Biodynamic gardening

Biodynamic gardening

What is the big difference between biodynamic gardening and traditional gardening? This is a question I have been asked a lot over the years?

The gardening techniques may seem similar, but what is radically different is the overriding philosophy behind it. A non-biodynamic gardener wants, on the whole, to make her/his plants look the best with whatever method is a quick and convenient way. ‘Weeds’ are controlled with pesticides and the soil is a means to grow flowers/plants, but no particular thought is given to it beyond that function. Snails, earthworms, and most insects (with the exception of bees) are not welcomed and exterminated. This will give you a nice garden but often to the detriment of the wildlife.  The yearly use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers will lead to soil erosion and the extinction of many insects/worms and other species further down the line.

  The biodynamic approach is more wholesome. It all starts with the soil and great effort is made to keep the soil in a very good condition. The additions of soil tonics, organic sprays, and earthworms play a big part. If a plant grows in the ‘wrong place’, it is not just called a weed and discarded. Instead, it is carefully hoed out and used to make compost (although it needs to be rotted down first as active seeds may otherwise contaminate the compost heap). Take for example the nettle. In the ‘biodynamic world,’ a nettle is never seen as a weed, but as a useful byproduct of nature. You may not want it growing in your favorite flowerbed and hoe it out from there. But you won’t discard it, but rather replant it to a part of the garden that is less prominent. Nettles are one of the best garden fertilizers and you will need nettles on-site to make your nettle brew fertilizer. 

  Where does the word ‘Biodynamics’ come from? The phrase ‘Biodynamics’ was created by Rudolf Steiner and is made out of the Ancient Greek words ‘bio’ (life) and dunamis (power). A biodynamic garden is managed as one single complex organism. Everything there is useful and helps to keep the ecosystem in check. In essence, Steiner described Biodynamics as an ‘ecological and sustainable approach to agriculture/gardening that increased soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides’. It follows that bees, earthworms, and other insects are not harmed but welcomed and put to good use. However, that does not mean that there is no pest control at all. Of course, there is. But it is done in a sustainable/organic way and not as a blanket extermination program. To make Biodynamic gardening more effective, people use biodynamic calendars to harness the ‘best natural times’. We made it easy here and have created symbols for the most important gardening tasks.  You can also check out the category Happy House in the LWTM lifestyle calendar (the member’s version and you will find the code in the monthly newsletter if you are a subscribed member).  Once you have seen the Happy House category, just choose the task you want to look up and it will give you the best dates.  Otherwise,  check out the date and you will find which symbols correspond with the current date.  Here is a link to the LWTM calendar.

Click here to read more about how Biodynamic Gardening works

Let’s touch on some of the gardening symbols
Composting 

biodynamic compost heap

The waste from one year is the fertile soil for the next. If you have space for at least 2 compost bins, please install them. They don’t need to be fancy, even two dug-out holes in the ground with some kind of cover would do. What matters is how to assemble the compost and when you do it. Here is an article that explains Biodynamic composting in more detail.

The symbol to look out for is.    composting and soil tonics 

 

 

Preparing the soil 

biodynamic compost

Today is ideal for turning the soil, weeding, bringing out the compost to sprinkle it around your plants, and sieving it over the lawn.
Making your compost is not that hard. All you need is a good compost bin and time (see below). It is a precious commodity to have in your garden
and it is 100% compatible with your garden’s soil conditions as it is made from its waste products. 

The symbol to look out for is.     

 

Repotting houseplants and planters on the patio/balcony

Your houseplants need to be repotted every or every other spring, depending on how quickly your plant grows. But once roots produce out of the pots it is time to go a size or 2 bigger. It might be a good 
idea to change your pots and spruce up your home. Leave an inch or 2 of space between the roots ball and the pot. This will give it enough space to grow into the new pot to extend the growing time. If your roots are fine, just add a bit of new compost earth to add extra nutrients, then feed and water as usual. 

The symbol to look out for is.     

 

Organic pest control 

We want to encourage wildlife, especially bees and earthworms. But when it comes to aphids and other destructive forms and a plant is suffering, you can help it recover with a few biodynamic rescue remedies. 

The symbol to look out for is.     

 

Watering and feeding your plants 

There are best days for watering, just look out for them on your calendar and you won’t forget or drown your plants. Here is a small guide on how to water correctly 

The symbol to look out for is.     

 

Pruning trees and bushes 

Cutting bushes down in season and at the right time will keep them happy and healthy for years to come. These are of course general pruning dates, for individual plants the rule of thumb is after flowering or for deciduous trees/bushes during the winter time. Revival pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs for more info. 

