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Poverty Pastures, Poverty Weeds

By Charles Walters

The following is an excerpt from the book, Weeds: Control Without Poisons and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Weed Photo

I do not think it likely that very many farmers will come to understand either pastures or weeds that torment these swards with out reading and mastering Andre A. Voisin’s fantastic statement, Grass Productivity. Equally important is Holistic Resource Management, by Allan Savory, a provocative book that addresses the question of why –– in spite of all efforts to halt desertification –– land, air and water resources continue to deteriorate. The life and times of weeds are not the focal points of these texts, yet somehow I have a feeling the many details on weeds presented here will make little impression if the bigger picture is not understood and preserved.

On more than one trip to Minnesota, I have seen wild mustard moving in and taking whole fields of soybeans. I have seen where weeds were taking over pastures and corn rows were being choked to death by weeds. Later I presented my field notes to William A. Albrecht at the University of Missouri to see if rhyme or reason could be made of what was happening. Albrecht’s usual response was that toxic technology was a sunset operation, that the anatomy of weed control was to be seated in fertility management.

Biodynamics is a study in itself, the basics being outside the purview of this little book. Countless texts and even more short courses here and abroad train farmers in the biodynamic art, the objective being a totally sustainable agriculture that builds soils, crops and people. In what may well be one of the most profound books on agriculture ever written, Bio-Dynamic Agriculture Introductory Lectures, Volume 1, Alexander Podolinsky set down a few Podolinsky-isms. 

  • Plants not allowed seasonally optimum growth on top will gradually also shorten roots, and sod-bound shallow roots result.
  • Microbial and worm activity ceases below root levels
  • The need for any soil ripping is a result of bad farming. Mechanical ripping is costly and will only temporarily relieve the compacted conditions.
  • Ripping wettish clay only causes cutting smearing of soil pores where cut, thus inhibiting air penetration.
  • The biological equivalent to European winter for Australian soils is the state of soil hardness and inactivity of extreme dryness.
  • Soil, when it is truly biologically active, alone can account for produce with natural quality.
  • When there is an immediate requirement for major or minor nutrients, judicious biodynamic procedures would get these major or minor elements out of fertilizer bags in the conventional way –– relying on a sheet composting action through preparation 500 in the soil  –– rather than running the risk of introducing concentrations of undesirable chemicals into the soil, via dubious, so-called “organic” manures, city refuse, etc.
  • The important thing about a humus colloid is that the soluble elements in it are at all times available to the plant, and yet, they will neither evaporate nor leach out. Humus will hold 75% of its own volume in water.
  • A plant actually grows from the leaves downward as well as upward from the roots.
  • Artificial fertilizers are not poisons…but they actually become available in a form which is outside the organization of nature. That, of course, is rather dangerous.
  • In most cases, so-called organic manures are of highly dubious value, and these include chicken, feedlot out of the oceans is full of heavy metals and pesticide residues. These materials are invariably applied in a form that permits water solubility and do not constitute real compost in the sense of Preparation 500, where a total has developed. There is as much danger in water solubility problems from these organic manures as there is from factory acidulated salt fertilizers.
  • Bloat does not occur at all on Bio-Dynamic farms. Neither does sterility, acetonemia, etc.
  • We are farming within a vast cosmological and earthly environment. after all, our earth is also a cosmic body, and we must not forget that fact. We are a little bit too tied down to the fact that this is a material earth, and everything seems solid. We are inclined to think that something even as important as sunlight is a bit mystical, because it comes from far away. It is not at all. We are, in conjunction with other cosmic bodies, one huge cosmic ecology. If we work within that vast environment, then we are working within the organization of nature, and that would be true biological farming, not just using organic manures or green manures.
  • At first when you sow down clover, you are not going to build up nitrogen, you are going to lose nitrogen in the soil. If peas and beans and vetchs and many other legumes have been sown, and have been allowed to grow just beyond flowering stage, even if they have not formed a decent pod yet, they will be found to have used nitrogen than they leave, if they are mown down or plowed in at that stage.

In other words, Alex Podolinsky represents first rate science. And those who view biodynamics as some sort of mysticism are merely codifying their ignorance. Few would characterize Einstein as a clairvoyant. Instead, he is seen as a scientists who could conceptualize a part of the Creator’s plan. Similarly, when Rudolf Steiner conceptualized the foundation principles that led to biodynamic agriculture, he discovered realms of nature others would not comprehend for decades. All the biodynamic preparations –– starting with 500 –– are the end products of reasoned science dovetailed together with experiments and practice. We can sketch a few details, but in the final analysis where can be no substitute for reading Podolinsky’s book, or Hugh Lovel’s treatise on the same subject. Without clear understanding and obedience to nature’s rule, reliance on a preparations useless.

It will be noted that no mention of weeds was made in the Podolinsky-isms. Yet his experiences with a million and a half acres (some his own, more belonging to clients) have proved that healthy grass is anathema to weeds.

