In this Grow Guide, we’re going to step into the enchanting world of Biodynamic gardening. Biodynamic gardening is the pioneer of modern-day organics developed by the Austrian writer, educator and social activist, Dr. Rudolf Steiner. Emerging in the 1920’s when concern of modern agriculture was at an all-time high, biodynamics looks to restore and enhance ecological harmony.
The method of biodynamics stemmed from the apparent disconnect between farmers and their land. In the 1920’s, many people realized farmers became very prescriptive, using chemical inputs as quick fixes for depleted soil and pest problems. Steiner was a philosopher by nature, so when a group of farmers asked him to speak on the issue of modern agriculture, his focus was on mending this spiritual disengagement.
Biodynamic gardening encompasses all the practices of organic gardening and goes a few steps further. Biodynamic methods stem from the view that everything is connected, the mentality that the entire ecosystem is a living organism.
The primary goal of biodynamic agriculture is to be completely self-sufficient by striving to grow and produce all inputs on the farm itself. Similar to Dragonfly Earth Medicine philosophy, biodynamics encourages farmers to grow their nutrients and practice natural pest management.
The word biodynamic is trademarked and owned by the Demeter Association, who is responsible for certifying biodynamic farms around the world. As of 2011, biodynamic methods were implemented on 142,482 hectares of farmland in 47 countries; Germany leads the way with 45% of the global total. Some of the requirements for a biodynamic certification include maintaining large-scale composting, using only plant-derived pest control, and eliminating chemical inputs, treated seeds, or hormones.
4 BIODYNAMIC METHODS YOU CAN IMPLEMENT IN YOUR GARDEN TODAY
Follow a Celestial Gardening Calendar
Everyone is aware of the moon’s effect on the tides, but for some reason when we start talking about the lunar effect on plants, the discussion turns into mystical nonsense. The moon is a very influential force, and its gravitational pull has a powerful relationship with water. Since plants are comprised of 90% water, it would be ridiculous for us to believe the moon imparts no effect. By following a celestial calendar, you will experience faster seed germination, quicker vegetative growth, and stronger plants.
A central practice in the biodynamic method is to follow a moon chart and align your gardening work to
the lunar cycle. Incorporating this into your routine is a really simple step that will yield substantial rewards.
It’s possible to dive very deep into this practice, but I’m just going to walk you through the basics:
When the moon is waxing (growing) the gravitational pull is strongest and energy is focused on growing the foliage of your plant. When working with a flowering plant such as Cannabis, you want to try to align the flower cycle with a waxing moon, and more specifically the Gibbous phase. This is the phase when a plant is drinking the most nutrients and flowers/fruits swell and grow fat.
Waxing Moon is the best time to:
– Germinate seeds (full moon)
– Feed a nutritious compost tea
– Begin flowering
When the moon is waning (decreasing) the energy is focused on expanding the plant’s roots. Energy is pulled downwards and inwards. During this phase, you may think your plant is growing slower than normal, but that’s only because you can’t see that the roots underground are growing wild.
Waning Moon is the best time to:
– Manicure your plants
– Plant seeds
– Harvest your plants
Begin Diversifying your Crops
Biodynamic methods emphasize soil as the central element of the ecosystem. Biodynamics was born out of the desperate need to reverse the damage caused by commercial agriculture – practices, such as monocropping, that deplete the soil and quickly drain it of all beneficial life. In order to combat the
problems caused by mono-crops, biodynamic farming requires planting a diverse range of crops. There are a two biodynamic practices that you can easily implement to rejuvenate your soil: cover crops and companion planting. These two practices have the same concept behind them — planting a variety of crops that will replace the nutrients being taken out of the soil. If you have a heavy feeder sucking all the nitrogen out of the soil, such as cannabis, then planting a nitrogen-fixing crop (like crimson clover or peas) will keep your soil in balance. The main difference between cover crops and companion planting is the timing: cover crops are typically planted in the off-season where they can cover the entire grow plot and revitalize the soil, whereas companion plants are planted right beside (or under) the main crop during the growing season. Diversifying your crops not only keeps your soil healthy but it also attracts beneficial insects who will work to keep any cannabis-loving pests at bay.
Popular Companion/Cover Crops:
Legumes (fava beans, peas, etc.)
Hairy Vetch (great for a winter cover crop)
Rye (great for winter)
Begin a Biodynamic Compost Pile
Composting is a nearly effortless way to create organic soil amendments. It’s a way to create life out of what most people consider trash. Adding nutrient-dense plants, such as valerian, dandelion, oak bark, stinging nettle, chamomile, and yarrow, to your compost pile is an effective way to release their benefits.
Start by covering a plot of bare ground with twigs and woody material to keep air flowing through the bottom of the pile. Begin layering with nitrogen-rich green waste (veggies, leaves, etc.) to balance the carbon-rich woody materials. Adding crushed eggshells is a great way to introduce calcium into your compost. Continue layering, green to brown, shredding the brown, wood waste if you can. The microorganisms you’re cultivating in your compost need a balanced diet of carbon and nitrogen, so it’s ideal to add three buckets of green waste for every one bucket of brown waste. To bring biodynamics further into your pile, you can add any of the nine preparations (see below) to infuse extra nutrients into your compost.