The symbol to look out for is.    Pruning trees and evergreens 

 

There are of course many more symbols. But here are a few to get you started on your biodynamic gardening venture. 

 

The  living soil

The living soil

 

The science of sound

 

Did you know that fungi in the soil can be influenced by sound? Scientists recently discovered that playing ‘white noise’ to depleted soil increases healthy soil production by up to 20%. The ‘white sound’ mimics the movement of earthworms and other useful insects. 

How do fungi grow?

Until recently all we knew was that fungi primarily respond to environmental factors such as moisture, light, and nutrient availability. Factors such as humidity, temperature, pH level, and substrate composition are very influential on fungal growth. While fungi can detect environmental cues, they do so through chemical and physical signals rather than auditory stimuli. But sound is not something we associate with healthy soil, that is until now.

A few years ago a Swiss sound artist called  Marcus Maeder stuck a noise sensor into the ground. At the time he was working on his dissertation and was just curious ‘What does the soil sound like?’ And there was a lot of sound to discover. The soil is alive and full of screeching, scratching, and tons of other noises. Ecologists have long known that the earth is home to gazillions of organisms. In fact, in a small cup of earth, researchers have counted up to 100 million life forms.

Understanding that underground life is important because it creates ‘the living soil’.  “Soil helps to transform the nutrient elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that feed plants – for food, for forests, or to fill the air with oxygen, so we can all breathe,” says Steven Banwart, a soil, agriculture and water researcher at the University of Leeds in the UK, who co-wrote an overview of the functions of soil in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Worms, grubs, fungi, bacteria, and other decomposers are involved in every step. (source BBC article) 

Next time you start a compost heap, think about the millions of creatures that you will harbor.

The Living Soil 

“The living soil” refers to the complex ecosystem of organisms and processes that exist within the soil. Soil is not merely a medium for plants to grow in; it’s a dynamic environment teeming with life and essential for sustaining ecosystems. The living soil is home to bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, insects, and other microorganisms.

These organisms all play critical roles in nutrient cycling, decomposition, soil structure formation, and plant health. Without them, there is no compost, simple as that.

The recent discovery that introducing extra ‘white sound’ to the soil speeds up the formation of compost could be of huge importance in the coming years. Currently, most of our healthy soil is already depleted.  Making only a small layer of high-quality topsoil takes decades. Shortening this process would be a welcome development.

Maintaining a ‘living soil’ is crucial for sustainable agriculture and functioning ecosystems.  Reducing chemical inputs, promoting crop diversity, and adding organic matter is vital if we want to continue to grow healthy crops.

leaf mulch – nature’s restorer

leaf mulch – nature’s restorer

leaf mulch

It is late autumn again and the leaves are turning red, golden and orange before finally tumbling to the ground. It is nature’s gift and regardless of what the moon phases are doing, it is time to gather them up and put them to good use.

 Bed in your plants for winter

In nature, leaves like snow protect the roots of growing trees and shrubs from the cold. If you have plants that don’t tolerate a cold winter, add leaves around the stem to protect them from the frosty nights.

Additionally, you can wrap certain plants and pots with horticultural fleece. Normally I do this every year and my outdoor plants always survive the cold. But last year I forgot and had a few painful losses, especially my lovely banana tree and some tree ferns.

So this year I made sure to protect my surviving tree ferns. First I generously covered the top (where the leaves grow from) with layers of leaves. Then I covered the soil in the pot with leaves. Finally, I wrapped the stem and pot with agricultural fleece. This will come off around early March.

Make leaf mulch

If you own a lot of deciduous plants, don’t dispose of the leaves, but instead make precious leaf mulch.

Hornbeam, willow, birch and other deciduous leaves will rot down in roughly one year. Evergreens and conifers may need 2 years (pine even longer). Therefore please don’t mix evergreens, conifers and normal deciduous leaves together.

Here is what to do: 

1. Rake up the leaves into neat piles. If leaves are very large, you can shred them or hover them up with a lawn mower.

2. Put these leave piles into garden bags. When the bag is almost full, spray the leaves with water and then punch a few holes in the bags (you can use the rake for this or a simple garden fork) and tie them up.

3. Place the leave bags in a shady place, for example under a big bush or shady corner of your garden – a place where they are not in the way and can be left for a year or more. Sometimes you may open the bag and stir it around with a garden fork to speed up the composting process.

Leave mulch is rich in carbon. In spring you can add some nitrogen in the form of grass clippings, nettles and a small amount of vegetable peels.

4. When you open a  bag a year later, the leaves will have decomposed into a dark- brown crumbly substance, also known as leaf mulch.

