Archive for the ‘Natural’ Category

Green Manuring: Using Legumes for your plant beds

We use green manuring to help with our composting.  Green manures allow us to fertilize and add more organic matter to our soil.  Green manuring is a method of putting back into the soil living plants at the peak of their growth.  We do this by using leguminous plants (like mung bean, kadios, peanut and other wild plants) or we also use wild sunflowers. The plants are harvested at their peak or right before they flower, and then the plants are ploughed back into the soil.  This process brings in more nitrogen, organic matter and living plants into the soil.  Legumes for example take in a lot of nitrogen from the air through the bacteria that live in their roots.  Grasses also create green matter, which breaks down into humus.  So what we are doing here is a method of composting on the bed itself.

The limitation of green manuring though is that you are not able to control the quality of humus in the soil.  It also does not necessarily improve the soil’s structure long term.  In fact, the wrong use of green manuring can decrease the soil’s organic content.

How to Green Manure:

  1. Plant your leguminous seeds.  Water until germination occurs.  Then water constantly.
  2. When the plants begin to flower, it is time to turn your legumes or plants into green manure.
  3. Using a hoe or other material, chop, mow or cut the green manure plants at its base. We allow our cuttings to wilt for a few days.
  4. Incorporate it into the soil by digging or by shallow cultivation.  You can dig a trench 4 inches deep, 6 inches long and as wide as the bed size.
  5. The time it will breakdown will vary from 6-8 weeks.

Green manure can be sown almost anytime but the best would be at the start of or the end of the rainy season. This is because you need a lot of water for the green manure to decay properly.  The middle of the rainy season on the other hand is too wet and tilling the soil at this time might destroy your soil structure. We also do green manuring each time we start a new bed, to prepare an unused or exhausted soil for the next planting.

Biodynamic Composting

Here’s something you should remember. You don’t feed the plants. You feed the soil.  Thus, the key to having vibrant plants would be to have fertile soil.  And feeding the soil means that you enrich it with organic matter or compost.  Our flowers and vegetables derive more than 90% of its nutrition from our compost.

Biodynamic or organic compost can replace any chemical fertilizer. Biodynamic compost especially builds the soil and reduces pest attacks.  Your compost will increase your yield and improve the life of your soil in the long term.

If you would like to start your own composting, here are a few tips:

1.  Gather materials that you already have around you.  You can use any animal manure you can find near your area.  It is best to use   fresh animal manure.  If the manure is dried, moisten it first with water and pulverize before using.  Gather and shred the weeds you have or the grasses that are around you.  You can also use rice straw.  Our farm uses shredded fallen leaves, aged manure, chopped up straw and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust.

2.  Identify your compost site and take some time to build a simple composting shed with a roof made of natural materials, or a compost bin.  To make a bin, enclose an area of about 1 square meter.

3. If you can, it would be great to add earthworms.  If you already have some earthworms, just put them in the bed.  If not, just have the compost piles and the earthworms will come once the piles are composted.  See Vermicomposting.

4.  Place a layer of plant materials like leaves, grasses and weeds about 15cm thick.  If your material is courser, make the layer thicker.  If you have materials that tend to compact make the layers thinner.  Next layer is 7cm of animal manure. Then layer with 7 cm of lime or ash (you can do away with this layer.)  Lastly, add a thin layer of topsoil, enough to cover the surface of plant materials.  This is one complete later.

Repeat the layers (plant, ashes, soil) until your pile is 1.5 meters tall.

5.  Biodynamic compost is different from other composts because of the biodynamic preparations or specially prepared weed and herbal materials.   There are 6 preparations used: 502 (yarrow), 503 (chamomile), 503 (stinging nettle), 505 (oak bark), 506 (dandelion), and 507* (valerian.)  The preparations do not add bacteria or fungi but instead stimulate the life energies of pile so indigenous bacteria and fungi will be attracted to the pile and break it down.  These 6 preparations have been included in one preparation called the Prepared 500.  We get ours from Greg Kitma of PhilBio.  Our process is just to sprinkle or spray the prepared 500 over the compost pile.

6.  Keep the compost bed moist all the time. You can do so by watering the area at least twice a day, one in the morning and another before night falls. To retain moisture, you can put shredded cardboard or newspaper on top of the area or heaps of dried leaves.