Make a Biodynamic Prep
Those who truly want to dive into biodynamics will regularly be using these nine preparations. These preps incorporate the three aspects of nature: animal, mineral, and vegetable. A long-held theory in biodynamics is that the combination of these three elements is the best way to regenerate land and repair the earth.
Many of these preps are not for the squeamish. They do include animal products such as skulls, horns, and intestines. This practice is what often times gives biodynamics that mystical, occult reputation.
Horn Manure 500: Fall prep. It is a strong belief in biodynamics that horns hold beneficial life forces, which makes them a perfect vessel in which to transform raw manure into something more powerful. Returning manure (primarily digested grass) back to the garden replaces all the salts and minerals the cow removed while grazing. For this prep, you are going to need fresh cow manure and cow horns, ideally from local, pasture-fed cows that have had several calves (fun fact – calving rings develop at the base of the horn for each calf born). The process is as simple as stuffing the horn full of manure, tapping the horn or stuffing with a rock as you fill to ensure there are no air pockets. Once you’ve filled the horns, dig a hole in an area with fertile soil and pile the horns within the hole, mouth-side down. Timing is important for this prep, you want to bury the manure horns in fall. Six months later, in the spring, you can dig up your horns and gently tap to remove the concentrated horn manure (it should be dark brown, crumble easily, and have a sweet smell). Store in a jar and when ready to use, dilute in water
and disperse in large droplets directly on the soil.
Horn Silica 501: Spring Prep. This prep works together with horn manure 500 – as horn manure effects plant roots, horn silica enhances the foliage and flowering growth of a plant. Horn silica finishes the work of horn manure by encouraging the nutrients in the soil to gravitate upwards towards the visible end of the plant. As a foliar spray, horn silica enhances the ability of the plant to soak up the heat and light from the sun. It strengthens the plants so they can easily resist pests and diseases. This prep is made in a similar way to horn manure 500 except the cow horn is filled with quartz as opposed to manure. The items you’ll need for this prep are cow horns, quartz rocks, rainwater, and a heavy duty mortar and pestle. You’ll want to start by breaking down the quartz rock in the mortar and pestle until it’s a fine powder. Combine the powder with some rainwater until it makes a stiff paste. Fill the horn to the brim with the quartz paste. Wait until the paste has dried inside the horn to bury it. For this prep, you’ll want to bury it in the spring and wait six months to unearth it in the fall. Remove the silica with a knife and store in a glass jar. When you’re ready to use, dilute a pinch of horn silica into water and spray over the tops of your plants at sunrise.
Yarrow 502: Yarrow is an easy-to-grow perennial herb that attracts beneficial insects such as lacewings. When condensed, yarrow makes a great sulfur-rich tea that wards off powdery mildew. This plant has the amazing ability to pull nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen directly out of the air and into the soil, making it a great soil regenerator. Alright, prepare yourself, with this prep you’re going to have to get your hands a little dirty. Yarrow 502 prep is created by filling a stag’s bladder with yarrow flowers. According to Jim Fullmer, “The use of the stag’s bladder is significant: stags have highly developed senses and are intimately connected to their surroundings, not only of movements in the forest but of those on Earth as a whole.” The stag’s bladder is a powerful focal point for the animal’s sensing abilities, and so the logic is that enclosing yarrow flowers into the stag’s bladder will dramatically enhance the beneficial nature of the herb. For this prep, you will need a stag bladder (available from your local biodynamic association), dried yarrow flowers, wire, and wire cutters. To make Yarrow 502 you begin by making a tea out of the dried flowers with warm water. Prepare the bladder by cutting a small opening at the top of the pouch-like organ. Soak the bladder in the yarrow tea to make it more manageable to work with. Add more flowers to the tea to make a paste-like substance, then carefully fill the bladder with the damp flowers. Tie the yarrow-filled bladder with twine and then hang in a dry area like under a tree or eaves of a roof. Wait six months until the fall and then bury the entire bladder in rich soil. Wait six more months until late spring or early summer when your compost will finally be ready. Separate the yarrow from what remains of the bladder and store the nutritious yarrow prep in a glass jar filled with peat to prevent drying out. This prep can be used in a variety of applications: sprayed directly on the plants, to make biodynamic compost or to act as a compost activator.
Chamomile 503: Chamomile is a powerful addition to any garden. The plant itself is great for loosening compacted soil and this prep will work wonders for preventing heat/cold stress. Chamomile 503 enhances the plant’s digestive abilities, to ensure the plant can uptake all the nutrients you’re adding into the soil. For this prep, you will basically be making chamomile sausages. What you’ll need is dried chamomile, warm water, and cow intestines (available from your local biodynamic association). You’ll begin this prep by rehydrating the cow intestines and cutting them into manageable pieces. Tie one end with twine while leaving the other open to fill with chamomile. Let the chamomile infuse in warm water for a couple minutes before stuffing.Once stuffed and tied, it’s time to bury your chamomile sausage. Since these are considered a treat by most animals, you’ll need to protect them by first burying the sausages in a clay pot. Cover the lid of the pot with tile and then bury underground for six months. In the spring, unearth your chamomile sausages, collect the chamomile compost and store in a glass jar. Chamomile 503 is a great addition to biodynamic compost piles and foliar sprays.
