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The center of Zug

Interview with Hillo Rieder, who is in charge of the new kitchen garden at Rote Wand.

 

Hillo, we find ourselves here at an altitude of 1,500 meters. What can you grow in this environment?

We are working on finding that out. We’ve now had our first summer in which we’ve gained some initial experience.

How did you get started creating a garden?

We got some help from Thorsten Probost, who had already tried out a few things during his time in Oberlech. He passed on his experience to us and he is still around as an advisor.

For example, you planted potatoes.

Yes, and we immediately created raised beds, i. e. put hay on top of our potatoes. We also laid mulch over our lettuce seedlings: I told all the neighbors not to throw away their tree and shrub cuttings and green waste but to give them to me: we used it to mulch our raised beds.

What effect did that have?

It was great. I could see the soil recovering right away.

What did you plant?

Different varieties of potatoes in the first field. Nemo, Red Emmalie, Rosegarden and many more. We got the seeds from Switzer- land and then just waited. Some varieties didn’t come up at all, others turned out brilliantly. Now we know more and will concentrate on five to six varieties.

In the field next to it are flowers …

… and herbs. Cornflowers, dill, coriander, borage, poppies, dahlias. That was a lucky shot, because everything we planted here came up splendidly � but nothing at all in another field.

So you alternate between beauty and nourishment, like in a monastery garden?

Yeah, if you like. We planted some lettuce in the third field and it grew very well. We chose a special variety, Lollorosso, which we’re looking to expand next sum- mer. The chard also came up wonder- fully, the nasturtium unfortunately froze off in September.

Onions, leeks?

Yes, we had onions. But they didn’t grow any bigger than ping-pong balls. Horse- radish and arugula worked well, and we had courgettes, pumpkins and radishes in the neighbouring patches.

How was the harvest?

Modest. We let the radishes grow out so that they would go to seed.

With potatoes, lettuce and chard, it’s obvious what happens to them. But what do you do with marigolds, for example?

We make oil from the leaves. Jamie from the Culinary Lab has an idea for practically everything that grows here.

And fruit?

We’re trying to grow an apple tree. That’s an experiment at this altitude, but we’re confident, and in addition to three rows of winter asparagus, we also have a row of strawberries, which we harvested only in August. Now, we are planting rhubarb — we’re really rooting for it.

The garden is on a slight slope down to the Lech. How difficult is it to work here?

It’s a bit draughty, so we built wind- breaks out of wooden fences and shrubs. Of course, we also pay close attention to crop rotation. This year we are planting completely different crops compared to last year.

How do people react when they see you working in the garden?

They are interested. They stand there, watch, look for a little chat. The garden is alive. Life emanates from here.

Locals or guests?

Both. The locals just come more regularly. Everyone knows something, gives me tips. After all, everyone has a few vegetables at home.

Gardening has almost become a new profession for you, hasn’t it?

Wait a minute! I may be in the garden every day, but this garden has never seen a watering can. The moisture comes from the mulch alone. Why don’t you run your hands through it and feel how beautiful and lush the soil is?

So what are the most important lessons for the coming year?

Firstly, we don’t just need seeds, we also need seedlings. Perhaps we will grow them ourselves in the future. Secondly, we will lay larger stones next to the herb beds so they can store the heat and release it to our plants. Thirdly, we will train the cooks so they harvest in a way that is optimal for the plants.

So what does the garden mean to you, Hillo?

It’s a place that will supply the Rote Wand restaurants with as much fresh produce
as possible. But also a place where people meet and communicate. Sometimes, when I’m gardening, I think to myself: this is the center of Zug.

 

Personal details: Hillo Rieder is a sister of Joschi Walch and lives in Zug.