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With great care, the gardeners collect the valuable harvest in large wicker baskets – over 100 kilos in total.
The night before the harvest is short, with alarm clocks going off at the ungodly hour of 4.30. At 5.30, we are already in the WALA medicinal herb garden in front of the borage field. Dewdrops hang in the delicate blue blossoms and the smell of moist grass and herbs fills the air. The birds join together in a mighty chorus and the sun rises red over the garden hedge. No question about it – the mood in these early morning hours is very special indeed. Peaceful, quiet, meditative. But still ... “Why it is necessary to start the harvest so early?”, we ask Bernhard Ehrmann, head of the WALA medicinal herb garden. He smiles to himself as he looks into our sleepy faces. “For a start, the plants are processed right after being harvested. This means that they have to be crushed and mixed in clay pots by 11 a.m. and our colleagues in Production need enough time to do this. As well as this, the night leaves the plants reinvigorated and well-balanced – which is exactly how we need them to be.”
No strangers to the dawn
Accordingly, WALA gardeners are used to early starts. They usually begin work between five and six in the morning. Because of this, Bernhard Ehrmann often goes to bed as early as nine in the evening. “At the same time as my children”, he admits with a laugh. The plants define not only his schedule but also the work carried out by the gardeners throughout the year.
Each plant has its own guardian
The borage harvest was postponed a number of times – after all, the plant should be in full bloom and at its best before being harvested. Determining the right point in time calls for lots of experience, keen observation skills and a finely honed instinct. But now, in mid-June, the moment has come. The team gets ready, carries large woven wicker baskets to the field and hands out a pair of harvest shears to each helper. A total of six gardeners and one trainee work in the WALA medicinal herb garden, with temporary workers also helping out in the summer. Today, Bernhard Ehrmann is in charge of harvesting the borage. Each session is overseen by a harvest leader, which is usually also the person responsible for the plants in question. Joscha Huter, who has seven years as a gardener at WALA under his belt, explains: “Our garden is divided up into different areas. Each plant is allocated a person who looks after it intensively, and who develops a special relationship with it, from the planting stage to the weeding and the final harvest.” Borage (Borago officinalis L.) falls within Bernhard Ehrmann’s sphere of responsibility.
A second bloom for the bees
Ehrmann instructs his team to “cut above the second leaf axil so that the borage can sprout a second time”. Although the second shoot is no longer used for production, it does serve as food for WALA’s resident bee population. The gardeners take special care to preserve the ecological balance between plants, animals and humans, basing their work on the principles of biodynamic agriculture.
Harvesting by hand
The group gets to work, concentrating fully on the task at hand. Some of the group are wearing gloves – the fine hairs on the borage leaves and stems can irritate the skin. Everyone is given a harvest basket and sets to work on a specific row of plants. The gardeners examine each individual bundle with great care. Spoiled or sick leaves are removed on the spot. It is actually the “herb” – the flowering herbaceous plant – that is harvested. The harvest shears make a satisfying crunch when cutting through the juicy, fleshy stems of the plants. As Bernhard Ehrmann notes: “Borage contains a great deal of water. When you cut the stems, you can see the water gushing out.” There is a faint scent of cucumbers in the air, which explains why borage is often used in salads or as a garnish. Within a short space of time, a good two-thirds of the field has been cleared. “That’s enough”, decides the head gardener, “now it’s time to weigh the harvest”. 80 kilos of plant mass had been requested by Production. Our 14 harvest baskets contain no less than 103 kilos of borage – more than enough. Which means that the final third can remain in the field for the bees to enjoy.
Keeping full records
At this point, Bernhard Ehrmann completes what is known as the harvest protocol – a comprehensive document including key information such as plant name, date, time, amount harvested and batch number. Just a few metres from the WALA medicinal herb garden, we hand in our borage at the incoming goods area, where the production staff take it away to be processed immediately.
Glancing at the clock, we see that it has only just gone seven. As Walter Janetschek from Production explains, this is plenty of time to “harness the special energy of the early morning hours for the medicinal plant mixture”.