Stinging Nettle 504: Stinging Nettle is the ultimate compost boost. It helps produce rich, dark compost that can support a plant in almost any condition. They are a great addition to the garden not only because they add fertility to the soil but also because they attract ladybugs who love munching on aphids. Nettle 504 is easily made without any animal inputs. Harvest the nettle when its sting is most powerful, mid-summer (wear protective gloves!) Chop up all the plant materials (stems, flowers, everything) and pack as much as you can into a clay pot. Cover the lid of the pot and bury face down under the earth. This prep takes a bit longer than the others, requiring you to wait 12-15 months before it’s finally ready for use but when it’s finished it makes an invincible addition to compost and foliar sprays.
Oak Bark 505: Oak trees exude strength, power and ancient wisdom. Their bark is tough and weather-resistant, and in this prep, we are going to harness these traits. Oak bark adds balance into your compost and soil. The strength and calcium of the oak tree are transferred to the soil to promote vigorous growth. For this prep you will need the skull of a farm animal, crumbled oak bark, some old leaves, and a barrel. You can use a cheese grater to collect the bark shavings. If you haven’t butchered an animal on your farm recently, you can pick up a fresh skull from your local butcher shop. You want to make sure the brain is removed but the membrane lining is left intact. Pack as much oak bark into the skull as you can then seal with a cork or a piece of bone. You want this prep to compost in swamp-like conditions which can be created in the barrel by filling with rainwater, some soil, and the old leaves. Place your oak-filled skull in the barrel and weight it down with a rock. Cover with soil, leaves, and water before sealing it with a tight lid. If possible, it’s best to connect the barrel to a rainwater catchment system so the buried skull receives a continuous supply of water. You can also top it off with water by hand on occasion. In early spring, six months later, dig the skull out of the barrel, wash the outside and gently break it open to reveal the sweet, oak-bark compost inside. Store in a glass jar until you’re ready to use as a potent addition to compost or sprays.
Dandelion 506: Dandelions are able to sense and filter for exactly what they need from the soil. This power is believed to transfer when used in compost or sprays to increase the plant’s awareness of nutrients in the soil. For dandelion 506, you will be making dandelion pillows. If you’ve caught on so far, the process is not as pleasant as it sounds. To make the prep you will need a cow mesentery (the membrane that encloses a cow’s digestive organs), dried dandelion flowers, and warm water. First, make a tea from dandelion flowers and warm water. Rehydrate the mesentery in the tea then cut to create a pouch (you may need to use some twine to seal). Add a small amount of the tea to your stash of dandelion flowers and let the flowers rehydrate slightly. Fill the pouch with enough flowers to make a pillow. Seal the mesentery pouch with some more twine and then bury. Six months later, in spring, dig up the dandelion pillow and remove the dandelion compost. Store in a glass jar until you’re ready to use as a compost enhancing ingredient or foliar spray.
Valerian 507: Valerian is a phosphorous-rich perennial that enhances your garden’s ability to absorb light. Valerian is an essential ingredient in your soil and compost because it makes sure raw materials stay at a constant temperature and don’t get too hot. This is the only liquid prep. To make Valerian 507, you’ll need fresh valerian flowers, rainwater, funnel, clear glass for infusing and a dark glass for storage. To begin, pick fresh valerian flowers in early summer and use a funnel to fill the clear glass bottle with flowers. Fill the valerian-packed bottle with rainwater then top with a cork or airtight lid. About 1 oz of flowers and 5 fl oz of rainwater makes about 4 fl oz of valerian 507. To quicken the infusion process, hang the bottle in a sunny location and leave for three days. When the liquid is a clear amber color, it is at its prime. Remove the plant material, strain the liquid, and place your valerian juice into the dark glass bottle. Within a few weeks, your Valerian 507 will be a transparent green-yellow color and ready for use. Another method for immediate use is to juice the valerian flowers. This prep prevents also frost on your plants and in your compost pile.
Equisetum (Horsetail) 508: When sprayed on your plants, this horsetail prep will protect your garden against an invasion of pests or diseases. Overall, this prep will help prevent imbalances. When applied to the soil directly, Equisetum 508 provides a silicate barrier that deters fungal diseases and weeds. This prep is one of the easier ones to make; you’re essentially brewing tea. All you need is the fronds and stems of the common horsetail plant and a pot of boiling water. To extract the silica from the horsetail, you need to concentrate it using boiling water. Cook for about 30 minutes and then strain to separate the plant materials from the extracted nutrients. Pour into a spray bottle and mist your foliage directly.
There it is, Biodynamics 101! Inspired? Grossed out? Either way, these methods bring diverse life and nutrients to your garden with a holistic approach and all-natural, organic ingredients. It may take a few years of organic gardening until you’re ready to fill a cow intestine with chamomile, but once you see how your plants thrive with these obscure methods, your hesitation will fly out the window.