Biodynamic preparation 500 was conceived by Rudolf Steiner. It is made under rules that appear esoteric to the uninitiated, but in fact comply with the cosmic nature of farming. Briefly, preparation 500 is made by burying fresh manure from cows in a cow horn over the winter, when microbial activity is dormant. Harvested and stored correctly, this “developed” material is introduced into water stirred a prescribed number of times on direction, then reversed, each achieved vortex rising and falling. The solution is sprayed on pasture grass during evening hours when the temperature is optimum. The object is to cause pasture grass to recast the makeup of the soil so that a climax crop can follow. And as Albrecht pointed out, a climax crop is its own insurance policy against weed infestation. I have seen clay soil so hard it could be and was diced and used for bricks to build a clubhouse for the Tasmanian Organic Growers Association, adobe style. That same soil, after preparation 500 treatment, became so mellow, it was possible to run an arm in too near the elbow. Weeds no longer figured, and growers could figure on having no weeds –– all because fo the primacy of a system.

Weed control from a biodynamic point of view requires a new focus. The plants we think of as weeds have their own functions in the overall scheme of things. “When we do not know what the weed’s function and purpose is, how can we tell whether the plant is beneficial or not?” asked Hugh Lovel.

Hugh Lovel has worked with AcresUSA for so long now, it seems appropriate to let him speak on the subject of weed control in terms fo biodynamic regardless of how the term is capitalized or hyphenated.

Two of the most virulent weeds in the Southeast, (writes Lovel), are kudzu and water hyacinth. The former curtail erosion by growing rampantly on our acid-clay oil. In time it leaves them rich and mellow. The latter filters the waterways along the coast, cleaning the waters while it obstructs boat traffic. Both put a lot of biomass into the ecosystem. We need good sources of biomass in the Southeast since our soils tend to degrade rapidly. Such biological potential should be appreciated. These weeds could be put use instead of warred against.

This points up the fact that weed elimination does not equal weed control. Let us examine what control means. Take a car. To control it we must be able to start, guide and stop it. If any one of these three is beyond our ability, we do not control the car. The same with weeds. We need to know how to get a weed started in an area, change the way it grows and make it cease growing there ––- all three, before we can say that we control it.

If I plant garlic in October and I get a good cover of chickweed in it over the winter, it virtually eliminates other weeds and I will not have to cultivate again until I dig my garlic. My loss in yield is slight and my gain is in ecological diversity and fertility. I must know how to get chickweed started in my garlic just as much as I must know how to eliminate the Jerusalem artichoke from my cornfield.

Getting a weed started in a field may require planting it under favorable condition. But, what are favorable conditions? Commonly, what is ideal for one plant is inimical to another. I once had problems with spiny amaranth, Jimson weed and smartweed because I was fertilizing with raw manure. Certainly these weeds love raw manure. When I changed over to composting manures, the weeds that predominated were lambsquarters, redroot pigweed and galinsoga, for these weeds preferred compost. Before I restocked my soil pantry with granite dust from the local gravel quarry and raised my pH close to 7, I used to have broom sedge, a poverty weed that requires an acid and degenerating soil. Now I have fescue and red clover, which require more neutral conditions. Many of the worst weed problems occur where the soils are not suitable for the crops being grown there, but are instead favorable for weeds. Some knowledge of weeds and the conditions they prefer provides a seven-league stride toward controlling them.

Almost all farmers have weed tales to tell. One may get rid of their thistles by spraying blackstrap molasses. Another may phase out their coastal bermuda by alternating between winter rye and summer soybeans. Another may move his weeds from field to field by taking their seeds up in fodder crops and spreading them again in recycled manure, thus ensuring a healthy diversity in the field. This list might as well be endless. Each weed is different, reflects a different aspect of the heavens, relies on different soil conditions, has a different function and purpose. Patience, observation and experiment will yield all manner of insights.

For control of weeds, biodynamic agriculture looks to the manipulation of all the forces at work. If a certain weed is beneficial in the rotation, the farm may be managed in such a way as to bring the seeds of that weed to each field at the right time. Fertilization, cultivation and rotation may all be used to start, change and stop the weed. One wants just the right amount of chamomile in wheat, chicory in corn, or wild geranium in the hay. Achieving these optimum results, especially since nature is ever changing, is a challenge to even the most organized, perceptive and creative biodynamic farmers.

Some weeds are very difficult to control, even by the biodynamic expert. They may be easy to get started, yet nearly impossible to keep in check or eliminate. Their seeds are numerous. They overwhelm crops, contaminate harvests and ruin use of the land. And the extremes of clean cultivation may be nearly as bad as the use of herbicides. In lecture six of Agriculture, Rudolf Steiner –– who gave biodynamic agriculture its start –– outlines a remedy is what biodynamic growers call “making a weed pepper.”

