We have now been practising biodynamics for 33 years. While we can now convert a farm over in 3 years, this has not always been the case. When we first converted over the home farm it took us ten years before we were happy with the results.
For the first five years we took the purists’ approach, which was to cut out fertilisers and pesticides and simply spray out the biodynamic preps.
For us it was a dreadful failure.
We live in a high rainfall, tropical climate that can expect 150 inches of rain in a year. Our farm had also been farmed conventionally for the past 40 years with generous dollops of super phosphate and urea sprayed onto our paddocks. Too much soluble fertilizers have a tendency to breakdown organic matter and cause essential nutrients to leach away as well as upset the natural soil biology.
Our fathers’ well-fertilized, productive pastures turned yellow and lost their vigour, the few remaining legumes disappeared and milk production plummeted. Our pastures had become addicted to continuous applications of fertilizers and were going into withdrawal.
Financially this was nightmare.
Luckily Lewis and Judy O’Farrell on the hot humid lowlands below us were converting their banana farm to biodynamics at the same time. We were able to console and encourage each other as well as bounce around some ideas.
Unfortunately, we had been to Victoria and seen how simply spraying the preps out had worked so well on some farms. It made us persistent and we kept waiting for something to happen. After a few years however the economics made us realize that we had to try something else.
We started reading everything we could on Biodynamics, Organic and biological farming. There were no other local organic farmers to visit at the time and this was well before the Internet!
After much research we decided that for the biodynamics to work well we had to remineralize the soil with rock dusts and rejuvenate the pastures with a diverse range of legumes and herbs.
We undertook some good quality soil tests (not the free ones from a fertilizer company that simply indicate that you are short of their proprietary NPK fertilizers) and found that the soil was chronically lacking in Calcium and Magnesium. Because of this the soil was very acid and had high levels of iron, aluminium and manganese, which are toxic to legumes. These legumes are the key to driving a productive organic pasture.
Initially we started using very small quantities of lime and dolomite as we were led to believe that not much was required. We quickly found out that our starved and leached out soil needed much more than we had initially thought – tons per acre!
Suddenly everything started to work. The legumes and pastures became incredibly productive, the toxic levels of iron and aluminium normalized and the cows began to give heaps of milk.
It doesn’t seem like much but it took us ten years to work this out!
For biodynamics to work well the soil must have adequate reserves of minerals to draw upon to create the correct conditions for high quality pasture. When this is working the biodynamic preps create a well-structured soil, which enhances the recycling of nutrients and creates a top quality humus, which holds minerals and water.
I still have trouble wrapping my head around some of the teachings of Rudolph Steiner (the creator of Biodynamics) that underlies the whole process. Luckily I don’t always need to understand it for it to work, much like I don’t need to understand the mechanics of my phone to send a text!
Our newest farm:
We recently took over a farm, which will be converted to Biodynamics this May. Each farm is a little bit different and so the conversion process varies from farm to farm and there is always more than one way to get to the same end point.
This is what we have done to it so far to get it fully certified.
- We begin by spraying out our biodynamic preps. We do this at least twice per year. A ball of biodynamic prep the size of a golf ball is enough to fertilise an acre of pasture!
- We continually take soil tests to see what is lacking in the soil. We also take leaf tests to see what the plant is extracting from the soil. Please be aware that soil tests are merely an approximation of what is available to the plant and must be treated as a guideline rather than an exact science.
- We remineralize the soil with rock dusts and approved additives over a number of years to build up reserves of chronically lacking nutrients
- We rejuvenate the pastures so that there is a diverse, productive and palatable sward of grasses and legumes found in our paddocks.
- We also have our cows grazing our pastures in rotation. This means that the grass never gets too low and there is a continuous sheet composting process at work. This allows the biodynamic preps to work, building up soil structure and humus.