JPG a4sta72944.JPG a3sta72951.JPG a6sta72890.JPG

a2sta72949.JPG a5sta72881.JPG

We hope to visit Bingenheimer later in our journey, but for now stay tuned for some photos of the Gut Wulfsdorf farm and our experiences here.

b1sta72872.JPG

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Dec 8th 2006

We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at 6pm on Thursday (11/23), after leaving LAX at about 8pm Wednesday night. Entering Germany was easier than any country I have ever traveled to. No “embarkation card” as is common in Southeast Asia, no visa, just a quick glance at our passports, a question of “where are you going?” (answer: all over!), a stamp in our passports and we were in. No one was staffing the customs booth (!), so we had no one to ask what, exactly, counts as “goods to declare,” and so the seeds and garlic remained with us. I think the smell of garlic may be with us for a long time, as it was packed tight in our bags and its perfume permeated the ziplocks.

We found a cheapish hotel room (40 Euros = $53US) and promptly fell asleep. It was almost like Thursday didn’t happen. Thanks to the wonders of jet lag, we awoke at 3am ready to start the day. I’ve always wanted to be a morning person, so I hope it will last!

We spent early Friday morning walking around exploring the city, and then, once the bus and train depots opened, trying to figure out the easiest and cheapest way to travel the 800 km to Copenhagen. We decided to take the bus — a 15 hour ride from 2pm until 5am the next day!

sta72431.JPG

(more…)

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Nov 26th 2006

At 7pm we are leaving California for Germany and Denmark. we are very excited. When we arive in Europe we be posting a lot of great information and pictures and I am excited to share them with you all. Talk to you later when we are in another continent.

denmarkmap.jpg

No Comments Andrew Still on Nov 22nd 2006

Demand for Andrew and Sarah’s presence now appears to be greater than the time we have available to support it. All of a sudden, we are becoming flooded with contacts and referrals and interest.

After a brief stay in Denmark after the event with the Danish Seed Savers on November 25, the team will be headed on to SW Poland for a farmers’ meeting with the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside on December 10. From December 4 to 6, they will be staying with Chistina Henatsch (see quick bio at: http://www.ifgene.org/2002biogs.htm) and cleaning seed with her. This leaves a very small window of opportunity for A&S – and, now, two American seedgeek travelling companions – to visit with others on their way through Germany and into SW Poland.

We are not sure just now, how to handle this crush. Instead of trying the impossible – travelling to meet everyone who has expressed interest, perhaps seedgeeks can come together for a seed or two. The dialog is unfolding.

No Comments Nick Routledge on Nov 16th 2006

So far, things are coming along slowly for us in Germany. Our strong contact in the biodynamic community hasn’t responded to us so far, and we are only just now getting to VEN, the German seed saving crew.

Nick’s poor language skills prompted him, initially to approach
http://www.arche-noah.at/etomite/

in Austria on the assumption that they were based in Germany – despite not noticing the country delineation on their web addess. Goodness, how he wishes he had paid more attention in school!

Andrew, completely unprompted, appears to be ploughing through Rudolph Steiner just now, so I have a sense he’s preparing to hang with the anthropop crew!

No Comments Nick Routledge on Oct 26th 2006