The year a weed grows too prolifically it might as well be accepted. But, seed from it should be gathered. If the weed is not propagated by seeds, those parts of the plant that reproduce it should be gathered. These should be burned to ash, preferably in a wood fire, and the ash saved. If there is enough ash it may be ground to uniform fineness with a mortar and pestle and homeopathically diluted and potentized for spraying so that a very strong effect is obtained from only a small amount of material. This homeopathic potency process may be done as follows.

Using a one-ounce bottle, place one-tenth of an ounce of ash in it and add nine-tenths ounces of rainwater (or other pure water). Succuss the contents by rhythmical, intensive shaking for a set period of time, such as three minutes. This is the 1X or D1, potency, depending on which school of nomenclature is followed. One-tenth of this ounce of D1 weed pepper is then added to another one-ounce bottle and nine-tenths ounces of water is added. This bottle is succussed to produce the D2 potency. This process is repeated for the third, fourth, fifth potencies, ad infinitum, for as far as is desired. I usually go no farther than the tenth potency. Usually the eight potency is the most effective for my uses. Since some potencies may eliminate the weed whereas others may actually stimulate the weed to grow and proliferate, choosing the right potency is important.

Two concepts figure in how I choose a potency. First, I “pendulum dowse” down the list of potencies, asking for potency most effective in eliminating the weed. For me a strong clockwise swing is the right indication. Then I check on this with a specimen of the weed in my radionic scanner. I measure the general vitality of the weed (its 9–49) and then measure what each potency does to this general vitality reading. The potency that shows the greatest reduction in the general vitality is the one I use. Presumably, if I did not get a large enough reduction in the weed’s vitality with any of the first ten potencies, I might have to got to higher potencies.

To make enough spray to cover an acre or less, I go back to an earlier potency. For instance, I can take a tenth of an ounce of my D5 to nine-tenths water and make a full ounce of D6. After succussing it, I can take this ounce of D6 and add it to nine ounces of water in a quart jar. After succussion I can add this ten ounces of D7 to ninety ounces of water in a gallon jug and succus for one-hundred ounces of D8 weed pepper. This is at the limit of what can conveniently be potentized by succussion. Usually this is all I need for the areas I deal with in my market garden, and I can apply it with my gallon-sized pump sprayer.

Each person has his or her own way of doing things. One farmer may add a touch of hydrogen peroxide to the water. I have seen some evidence that small amounts of hydrogen peroxide may make stronger homeopathic potencies. Another may need to cover large acreages and may make up 80 gallons or even 800 gallons. He may go back to the D4 or the D3 potencies and once he reaches the 1,000-ounce size he may use his BD prep stirring machine to potentize, and his spray rig for application. Another may put a sample of the appropriate potency in his cosmic pipe (a passive radionic field unit) because it keeps hammering the remedy home. Some may find it easier to derive a rate for the potency they intend to apply, and use their radionic equipment to imprint this rate on a spray tank of water. Whatever works, go for it.

Rudolf Steiner explains that it can take up to four years to completely eliminate a given species. I have been afraid to test this because the diversity of species is the key to the fertility of my farming operation. A diverse ecology is generally a balanced and healthy ecology, and I do not want to get rid of something completely when I do not fully understand why it is there and what it does.

My method has been to gather a broad spectrum of weeds and make a pepper out of the whole collection, spray it on the worst spots and put the potency in my cosmic pipe. I did that for two years running and the result was far fewer of most of the weeds in the collection. A few of them increased rather than diminishing, and I do not know for certain why. Perhaps that particular weed needed a different potency or needed to be burned in a certain constellation of the moon. I simply report this so that others might watch for it. The third year I was afraid I might go too far and not have enough weeds, most of which are beneficial in small quantities. So I made no pepper the third year. In the fourth year i had a resurgence of weeds. This meant a return to weed pepper the fourth year.

The biodynamic approach to controlling weeds is not only cheap and ecologically sound, it avoids harm that herbicides and too much clean cultivation deliver. The treatment for elimination of a weed is designed to affect only the species treated. But, because it is so effective it should be used with care. When there are a lot of dandelions, wild garlic, purslane, or St. John’swort in a field, and these weeds are doing no real harm, my suggestion is to study them. Let them perform their function and fulfill their purpose. Just observe them and learn them. There is a good chance here weeds are beneficial in the overall scheme of things. Do not go out there giving them a dose of D8 once a month for four years and wipe the field clean of it. Use good sense. If your fields are healthier with a few weeds, you can laugh right back at the ridicule fo your neighbors. Go ahead and tweak their noses. If your fields are balanced, healthy and fertile you can afford it.

To keep learning about natural weed control, find Weeds–Control Without Poisons by Charles Walters at the AcresUSA Bookstore.

About the Author

Charles Walters

Charles Walters

Charles Walters founded Acres U.S.A. and completed more than a dozen books as he edited the Acres U.S.A. magazine, while co-authoring several more. A tireless traveler, Walters journeyed around the world to research sustainable agriculture, and his trip to China in 1976 inspired others. By the time of his death in 2009, Charles Walters could honestly say he changed the world for the better.