Thursday, 17 April 2008

Biodynamic Gardening. Bringing your Garden to Life

This is a talk given by Deb Cantrill at the Stirling Autumn Garden Festival on April 13th 2008.

We all come here with different experiences of gardening & what it might mean to bring our garden to life.

Imagine for a moment, a garden that is gifted with soil bouncing with life & fertility, superior water holding capacity, natural drainage, aspect & elevation then add sound gardening practices, a large diversity of plants, bees, earthworms, birds, insects, a well developed system of recycling all organic matter & the best conservation practices. The type of garden that feeds both the body & the soul.

I know of no better way to achieve such a dynamic garden full of life & vitality. Over the last 25 years I have observed that using biodynamic methods are both a cheap and effective way of bringing gardens to life. Using the Biodynamic methods is what makes organic gardening work.

Biodynamics brings a totally new impulse towards rejuvenation and renewal of the earth as it ages and becomes tired and worn out. Organic gardening alone does not give this impulse.

Like organics, Biodynamics largely about the health of the soil & a gardener would make and use compost, grow & utilise green manures, use crop rotations if applicable, & mulch to improve the soil but additional tools in the form of special preparations help guide the building of humus in the soil, the composting process & photosynthesis.

But a biodynamic garden is more than using the preparations.

It’s a system where everything that is alive is dependant on others in a network of living things. It is connecting life (BIO) with the interactions within the whole system (DYNAMICS) (like group dynamics)

Therefore Biodynamics is about the interactions between the four kingdoms of nature:

To help understand Biodynamics it’s helpful to know where it came from. In the scale of agriculture this is a modern method. It grew out of the concern by farmers that their farming systems where failing...
In the 1920’s farming was relatively simple compared with today (what we call organic today), but farmers were beginning to notice decline. The Lucerne would no longer persist. Where once it had lasted 30 years in the same paddock, it grew for only 3 years. The seed strains were degenerating and animals were subject to more diseases.

Rudolf Steiner was trained in science and philosophy and renowned for his spiritual yet highly practical approach to worldly affairs; e.g. new methods of education and medicine. He was approached by farmers for help. After much persuasion in 1924 he gave a series of 8 lectures to the farmers where he indicated some methods to develop and use. Since then methods have developed for practical application from experience and results of research.

Although the method was developed for farms it’s equally applicable to gardens whether you’re growing food, herbs or flowers.
The Biodynamic method is very simple and can be applied by anyone on any scale from a few pots to large scale broad acre farming as well as everything in between.

Underpinning biodynamics is a mixed culture which is typical in gardens but sadly being lost in agriculture & now days even on biodynamic farms.

A biodynamic garden is self sustaining & always evolving. It develops its own identity & fertility season by season. How the ecosystem is structured up to you, the land & climate .Every garden will be unique but the aim is to have an integrated system all working together, like an orchestra & you as the gardener are the conductor. You can have a garden in tune or just making a ding.

When a gardener is described as having a ’GREEN THUMB’ this often means they have an 6th sense, intuition about plants & the natural world. In general I think most people have this educated out of them.
So we have to begin (often very slowly) to develop and trust our intuition through observation and experience, and develop a greater awareness of natural’s cycles.

You also need to develop the ability to sit back ,observe & act when necessary rather than rush in & attack a problem e.g. control of some insect pests where treatment may turn out to be unnecessary if the natural controls be they parasites, predators, weather are given time to take effect.

Such a gardener can see which plants do better than others, what combination of plants work, what birds are around, how the soil feels, learning from nature. & making use of these observations. “A gardeners footsteps is the best fertilizer”
So start to develop your intuition & more importantly trust it!

Once the dynamics of the system is started we can activate the biological life in the soil and to develop skills to nurture the soil, plants and animals.

The tools used in the Biodynamic method use are generally known as THE PREPARATIONS.
These are designed to regenerate the forces that work through the soil & plants

These preparations do not occur in nature rather they are made by ultizing substances taken out of nature from the 3 kingdoms.
ANIMAL and put together by HUMANS

These preparations are made by the farmers or by BD groups and distributed through their membership. The Adelaide Hills Biodynamic group hold working bees to make these in autumn and spring. All members are invited to assist. Assisting is also the best way to learn as the biodynamic method is very practical.

