The biodynamic difference

garlic bulb drying in sunlight

Biodynamic farming principles are intricate and quite detailed.
This deluxe form of sustainable organic farming provides the rigorous practices and environment resulting in particularly healthy, stress and disease resistant plants. The result is top quality produce with a good shelf life.

Patrice Newell has been the custodian of Elmswood Farm for 25 years and no chemicals have been used on the farm. It's certified Bio-dynamic.

As well as observing optimal planting times and intricate soil preparation procedures, it is the hand weeding that is the significant extra effort that deserves mention.

olive oil in stylish bottles

The ancient-Greek physician Hippocrates is credited with a profound piece of advice to all who would practise medicine: Primum non nocere Ė First, do no harm. Good farmers practise medicine with the land entrusted to them, and it was this approach that drew me to biodynamic agriculture. Of all the theories of farming, biodynamics does the least harm, and it can do a great deal of good.

 

Biodynamic agriculture is not the growth industry it should be. While its benefits are widely acknowledged, many new farmers are concerned that it replaces a reliance on chemicals with a dependence on machinery.

 

When we arrived at Elmswood in 1987 many farmers in the district had their own equipment for making hay or silage; they had lumbering machines to sow new pastures and crops. But increasingly, in an attempt to cut costs, such equipment was sold off or neglected, and the tasks taken over by contractors. Now, finding the work unprofitable, many contractors are disappearing and farmers are trying to repair their old machines, as the cost of replacement is immense.

The biodynamic preparation known as 500 requires yet another machine, one thatís not sold at the local agentís. You can't wander around a dealer's yard and kick the tyres. Biodynamic farmers have long made their own, and occasionally supplement their modest income by making some for sale.

 

Because Iím not mechanical, I have a deep appreciation of those who are. While I can grasp the essentials of what the eccentric-looking equipment does, I can't fathom the complexities when it inevitably falters. By 2004, with the scale of our olive enterprise doubling in size and the beef herd growing again after the drought, we had to face the fact that we needed new and bigger gear, particularly to spread the 500 further and wider, over more distant paddocks and hills. And before we could spread it, we had to add it to warm water and mix it in giant stirrers.

 

I enlisted the help of other biodynamic farmers to build the gear and install it. One built us a hot-water system to more efficiently heat the brew (when fired up it thunders like a rocket about to blast into orbit), while another positioned a massive metal stand on firmer, stronger foundations. Atop this we perched two giant stirrers so we could gravity-feed the 500 into our mobile spray units.

 

Soon we were seeing evidence of increased health in the grasses and in the olive grove. Biodynamic farming creates healthier, softer, sweeter-smelling soils, ready to give rise to life in the way that a good risen dough gives life to bread. There comes a time when, walking over the paddocks, you can feel the earth springing back, telling you itís alive. When I walk through the olive grove and feel the earth yielding to my steps I know the roots of the trees are digging deeper. Itís good to sink a spade into the earth and see evidence of health in worms, bugs and beetles.

 

Of course, a dry spell will bake it hard as a biscuit. Truly and proudly a cottage industry, biodynamics is about releasing the natural energies, micro-organisms and nutrients in soil, rather than forever adding artificial fertilisers. The core ingredient of 500 is simply cow manure, but a long process of maturation greatly intensifies its properties and its chief benefit is encouraging soil to make humus.

 

Extract from Ten Thousand Acres by Patrice Newell