Spread it around your trees, shrubs and flowers to help them retain moisture, suppress weeds, and improve soil health.

 

Leaf mulch is a great plant tonic and you can sprinkle it over your lawn and add some of it to your compost heap.

Acid lovers such as camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas will be particularly happy with leaf mulch. It is particularly helpful to add a few handfuls to your soil before seeding a new vegetable plot or flower beds.

The best dates for bringing out leaf mulch,  are  Water Days and Earth Days during the Waning Moon.

 

Recession-proof living

Recession-proof living

Jam and chutneys“Happiness is like jam – you can’t spread even a little without getting some on yourself” 

Since the 2nd World War, the world on the whole has been on an upward trend. Bigger, better, faster – certainly the last few decades – was the motto.  But now the momentum is slowly turning to go slow, community and nature. It has been coming for a while, but the Covid epidemic accelerated this process.

There is so much fear attached to the word ‘recession’. If you are not 100% sure what the term means – it is the economy shrinking for the last 2 consecutive quarters. The economy follows like nature cycle behavior. The economic winter (recession) is therefore an inevitable season and the preparation for new shoots to come.

Instead of fretting, let’s look a the good points a recession can bring:

  • We are forced to stop and think about what we really need and get rid of all that is surplus anyway.
  • We get more efficient with natural resources – food, energy to name a few.
  • Material possession gets less important and intangible qualities such as love, friendship, happiness, and nature come to the front. You can enjoy it a lot –  even with very little money.
  • Goods actually get cheaper and if you have looked after your pennies and have some savings,  now is the time to make big purchases. But go for quality rather than quantity.
  • It forces you to invite change into your life – a change of job, scenery, change of mind, and heart.

Economically speaking we are about to enter the phase of winter. The time to save, reflect and reorganize.

The ‘Biodynamic lifestyle’ is actually very compatible with this life phase.

  • It pushes you to be conscious of the environment and its natural rhythms
  • it urges you to produce less waste and recycle whenever possible
  • It is a very economically efficient way of life where you rely more on what you can produce instead of what you can consume.

Now that times are getting tougher and the environment is close to breaking point, this way of life makes real sense. So why are we not all living like this?

preserving food  Producing takes skill and time. Once you take the time to learn the skill again, you will get faster and better and you will just love making your own homemade products. There is nothing nicer than bringing your homemade jam or chutney to friends. It is a thoughtful and useful present. As food prices rise you want to use up any bought food.  Here are a few recipes for you to try

Winter Chutney: 

Ingredients:  300g carrots, 400g apples, 300g onions, 200g tomatoes, 2 red peppers, 400g red wine vinegar or apple vinegar, 2 tbsp (tablespoon) sultanas, 1 tsp (teaspoon) salt, 1 tsp pepper, ½ tsp of cinnamon powder, a pinch of cayenne pepper, 500g jam sugar.

1)  Wash fruit and vegetables, chop, peel, deseed and dice them into small pieces and put all ingredients into a large, very clean pan. Bring to boil and cook gently for about 1 hour, stirring regularly. When vegetables have the desired consistency, pour the hot mixture into clean glass jars and seal immediately with cling film. Leave to cool. The chutneys last for a couple of months unopened.

Strawberry Jam: 

Ingredients: 1kg strawberries, 1kg jam sugar, 1 small unwaxed lemon, a small pinch of pepper

Wash strawberries remove stalks and cut them into small pieces. Rinse lemon and grate the rind finely. Put the strawberries, grated rind, pepper, and sugar in a clean pot and boil for about 4-5 minutes. Pour straightaway into clean (wash out with boiling water) jars, cover with cling film and tightly close the lids. Makes around 8-9 jars, depending on size. The best time to do this is of course in June but you can use this recipe for similar fruit jams, for example, plum jam – but I would substitute the pepper with a pinch of cinnamon. 

 Home-made cleaning products: 

Living in a biodynamic home and garden,  you will be surrounded by more diversity than most other gardens that use pesticides. The upshot is that you will attract lots of wildlife into your garden. In our garden – in the middle of London- we have earthworms, butterflies, spiders, cats, bees, many bird species, squirrels and even foxes can be seen on a daily basis.  But sometimes all these lovely creatures can become a bit much – especially when you have moths invading your clothes cupboards and eating your most loved garments. It can be a dilemma if you don’t want to use pesticides. So here is a recipe for my own super-effective and totally organic moth deterrent. And as a bonus it makes the carpet and furniture look great, too.