7.  If you followed the layers, you should have no problem and your compost would be ready after 6-7 weeks. You will know it if your compost pile begins to heat up after 3 days.  Just allow it to continue decomposing until the temperature falls.  There is no need to turn the biodynamic compost or to place air channels.

8.  How do you know it is ready for use?  Your pile would have shrunk to ½ or 1/3 its original size.  You will also not see the original materials and it will have a sweet woody smell.  It would appear like normal soil when it is ready to be used. Just put it around your plants, the way you apply fertilizers. The compost produce should serve as a significant and wise replacement or substitution for chemicals and commercially available fertilizers. In no time, plants will be more productive and healthier than ever.

*You may want to plant some compost plants.  Corn, sorghum, napier and wild sunflower are good compost plants.

Starting your own Kitchen Garden

Food is healthier, tastier and more satisfying when picked from your own farm or grown in your own garden.  You get to eat food at freshest and choose the ones you exactly like too.  Imagine growing some of your vegetables and sharing these with family or friends.  The best reward is the pleasure of knowing they were grown in rich soil without chemicals or pesticides. But since not everyone can have the luxury of having their own little farm, here are some tips on starting your own Edible Garden.

1.  Decide where you want to grow your vegetables. Whether you live in the lowlands or highlands will determine the kind of vegetables you can grow.

2.  Ideally, a kitchen garden would be the best.  It should be close to your kitchen door so it’s easy to just get what you need when you need it.  If you don’t have enough space, you can grow your vegetables or herbs in between gaps in your flower beds or plant them in containers and grow them in bags.  You can even use hanging baskets.

3.  You need a plot that is not a slope so you won’t have a problem of soil erosion.  Find a sunny spot that gets enough sun (8-10 hours of sun a day.)  While it is in open spaces, you also need to make sure it is sheltered enough so it is protected from wind drafts.  You might also want to make sure it’s close to a water source.
4.  Start small and aim to grow more as you get more confidence.   What will your family eat?  How much time do you have to spend in it?  A bed that is 60-90 cm wide with paths of 30 cm is a good size.
5,  Your soil should be fertile, healthy soil.  If you already have healthy plants growing on your soil, it should be good enough.  Dig the soil, get rid of weeds and enrich it with compost before you start planting.  Your soil should have rich organic matter (compost.)  Our best tip is that before you plant, build your soil fertility by applying  Biodynamic Preparation 500 to your soil.  (We make our own but we can help you source them as well, just let us know.)  The preparations bring back balance to the soil and make the soil a rich place for micro organisms.
6.  Make your beds square or rectangular. This allows for easier planting and weeding.   Make sure you can reach the center from either side.  Also make sure your taller plants will not shade your smaller plants.
We suggest you use raised beds. Raised beds are filled with clean topsoil and then compost, and then mulched. The only disadvantage is they drain fast so you would have to water your plants often.
6.  Mulch the vegetable bed. This will improve your soil carbon, soil structure, help you conserve water and reduce the amount of weeding you need.  You do this by placing dried plant material like leaves, clippings, twigs, or barks on top of the soil and around the base of the vegetable plants.

Mulching Materials like Dry Leaves, Bark, Cuttings and Twigs

7.  You can get seeds from a garden store or from friends who have seeds. The seed packets would usually have a description.  Take note of what plants are good for small spaces, disease resistant, have good yields, are tolerant.  But your best resource will always be yourself after you have started planting, and gardening.

8. In the beginning, it would be good to plant several varieties of vegetables. Keep a journal and plan what seeds/plants go where.  Note down what plants were resistant to pests, grew well with minimum organic fertilizer, or other aspects like taste, and storage. Take note of what worked so you know what varieties are best for you.

Lowland Vegetables you can plant (easy to take care of): Malunggay, squash, pechay, papaya, string beans, kangkong, camote tops, okra and leaf type lettuce,

Highland Vegetables you can plant (easy to take care of): cauliflower, mustard, brocolli, salad greens, chinese cabbage, radish, carrot, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and the like.

