Thursday, June 27, 2013

Biodynamics in the Vineyard

Fill a cow horn with manure from a lactating cow, bury it in the ground for six months, add a small amount to a bucket of warm water and stir for one hour alternately clockwise and anti-clockwise forming a vortex. Spray over your land in a dilute concentration. This practice might sound more akin to witch craft or some airy fairy hippy approach to farming, however Biodynamic wines are known to come out tops in awards year after year.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Krinklewood Vineyard in the quiet farming community of Broke with the Hunter Organic Growers Society. West of the busy Pokolbin Wine area, heart of the Hunter Wine tourism mecca, the air carried a muffled sound of silence. 

What I know about biodynamics is the basics. A few years ago I spent a week living in a converted silo on a biodynamic beef farm in the Fosterton Valley near Dungog. I quizzed the lovely couple that welcomed us a guests on their farming practice. What is biodynamic farming? Once a year their soil humus levels are checked, you can tell how much humus their is by the amount of fine white roots that show in a cross section of grass. I watched a dvd about making compost and using the biodynamic preparations. Their cows looked happy, and they tasted good too. In fact I am yet to taste a better beef steak.

Rod Windrim began planting their 48 acre vineyard in 1997. Ten years later they became fully certified biodynamic. He welcomed us with a chat about how they run things. Have you met our Woofers? Apologies issued forth as he tended to jump from one topic to the next. Questions were asked and answered. The biodynamic approach to farming was developed in the 1930's by Rudolf Steiner in Germany in response to the requests by local farmers to help them re-vitalise their farms after the ill effects of chemical agriculture. Steiner developed a system that worked to encourage the natural processes present on the farm to perform optimally. 

On every biodynamic farm I have visited I notice some interesting looking 'fountains' like the one to the right. Central to this holistic approach to farming is the use of 'preparations' like the composted cow dung in the horn. These 'fountains' are actually used to create the vortex that I think of as a way of imparting a particular energy to the preps. It makes them alive, active.

The farm as a living organism. There is a way of thinking that has emerged that sees the earth as one organism. In fact it even has a new name: Gaia. Earth is just plain old earth, but see it as a whole network of complex systems that interrelate to create a whole living system, then Earth becomes Gaia. This approach to seeing every thing in terms of how it relates to the next thing is what Biodynamics is about. 

Rod buries around 160 cow horns a year to produce what's known as
the bio dynamic 500 preparation.

The moon creates an arc across the sky. At particular times of the month it rises higher in it's arc. At this time the sap in plants rises to the upper and outer extremities, to it's leaves and branches. Like the ocean tides, the sap flow is directed by the moon. Prune the vines when the moon is low, or descending and sap flow is low, and you'll have dry prunings good for chopping into mulch. At Krinklewood everything is guided by natures rhythms. Pruning, planting, composting, is done when the moon indicates it is the optimal time. Where it is in the sky, what constellation it is in front of, how far away from earth it is. All this that happens out there in the cosmos influences what happens here. One big organism, earth as part of the universe. 

Another way of making BD 500 is using a cow pat pit as Rod shows us.

We were all wondering why we didn't bring our trailers to fill up on some good compost. Rod wouldn't have missed a bit taken off his acre or so of compost rows, would he? Most of this was once the forest where now the new express way near Maitland is going through. Better turned into wine than nothing I guess...
The maremma dog, the classic stock defender. He was brought to guard the sheep and poultry from wild dogs and foxes. However in a bid to tame him to humans he has been spending a little bit too much time under the family bed and not enough in the paddock.

Making the most of their resources, ducks are kept on the dam for the families consumption.

Bees provide honey for the family and the cellar door shop.

Dorper sheep and chicken tractor in the vines.

Beautiful pigs offer pork for the
family's table

Poly farming systems are the opposite to mainstream monoculture, where by more than one species is integrated into a production system. Joel Salatin has populised this approach to farming in organic circles. Like nature, species are chosen that will provide mutual benefits to each. Whilst Krinklewood is predominately a wine operation, Rod cell grazes cattle, dorper sheep and chickens through his vines. By keeping them on the move they have enough to graze to keep them from damaging the vines. So in one space he increases his yields, producing meat in addition to wine, and each of the animals provide a service, eating down the grass and weeds and turning it into beautiful fertiliser, deposited just where it is needed. This system reduces human labour and petrol inputs.

I have been using my moon calender to plant by. Sometimes I feel I know when it's time to give things a break in the garden before I even look at the calender. I think most of us are more in tune with nature than we realise. Using such aids may be more a means to recognising what we already know than learning something new. Next on my list is to try out some of the biodynamic preps. I am convinced they have something to offer my garden. Cow manure that has been through the horn treatment can be purchased from specialist suppliers for use in your own garden. Give it a go. Who knows, you might find a new kind of balance. 

