The magic of fermented cow poo and biodynamics
So from the start we have been running things quite organically on Homeland. We may not necessarily be certifiable, but we don’t use any pesticides or herbicides, no chemical fertilisers, we try and only source organically grown plants, non-GMO seeds and use only organic products. You can read in our post on vegetable boxes an example how we only use untreated wood. We also eat and drink in the same manner, so whatever food scraps go into our compost also meet the criteria. We even source raw milk from Surfcoast Wholefoods in Torquay, but maybe that’s more of an excuse to squeeze in a quick surf while doing the “milk run”.
We source most of our small plants and seeds from Diggers Club and so when Diggers offered a Biodynamic workshop at St Earths, we successfully arranged a baby sitter – which is a rare event in itself – and set off to the other side of Melbourne to learn Biodynamics 101.
Horn Manure, called ‘500’ in Biodynamic world, is the preparation we mostly use. It is basically made from fresh cow manure that is buried in cow horns over winter and it is very specifically buried on certain moon phases and dug up again in a specific moon-phase. So in layman’s terms, it is basically moon-blessed aged and fermented cow poo. It is a powerful soil activator that helps root development and growth of the plants, as well as humus formation in the soil. It encourages earthworm activity and other living organisms too.
Now to use Horn Manure you first have to mix it in a large quantity of rainwater (fortunately we have enough of that), stir it for an hour in a specific way to activate it and then spread it out as droplets all over the whole property in the late afternoon during the waning moon. In the beginning this was great family fun and the kids joined in with the stirring.
I must stay both Patricia and I had some serious doubts about all this stirring in clock-wise and anti-clock-wise directions for a full hour. All we needed was some chanting and a full moon and we would feel like proper amateurs trying our hands at witch craft. But we heard so many stories about farmers doing this with great success and we were both born with an extremely curious nature, so we were willing to try this and see what happens. Subsequently we did more reading and discovered some solid scientific principles behind all the stirring – it apparently has much to do with the activation and agitation of all the bacteria and micro life forms in the cow manure.
However stirring the same brown-green water very quickly became very boring for all, and lately I found myself sitting on a chair with 96threeFm playing in the background and going through the stirring process while thinking, dreaming, planning more projects and just relaxing after a typically hard day of projects. Fortunately the kids still helped with the spraying – I must say that is more interesting, as you walk all over the property, and you literally feel you are feeding the soil.
When we acquired Dreamland, we knew we were going to do a lot of mixing and spraying, because there we wanted to play catch-up and spray every two weeks. So we got a Sprite flow form from Living Water Flowforms. I must compliment Philip Sedgman on his work – in addition to having a nice ergonomic shape and being very well constructed, he packaged and crated it so well for shipping, even using bio-degradable products to wrap it in. Now this thing is an absolute amazing time saver and it mixes the preparations so well. Besides, we found when mixing the preparations in plastic buckets, there were always little particles of plastic that came off and blocked the sprayer’s nozzles. (OK, I know, we should have used large metal buckets, but now we’ve gone one step better.) Also, while you go about spraying the preparations, the flowform keeps on stirring, so it keeps the preparations activated – something we couldn’t manage with manual stirring. So a three-in-one problem solver.
We’ve really benefitted from the soil activating properties of frequent horn manure applications. I was really dismayed when I saw the dead and hard soil during that first dig in the driveway. But after a few years you can visibly see the difference as the following photo / video of the driveway soil illustrates. The soil is much darker, varied, contains more nutrients and is alive with creatures. We’re not that scientific that we do in-depth ground analysis and “living organism counts”, but using our simple measure of “earthworm count”, we have seen an incredible increase throughout Homeland.
This preparation, called ‘507’ in Biodynamics world, is made from the Valerian plant, which has amazing properties. In addition to its medicinal properties, in plants, unlike in humans, it has a natural tendency to warm things up a little bit. So it is used very productively for the prevention and mitigation of frost damage to plants. We have a few plants that we shouldn’t really grow in our area, with the 10 – 15 nights of frost we get per year. These include avocados, pepinos, gooseberries, granadilla, macadamia and even limes seem to need some frost protection. So when the forecast indicates a potential for frost, I dress super warm, grab my little mist spray bottle, make a mixture of Valerian extract diluted in lukewarm water and lovingly spray a mist over all our frost-sensitive plants before going to bed. Then, brrrr…., I repeat the process early in the morning before sunrise. Since we have been spraying Valerian, all these plants have survived the frost.