9. Some vegetables can be bought from a garden center, already started.  For example, you can buy herbs in pots.

10. Practice multiple cropping so you do not exhaust your soil.  Multiple cropping allows for different plants with different needs to use the soil.  Some plants may house beneficial insects, which the other plant needs to control pest.  Multiple cropping also produces higher yields than monoculture.

Some combinations:

Beans grow well with cucumber, early potato, lettuce and carrots.

Carrot grows well with peas, leaf lettuce, and chives. Sage, rosemary, onion and wormwood repel carrot fly.

Cucumbers grow well with corn, lettuce and celery. Radish and tansy repel cucumber beetle.

Lettuce grows well with carrots.

Peas grow well with radish, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, turnips and lettuce.

Potatoes grow well with beans and peas.  You can repel potato bugs by putting a border of malunggay.  Garlic and marigold also helps prevent blight in potatoes.

Tomatoes like basil and parsley. Garlic can combat tomato blight. Fava beans repel tomato wilt causing organisms.

11. Practice crop rotation.  This means that you do not plant the same crop in the same area between two planting cycles. For example, you can start with Chinese Cabbage, Carrots and Baguio Beans. The next planting, rotate where you planted them.  Note that leaf vegetables usually do well after a legume crop.  Fruit vegetables often perform well after a leafy crop. Root vegetables grow well after a fruit crop.

12. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. For in ground crops you might have to water once or twice a week. Raised beds are faster and may require watering every day. Just make sure you don’t water too much so that the soil is lumpy when you hold it.

13. Remove weeds when you have them with a hoe or a fork to lightly stir the top inch of soil.  Mulching is also good.

14. Fertilizing your crops through composting is best. (See How to Make Biodynamic Compost.)  You do this every cropping cycle.  We also hasten the decomposition of our compost by applying Biodynamic Preparation to the compost pit.

Compost Pit

14. Harvest your produce when they are ready.  Leaf lettuce can be picked as young as you like; snip some leaves and it will continue to grow and produce. The general rule: if it looks good enough to eat, it probably is. Give it a try. With some vegetables, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce.

15.  Now, EAT.

The Real Meat of the Matter

I haven’t been eating a lot of red meat for years (well, except for an occasional big fat juicy steak.) With all the articles on fat and heart disease, the inhumane treatment of livestock, and the mammoth carbon footprint of animal feedlots, a supposedly conscious consumer (who wants to keep the fats off) shouldn’t dream of eating so much red meat, right? I mean, red meat=saturated fat=clogged arteries=heart disease right? Still, I had to indulge a few times, especially since I ironically married into a family of farmers and cattle ranchers.

However, early last year, we started hearing about grass-fed beef.  I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I even asked my husband, “Why the need? Don’t all cows eat grass? Surprisingly, he said, “most don’t” and he began his treatise on beef.

Where’s the Beef or Where does your meat really come from

Here’s the rundown:  I will just discuss three of the most common kinds of beef in the Philippines: (1) Local grain-fed; (2) Imported Beef; and (3) Local grass-fed.

The kind of meat we have in the market, the meat we grew up with and have grown to love, and what ends up on our table, has a lot to do with economics or the business of meat.

Local Grain-Fed

Almost all cattle operations in Luzon (except for some dairy and breeding operations) raise cattle for the supermarket trade.  Supermarkets pay a premium for beef and thus farmers who sell to these markets are able to get more money for their meat.

However, supermarkets will only get meat that measures up to a certain weight.  This is so that the supermarkets are able to maximize meat to bone ratio. And, since the supermarkets will only accept this bulky weight, farmers have to make sure that their cows weigh at least 420-500 kilos when they bring them to the market. Now, to get to this weight that supermarkets will buy, the cattle farmers will have to fatten their cows.  If they left the cows on its natural diet of grass and allow them to leisurely graze, they won’t get the required weight in time and so they lose on the sale.

How do farmers make sure they have fat cows in a short time?  They fatten it up with grain and grain by-products.  Cows are kept in feedlots and fattened up with grain.  Since grain is quite expensive in the Philippines, they substitute also with grain by-products such as factory food rejects, brewers’ grain by-products, sweepings, and the like.  How much grass does the cow actually eat?  It varies from farm to farm. The bigger the farm, the more capital it has to supplement with grain.  Smaller farms cannot afford a lot of grain or by-products. On the average, local fattening operations use about 60% food concentrate and 40% grass.  Economics dictate: the bigger and faster, the better chances at the supermarket. Farmers are often forced to implant growth-inducing hormones to make sure the cows are fattened in record time.

