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. 

 

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.

 

The Soil Revolution – part 1

The Soil Revolution – part 1

The soil revolution   The status quo –
where are we now? 

As far back as 2014, Reuters reported that a senior UN official said, “If we continue with our intense farming practices and destruction of wildlife at the current levels – we have realistically 60 years of sustainable farming left. “ (source Scientific American)

This is a sobering thought. But what has happened on the official front since 2014?

Where are the school campaigns that explain to children that to make 3cm of topsoil takes the earth roughly 1000 years, but we only have 60 left. Where are the billboards and media campaigns to the same effect? I am interested in this topic and apart from the occasional scientific paper, it does not seem to be ‘newsworthy.

But this ecological wave is coming nearer and nearer and nearer. And the evidence is all too clear. Since 2014 we had more floods, bushfires, and heatwaves and the destruction simply moves on. First the coral reefs, then the icebergs in Antarctica, the increase of desert and soil destruction, and the massive, massive loss of wildlife. The last one is properly the most talked about topic. And it is lovely to look after the bees, but only bees and no other wildlife would never ever work.

I know it is not the best place we currently find ourselves in, but this blog series is not meant to be just doom and gloom. The essence here is – what can we do about it?  And then act fast!

Luckily there are a few men and women around who really grasped this concept early on and started doing something about it. Some of these methods are really ingenious and we will hear more about their various projects over the next few articles.

But let’s start first at the beginning

When Rudolf Steiner first taught his first Biodynamic soil lectures – now almost 100 years ago – this topic did not seem relevant and he was called a deluded dreamer for most of the 20th century. But not anymore.  Ever since scientists discovered microbes in the soil and even inside us,  the concept of ‘the living soil’ has moved from random fiction to fact.

The first Biodynamic lectures were held just after the First World War and this is by no means a coincidence. Although this war was short (1914-1918), the world saw chemical warfare used for the first time in combat. The real war benefit was only established towards the end of this war, but with peace on the horizon all these chemical plants had no longer any use.  So a plan was hatched that these chemicals could in diluted form be brought out on the fields to get rid of ‘soil and leaf’ pests. This meant the farmer did not have to adhere to long-standing traditional methods of crop rotation, weeding and composting. The ‘miracle cure was of course much easier to administer.

And initially the farmers were enthusiastic. Who would not like more yield and less work? But after a few years, the quality of the soil and produce deteriorated and some farmers asked Steiner for advice.

Additionally, the first year a little bit of fertiliser did the trick, but with every subsequent year more and more fertilizer had to be used to achieve the same result. This is costly but after a while, there is not much of an alternative. left.  The farmers can’t just stop the farm for a couple of years in order to wait for the soil to revigorate. This is not a sustainable business model and the trap continues.

What had happened?

Let’s look first at how the soil works. Compost material (waste from the previous growing season) together with compost tonics and manure are put onto the fields and reinvigorate the soil. This usually happens in late autum (the end of the growing cycle)  and in early spring (the beginning of the cycle). This enables the billions of microbes in the soil to turn the compost into a fertile, nutrient-rich soil, ready for the next growing cycle. This humus is full of fungi, earthworms and insects. It is the ‘internet of the soil’, distributing moisture and letting plants almost ‘communicate’ with each other and certainly cross-fertilize each other (that is the principle of companion planting).

But artificial fertilizers destroy all these natural soil improvers, turning fertile, alive soil (there are billions of these creatures in just a handful of earth) into dirt= dead soil.

Lifeless dirt is then artificially fed to produce the next year’s crop, but there is no regeneration. Once this chemical is washed away by the rain, it is gone and more product has to be put on to replace it. But more importantly, the food you eat is ‘also dead’ as no or very few microbes survive. Dead food lacks nutrients and most importantly microbes. We need the soil and its creature for our survival, too.  IPS, bloating and more severe health crises can often be traced back to food that gives us fuel (and puts on calories) but does not actually ‘feed us’. And that is not even taking obesity and diabetes into account.

I have often talked about the macro-organism and the micro-organism and how they work together. If you are new to this concept it is as follows:

The Macro-organism is the universe, the planets, stars and micro-organisms are all living creatures. Beetles, birds, whales, lions, trees, flowers, and of course us humans. It is like a huge clockwork, every clog and wheel turns individually, but when in harmony they feed and enrich each other.

Going back to the clock example. Taking a small wheel out of the clock may be ok, but destroying half of the clockwork – what do you think would happen? Most children could answer this.

But this is exactly what we are doing with the planet. Currently, we are losing about 30 soccer fields EVERY MINUTE!

We read above that the earth is capable of making 3cm of good quality topsoil in about 1000 years – please make the Maths.

Additionally, the soil is responsible for catching carbon and hanging on to water. Dirt can’t do that and the results are floods and climate change.

So, we are where we are, and no more gloom! From now on this series will turn to seek real, positive solutions.  We need to make this positive turning point for the sake of our children and grandchildren. The Soil Revolution has started and we are all hell-bent to reverse this damage done over the last 100 years. Come and join in and do your bit!

Access here the second installment of the Soil Revolution series 

 

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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 the 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-sized 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 the compost out? 

weeding
This is the symbol to look out for when turning the soil, bringing out the compost, and doing some weeding. 

 

 

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