Renewal pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs

Renewal pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs

The Waning Moon and New Moon in November/December is a good time for renewal pruning of any deciduous trees and shrubs. If the weather is too wet or cold, you can move this task to January or even February. But make sure you have pruned back your deciduous specimen by the beginning of March.

There are two ways to prune:

Method 1 – the slow pruning option:

Before you start to ‘butcher’ your plants, stand back and have a good look. Some may need a radical prune (see section below), but most plants just need to get ‘back into shape’ and a ‘soft prune’ will just do that.

Deciduous shrubs and trees respond particularly well to this method, but it can also be used for evergreens.

First cut out old branches and stems that are too crowded. You can prune them back right to the main stem. Following that prune the rest of the bush/tree into a reasonable shape. Depending how fast the plant grows, take off a quarter to a third of its length. This ‘modest’ pruning method will make sure that the bush rejuvenates over a few years. But whilst this rejuvenation happens, you will still look out on a decent plant in your garden. This way of pruning is also a sensible option for very slow growing specimens.

The other alternative is more radial.

Method 2 – radical pruning option

If you have inherited a totally overgrown or neglected garden, you may wish to prune all plants back to the ground and start from afresh. This method is advisable if a plant is fast growing (although be careful, the more you prune, the quicker the plant will grow back) and if a plant looks very old, tired or even ill. Sometimes a radical pruning session at New Moon is the best option to let a plant spring back into life again. I once had an old holly bush that, due to a burst pipe at a neighbour’s property it had been waterlogged for a while. As a consequence it had lost all its leaves and quite frankly looked dead. So I decided to give it a final go. At the next New Moon I pruned back all side shoots and also chopped a third off the top.

At first nothing happened. But as soon I decided to chop it down completely, a few light-green shoots appeared. Now it is back again to its full old glory and a real focal point in our garden.

Biodynamic gardening made easy

Biodynamic gardening made easy

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

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

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 principle. A non-biodynamic gardener wants, on the whole, to make her/his plants look the best with whatever 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.
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 wildlife erosion and longer down the line the extinction of species.

The biodynamic approach is more wholesome. It all starts with the soil and great effort is made to keep the soil in good condition. The addition 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 they need to be rotted down) or used in other ways. Take for example the plant nettle. In the ‘biodynamic world’ a nettle is never seen as a weed, but as a useful byproduct of nature. You may not want to have it grown in your favourite flower bed and will probably hoe it out from there. But what you do is different. Normally you would just throw it away as weeds. But the biodynamic gardener finds a lot of uses for it. For example dried – it makes a great detox tea, used as nettle brew it is the best lawn fertiliser there is and the fresh leaves can even be added to salads as they are full of nutrients. Anything not useful does not go to waste, but gets put back on the compost heap to make wonderful soil to help the next generation of crops grow.

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 if it was a single complex organism.

In essence, Steiner described Biodynamics as an ‘ecological and sustainable approach to agriculture/gardening that increased soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides’.

So 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 it all 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. Here are some of the symbols to look out for.

We have grouped them together in the category Happy House in the LWTM lifestyle calendar. Here is a link to the calendar.

Click here to read more about how Biodynamic Gardening works

Traditional versus Biodynamic Farming

In contrast to conventional farming which is largely linear – you put a plant in the earth, grow it, take it out and sell it. Any unwanted plants/insects or other animals that interfere with producing just ‘the one crop’ are destroyed. Then the fields are stripped and made ready for the next crop.

The biodynamic approach, in contrast, is circular. You prepare the earth with soil tonics/compost, mostly made from the unwanted plants from the previous year – now turned into compost. Planting is done with calendars harnessing the life-force and plants that cross-fertilise (grow well next to each other, also known as companion planting) are seeded/planted.

Yield is also important, but so is the state of the soil and the balance of wildlife. Not just one crops is grown, but multiple at the same time. At harvest or even during growing, any unwanted parts, like leaves, roots, etc are used for composting instead of extinguished by pest control. This compost is then added to the soil together with earth tonics at the beginning of the next growing cycle.

Traditional Farming:
-Uses the soil as a commodity
-Is interested in high yields
-Pests are kept away by spraying chemicals
-Rows of the same crop are grown and all other plants are killed with pesticides
-It is all about making as much money from the land as possible
– no connection to natural patterns and life forces
– relies heavily on intervention from chemicals from outside.

versus

Biodynamic Farming:
-Is interested in the land as a whole (preservation of animals, soil condition, recycling) as well as the yield.
-Pests are controlled in natural ways and the emphasis is concentrated on how/when planting is done.
– Much time is spent on producing healthy soil conditions that are able to sustain many future crops to come. Compost is seen a vital part of soil preparation.
– Many crops are grown together, in fact that is encouraged so plants can naturally ‘cross-fertilise’ each other.
-Organic soil tonics, preparation and planting calendars are used to improve yield and keep the plants and soil healthy.

– Biodynamic farms aim to become self-sufficient interlinking animals into the agricultural process (manure as fertiliser, composting, etc) and try to limit most outside interactions.