Imported

The steak we grew up with and love to eat, that fat juicy one with the white marbling, those come from imported breeds like Angus and Hereford. These are the breeds that are able to put on more fat. The cows are raised in large farms with highly mechanized farming operations.  These cattle operations have a farmer to cattle ratio of 1:100 up to 1:1000 heads.  That means having only one farmer to 1000 cows! The U.S. also heavily subsidizes grain and thus cattle farms are able to get very cheap grain to feed livestock. (They also have to feed during the winter or a drought using grain.) They feed cattle more than 90% grain. Now, since the cows don’t feed based on their natural constitution and on the pace that they should, they easily get sick.  Farmers then have to give them antibiotics.  They are also implanted growth-producing hormones. Not only that (this is exactly where the vegans bellow: animal cruelty!”) they are dehorned so they can be easily handled, and castrated so they gain weight much faster. Also, the calves do not stay in the farms for long.  Farmers send the calves off to feedlots when they are only 6-8 months of age.  They do this so they keep their pasture free for producing more cows.  Note that a large percentage of imported beef comes from dairy operations and dairy operations generally use more supplements like milk replacers and medications for young calves.

Local Grass Fed

Local grass fed beef used to be the beef no one wanted to sell or buy. For the large-scale farmers, it was simply not economical.  For the consumers, there was not enough fat!  But with the increasing consciousness on the benefits of grass fed beef (good fat, high in Omega 3 and CLA, and leaner than skinless chicken), it has since climbed up the ranks and has now won a niche market.

Local grass fed meat comes from very small farms, mostly family farms.  The breeds are of the Indian breed, which are hardy, suited to our tropical climate, and leaner than the temperate breeds.  The farmer to cow ratio is usually 1:1 or 1:2.  Small farms with a few cows don’t need extensive land, fertilizer, pesticides, or heavy equipment. The cows do the work. They are tamed almost like a family pet. This is again, the most practical thing to do.  Tamed animals are easier to handle. The family farms will also not feed it anything but grass.  Feeding it grain is overly impractical, almost absurd.  With the amount of rainfall we get, green grass is readily available all year round. So the cow feeds on grass and lives outdoors, in the pasture. The cow is not dehorned or castrated. There is simply no point in doing so.  Also, they feed on their natural diet of local grass, building up their immune system so there is no need for antibiotics at all. Eighty percent of local grass fed cattle at their market age, will only weigh between 320 to 350 kilos live weight, way down the mark of supermarkets.  The smaller animals get slaughtered in the local wet markets because the cost of transporting them to major markets is too expensive (Cost of shipping a 320 kilo cow is the same as the 500 kilo cow.) The remaining 10% (those with better weight) are sent to a fattening operation in Batangas to be finished on a ration of grass and grain by products.

The healthier, more humane, ethical, and sustainable choice is really local, grass fed beef.  The cows were fed grass as nature intended them to, without medications, and have lived stress-free, happier lives. What you have then is food that is low in fat, and a great source of Omega 3 and the cancer fighting CLA.  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/07/18/why-do-exvegetarians-outnumber-current-vegetarians-three-to-one.aspx

The challenge however, is in sourcing the meat.  Clearly, you won’t readily find these in the local supermarkets. A wholesaler or butcher might claim he has grass fed beef, but it is difficult to really ascertain where it comes from and how it was raised.  Yellow fat does not always mean the cow was fed 100% grass.  You can feed up to 80% of dry feed and still get yellow fat.  What you need is someone you trust and who knows where to find these small farmers and could buy directly from them. (Now it’s very hard to pretend I’m not boasting or hard-selling here but really, 99% of our grass fed meats come from these small farmers, the other 1% we raise ourselves.)

Meat Comparison

So there you have it, my article about how they beef up your steaks, and where the real beef is.