Come the end of winter, instead of wasting the left-over Valerian, I mix it in large buckets of water and douse it over the compost heaps. With its warming characteristic, it basically starts the composting process earlier and generates more heat throughout the compost heap. Amazing.
No, it’s not what you think…
Yes, of course we have weeds – lots of them. We have learned that some “weeds”, such as Dandelion, are in effect very useful medicinal plants. However, others like burweed are only a pest in the lawn, and are not fun for little children with bare feet to run over. In spring and if we have a late warm autumn, we get lots of them sprouting up. But what do you do about them if you don’t want to use herbicides? They’re too many to pull out when you have other more useful plants to tend to.
The Biodynamic theory is that the weeds indicate a shortcoming in the soil, which it tries to compensate for. In other places, the weeds just try to cover any open dirt so it doesn’t get scorched or get washed away, but that is what you use groundcovers and mulch for… Anyway, so the Biodynamic approach is to make a tea of the weeds. You basically pull out a large quantity of the same weeds and let them ferment in water for about two or more weeks. The Biodynamics guys love this fermentation thing – it must have been a bunch of winemakers that started it all. Anyway, we collect and ferment the weeds in a large wheelie bin so we can move it close to where we want to use it before filling it. In hot periods you may have to top up the water up a bit during the process.
Of course I have my own theory here… I think when you collect the weeds for the wheelie bin, you are so driven to put a substantial collection in there – in order to make a strong effective tea – that you dig out more weeds than you normally would. So instead of boring weeding of one patch after the other, you now have a more measurable goal to reach!
So, after two or more weeks’ of fermenting, you spread the foul smelling liquid back over the area, trying not to get any of it on yourself – it’s a really tough smell to try and scrub off. Patricia can immediately detect when I am busy with my teas and does not allow me to step into the house with any of my smelly clothes or shoes still on my body. It is laundry strip-down time!
So, that puts those nutrients the weeds were producing back into the soil and in the process it discourages those same weeds to grow. We have had amazing results on the front lawn with burrweed, on the back lawn with dandelion and also in the driveway with some other really persistent weeds.
Proof is in the pudding
Patricia’s parents arrived a few days ago for a visit. My wife has been telling her mother about the delicious apples still hanging on various trees waiting for them to arrive. One of these apple trees have been around since we purchased the property 5 years ago. It was a stunted little tree that Patricia was convinced bore crab apples – they were so tiny and green. Two years down the line, with regular biodynamic applications, the tree managed to bear a dozen apples which became a faded red. Ok, said Patricia, so they are cooking apples, we can make puddings! Now four years later, all the time applying biodynamic preparations, we have an entirely different apple tree. It has become a lush, big, wonderful apple tree. It is laden, absolutely inundated with huge deep ruby red apples. And they are delicious to eat. So when Patricia’s mother walked out to the garden to find some apples she stopped and exclaimed in amazement. Surely this is not the same apple tree I remember?
This story is just one of many that demonstrate the amazing changes biodynamic preparations have caused in our garden.
This is only a small subset of the Biodynamic preparations and methods we use. We also use tree paste, soil activator, horn silica (501), diatomaceous earths, basalt dust, biochar and approaches such as companion planting, planting by moon phases and more. We’ll discuss some of these in subsequent posts.
There are good websites and books listed on our resources page where you can read more about the history, preparations, approaches and much more of Biodynamics. There are also useful organisations that promote it, teach it and also sell the appropriate books and products, such as the Biodynamic Organisation and also locally in Australia there is the not-for-profit Biodynamic Agriculture Australia who have served us very well, in ensuring we get the right products, giving some useful advice and arranging the most effective shipping rates for large buckets filled with their products.
We will obviously carry on this same approach at Homeland, and at Dreamland as well, and even take it a step further to incorporate more companion planting, crop diversification and start our journey in incorporating aspects of permaculture too. So watch this space for developments!
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