Here is my home-made recipe that protects your clothes from moth or other insect infestation:
Get a large empty spray bottle (the ones you would mist your flowers with) and fill it with a mixture of 2/4 washing-up liquid (I use a lavender-infused liquid soap – you can dilute it slightly with some water),  1/4 99% IPA (alcohol) and 1/4 of white vinegar. Shake it well and mist it on your furniture, carpets, and even clothes. I also use this mixture on garden plants that have infestations like aphids.

Here is an article about home-made cleaning products 

Don’t throw food away before you do this:
Here is one of my favorite tips to rehydrate vegetables and salads that have gone a bit limp. Fill a bowl of cold water and add a small capful of white vinegar (in fact any vinegar will do, but go for a cheap one here as the results are the same). Chop your salad, and vegetables up and immerse them in the water.  Leave them in the bowl for around 30 minutes and you will have crisp, ready-to-eat salads and vegetables on your plate.

These are just a few examples of the many ways you can save and help the environment.  Initially, it does take a bit of effort and experimenting. But over time these recipes are quick to make and once you get used to the taste of homemade produce there is no going back!

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Stewardship of the land

Stewardship of the land

weeding   This article explores the history of agriculture and how it turned into our recent way of farming that is so reliant on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. How can we use the stewardship of the land in a better way?

The history of artificial fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture

We all can make a big impact, positively as well as negatively. When it comes to cultivating the land, nature always took care of itself, and the rhythmic cycles  –  preparing the soil, planting, harvesting, and composting in preparation for a new growing cycle –  took care of itself for thousands of years. The soil was rich and full of life. There were millions of tiny creatures involved in this delicate process. Fungi, earthworms, insects, and microbes all lived harmoniously in the soil. Microbes cultivated the crops and even colonized the guts of the humans and animals that ate these plants. It all worked in a harmonious, ever-repeating cycle.

Historians think that the earliest form of agriculture arrived with the domestication of wild animals such as horses, pigs, and cows and can be traced back to around 10,000 B.C.

During the Bronze Age (around 3,300 B.C.) more sophisticated ways of agriculture sprang up and modifications to harvest cycles and best planting practices – like Biodynamic planting dates – were established. All these were organic tools with the intent to enhance harvest production.

The arrival of the first fertilizers

The first introduction of artificial fertilizers was undertaken during the early part of the 19th century. John Bennet Lawes began the first scientific investigations about adding inorganic fertilizers (mainly phosphates) onto fields to increase crops with moderate success. But other than these early steps the organic way of farming and gardening remained largely unchanged until World War 1 (1914-1918).

The Haber-Bosch process

The first patents for synthetic ammonium nitrates and other chemical fertilizers emerged from Germany. In 1910 Carl Bosch, working at the time for the chemical giant BASF, started to secure a number of patents for the use of synthic chemicals to increase crop production. He teamed up with Fritz Haber and both won a Nobel prize in 1918 for their Haber-Bosch process. This method is still the main formula to produce artificial fertilizers. Basically, this process converts nitrogen(N2) to ammonia (NH3) by a reaction with hydrogen (H2).

In the years after World War 2, more patents were sought and the use of synthetic fertilizers increased rapidly. Countries like China, Russia, and even Vietnam used these products in great amounts and Russia remains to this day one of the leading producers of artificial fertilizers.

Pesticides

The real problem started when pesticides were used in tandem with artificial fertilizers.  Again during World War 1, chemical warfare started to be introduced for the first time as a new weapon to kill soldiers in the trenches. Factories had to be remodeled to manufacture and supply these substances, mainly consisting of mustard gas and tear gas. But the war was short and once it was over, all these factories stood idle.

Pesticides such as arsenic, mercury, and sulfur dusting have already been used by the Sumerians in 2000 B.C. but in very small quantities and overall the soil health remained intact. However, after World War 1 and especially after World War 2, its use increased enormously.  It is estimated that the worldwide use of pesticides today measures around 2.5 megatonnes per year and this has, of course, a huge impact on the health of our soil and as a consequence our health.

The main detriment is killing the useful bacteria, microbes, and all the millions of other insects and species that help with the composting and the soil preparation. By killing them all, the soil turns to dirt – void of all life, and artificial fertilizers have to be used in ever-increasing quantities to assure a successful crop. The more we destroy, the more we have to artificially feed the plants. It is a cycle of destruction and sadly many farmers are now stuck with this process. To build up a new soil structure takes time, a lot of time. And many farmers would not commercially survive this conversion. This brings me to the next point of stewardship of the land.

 

The Stewardship of the land

 The fundamental way of human existence is to be connected to the natural cycle and the feeling of being at one with nature. We are not above it, far from it! 