Start a biodynamic compost heap

Start a biodynamic compost heap

 The LWTM compost symbol

Compost is a great gardening tool and best of all it is free. Chemical fertilizers are expensive and damaging to wildlife. If you have not yet got a compost heap or bin, here are a few tips on how to get started:

Home-made compost is cheap and easy to make, but the downside is that it takes around 6 months to gestate. The speed depends on the position of your heap (sun or shade) and the climate.

The most productive location in your garden is in a hidden corner, away from direct sunlight in dabbled shade.  If you keep your bin/heap in full sun then the compost soil will dry out too quickly.   But positioning it completely in the shade will decrease the time good quality compost is produced.

Biodynamic Composting
The best time to start a compost heap is during  Waning Moon, the nearer to the New Moon the better, or whenever you see the compost heap symbol on the LWTM lifestyle calendar. Compost needs heat to develop, so the best time to start one is in early spring to early autumn. During the cold winter months, the compost soil will lay dormant and the process will restart when the weather gets warmer in spring.

 

What type of container shall I use?
There are many different varieties on the market. You can buy either a custom made container (usually made of wood) or you can buy one off the shelve (usually made of plastic).
I have also seen biodynamic compost heaps that are made out of four wooden posts and chicken wire. I would not recommend them as heat escapes too quickly and the process is not as efficient as it could be.

If you don’t want to opt for a container, then the best natural alternative is to dig a hole in the ground (roughly one square meter wide and one meter deep). That means the earth will act as insulation and all you need to do is cover it with a piece of wood or old carpet to protect the compost from the element

Once in place, sprinkle some earth on the ground, then add organic kitchen waste, grass clippings, leaves, eggshells, coffee and tea bags, hair, straw and wood ash. Avoid all kinds of weeds, metal, glass, plastic, cleaning agents, plants with diseases, dairy products and meat.

 

Make sure the waste is balanced

To achieve a good balance apply the four-element rule:

Fire         Make sure that compost is not too dry

Air           Make sure the compost gets enough air

Water     Make sure the compost is not too wet and slimy

Earth      Make sure the ingredients are balanced.

 Once the waste has reached about 30 cm (one foot), add a thin layer of earth and some compost tonic, then carry on with another layer and spread some earth on top until the compost heap is full. Finally, cover the full heap with some soil and leave to develop.

 How many compost heaps shall I have?

biodynamic compost heap

This depends on the size of your garden, but the minimum is two – one side to fill up and one to use. For a medium-size family garden, I would recommend three bins – one to fill up, one to develop and one to use. This system will ensure that you have good quality compost available all year round.

 

When shall I bring compost out? 


This is the symbol to look out for when turning the soil and to bring compost out. Earth Days are great for this.  

Biodynamic Bee-keeping

Biodynamic beekeeping

Here is some vital information I found on the Biodynamic Association website that explains a lot about biodynamic bee-keeping

Like humans, bees are creatures of warmth and maintain a constant temperature in their hive. This warmth helps bees to create wax for their comb, maintain their colony, and keep it healthy. It is also through this warmth that the colony finds its identity, each bee and bee activity integral to the whole. No single part, not even the queen, can be seen as isolated from the whole.

Modern beekeeping – what’s wrong?

As the Natural Beekeeping Trust explains, bees were held sacred in all ancient cultures. Their survival was assured over thousands of years. In the last 150 years this has changed dramatically.

Much of modern beekeeping, like intensive farming, is geared to maximum production, and, like modern agriculture, its husbandry relies on chemical solutions to man-made problems. This invariably results in exploitation, as the essential needs of bees are disregarded.

As the Natural Beekeeping Trust also explains, the systematic exploitation of bees has seen a huge increase in disease. Bees in captivity can suffer from parasitic infections and more than 20 viruses; many of these can infect honeybees and hoverflies. International trading in queen bees has resulted in the importation of exotic diseases. Added to this, the routine suppression of bees’ natural reproduction (by swarming) in favour of artificial breeding, practised for more than a hundred years, has resulted in impoverished bee genetics.

Here is how you can help ! The best way is to start planting relevant plants that attract and keep bees. These are explained in this excellent booklet called  Bees in crisis . 

It is time for us all to do our bit to save these wonderful animals and pollinators for generations to come.

