Friedrich Wenz, Schwanau, Germany – 3 November 2015
Today was my first visit of this leg of my travels. I arrived in Germany yesterday (Monday) after spending five hours on a train and 45 minutes in a car. I didn’t realise Germany was so close to home: it really was very easy. My visit today was with Friedrich Wenz
Friedrich lives in a very picturesque village in the Rhine valley, a little bit like being in a fairytale village. Friedrich is a biodynamic farmer, consultant, educator and a manufacturer and designer of drills (his website isI found out about Friedrich because he was involved in the OSCAR project, which someone at the Organic Research Centre put me onto.
The first thing we saw was his stirrer for his biodynamic preparations:
(Sorry about the quality of photos, my camera phone is scratched). This machine stirs the preparations for an hour. This preparation is BD 501 which is Silica (only 3 grams per tub full and this does 8 ha), which supports healthy plant growth. He also uses BD500 which is for the soil and is made from rotted cow manure. While I was there we saw his father spraying the BD501.
This is his sprayer which I thought was excellent. Not much depreciation on that! Per season he will spray his field a couple of times each with both (I think that is correct), in spring and in autumn. Friedrich farms 35ha of calcareous soils, growing spelt wheat, maize, soya and Rye. Friedrich’s aim is to have a living root growing all the time and plant diversity all the time.
The first field we looked at was rye, vetch, crucifers and Crimson Clover
There was a green manure before this crop. He rotavates shallow to kill the green manure and then leaves for 1-2 weeks to decompose and then plants this crop. This crop will either be sold as forage or go to an AD plant and then go into maize or soya.
The next field we saw was a grass and lucerne field. Again, it was rotavated shallow a couple of times to kill the crop, then it was planted with spelt wheat. At planting he also planted red fescue at the same time along with red and white clover.
You can see Friedrich holding the grass. This grass stays low and does not compete with the wheat. He gets about 5t/ha of spelt valued at €600-700 per tonne. Not bad! Then after this he will direct seed, probably peas with no cultivations. Even though weeds are there in the crop he does not find them a problem. In his healthy soil they are part of the system and are a benefit not a problem: they add diversity.
Below is a picture of his neighbour’s soil which had been ploughed. He is also organic.
As you can see, the difference in soil health is amazing.
Friedrich also uses compost tea and has seen great results with it. Below is his tea Brewer:
He applies it about once a year and mixes into it the following: compost, mychorizzae, syrup, bio-energy product and minerals:
All this costs about €30 and this covers 10-20ha. He was also brewing some lactic acid with molasses. This is an anaerobic reaction and this is applied on the rotavator and helps decomposition and encourages nitrogen fixation.
Below is his rotavator:
and also his drill:
Not a great picture, but it is a tine drill with discs in the front. The discs can be swapped with ripper tines if necessary. There are three hoppers on the drill. Two are fed into the seed line and one is broadcast on the surface via splash plates. He is also looking at applying compost tea down with the seed. The drill is modular and so bits can be moved around along the frame.
After we had the tour we had lunch and Friedrich showed me photos of various things from compost tea results to Biochar production. We also talked about his farmer training. It is a nine day course over the period of a year, and last year he trained 200 farmers! I felt at the end of my visit that I had only scratched the surface of Friedrich’s knowledge. He is certainly creative and inventive, and the one thing I will really take away is his philosophy that farmers need to be independent as much as possible. So, if they can make something themselves whether it is machinery or fertilisers, it is better than being beholden to supply companies. He certainly has a very low cost operation and was an inspiration. Thank you for your time Friedrich, I look forward to meeting you again.