Indoor Plants as Air Filters

PLANTS as NATURAL AIR FILTERS

Our farm has been growing flowers for more than 15 years now.  And we often forget the foliage that grows around our greenhouses.  The pretty flowers jut out and call a lot of attention but really, equally important are the greenery that surrounds us as well.  Nicolo loves ornamental plants as much as he does flowers, and farming.  He can actually tell you the name, genus and species of every plant and tree you see and can go on for hours.

Areca Palm

A lot of people count us lucky to always have flowers in the house.  And we are.  But today, we would like to highlight plants as well. There’s something delightful about going inside a home filled with plants. The air’s a little bouncier, and you can actually breathe easy. And since you spend most of your time indoors, it helps to have a breath of fresh air especially when you live right smack in the middle of smoke city. In fact, indoor plants not only produce oxygen, they also absorb benzene, formaldehyde,  xylene, toluene and trichlor.

Mother In Law's Tongue

NASA made a study on the best indoor plant filters. I have come up with my own list, adapting it to the availability of plants here and our tropical climate.  These are VERY easy to have.  Indoor plants originate from dense shades in tropical forests. The reason why they make good air filters is that they have a very high rate of photosynthesis (that’s why they don’t need as much sun.) Below are some of my comments based on growing them indoors in our home.

Plant Benefits (according to NASA) My comments
Benzene Formaldehyde Tricho
Peace Lily

X

X

X

These are the easiest to take care of. They don’t need much sun and in fact thrive beautifully indoors.  You also get a pretty white flower thatreminds you to om your way to peace.
Chinese Evergreens X X These plants you can actually see everywhere as they are the office and mall favorite.  They are sturdy and also do well indoors. I am not too fond of the plant though. They don’t look pretty J but you can buy small ones to keep on a desk.
Bamboo Palm X This ornamental I really love. They have nice pretty stalks that look like red bamboo and you can keep them for months. They also grow tall. I have had Bamboo palms inside my house growing for more than a year.
Mother in Law’s Tongue X For wives who would like their mother in law always in the house, this is the plant for you. Kidding.  The name says it all, this plant just won’t wilt! It could go on forever. Though I have relegated these plants to the bathrooms (no meaningful reason, really) as they don’t need so much sun and could stay up and erect for months even if you forget to water them. (This plant is also known as Espada in the vernacular.)
Draceana (Fortune Plant) X X Some people love this because it supposedly brings good fortune.  I tried my luck and have these plants at our shop all the time.We bring this plant outdoors once a week. I try to water it twice a week.  But I’ve seen this plant thrive so long without sun exposure.
Ficus X Quite elegant and can grow quite tall. I haven’t been very successful at keeping it for so long. I think it needs some sun. It is also sensitive to drafts. After a few months the top branches wilt.  The little leaves always fall off too so you need to always sweep.
Rubber Plant  X A strong indoor plant that tolerates drought.  It has shiny leaves that almost look like plastic.
Boston Fern X I like how this plant looks but it is not as strong as the other plants. I think it’s because this plant likes humidity and you should be misting it when it gets too dry or hot. Could last a few months without a lot of sun.
Areca Palm No one pays much attention to this palm as it is quite very common. But I love this plant and have had the palm for more than a year.  It looks pretty indoors as they grow to a good size. I usually buy 2 or 3 (P100 each) and have them put in one big pot.
Spider Plant This is the easiest to keep. You can neglect it and still it will thrive.  These are those common plants you see with the long thin leaves that have a white stripe in the middle.

You supposedly need 1 plant for every 1 square meter of floor space.

Rubber Plant

You need not keep these plants near the window all the time nor do they need direct sun.  Bi-weekly by the window with some filtered sun does the trick.  I also water only once or twice a week.

I buy my plants from the Bulacan Gardens, Guiguinto, Bulacan.  It’s quite easy to find. Just take the exit that says Guiguinto and you’re apt to see gardens on one side of the road. It takes me about 1 1/2 hours (from Makati) but it’s definitely worth the time and the gas.   The prices are 1/3 what you would pay for them in other markets/gardens. You can get small plants for about P50-75 a piece and large palms at P100-150.  The more special ones (like an enormous Peace Lily or Areca Palm) could go only as high as P550. Go with P2000 and you’ll have enough plants to fill a small home.   Another option is the Manila Seedling Bank.

