Welcome to Book of the Week – offering you a glimpse between the pages! Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! This week’s Book of the Week feature is Biodynamic Pasture Management, by Peter Bacchus.
The first step is to test your soil, pasture and water to understand what you have in the way of minerals in soil and plant material. At the point of collecting these items you should do a thorough physical examination of the soil, plants and animals, noticing how much air space or crumb structure is in the soil and how many worms are active and at what level they reside. How often do you take a spade, dig out a scoop from your pasture and have a look at what is going on underneath? Are there worms wriggling about, little hoppers, beetles or millipedes, and white fungal strands? Or does the soil look hard and lifeless? This is one of the initial things I do when I visit a farm, right after observing how the livestock and pasture look.
One thing to notice is whether the organic matter in the root zone is being consumed or is it gathering as a thatch layer? This will vary according to the season and moisture conditions.
Also look between the grass stems for worm castings. How many and how big they are should be noted.
In the pasture, take a look at what species of plants are present, what your animals are eating and in what order of preference they are being eaten?
Then look at the drainage. When it is wet, look at where and for how long the water lies on the surface before soaking in?
Knowing what sort of underlying rock your land sits upon and what sort of history it has had is also important information. How long has it been since the last ash shower, if you farm in an active volcanic region, or was the soil upon which you farm washed in or blown in by the wind?
What was on your land before it was farmed and for how long has it been farmed?
When all this information is assembled you can then decide what actions you should take to improve the performance of your land for what you wish to produce. This might be to apply minerals that are shown to be in deficit on your soil test. You might also consider applying a liquid fish, seaweed or biodynamic spray. The main point of difference between biodynamic and conventional farming is that all the nutrients should be biologically available, as opposed to being water-soluble with conventional methods. This means that a plant can choose to take up clean water when it needs to transpire and can draw up nutrients when and as they are needed. The various measures you can take to activate your soil are discussed in upcoming chapters.
Many farms specialize in one or two enterprises which results in specific fertility needs and pasture requirements. For example, the dairy cow requires a different fodder from beef animals, sheep, goats or horses. Most of us look to minerals for answers to fertility problems, and many farmers take advice from the sales representatives of the various chemical fertilizer companies. From one aspect this is the cheapest advice but for some it can be the most expensive. How often does a fertilizer sales agent recommend something that his or her firm does not sell? Consequently little attention is paid to soil biology or the dynamics around life and growth.
Organic farmers generally focus on soil biology, but for the biodynamic practitioner, the dynamics and identity of the farm are the first considerations before soil biology, and biology comes before the minerals. From my perspective, all of those areas should be integrated together. In farming we are working with life and life processes that are interrelated. Focusing on only one thing can throw the rest out of balance.
When I approach a farmer I inquire about which area they understand best and ask them where they want to go. Then I consider their present farm situation and how the dynamics of energy, biology and minerals can be adjusted to help them work toward their goal.
A farmer’s prime objective should be to get the fodder plants growing like weeds. My definition of a weed is a plant that self-propagates, grows luxuriantly, and for which one has not yet developed a market. To get our cultivated plants growing like weeds we often need to make some interventions. These interventions could be the addition of finely ground, mineral-rich rockdust, developing and encouraging the soil’s aerobic biological life or managing the energy or dynamics of our farm environment consciously. To this end we might be working with composts, a manure heap, or an effluent to which special herbs, seaweed or biodynamic preparations might be added.
About the Author:
Peter Bacchus has years of biodynamic farming experience. Raised on a biodynamic dairy farm, he served apprenticeships on other dairy farms while growing up. He studied and worked on biodynamic farms and in a nutritional research laboratory in Switzerland. Later he worked as a medicinal herb grower, developed a large-scale composting business, and converted a commercial glass house to the biodynamic method, which included successful control of whitefly and fungal problems. Bacchus consults widely and has held leadership positions in biodynamic farming organizations. He lives with his wife Gill near Palmerston North, on the north island of New Zealand.