Cole left to go on his two-week biodynamic farm class trip this morning.
Some of you have expressed an interest in biodynamic farming and have asked me to share more about the concept; this is especially funny, since I don’t even have a garden. However, I do have a really cool gardening hat and some nice gardening gloves, so perhaps this qualifies me to share the little bit about biodynamic farming that I have learned over Cole’s 13 years as a Waldorf student.
First a little background. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, was an Austrian social philosopher who was widely admired at the turn of the twentieth century. Steiner’s contribution to philosophy was anthroposophy: loosely, the idea that people can reach a state of spirituality through discipline and learning.
Steiner was concerned about the commercial direction farming was talking in the 1920s. While he experienced the Earth as a living, interconnected organism, he saw the start of a profound disconnect between the earth and the people who live on it, and proposed a series of principles for farmers to follow. Many of these principles are familiar to organic farmers: for example, the use of cover crops to protect the soil, or the idea that farms should have a low ecological impact. Biodynamic farming also values composting, and uses such natural fertilizers as manure and herbal teas, and promotes living in harmony with the Earth.
However, biodynamic farming also has a bit of alchemy about it. Farmers use one of eight biodynamic preparations to condition the soil, along with compost and mulch. These preparations include plant, animal, and mineral ingredients, and are prepared in specific ways, often in accordance with the cycles of the moon. Some of the more well-known biodynamic preparations include horn manure (cow horns filled with cow manure and buried in fields to condition the soil), yarrow blossoms (picked at full bloom and buried at the margins of fields), and plant-derived sprays to resist fungus. Invasive weeds are ritually burned and scattered at certain periods of the moon, while preparations made from the ashes of animal pests are used to resist infestation.
I don’t plan to ever have a garden, but I did learn a few things from the Waldorf gardening teacher about how to add a little “biodynamic” to your garden that I am happy to share. Keep in mind, the purist will tell you biodynamic is all or nothing; others will tell you, “Baby, something is better than nothing.” I have always lived on the street with the second group of people. I’m sure these tips will be nothing new to many of you, however for more advance tips like how to properly prepare a manure-filled cow’s horn using herbs, such as Yarrow, Chamomile, and Stinging Nettle and bury it underground under a just right moon you will have to look further than moi.
The scraps of raw plant matter from last night’s dinner can be added to a compost heap if you’ve already got one started. If not, you can bury them in the flowerbed alongside whatever is already planted there.
Earthworms are incredibly hardworking, inexpensive gardeners. In exchange for your organic left-over dinner, Slimy and his friends will aerate your soil as they burrow through it, allowing oxygen and water to reach the roots of your planted flowers and shrubs. Heavy, compacted soils will become lighter as a result and allow more room for delicate roots to grow, thereby strengthening the entire plant. The worms will also poop in your garden, and this will revitalize your soil in a way that synthetic fertilizer can never do. In other words, earthworms are a gardener’s best friend. If you don’t have enough earthworms, I am told you can rescue a few from any gardening store and set them free anywhere in your garden.
I have no idea how Cole will process his two-week farm trip. Milking cows, tending goats, turning manure in a cow horn in accordance with the moon, feeding chickens, gardening, and cooking for his 14 classmates will all be new experiences for my city boy. What I do know is that there will likely be a follow-up blog post, so stay tuned!