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!    

Biodynamic summer pruning

Biodynamic summer pruning

Biodynamic garden

If you have even the smallest of gardens there are prime times for pruning.

I usually urge people to put a lot of effort in the early spring pruning, then the Biodynamic summer pruning job should be a lot easier. But recently in the UK the weather has been so rainy and mild that most well-kept gardens have turned into mini jungles. So there is a lot to do now.

Firstly download the LWTM life-style calendar for August. It comes free with the monthly newsletter (you need to subscribe to this, if you have not done so already in the pink box on the website side bar). In the newsletter you will also find a symbols guide. For our exercise look at the pruning symbol and every time you see it that means it is an extra good day for this activity.

Sap goes up and down in plants and during the Waning Moon and especially during New Moon it is just more auspicious to do proper pruning jobs. One of my favourites is the

New Moon renewal cut: If a plant does not thrive you can try to revive it with this cut. First check if pruning in August is useful, as some plants object to pruning during the wrong season. If it is a good time season-wise, clip all the branches by a good third to half to jumpstart the new growth. You can try this method again at another New Moon.

A few years ago a water pipe burst and almost flooded our garden with the result that some of our established holly bushes were almost dead from a completely water-logged soil. But then I tried the New Moon renewal cut with great result, we managed to save them all.

If you tried a few times and the plant still does not recover then it may be effected by a bad disease or simply the spot you have chosen for it is just wrong – no sun/too much sun, wrong soil, etc.  In this case you can either dig it up and see if it thrives somewhere else or just plant something else in its place.

Cutting back fruit bushes during the late summer:

August is a good month to prune  red currants, gooseberries and other fruiting bushes that have already fruited.  Cut the side shoots back by one third and make sure that there are not side shoots growing on the bottom of the bush.

Your can also cut back summer fruiting raspberries once you have picked them all.  Cut the canes that have already fruited back to about 3cm above ground. The non fruiting canes can be tied to horizontal wires or a fence to bear crop the next year round.

This time of year is very useful to cut back hedges such as box, firethorn and thuja.

Other pruning tasks  in August :

  • deadhead annual roses and flowering bushes , pruning symbol (flowers and scissors)
  • Plant and divide perennials (spade symbol)
  • Prune flowering bushes like fire thorn (pyracantha), hornbeam, thuja hedges and Leyland hedges  (scissor & tree symbol)
  • Prune gooseberries, summer fruiting raspberries and red-current bushes (scissor & tree symbol)
  • take cuttings from Alpines (flower in put symbol)
  • Weeding, start weeding on Heat Days (red squares)
  • Sow hyacinths (indoors) for the Christmas period
  • For further help and information please download and read our e-book ‘Gardening With The Moon’. It will explain how to put a garden design into practice and help you find out what type of soil your garden has. It will further provide you with all kinds of tips. Form planting, digging, feeding, pruning, weeding to composting and companion planting (which plants thrive next to each other and which you should avoid planting together). In short everything you need to know to keep a well-growing biodynamic garden.

To find out more information about Biodynamic gardening, please download our e-book publication 
‘Gardening with the Moon’ in the LWTM menu section.

Design your perfect biodynamic garden

Design your perfect biodynamic garden

perfect garden designInheriting a grown-over, derelict garden is a momentous task, even for an experienced gardener. But following these few and easy steps can help you to turn this wasteland into your perfect garden.

The spring is a great time to start a new garden design from scratch.

This task is particularly important if:

– Your  garden is overgrown
– You recently moved into a new house and need to start from scratch
– You want to change most of the layout and planting scheme of your current garden

The Biodynamic garden design is similar to any normal design, except that you use the symbol guide on the LWTM calendar to guide you to the best times.

Biodynamic garden design is best undertaken over the winter months or in early spring, ideally during the Waxing Moon and when you see the LWTM life-style calendar symbol.

 

Step One: Photograph your current garden

It may be the last thing you want to take a picture of – a depressing, overgrown-looking wasteland. But taking pictures of your current garden is the starting point.

Be systematic and photograph every bit of your garden, moving closer to the middle, picture by picture.  It is important that you take pictures in a way that they slightly overlap. Once you have photographed your whole garden from all sides and angles, go and print these pictures out.

Arrange the prints in order, so they show the whole garden and glue them together by slightly overlapping.  Now you have a panoramic view of your whole garden in front of you.

Step Two: What kind of garden do you want to create? 
Do you prefer a formal garden, a cottage garden, a simplistic Japanese garden or some more modern design? A big consideration in all this is:

  • How much time have you got for gardening (formal gardens that need a lot of pruning, lawn mowing take up far more time than informal cottage gardens or minimalistic gardens)
  • What is the prime use of your garden?do you want to grow vegetables, use the garden as a playground or predominantly entertain? 
  • Will you have garden  furniture, a trampoline, sandpit,  compost heap or other garden structures and features

 Step Three: Draw your dream garden
Now place a large sheet of tracing paper over the photo-montage and start drawing your ‘dream garden’.
 At this stage, it does not matter if you get it wrong, as you can just use a new piece of tracing paper. Make sure you add all the garden structures and furniture (at scale) into your drawing. See how much space is left for the plants and possibly other features such as a garden shed, pond, etc.

Add a mood board in the form of snippets from a gardening magazine or pictures from the internet. That is what you would like your ideal garden to look like. Then show your different designs together with your mood board to your family and friends to get some vital feedback (as some of them have to live with this garden, too!)

Step Four: Research plants and conditions
Now you should have a pretty good idea of what you want. Now comes the next step – to see if your ideal design is also achievable and practical? 
Where is the sun? What type of soil do you find in your garden?

Yellow flowers in a shady corner may look lovely on the drawing board, but now do the research which yellow flowers will actually grow in this shady spot!  It can cost dearly and will just lead to disappointment if you plant a  sun-loving plant in a shady, damp spot. It just won’t thrive. The same principle also applies to your soil as well.  Acid lovers need a different kind of soil than plants that prefer alkaline soil conditions. A good way to choose plants is to walk around the neighborhood and see what other people grow and what seems to thrive in your part of the world. Chances are these plants will do well in your garden, too.

Step Five:  Learn about gardening
Gardening is a lovely leisure activity and will keep you in good shape. Good garden design is key to a successful garden that you can enjoy for years to come. 

It will provide you with all kinds of tips form planting, digging, feeding, pruning, weeding to composting and companion planting (which plants thrive next to each other and which should not be planted together).  It is a must-have for all organic gardeners.

 

leaf mould – nature’s restorer

leaf mould – nature’s restorer

leaf mulch

It is autumn again and the leaves are turning red, golden and orange before they finally fall to the ground and gather around tree trunks, lawns and bushes. If you own a lot of deciduous plants and trees, then rake up their leaves and make your own precious leave mould.

Hornbeam, willow, birch and other deciduous leaves will rot down in about one year. Evergreens and conifers may need 2 years (pine even longer). So try not to put evergreens, conifers and normal deciduous plants together into the same bag.

Here is what to do: 

1. Rake up the leaves into neat piles.

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 folk) 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.

4. When you open a  bag a year later, the leaves will have decomposed into a dark brown crumbly substance, also known as leaf mould. This is a great plant tonic which can be brought out and spread around brushes, onto lawns and added into your compost heap.

Acid lovers such as camellias, rhododendron and azaleas will be particularly happy with leaf mould and it is also a vital ingredient to add to your soil before sowing up a new vegetable plot.

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

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