We had the privilege of visiting Swallowtail Waldorf School & Farm today for an introduction to biodynamics, hosted by the Oregon Biodynamic Group. Tony and I had a basic understanding of biodynamics but had been interested in learning more and today offered us the perfect opportunity to dive into the basics. I had been a little leery of biodynamics after an experience I had on a biodynamic farm in New Zealand 7 years ago… It was a small homestead specializing in blueberries. I helped with normal tasks like weeding, hauling things, digging, etc. One day while I was there, I happened upon the owner of the farm who looked startled when I found her in a dark corner kneeling before a few piles of cow poop, with several lit candles surrounding her and the poop. At the time, I thought she was worshipping the cow manure. I was a little shocked, and ran out of the room. She never mentioned it to me and I was left wondering. A few years later I heard a description of biodynamics and made the connection between the revered cow poop and biodynamic preparations. I began to understand that the preparations, although seemingly strange (like smashing cow manure in a cow horn and burying it), has quite a bit of science and practicality to it. I will share a little bit about what we learned today, and some photos of Swallowtail Farm.
First of all, I love the alternative farming world! I find it to be incredibly intellectual and intriguing, with endless learning opportunities. It was a delight to meet with 20 + strangers today to learn about the principles of biodynamics. I believe that these practices and principles can be used to enhance your farming style, not replace it. I was a member of a CSA a few years ago run by a biodynamic farm but when I visited the farm it looked no different to me than any other annual vegetable organic farm: rows upon rows of annual crops with no topography or trees or water features or animals. I felt that there were some critical missing elements that one would find in a biodiverse, perennial, regenerative permaculture system. Today, my assumption was confirmed. The principles and practices such as the preparations, planting calendar, and composting techniques can only be successful if incorporated into an already well-designed farming system (which for us, is permaculture). Nearly everything we learned today seemed to align perfectly with what we know of permaculture, of agroforestry, of responsible and biodiverse farming.
We spent the morning learning some of the foundations, such as: a personal relationship with the land, biodiversity, reciprocal maintenance (between farmer, plants, animals and land), a closed nutrient system, the preparations, working with the rhythms of nature, and spirit. There was brief mention of “nature spirits,” and I am choosing to ignore that aspect for now. There was mention of considering your farm a whole organism. Someone said biodynamics can be considered “the science of life forces.”
We then learned seven “compost preps” and watched them inoculate a compost pile.
When I first learned of biodynamics, especially after my experience with the “cow poop worship” incident, I considered it to be a little “voodoo woowoo”. I mean, really? Smashing a cow horn with cow poop and burying it in the ground? What I hadn’t realized at the time was that these preparations are a way to inoculate our composts, soils, and the surfaces of plants with highly potent beneficial living organisms. Bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and micro-arthropods are cultured in these preparations providing a foundation for a healthy soil ecosystem. I have been learning recently about Dr. Elaine Ingham’s work with the Soil Food Web and her compost teas, as well as the benefit of spraying whey or raw milk on our fields to add beneficial life to the soil. These preparations are an extension of this: of adding and enhancing the soil, which in turn nourishes us with living, nutrient-dense food. I am also a big fan of fermenting much of the food that I put into my own body, to add beneficial fauna to my system and strengthen my immunity. Why would it be any different with our soils?
Here are the “compost preparations” and some of their benefits:
#502: Yarrow/Stag Bladder (permits plants to attract trace elements in extremely dilute quantities for their best nutrition)
#503: Chamomile/Intestine (stabilizes nitrogen within the compost and increases soil life)
#504: Nettle (stimulates soil health, providing plants with the individual nutrition components needed; enlivens soil)
#505: Oak bark/Skull of domestic animal (combats harmful plant diseases)
#506: Dandelion/Mesentery (stimulates silica)
#507: Valerian (stimulates compost so that phosphorus will be properly used by the soil)
#508: Equisetum arvense (anti-fungal)
It was emphasized that these preparation are meant to enhance an already good compost pile. I also learned that working with living soil, as opposed to dead soil increases our serotonin levels. Pretty cool.
We also learned about respectful animal husbandry, and the qualities of different animal manures.
There was also a discussion of moon planting calendars and the effect of the moon on germination, growth, and biorhythms. This was another thing I had been hesitant to pay attention to, but the description today made it seem very reasonable and worthwhile to pay attention to the cycle of the moon. The moon is big, has mass and gravity, reflects light from the sun and probably does a lot of things we don’t even know about. The changes in the phase of the moon can have positive or negative impacts upon the success and vitality of plants. Even the taste and storage qualities of produce can be improved by using the calendar. The calendar expresses the phases and shows a gardener which days are best to plant, transplant, prune, harvest and more. It might seem odd but the first hand accounts from the gardeners using planting calendars were extremely convincing.
Here are some recommended producers of current moon planting calendars I learned about today:
We also discussed the two major preparation sprays: #500 and #501
#500 is fresh cow manure stuffed in a cow horn and buried through the winter. It is then mixed in water for an hour and generally sprayed in early spring. It is the “waking up” spray. It is a soil stimulant good for vegetative growth.
#501 is quartz crystal ground very fine, stuffed in a cow horn, and buried in the summer. It is also mixed with water for an hour and sprayed just before a transition. It is the “putting to rest” spray, for focusing growing energy into fruits and seeds, improving cell tone, ripening and maturing.
We also discussed mixing different elements to make our own teas and sprays that will stimulate whatever it is that we are needing or lacking in our garden and soils.
I bought a copy of “Culture in Horticulture” by Wolf D. Storl and look forward to learning more this summer. Maybe I’ll even buy a 2015 moon calendar. It was a fascinating day, and a beautiful school and farm. Here are a few more photos:
I’ll let you know when I’ve smashed some cow poop in a cow horn and buried it.