There’s also a wonderful book How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office.  The book tells you about contaminants and toxins in your indoor environment and how plants remove these from the air.  It also tells you what plants to buy and how to take care of them.

Tut tut, looks like rain

With the deluge of rain, we thought we could write about some fun practices we have in the farm connected to rain.

Our farm just has too much water. There’s a nearby spring. Not only that, we get more than 100 inches of rain every year.  Much as we appreciate what the rains do to our plants and our soil, she just showers us too much sometimes. And being that farming is dependent on good weather, we often have to know whether the day is a day for watering the plants, or staying put in our huts. Since our weather station has not been so accurate, oftentimes wrong (!) we have come to rely on our very own homemade farming predictors for rain.

  • Our most accurate Weatherman is the busy bee.  When they come buzzing and visit our farm early in the morning, we can expect the entire day to be sunny.  When they decide to stay snug in their hives, the rains will come. Really, this method has been proven right countless times.
  • The cows have their share in announcing the rains too. They lie down in the fields a little before the rains come.
  • Birds are said to fly low when the rains are coming for a visit.
  • Another way we can tell is when the humidity in the farm is unusually high.  When our farm manager’s curly hair gets unusually frizzy, we expect the rain. SERIOUSLY! Well that, and a barometer registering a low atmospheric pressure.
  • The leaves on nearby trees react to the increase in humidity as well by curling up or turning their undersides to the sky.

Well, these are some of our techniques. Other people rely on the moon (ring around predicts rain the next day) the sky (red in the morning) and the clouds to foretell rain. I’m sure you have yours too. As for me, I like wetting my finger and holding it up to see if lightning will strike.

Sunflowers: Friend or foe?

Sunflowers: Friend or Foe?

Sure, wild sunflowers are pretty to look at, but these pretty yellows that look up to the sun are often regarded as weeds or as a menace.  They grow everywhere, in hedges, at your backyard, along roadsides. Some farmers slash and burn them!  Well, at least some farmers. But let us tell you our little secret. Sunflowers can be your farm’s best friend.

As fertilizer

 

Our farm uses wild sunflowers as a major source of nutrients for our compost heap.  The stems, leaves and pollen of these flowers are said to contain phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium.  These nutrients can go a long way, especially when your soil has become depleted.

We usually harvest the young stems of sunflowers (which easily decompose) and include it in our compost. One hectare of wild sunflowers can easily produce up to 50-60 tons of mulch for our compost, every 60 days.

 

For Mulching

Wild sunflowers are not only used as compost but as mulch for our flower beds as well. We incorporate the sunflowers and its foliage in our flower beds during cultivation stage. Aside from these, you can cut the plants, soak it in water and make tea fertilizer for your crops.

 

To attract beneficial insects

Also, these dainty flowers attract bees!  And if there was one thing our garden needs, it’s the bees, which come and pollinate our other crops.   The sunflowers also attract lady beetles and wasps, beneficial insects that help us get rid of pests around the farm. The bugs and wasps make their homes in the sunflowers, sort of like a free bed and breakfast for our little helpers. Wild sunflowers can be a huge help in pest control.

 

To prevent soil erosion and give wind breaks

We never run out of uses for our sunflowers, they are also used as hedges, to control erosion and at the same time serve as a wind break for our crops.

Sunflowers are easy to grow. They can be easily propagated, and can grow faster than any other weed.  You have a wealth of sunflowers everywhere.  And they are quite a pretty sight! Once thought of as an eyesore, a pest, and as a menace, we have since then recognized the many uses of wild sunflowers. Since we begun using these flowers, we have seen our soil’s nutrition and structure improve (well, also because of the other practices we have on the farm.)  We also have seen reduction in soil erosion and in pests.

I would have to say, wild sunflowers are another one of life’s paradoxes.  Often, a foe, is really a friend, you just have to find the alchemy of it all.

Biodynamic Gardening: Applying biodynamic agriculture to a home, backyard garden, or a small farm

(Article based on: Getting Started with Biodynamic Gardening by by Tom Petherick)

First step: The clarity of your Intention is often the most important and a necessary first step. It will be at the core of your gardening/farming. So make a conscious intention to follow the biodynamic route.