Members filling cow horns with fresh manure in the Autumn.

The preparations consist of 2 groups; The Spray preparations & the compost preparations.

Spray Preparations: consist of Horn manure 500 & Horn silica 501.

*Horn manure 500 is used to enliven the soil, increasing the micro flora and availability of nutrients and trace elements. Through its application root growth in particular is strengthened in a balanced way.

Horn manure is generally used in autumn & spring but can be applied at other times as long as there is moisture.

It is stirred for one hour either by hand by machine or flow form depending on scale. It is stirred on a day like today after a bit of rain; find you a nice spot in the garden, in the afternoon when the earth is breathing in.
For a typical home garden Use 9 Gms 500 in 5litres
Stir in a vessel like this.

If used regularly you will start to notice improvements in soil such as
· Increased water holding capacity
· Increased earthworm activity
· Improved crumb structure in soil this means more air & water can be stored.
· Increased clover nodulation
· Greater root penetration
· Increased micro flora which means more nutrients & trace elements are available to plants
· Stabilizing pH

Horn silica 501 enhances the light and warmth assimilation of the plants, Photosynthesis leading to better fruit and seed development with improved flavour, aroma, and colour and keeping quality.
Is made by,

It is stirred in the same way as 500 how ever t except in the early morning when the earth is breathing out remembers the rising mists. It is sprayed out as a fine mist & tends to drift across the garden.
We use even less a tiny pinch in 5 litres.

500 acts on all that is under the soil & 501 all that in above so balancing the soil & cosmos

The making & incorporating quality compost is a vital part of any biodynamic garden.
The use of Compost is essential in creating and maintaining quality humus & biological life to enliven the soil. Great care is taken in producing quality compost.

Compost Preparations: (502 - 507) are added to all Solid & liquid composts.

Imagine the compost heap is a body, when we add the 6 preps they are like organs they get the heap working in a balanced way.

One of the most important things to understand when making compost are the 2 main processes.

The breakdown of organic matter & then the most important the build up of new substance HUMUS.
Humus is made up of long chained molecules that act like a sponge to increase the water holding capacity in the soil. It holds 900 X more water than sand. It binds nutrients in its structure making them available to the plants. Humus is also the home of soil organisms. (When these die they become plant food)

In the soil humus can be oberserved in good crumb structure & the slippery colloidal nature of the soil partials. (Rub soil between fore finger & thumb-smooth & silky where there is humus. As opposed to rough & sandy- silty, granity soils or sticky in clay. Cut out a square soil run finger down the profile.

Gardening biodynamically is extremely easy to apply rewarding &, stimulating (Gives you plenty to think about how & why it works)
Mean while I enjoy being part of a system that reconnects me to nature & that teachers me a greater appreciation of its wonder. At the same time as producing quality food for my table & beauty to feed my soul. Biodynamic gardening can bring your garden to life .



emilyatjurlique said...

Hi, my name is Emily, and I am happily interning with Jurlique. We are a biodynamic skin-care company with over 150 acres of certified biodynamic farmland in Adelaide, Australia. I came across your blog about biodynamic farming practices and see that we have common interests! It’s so encouraging to see other groups also moved by biodynamic values! Please let me know if you ever need anything, we would love to continue a relationship!

Deb said...

Hi Emily
Our group has been established over 25 years & between us we have lots of experience. Our main goals are to make the preparations and distribute them through our membership we also have a study group that meets monthly. Your BD education would be greatly inhanced by attending our intro course & there by becoming a member.

emilyatjurlique said...

Hi deb,
I am actually in the states, but I will forward the info on the course to our farm members in Australia! I am sending out some product and was wondering if there is anything you might like to try? If so email me, and I will happy send it over!
-I think you might enjoy visiting our farms, they are quite breathtaking!