The Peat Sod – Landscaping by the Missionary Benedictines

The peat sod comes from one of the last working peat-ditches around St. Ottilien.

The fens near St. Ottilien date back to the young moraine zone of the Loisach glacier that covered the whole of Southern Bavaria. After the Würm glaciation, the melting ice created the basin of the Ammersee. Some 14 thousand years ago, a large lake emerged stretching from Weilheim in the south to Grafrath in the north. Even present Pilsensee was a part of the lake.

Peat develops when shallow water is enriched with nutrients and silts up by dead plant material. This process is very slow; on average, the peat horizon rises 1 mm per year. In the course of millenniums, the peat can get several meters thick. Intact fens and moors are able to store huge quantities of water and carbon dioxide (CO2); they are the habitat of a number of animals and plants.

There is a distinction between fens and moors, with a number of transitions between these two states. Moors develop where, abundant rainfall provided as e.g. in the Alpine foreland, the fens bulge like a watch glass from the groundwater due to the growth of peat moss (different species of Sphagnum).

Even in the Bavarian dialect, there is a distinction made between fen and moor. "Moos" (moss) is the term for a fen; moors are called "Filz" (felt), because the dead peat moss looks similar like felt.

Near St. Ottilien huge fen areas developed from the silted up lake bed of the Ammersee. The Pflaumdorfer Moos extends for 200 hectares south of St. Ottilien, almost up to the A96 freeway and from Pflaumdorf to Eresing. Then there is the Großes Mösel, a fen with 18 hectares of wood, open land and small water bodies adjacent to the Pflaumdorfer Moos. Moreover, there is the melting water valley north of St. Ottilien, and the Emminger Moos in the notheast, confined by the two railway lines in the north and west and by wood and hills in the east and south, where you can still see rests of the old peat-ditches.

Farmers used peat from the fens as fuel, as bedding in the stables and for sale. The wet fen areas were drained by channels, the upper layer of peat moss was removed and the peat was extracted.

One after the other the upper layer of "white peat", then the "brown peat" lower down was cut in sods, carried to a drying area and stacked until it was dried up. The "black peat" in the bottom layer, in high demand because of its high heating value, could often not be drained sufficiently and had to be extracted as peat mud. It was spread on a level ground and stamped by foot to squeeze out most of the water.

The young monastic community of the Missionary Benedictines explored the fen as well after they bought part of the halfway dilapidated Emming farm estate in 1886 and built up their "headquarters" there. 
Br. Michael Hofer, one of the first monks to join the religious community, wrote in his memoirs: "Peat was there in abundance for use as fuel" (Bruder Michael Hofer: Im Dienst und Schutz des Höchsten, p. 61).

In order to secure the needs for food for the rapidly growing community, it was of vital importance to re- enable farming, which lied fallow and suffered from frequent change of owners during many decades. "A main task to be solved was the profitable organization of agriculture, especially the acquisition of livestock and cultivation of fields and pastures. Responsible for this task was a reliable agricultural administrator until the initial stage of development was overcome." (Hofer, p. 63) 

From 1890 on, the drainage of the Fischbach (a small creek) facilitated peat extraction at the Pflaumdorfer Moos. By and by, the "acidic meadows" at the Pflaumdorfer Moos were exploited. The resident farmers joined forces to establish peat cooperatives after the monks convinced them about the value of peat extraction. In this way, the previously hardly exploited 300 hectares of peat land were used. However, due to large investments for the monastery's buildings, the exploitation went on slowly in the first years on the monastery grounds.

 After the peat was exploited completely, the monks used the so-called "black culture"; the rest of the peat was ploughed for 10 years by teams of oxen until the peat was decomposed and agricultural use was possible. Besides grassland, potatoes, beets and carrots were cultivated.

Drainage of the heavily silt-up Emminger Weiher situated between Geltendorf station and St. Ottilien, which covered 99 Tagwerk (1 Tagwerk equals 3407 square meters), was completed in 1916 by Russian prisoners of war stationed at Geltendorf.

Peat was a sought after fuel, especially during and after both World Wars. At the beginning of the 1920ies, the peat-ditches between St. Ottilien and Eresing had a yearly production of 2 million peat sods. Only at the end of the 1980ies, the last farmer in the Pflaumdorfer Moos gave up peat cutting.



Bruder Michael Hofer: Im Dienst und Schutz des Höchsten, EOS 1978
Landsberger Geschichtsblätter, 105. Jg. 2006, s. 53 ff.: Helge Latte / Walter Meier, Geschichte der Feldbahnen im Landkreis Landsberg am Lech
Landsberger Geschichtsblätter, 99./100. Jg. 2000/2001, s. 106 ff.: Walter Meier, Mensch und Moor. Entstehung und Nutzung der Moore im Landkreis Landsberg.