Some basics:  Most people who are drawn to biodynamic farming, already have a passion for organic agriculture.  You see the need for plants to grow and thrive without chemical sprays or fertilizers.  However, more than organic soil, biodynamics also pays attention to subtle, unseen forces.  One would be the lunar phases. We know the effect of the moon on tides and in the cycles of female mammals.  This can help us recognize and understand that in the same way, the gravitational pull of the moon is also moving the water in plants, in the soil and in the air. As the moon waxes and wanes it influences the plants. Aside from the moon, biodynamics recognizes the forces at work from the cosmos, so other planets as well, the sun and astrology.

How do you start? What you have to do is to see your garden or farm with new lenses.  See it as an entire organism, with all its parts working individually and together. “Rudolf Steiner saw the ‘farm organism’ as a self-contained and self-supporting unit with all the different components of the farm acting as microcosms of a greater whole.”  So, see the soil as a crucial part, just like you would see your heart as the center of your body organism.  Look at the plants just as you would your respiratory organs.  See the farmers as the limbs. Look at your farming methods as the brain.  And always see the subtle forces in the same way as you would the life force that surges through you and keeps you alive.

What is important to know: These are the basics of biodynamics:

  1. Biodynamic farming makes use of two field sprays BD 500 (horn manure) and BD 501 (horn silica). We have started making our own sprays but for those who would like to begin by just buying prepared sprays, please let us know and we will give where to get it from.)
  2. You also use five compost preparations that are healing herbs added to the compost heap.
  3. You follow a planting calendar that gives clear indications when to carry out tasks in the garden. (There are sowing calendars prepared by Bios Dynamis in Kidapawan. We also follow a calendar from the Rudolf Steiner store in Sydney but customized the calendar to make it more suitable to the Philippine climate and seasons.)

These three methods are not hard to do. Anyone can do it.  And there is a wealth of information already available. We learned the basics from a Biodynamic Farming seminar by Greg Kitma.  There is also a local version for Biodynamics written by Nicanor Perlas (let us know if you want a copy of the book.)

Some techniques:

For the biodynamic calendar: Using the biodynamic calendar, you will see a correlation between the various different parts of the plant and the signs of the zodiac. One way of using the calendar is by looking at the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Then match each element to a part of a given plant – earth to root, air to flower, fire to fruit and seed and water to leaf. Next, match each of those parts of the plant along with their element to the twelve signs of the zodiac. You will see that as the moon moves through each of the twelve on its 27 and a bit day journey around the earth every month it will influence those parts of the plant relating to the zodiacal sign e.g. Pisces=water/leaf, Capricorn=earth/root.

Building Soil Fertility: Soil fertility is crucial and helps in breaking the life cycle of pests and disease.  One important way is to practice crop rotation. This means that you rotate annual crops around the garden.  The method allows you to plant a healthy mix of plants.  For example, planting legumes (fruit) will add nitrogen to your soil. After a cycle, plant flower crops.  A crucial part of biodynamics is the need to allow nature to follow its own pace and not force growth or impede it.  Do not try to force the soil to produce as much as it can just because it can.

Composting: Recycle the nutrients round the garden. We use an open compost heap with soil as the base, and the heap measures about 1 ½ meter. We do not turn the heap as much as normal composting techniques require.  It takes about four months to cook.  We then get the compost that we can and insert biodynamic compost preparations (yarrow, chamomile, nettle, dandelion and oak bark).

Field Sprays:  Once you have tried the field sprays, you won’t turn back and will never go back to your other sprays.  The sprays work like magic!  It is difficult to prove the effectiveness of the biodynamic sprays and all we have to show for it is the quality of our soil.  The sprays seem to change the energy in the garden, lifting it a few notches up. And you see it not only in the soil and the plants, but in the energy of the farmers as well.  BD 500 works in the root zone and BD 501 is active in the area of light and growth.

Seeds:  It should come naturally for gardeners to save their own seed. It happens in nature and it is easy to save the seeds such as heirloom tomatoes and brocollinis. If you are not able to you’re your seeds, try and use biodynamic seeds that have been produced in an environment where the biodynamic measures are in use.