Ileen Macpherson – a pinoneer of the biodynamic movement

Ileen Macpherson – a pinoneer of the biodynamic movement

Ileen Macpherson (1898-1984) was born in August 1898 in Australia. She attended Clyde School in St. Kilda (Melbourne) and as a young adult became increasingly interested in natural ways of producing food.
This interest brought her to regular Anthroposophy meetings, based on the early biodynamic philosophy by Rudolf Steiner .  Anthroposophy is a philosophy that combines natural science (such as biology) and the intellectually comprehensible spiritual world. It is rooted in German idealism and mysticism, but its essential message is respect for nature, development of the human being in an individual manner rather than a mass-educational approach und the connection of our
 micro universe to the universe as a whole. So according to Rudolf Steiner it makes sense to watch what the universe is doing (for example Full Moon and other celestial aspects in the sky) and connect them to tasks such as planting, weeding, turning the soil and else. Seeds of this philosophy are now found in ethnical banking, the Waldorf education and alternative medicine.
One of the speakers at these early Anthroposophy meetings in Melbourne was Ernesto Genoni, an Italian citizan who arrived in Australia in May 1926. A few years later Ernesto and Mrs Anne Macky started the Anthoroposophical Society and it is through these meetings at the Anthroposophical Society that Ileen meets Ernesto.
A year later the pair have plans to start the first biodynamic farm in Australia and they call this farm Demeter Farm (named after the the Demeter society, a brand that is still around today and that upholds the quality of biodynamic farming. Its name was taken from Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and fertility). There Ileen and Ernesto perfected crop rotation, soil enrichment and the study of healthy plants and all organisms that are connected to the farm. The Biodynamic agriculture is a cycle where every part reinforces the entity as a whole. For example grass clipping and rotten food are turned into compost and this compost again fertilises the land where cows feed on its grass. In turn the cow’s horns and manure are then used to enrich the soil which then produces healthy plants and fruit trees.
In March 1935 the Demeter Farm in Dandenong, Victoria, finally opens and produced good quality biodynamic food on 40acres of land for over two decades.  The main crop was fruit, vegetables and milk. Soon after the opening Ileen and Ernesto found a group called the Experimental Circle of Anthroposophical Farmers and Gardeners’. 
 
This group soon becomes known for all ways of alternative farming in Australia and even Alfred Meebold comes to stay over for a fortnight. But just as things are going so well, tragedy strikes. Ileen, a very active person  in her early years and busy with long days farming and milking cows, became weaker and weaker. She still carried on as usual, but her conditions deteriorates and soon her legs gave way. In 1943 she was admitted to Epworth hospital where she spent on and off the next three years.
This was a bitter blow for Ernesto. Not only did he now have to carry out all the hard work on the farm, but he also had planned to go with Illen to Europe to join the Biodynamic movement, but all these plans were now nil and void.
In the end Ernesto stayed at the farm at at Ileen’s bedside.  When she was finally released in 1946  she would be confided to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. The cause was later revealed as pernicious anaemia (a lack of vitamin B12). Nowadays this condition is easy to cure, but in the 1940ies it often led to the patient’s death or life in a wheelchair.
Although Ileen tried her best with Ernesto to keep the farm alive, in the end her failing health was getting too much for Ernesto and the farm was sold in 1955. Ernesto started painting (the picture of Ileen above was painted by him) and Ileen, although now unable to practise it, never let go of the  biodynamic ideology. After her death in 1984 the Ileen Macpherson Trust still supports Anthroposophic causes in Australia.

A new concept of farming and living 

happy-pigsBiodynamic farming and living is catching on. What was once described as a ‘dubious niche interest’ has recently developed into an almost mainstream way of living,  hobby gardening and farming? More and more people are getting concerned about the health of the food chain and try their hand on growing their own food, so there is a real trend emerging on allotments, gardens and hobby farms.

As  intensive modern farming has left the soil so depleted that there is hardly any minerals left in the soil. So when your mother once said’ Eat spinach, it is good for you as full of iron’ there is very little iron now left.

Organic food has been around for a very long time now and it is just growing food with less or no pesticides,  but the concept of biodynamic is another level up. It is concerned about the state of the soil, crop rotation, animal welfare and keeping the land in good condition so future generations are equally able to  produce good quality food.

The original pioneers of biodynamic living started off with nothing but faith and learning from trial and error. But now it is a well-established practise that really works and can and is being adapted for big business, especially in the wine industry.

 

 

Biodynamics is more than just farming, it is a philosophy, a way of life

The concept of biodynamics was devised 80 years ago by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. He mixed old farming practises with the moon phases and soil tonics. By nourishing the life-giving soil, the plants that grow in this healthy soil are by default  stronger and less prone to disease, they also contain more nutrients. Compost and fertilisers are made from home-made composts and animal dung. The animals are seen as part of the land and food growing procedure and not as separate income stream. So just like the moon cycle, the biodynamic growing cycle binds in the earth, the cosmos, the people and animals who live on the land all together into one living organism.

Biodynamics also dictates that animals should be reared slowly, and slaughtered humanely with minimal stress. It further advocates a rather stress-free living and going back to basics.

I believe that after an increasingly globalised world with 24/7 internet and constant pinging emails more and more people crave a bit of solitude, simplicity and real things like face to face friendship and good food. And biodynamic food is good. The proof is in the pudding as it wins food prizes every year.

But if you think this way of life is just for the airy-fairy types, think again. It is true that good quality food that is full of life and grown slowly is of course more expensive to produce, but in that way it also employs more people and customers are often happy to pay a premium. So the business model works.

At the end of the day — you are what you eat –  so eating food that is brimming with life and vitality and that helps you to keep  a healthy body surely is well worth the price!