For more info:

Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard 

Hunter Organic Growers Society

Monday, June 17, 2013

Inspiration from Joel Salatin: Part 4 - Fertility Comes From Somewhere Else.

Today it takes up to 10 calories of oil to produce one calorie of food. Joel Salatin from the US, heralded as the worlds most successful farmer, was in Sydney recently where he gave an illuminating talk. By uncovering the inefficiencies of our chemical food system he offers us a better way to treat the land and ourselves. Inspired, I consider how these ideas can be applied on the household level in part 4.
Read previous posts in this series....  PART 1    PART 2     PART 3

Today's farming system is based on a concept that everything that is required by the farm must come from outside the farm. Fertiliser, seed, stock, is all bought in, requiring energy to produce it, package it, market it and ship it around the world. This is the linear farm factory which sustains the world with food. Inputs go in one end and food comes out the other. It's a carbon hungry production line. Salatin points to his chest "Fertility is in-sourced... wellness comes from in here". At Polyface Farm they have examined how nature does this. 

Nature runs a closed carbon loop. When we burn wood to make a fire, we are releasing the energy that the tree has stored in its timber. The timber is biomass; a material that was once living that over the course of its life has stored energy from food and/or the sun in its tissues. This material represents a valuable source of potential energy. It's an "organic savings account". A properly managed farm is potentially abundant in this resource. What Salatin trys to do is nurture a loop that keeps on cycling this wealth, the carbon, on the farm, ensuring that any leaks are as slow as possible. 

Mainstream farming operations have bought into the concept that farming is a linear system, that it cannot be cyclical, that it cannot recycle its wastes into cheap on farm energy resources. "Our waste stream is viewed as some sort of 'get it away from me!". Waste by definition describes materials that have been rejected. It implies a uselessness and a complete devaluing of those materials. However even those things that we reject are a resource to the next system. Why do birds flock over our council dumps? Because to them it is a banquet. Salatin advocates that we need to change the way we think about the concept of waste. "Cities could drive their own energy field if we could quit throwing it away".  Consequently he describes that it is "evil" that we are squandering our resources. 

What you can do: Make waste a thing of the past via:

  • Start a compost pile, worm farm or invest in a bench-top compost system to breakdown your food wastes and make plant fertiliser.
  • Only purchase good quality items that  you really need. Ask yourself before you buy "Can I live without this?"
  • Make or grow what you need from the resources you have. Turn those fabrics in the cupboard into a beautiful new outfit. Save the seeds from this seasons tomatoe crop to plant next season.
  • Repair items that break down and always choose serviceable products with quality parts when a new purchase is required.
  • Be creative, find new ways to reuse or re-purpose items that are damaged and can no longer serve their original purpose. Try weaving old clothes into a colourful new rug. 
  • Investigate using other peoples discarded items to fulfill your own needs. Scour road side throw outs for that new garden gate (old doors work well).
  • Give away items you don't need to those who can use them. Donate to a charity or join Freecyle, the online forum for giving and receiving unwanted items.   
  • Make the most of our resources. If you have an item that you use only occasionally, consider offering it for rent at those times it's not in use. Rent out your caravan, ladder or canoe on a renting website such as Rentoid or Open Shed.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Slow Travel, Take a Paddle

canoing at shortland wetlands
Ripples on the surface of the water, rustling in the reeds, the cry of a bird or the way the trees sway ever so slightly in the breeze. Slow travel lets us notice the little things in our environment. It was my birthday recently so my partner and I took the day off and visited Shortland Wetlands on the fringe of Newcastle. It is a sprawling site of various habitats, a series of ponds home to a variety of birds including native geese, a rainforest, and a bush tucker garden, framed by a few kilometers of canoe trails. So naturally we decided to travel by water.

After our safety induction in the canoe shed we were handed our PFC (Personal Flotation Device) and in case we were inundated with water, reassuringly a handy baler (half a plastic juice container). Launch was a push off down the bank and away we went.

reeds with seed heads on the canoe trail

Paddling is a glorious pace. Nothing gets missed. We ducked under mangroves of a size I've never seen before, scuttled through tight spots where the trees over arch the creek from both sides, nearly touching in the middle. Then we hit the straight for a kilometer of cruising. Sitting almost level with the water I found myself moving with the gentle current, almost imperceptible, pushing us along (or was that my partner studiously paddling at the rear?).

water bird in tree

tall water trees

 Large birds appeared and then evaporated into the landscape. We were not intruders zooming by, but apart of the pace of the water way. Soft, slow, quiet. Our only reminders of our mechanised world existed in the industrial rumble that came from beyond the horizon. 

bird of prey on the canoe trail

tree horizon

Visit Hunter Wetlands or find your nearest canoe trail.

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