Biodynamics update

We don’t write about biodynamics much, because it is something we just do as part of our periodic activities, so it normally just gets done without any photos or stories. But we have found it to be very useful in our overall soil improvement program. But come to think of it, we have come quite a way in how we apply the biodynamic preparations.

Horn manure 500

The preparation we use mostly is Horn Manure 500 – which is also called biodynamic soil fertility spray. It is not a liquid manure, but rather a biological stimulant. It is made from fresh cow manure, which is buried in cow horns to ferment over winter. It is then dug up and the rich substance is stirred in rainwater for one hour. The vitalized content is then sprayed across the property. It is typically sprayed on moist, warm soil in the afternoon during a waning moon. It enhances microbial activity, humus formation and root growth. It works with actively growing roots to help build friable soil structure and assists the breakdown of green manures in the soil. Spraying it when the moon is opposite Saturn is the best time – it is also a good time to plant seeds out, as the moon represents fertility and germination, while Saturn represents form and strong structure.

I still have this photo of our two very young children at the time very enthusiastically stirring the 500 mixture, very soon after we settled in at Homeland. For the first year they very eagerly participated in this practice. Nowadays they want nothing to do with fermented cow poo! In that era we still walked the property with small buckets of the stirred mixture and spread it out by hand using a brush.

Biodynamics - preparing to spread 501

Stirring horn manure in the good ol’ days

So nowadays we’re much more automated, especially since we have the two properties to cover. We’re doing the stirring with a flowform, which automates the stirring process. However, even though the flowform’s pump circulated the water nicely through the form, it seemed to me that it didn’t mix the 500 properly. There were always a lot of particles left over at the bottom. Then I remembered I had a pond pump in the shed that we had to use a few years ago to circulate the water in the natural pool (now there’s a story and a half for you). The pump had no pipe fittings, but it pumped the water like crazy. So I tried the pump inside the flowform’s container, and now it stirs properly! As soon as I switch the pond pump on, you can see the little dark particles appearing all through the flowform as the water and the horn manure particles get moved around.

Flowform, with overdrive!

I hope I’m not stimulating it too much!

Somewhere along the line, as the assistance reduced, I got a backpack sprayer for the spraying. My word, it was an instrument of severe torture! I got so exhausted carrying that heavy thing around, and the little spray jets constantly got clogged up by the little course bits in the mixture. I even drilled the holes bigger, but it still got clogged up. It still works, but thankfully the casing started separating from the tank, which prompted me to replace it.

BD - backpack

Instrument of torture

So nowadays we do the spreading using a battery-operated sprayer on wheels. My word, this is a labour-saver of note! You can now take 30l of stirred liquid on one journey around the property (instead of walking back and forth 2 to 3 times to fill the heavy backpack every time.) The battery is a bit limited – you can basically do about 2.5 containers before it runs out, but I’ve learnt to spread it out so that I do one container full at Dreamland, one container full at Homeland, and then less than a half a container over the Homeland vegetable gardens and compost heaps. Oh and you have to remember to pour the stirred mixture in through a sieve, which I absconded from the kitchen, otherwise the spray jets also get clogged up.

BD - sprayer

Battery-operated sprayer

Weed tea

We’ve had amazing success with weed tea. (No it’s not what you think!) In essence, if you have a lot of particular type of weed, you make a tea from it and feed that back to the area where you took the weeds out. The theory is that you provide the nutrients back into the soil that those weeds were trying to provide, and so as a result of the process there will be much less need for that particular type of weed. We don’t have weed tea going at the moment, because I’m currently using the wheelie bin for a compost tea (see below). But we will soon make weed tea. It’s that time of the year when all the weeds grow in abundance.

Compost tea

We have also had great success with compost tea, especially on our citrus treelets. In essence it works like this – instead of spreading a lot of compost, you make a lot of tea from a smaller amount of compost and then spread the liquid out much further.

However, with both weed tea and compost tea we had the initial problem that it became exceptionally stinky. Oh, especially the weed tea! My word, some weeds when fermented can really stink. I used to hate working with it – if it got anywhere your skin, it took days to scrub the odour off. And try not to spill when you dish buckets full of the stuff out of a tall wheelie bin… Then I read somewhere that it happens because the process takes place anaerobically – that is, without air. With a bit of a search I found a small little solar-powered air pump that is used for fish ponds. If I remember correctly, the thing was dirt cheap – less than $10 including shipping. My word, what a difference it has made. Our compost tea now smells sweetish, fresh and healthy. This is probably our sixth batch of compost tea since we’ve had the aerator.

BD - compost tea

Compost tea with solar aerator

I actually look forward to try the aerator on some weed tea next.

Other preparations

Horn silica 501 is the other main preparation which you need to use to become biodynamically certified, but certification isn’t a necessary evil for us at this stage. Cow horns and finely ground quartz are used to produce a silica preparation, which is then used as a fine foliar spray. It is typically applied early in the mornings. It gives structure and strength to plants, enhancing photosynthesis. It also improves the flavour, ripening, and keeping qualities of fruits and seeds. Initially we diligently used 501, but nowadays we reckon that Australia’s sun is so strong, we don’t need to enhance the plants’ photosynthesis capabilities. We may be wrong, but that’s our approach – in a way, our little cost and labour saving approach. We rather use other organic foliar feeds.

You also get preparations 502 – 507, which are used to enhance and speed up your composting process. Way back when, when we still did cold composting, we used those preparations when we started a new heap. Nowadays since we use (mostly) hot composting, I haven’t used those preparations. I’m sure they will improve the process – we just haven’t gone to the trouble to try.

Preparation 507 is worth singling out. It is a tincture made from Valerian flowers. It stimulates the phosphorus process and mobilises the phosphorus-activating bacteria in the soil, as well as selenium and magnesium. So it can assist the flowering process. When used on the compost heap, it forms a warmth blanket around the heap, and it also creates warm pockets inside the heap, which accelerates the composting process. It is this heat-generating property that makes it useful for protection against frost too. We found that if you spray it the night before a light frost and again the morning after on frost-sensitive plants, it protects them to an extent. However, last winter we had a lot of severe frosts, and even though I sprayed a lot of Valerian – I can still remember trudging through the garden with frostbite fingers in the middle of the night and then again in the early frosty morning – we still had significant losses. But it works very well for light frosts.

Well that’s an overview of our current use of biodynamics in not a nutshell!

Biodynamic Agriculture Australia (Ltd) has a nice overview of biodynamics on their website. Biodynamics Tasmania also have a very informative website. And so has the Biodynamic Association of India. In fact, there is no shortage of published material on the use of biodynamics.

About martin@muchmoremulch.blog (175 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

3 Comments on Biodynamics update

  1. Thank you for this insight into biodynamics. I must admit I was more aware of the planting with the moon aspect (which I always struggle with : it seems a bit too much like astrology to me!)
    I have read that spraying with cold water after a frost can help sometimes to protect from damage. It is the rapid defrosting with the sun that typically causes most harm, and cold water apparently makes the process slower.

    • martin@muchmoremulch.blog // November 13, 2019 at 9:16 am // Reply

      Nancy, we do the planting by the moon when it’s practically possible, but religiously. When you think about the liquid flows (e.g. as in tides) it does make some sense.
      Yes it is exactly that quick defrosting that harms the plants most. It took me a while to get it right – I eventually realised I need to have shade cover on the Eastern side of all our young avocados (which in theory we shouldn’t be growing) – they’ve now survived their second winter!

      • Good luck with your avocados. I usually find that plants are more easily killed when small, but don’t take your eyes off the ball!

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