We are an integral part of the all-natural processes and share this planet with plants and animals in equal measures.  We need to respect them and in turn, will be enriched by their contribution to the natural cycle. It should be a cycle of mutual benefit, not destruction. 

 

The introduction of artificial fertilizers was not all evil. Initially, it was seen as a means to serve a growing population with increased food security and lower food production costs.  But now we know that this has not happened and starvation still exists. Instead, farmers are held to ransom with increasing fertilizer price rises and worthless soils.

We better had listened to Rudolf Steiner’s warning exactly 100 years ago when he predicted all this and gave lectures to regain soil health and the linked food production and gut health. At the time this approach was ridiculed by many established scientists and the connection was only proven a few years ago.

As I mentioned above, we all can have an impact, positively and negatively. You may not be able to grow your own food, but at least you can source food from responsible food growers who work with the land and its natural rhythms.  It may cost a tiny bit extra as this way of farming is slightly more labour intensive and it takes more time to keep the soil in a good state. But by doing this, these farmers make sure that the land keeps its fertile soil and is in a good state of health when it is eventually passed to the next generation and the next after them. We all share responsibility in this and we all share in the stewardship of our precious Earth.

Here is an article that explains more about gut health and weight control

 

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How to create a perfect lawn

How to create a perfect lawn

 Most gardens, in the UK anyway, have lawns. Some are perfect and would make a wonderful backdrop to a British tea party, others are not much more than dirt patches with bits of grass in it. Below is a guide to help you create the first scenario and what to do when you end up with option two – the weedy, unsightly dirt patch.

Natural lawn care

Create a new lawn from scratch:perfect lawn

When you have to start right from the beginning, then the best time to establish a new lawn is in early spring and whenever you see a turf symbol on the ‘LWTM life-style calendar’. First, dig over the dirt patch and remove all unwanted weeds and stones. Then divide your grass seeds in half and first sprinkle them north to south and the east to west. This will make sure that you get an even coverage and no bald patches.  Then rake the ground over with a big rake and sprinkle a fine layer of compost on.

All you need then is to watch for the grass to come up. If the weather is very dry, water the lawn seeds in – do this at least once a week. But if you do have some rainy days, then just keep off the grass and let nature do the work for you. In a few weeks, the first little grass stems will poke through. Try to keep off the grass as long as possible, until it is firmly established.

  Once the grass has reached a reasonable height, choose a dry day (preferably when you sign the lawn-mower sign in the ‘LWTM life-style calendar’) to do your first cut. Set the blades of your lawnmower quite high, say 4cm (2 in) and finally lower them to the length you want –  usually around 3 cm. ( 1 1/2 in).

 Lawn care program in March/April and September/October :

Once your lawn is established it is important to keep it in good shape. The best months for this are March/April and  September/October during the Waning Moon.

This procedure will take a bit of time, but will ensure that you have a great lawn.

  •   Step One: mow the lawn as usual.
  •   Step Two: Rake out all the moss, weeds and thatch. If you have a medium to large lawn it might be worth hiring a powered lawn raker.
  • Step Three: If your lawn is prone to water-logging it is well worth spiking the lawn. It needs to be done every other year. This procedure will ensure that your lawn does not get compacted and that rainwater is free draining. For a big lawn, you can hire machinery to do this, but if your lawn is not too big a good old-fashioned garden folk will do this job nicely. Start at one side at the edge and stab the folk into the grounds, making a row of small holes. Then remove the garden folk. Move about 15 cm (4inches) on and repeat the procedure. This is hard work and you may need to work in small areas a bit at a time.
  • Step Four:  Edging This will require a lot of work the first time you do it. But if you repeat this process regularly, it will be rather quick and easy.
    When you establish a lawn, it is a great idea to put stones around it, so it is easier in the future to edge the lawn. If you have no stone border, you can create an edge by using a garden spade or half-moon-shaped edging tool  (this should normally be done in early spring). Perfect edges make a big difference and create a real wow factor.
  • Step Five: Feed the grass: In September it is important to feed the lawn with a nitrogen-low feed to make it grow less and get it toughened up for the hard winter months to come. Although I recommended anything natural, like nettle brew. This is one task when ‘over the shelf’ products are hard to replace with ‘home-made’ equivalents.
  • Step Six: Finally top-dress your lawn with a layer of compost. Fill a wheelbarrow full of compost and shovel earth onto your grass. It is important not to use too much, as you need to rake it into the grass. It might be better to use less and repeat it more regularly.

If you follow these steps consistently, you will keep a good-looking lawn for years to come.

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