The Freitag's have traditionally been dealing with agroforestry systems for a long time, even though they were not previously referred to as such. The company can look back on three generations of experience in willow cultivation. Founded in 1919 by the owner’s great-grandfather, the company is now jointly managed by the Freitag brothers and sisters.
Development of the company
WeidenArt is an agricultural enterprise with a total of 24 hectares of pastureland cultivated with an affiliated landscaping company. The company's experience in willow cultivation dates back to three generations. Founded in 1919 by master basket maker Sebastian Freitag, the Freitag siblings have been managing directors together since 1987.
Already after the WWI, their grandfather produced fascines, i.e. bundles of willow rods for securing slopes and watercourses. In WWII, bullet baskets for the military and baskets for wine balloons were produced. Since 1947 the company has been managed more or less constantly with five permanent employees. Only at peak times, 20 people were employed. After plastics were imported from the USA in 1959, this replaced the wicker baskets for wine balloons and fermentation tanks in the chemical industry, which had previously been made of natural materials.
The road construction with the necessary securing of the embankments became now the main field of activity of the company. Since the 1980s, large pipeline projects have also been carried out to transport Russian natural gas. In the course of this there was a great demand for fascine work, with order peaks in the 90s. Pipeline construction in Germany was discontinued in 1997.
The cultivation of salicylic acid-rich willow varieties for the pharmaceutical industry used to be of great importance. The willows, however, were not particularly suitable for basket weaving or other applications due to their irregular shape. As a result of the decline in demand, these willows were harvested for some time as energy wood and gradually replaced by other varieties. In the 1990s, improved willow varieties from Sweden and Denmark were replanted.
More recently, renewable construction materials has played a major role in the general trend of green construction projects, especially in private gardens. A series of newspaper reports ("My beautiful garden") and the offer of seminars on the farm led in a short time to the development of direct marketing of willows, for example for the design of children's playgrounds and the construction of "living fences". At first, however, there were challenges regarding the necessary logistics, as the Freising Postal Service refused to transport the many heavy willow bundles with a length of 3.2 m and a weight of 50 kg). In order to improve logistics, the delivery was first carried out with the company's own 7.5-ton truck. Today the bundles are picked up by a logistics company and arrive at the customer 24 hours later.
Comparatively narrow blocks are cultivated, which result from the impact structure in the Freising moss. Ideally, a row is kept free in the middle so that the transport distance to the road is not too long when the willow rods are harvested manually.
The planting is carried out with a hand-guided tiller. A planting machine is also available at the company. However, this is rarely used, as manual planting is also economical. The cutting prices in Germany rank between 15 and 20 Ct. the piece. The first shoots after new stocking of an area (the so-called "virgin wood") are only cut in order to obtain straight and strong shoots from the second shoots. Until the end of May, the fresh willows are cut for gardening and landscaping. Good willows allow 10 harvests over 25-30 years and allow up to 10 harvests. Subsequently, the area is reconverted with the forestry mulcher. The fresh rods are further processed directly in the field with the machine for bundling machines. Our own experienced employees throughout Germany carry out the installation.
Row planting at 0.75 m with an edge strip of 1.25 m makes the areas rather unsuitable for mechanical harvesting with powerful technology (e.g. Class Jaguar forage harvesters with > 800 horsepower) at the latest after the fourth harvest, since in particular the tires are too large for the willow harvest in the old plantations (planting at 50 * 20 cm in the row). The use of harvesting machines is seen rather critically due to the selective harvesting and the small areas, since mostly for technical reasons the entire crop has to be harvested.
There is no separate pest control. However, the distribution of cultivated areas in the wider environment and different varieties have reduced excessive risks from pests. Known problems include:
- Bite by the hare, deer, or beaver. The latter builds ditches from the water directly into the plantations and transports the material to the river.
- Root damage caused by water voles (e.g. once an area of 50 m² in the center of an area was destroyed)
- Willow leaf beetle; if this occurs more strongly, the growth suffers due to damaged leaf areas. As the plants react at the same time to the infestation, the rods grow very irregularly so that the quality suffers from it.
Ecological aspects of willow cultivation
Overall, the cultivation is extensive. According to information, underfoot fertilization is only used during new plantations, i.e. every 20 years. By refraining from using fertilizers later on, a positive contribution is made to groundwater protection. The distribution of the cultivated areas in the wider surroundings and a mix of varieties have reduced risks due to pests. The use of chemicals can therefore be eliminated.
- fascine bundles
- screening elements made of willow and black locust
- willow tipis
- art objects
- facade design
- wicker rods for basket weaving
Profile of Karl-Heinz Freitag & Sibylle Freitag
After many years of intensive cultivation, the Freitag's simply "didn't like chemistry any more" and therefore manage everything ecologically. Since the farm manager is a passionate angler himself, the restoration of watercourses is a matter close to his heart.