Biodynamic Gardening

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Starting a Biodynamic Garden – John Bradshaw


SunflowerI recently moved from a large country property to a small garden on the edge of Melbourne. While I was sad to say goodbye to a garden that had been Biodynamic for 11 years and that produced most of our vegetables and 50% of our fruit in a good year, it was becoming too much for me to manage. Now, with a very small garden, I can easily maintain it, and have time to enjoy looking at the finer details. The house was owned by an Italian family, and the backyard was set up for vegetables and fruit, with four peach trees, an apricot, a lemon, two figs and four prickly pears. The owner said that in the last years the vegetables hadn’t grown very well for some reason. The soil is a poor, fine, sandy loam with some organic matter in the top 100mm, but pale grey and unstructured below. In 30 years of Biodynamic gardening and farming, I have worked with sandy soils on a farm scale, but have never had a sandy soil in a home garden – I have always had heavy clay loams. I am really looking forward to seeing what changes I can make to this soil.



This winter and early spring have been very wet, and during heavy rain the water table rises to the surface in places, draining away within a few days of the rain stopping. The need for subsoil drainage is an issue I am still thinking about – seeing water on the surface is of concern. However, it may be that as structure and humus develop in the lifeless tight-packed, fine, sandy subsoil, drainage will improve considerably. The healthy peach and apricot trees lead me to believe that subsoil drainage may not be required – these trees quickly deteriorate if drainage is poor. During this very wet period I am being very careful to walk on the lawn as little as possible, and not at all on the vegetable areas. Much damage can be done by walking on wet soil.There is a tall fence on the north boundary that shades the vegetable garden excessively in winter, and kikuyu was invading from under the fence. My first job when I took over in June was to carefully dig out all the kikuyu runners, and slash the weeds with a scythe. 


Green Manure

To me, the soil looked hungry and depleted.  If I’d had compost on hand, I would have put a layer on the slashed weeds and dug both in at once, planting when the sky was high enough in the sky in spring to give enough light to the vegetable area. With no compost I decided to instead grow a green manure crop. I spread basalt rock dust and blood and bone on the slashed weeds and turned it all under with a garden fork, then broadcast some left over green manure seed – wheat, oats, dun peas and broad beans – and raked them in. 


Ideally, I would grow a second green manure crop after the first is dug in, to ensure that all soluble minerals from the blood and bone are held in humus colloids, but won’t have time if I am to sow and plant in spring – I will have to compromise at this stage. Soon I will scythe the green manure, and turn it in. After a few weeks, I will start sowing seeds and planting seedlings, and spray 500. Ideally, the green manure should be sprayed with prepared 500 when it is turned in, to assist decomposition, but the soil is still too cold this year for 500 (early September).


In July, I brought some soil from my old garden to fill an area where I removed a shed and concrete slab. This is a corner of the garden that will get enough sun in winter, so I was keen to develop it quickly for vegetables. I sowed some peas and broad beans there straight away, the imported Biodynamic soil being fertile enough to produce a crop with no additives.


First 500 Application

I can’t wait to spray the first 500 on the garden, and start to see the early signs of soil conversion and purposeful life activity. I have to wait until the soil is warm enough. My large copper stirring vessel, big enough to stir 4½ gallons, will be too big for this small block – I will instead use my old glazed pottery bread crock – and instead of heating the water with a wood fire made directly under the copper, will heat the water (to just below blood heat) in a stainless steel stockpot on the gas stove.


In a small home garden, I want to produce food all year round, apart from the excessively winter-shaded areas, which will grow green manure crops after the summer/autumn vegetables are harvested. I can’t afford to put the good winter-sun beds into green manures – to grow crop after crop in these beds, I will need some good Biodynamic compost, and will set aside a small area in a corner of the back yard for this purpose – see the article on making Biodynamic compost (Biodynamic Growing Magazine number 3, December 2004) for more detail. 


A Wet Spring

Although the peas and beans would benefit from some 501 (the light spray) in the wet, cold, grey conditions, the fruit trees are now in full flower and 501 would damage the flowers. In any case 501 is not recommended until 500 has been used a few times to get soil conversion under way. 


Very early signs of curly leaf are appearing on the emerging peach leaves – I will spray on the next fine day with a ½% solution of sodium silicate (waterglass). My experience is that if the Biodynamic fruit tree spray recommendations are followed (lime sulphur in early July, prune, then spray within a week with the Biodynamic fruit tree spray (see fruit tree article Biodynamic Growing Magazine number 3, December 2004), curly leaf may start to appear in cold wet conditions in early spring, but will not come to much, and sodium silicate spraying will not be required. This winter, I was too busy moving in, to have time for the normal Biodynamic fruit tree sprays.


I have applied rock dust to the lawns and ornamental gardens. At the risk of offending neighbourhood sensitivity, I will let the lawn grow a bit to allow roots to extend deeper. When 500 time approaches I will cut the grass short ready for spraying (so the 500 droplets can reach the soil), and afterwards let it grow as long as I dare before the next cut. It is very hard to gain much in the way of soil development if the grass is cut short all the time.


I hope that this outline of how I am starting a new Biodynamic garden will be of some help, and perhaps indicate that the basics of Biodynamics are really not very difficult. Of fundamental importance is the quality of your Biodynamic preparations, and making sure that all the recommendations for storage and application are followed. If the Biodynamic preps are of poor quality, Biodynamics simply won’t work.


*Postscript – 2 weeks after spraying 500 in mid-October, the strawberry leaves are standing more upright, and the Italian parsley is noticeably sweeter!