Ahrensdorfer Kräuterwelt / Ahrensdorfer Schnuckenwelt
Right next to the Nuthe Nieplitz nature reserve in the south of Berlin, Jens Wylegalla and Juliane Winkler have been growing a wide variety of salads, vegetables, herbs and spices for several years using traditional tools and manual labor.
Hello Jens! Can you introduce yourself – what do you do at Ahrensdorfer Kräuterwelt and Ahrensdorfer Schnuckenwelt?
Directly adjacent to the Nuthe Nieplitz nature reserve in the south of Berlin, we have been growing a wide variety of salads, vegetables, herbs and spices on an area of around 2 hectares for several years using traditional tools and manual labor. We only grow traditionally proven and historical varieties. This alone sets our range apart from the usual hybrid and high-performance assortment.
We completely dispense with chemicals, both with “plant protection” and fertilization. As our plants are not fed with artificial fertilizers, they contain significantly fewer nitrates, no heavy metals or synthetic pesticides, but many times more vitamins, minerals and secondary plant substances. The ripening process of our plants can fully unfold, giving them a more intense flavor and aroma.
In simple terms, our principle is described as follows: We pay attention to healthy soil, which enables healthy plant growth and therefore produces healthy fruit with optimum flavor.
By healthy soil, we mean systematic humus formation by promoting a rich soil life, especially in terms of microorganisms. Small areas, varied cultivation, mutual shading, wind protection, ground cover by clover, microclimate, …, also play a major role. The use of traditional and tried-and-tested tools such as pendulum and wheel hoes, sowing teeth, digging forks, scythes, row cultivators, cultivators and rakes by hand are also important elements in avoiding soil compaction and providing the plants with optimum individual care.
You are impressively specialized. Why did you choose tomatoes and chillies?
Tomatoes are the vegetable which, in over a thousand variations in shape, color, size, consistency and aroma, reveal an incomparably fantastic taste experience. Originally from the Andes, generations of gardeners and farmers have cultivated the plant.
We have had wild tomatoes from the Galapagos Islands and tomatoes from Mexico (Oaxacan), which are said to have been cultivated for over 1,000 years. We are also experimenting with currently available seed material from the Andes. There are also historical varieties from England (Garden Peach), France, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and North American species. A heritage of mankind …
In recent decades, the tomato has been increasingly relegated to the greenhouse and its diversity is reduced to a few characteristics. Trade in Europe enables a year-round supply, originating from the Netherlands, but mainly from Spain and Morocco. Outdoor tomatoes are grown in the south of Italy using slave labor, and I am serious about slavery. China has entered the global trade. So we are dealing with a product that is constantly available in large quantities for very little money. The price is high: greenhouse and film landscapes, the use of enormous amounts of pesticides, cultivation on rock wool with the addition of nutrient solution in the water, permanent lighting and permanent heating are huge resource burners, not to mention transportation and cooling (which, by the way, turns every tomato into a red ball of water).
[Recommended reading: Hendriks, Annemieke; Tomatoes. The true identity of our fresh vegetables. A reportage. Berlin 2017]
In addition to our enthusiasm, the tomato and its properties are very interesting. First and foremost: The tomato is a survivor (only cold and permanent wetness are abhorrent to it).
One particularly noteworthy advantage is that the tomato plant does not need to be watered after planting. The root growth of a tomato is, so to speak, a matter of education. If you water your tomatoes every day, you will see how the roots grow upwards and therefore need to be constantly watered in dry conditions. If you plant the tomato deep (about 40 cm, leaving only the top two leaves without soil contact), water it well once and refrain from watering it further, you will find that the roots reach deep into the soil. Even in very dry conditions, water can be extracted from the depths and transported upwards. When planting, we also recommend adding sheep’s wool as a water reservoir and water reservoir and supplier of nutrients such as nitrogen and sulphur. This will have disappeared after six months. A small amount of compost is also recommended, but the most important thing is to add microorganisms that attach themselves to the roots and enable the plant to feed.
Our soil values are around 20, and yet this combination is more than sufficient. Just like the potato, the tomato is a pioneer plant on freshly plowed soil. In drought years, it is a real alternative with good yields. We show that the tomato in field cultivation under extreme conditions such as drought, heat and cold waves produces excellent results without any addition of water or chemical fertilization (energy input) and seems particularly suitable for Brandenburg.
Chili: I don’t like eating spicy food because I’m not used to it. However, if you entrust yourself to a taste specialist in the kitchen, you will experience flavors that no paprika can produce. Spiciness can be regulated through preparation. Mild varieties can have mango or apple flavors and much more at the same time.
In addition, this plant is now very well established in the Brandenburg climate, outdoors. The only thing it cannot cope with is winter. However, overwintering in pots in warm conditions is possible and recommended.
What excites you most about your work?
We work with nature, in its own rhythm, all year round. I experience every day how our work also maintains and improves diversity in the insect and bird kingdom. That is wonderful. When we deliver the results of our work, we are met with appreciation for our products and the work behind them. Diversity and adaptation of working methods and products, achieving the highest possible quality are a strong driving force. And sharing a passion and joy.
What are the biggest hurdles and challenges for your work now and in the future?
We work with nature and take into account the requirements of the crops, we work in an energy- and water-saving way – that means more than adaptation.
The biggest challenge at the moment is that we need to work with a nursery to get the chili off to a successful start in February and the tomatoes in March. We are experiencing an acute, widespread death of nurseries across the country. Firstly, there are reasons of age: a whole generation is leaving and there are few successors. Secondly, nurseries have found it increasingly difficult to compete with wholesalers and discounters, they have to work at risk and only have small profit margins. Thirdly, there have been two years of coronavirus-related slumps, and at the moment everyone is keeping their money together and spending little on quality. According to TASPO, nurseries are currently sitting on half of their investment (ornamental plants).
Fourthly, the nurseries don’t know whether they will be able to heat their greenhouses at all next winter, and the winter after next seems even more doubtful at the moment.
We have already had to sadly discontinue our second collaboration with a nursery this year for reasons of age.
Whether we will have tomatoes and chilies next year is currently an open question.
How did the collaboration with Berlin restaurants come about?
We worked on the assembly line for many years, mostly from January to May and from September to November. In addition, I started the Ahrensdorfer Kräuterwelt and had my first very good successes with salad and herbs in terms of taste, consistency and variety.
It was an enthusiastic colleague who we gave something to for himself and his family. In his enthusiasm, he thought of us in the evening, went two floors down to Nobelhart und Schmutzig, showed us our salad and gave us a chance to get to know each other. After that, everything fell into place.
„Wir arbeiten mit der Natur und beachten die Ansprüche der Kulturen, arbeiten im Einsatz energie- und wassersparend – das bedeutet mehr als Anpassung.“
Why did you become a member of die Gemeinschaft?
We share the attitude of Die Gemeinschaft Manifesto. Networking brings an exchange of experience and broadens the opportunities enormously for everyone involved and, in my opinion, also for Brandenburg.
Learn more about Ahrensdorfer Kräuterwelt / Ahrensdorfer Schnuckenwelt