So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the Permaculture Voices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended.
I will share them here with you!
Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.
My next notes document is Adam Klaus. The topic this time was "Biodynamics for Better Farming"
Bella Farm, founded in 2005 on an old apple orchard. 12 acres, western colorado, 6200’, zone 6 climate. Mid-april to Mid-October.
Adam and Allison have brought new life to this aging farm.
This is a traditional homestead farm. . .
Biodynamics - it’s often a little mysterious.
I didn’t come from a farming background. I had a passion for doing it, but I needed to find a way. Biodynamic Farms demonstrated exceptional quality, when I toured farms all over the world. There was a health, a vitality, a happiness in those farmers that inspired me.
Principles of Biodynamic Farming:
whole farm organism, living compost fertility, breeding for farm adaptation and natural rhythms and human timing.
You can have far more effect in breeding, in just a few year’s time, than you ever thought you could.
A healthy ecosystem has a balance of plants and animals.
Compost is more valuable for its microbiology than for its fertilizer attributes. It’s the living material in the compost that is the really useful thing.
On Farm Breeding - we’re on the grandchildren of our original brown swiss cow and bull—we are selecting for coal adaptation.
Timing: moon tides move all the water on earth, from oceans to plant sap. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The moon is secondary to the sun, but it is important. We work with the rhythms of the moon all around our farm.
In our living garden organism, the key thing is sequential polyculture.
Pic: big red cabbage plants with carrots along them. As the cabbage are harvested, the carrots have more space.
We don’t have a tractor—I don’t recommend a tractor for a small farm.
Back to the pic, we plant radishes along that twine “fence”. When we harvest the radish, we plant cucumbers and beans together.
We plant the garlic in a monoculture patch, but the winter squash is planted nearby and about the time we harvest the garlic the squash is going nuts and it just covers over that area right away.
We’re always trying to have something harvesting the sun.
Our chickens run through the garden from time to time. They are the great sanitizers. I’m the only farmer that can grow winter squash, everybody else has a plague of squash bugs. I had to look up squash bugs on the internet.
Biodynamic compost is different in that they use specific innoculants (dandelion, yarrow, oak bark) Each of these preps have different mineral profiles and grow different populations of microbes. We have friends who make these special preps, we buy them and put them into our compost pile to multiply. Then when we apply the compost to the soil, they will feed upon and convert soil minerals into a form available to our plants.
We can make “hidden” phosphorus that doesn’t show up on soil tests, become available to our plants via our compost.
The microbes in BD compost make for healthier immune systems in the plants. I had noticed that everything just seemed more vibrant on the BD farms. . .
Pic: smoking garlic on applewood - value added product sells for $4/head.
The efficiency of the fertility cycle is what makes the biodynamic farm profitable. I love talking about fertilizer costs, because I don’t have them.
Fermentation also multiplies the value of existing nutrients. Harvesting with the rising moon for juicier produce. This makes more sauerkraut, more delicious sauerkraut.
Harvesting onions on a descending moon makes for superior onions.
Breed your own varieties of produce. Trial a bunch of varieties, and pick the best for your farm. Don’t fool yourself. Your customers don’t care about 17 kinds of tomatoes. They want fabulous tomatoes.
We have special varieties of veggies. Emerite green beans, anasazi sweet corn (has purple flecks!), yellow swiss chard.
We raise chickens for meat and eggs. We integrate the chickens into the orchard. We tried incorporating sheep as well—it didn’t go so well. Sheep like to eat trees. Now, I have to mow the orchard, twice. By July, the chickens are big enough to keep the grass down.We’ve got 8% organic matter in our orchard soil.
We raise our baby chicks in the greenhouse. It’s the perfect nursery. April and May in our greenhouse looks like North Florida. The chicks start out foraging on their second day of life. They provide pest control in our greenhouse.
Chickens scratching in our cow yard helps promote composting.
Ducks maintain riparian health. The ducks hang out on the ground in the henhouse. The hens are on oak branches spread across the rafters in there. We clean out the chicken house every two years. We use deep litter there. The hens spend most of the time up on the roosts.
The meat chickens have a shelter with a wire floor to collect manure. We feed sprouted grains, raw milk and pasture forage. This results in the darkest, most delicious and nutritious chicken meat.
We have the chicken houses adjacent to the garden for efficient manure handling. Pic: egg house on one side—hens range towards the cows. Meat house on the other side - they range in the orchard.
When we are hatching eggs in the spring, it’s in concert with a waxing moon.
We are breeding our own chickens, from Dark Cornish and Jersey Giants. The cornish have the nice broad breast, the jersey’s are pretty good layers. Pic: sixth generation on our farm - the El Dorado type. Selected for performance in an orchard environment, fed without commercial chicken feed. When we get to butchering day, we pull the best, toss them into the henhouse for the winter—this is the second test. Can they make it in an unheated henhouse? When do they start laying? When I get back from this trip I will do the second selection, I’ll pick 3 roosters (it’s good to have a couple of spares) and 8 hens to raise up the next set of meat birds.
Cows: the cow is essential for pasture ecology. Rotational grazing is what fertilizes our farm. Every time we graze the top, the roots slough off and become organic matter in the soil. We are at 8% organic matter in our soil. I’m told it can’t get much better than that.
We manage our cows in a natural way. We keep our calves with their moms in the pasture, they learn to graze from their moms. We have our heifers watching the milking—it helps when they end up getting milked themselves.
Cow manure is really important in biodynamic soil fertility. It’s just a great medium for micro-organisms.
We do natural calving, every year in April and May. Our calves nurse their moms for the first 6 months of life. The sucking action is good for their brains, good for their gut microflora. The calve nursing is good for the mom’s udder (although it looks like it hurts) - our cows don’t get mastitis.
We are doing line breeding, keeping a bull from our own herd. I’m on bull #3, and he’s better than my first bull, that came from outside.
Orchard: I apply a biodynamic tree paste, made from cow manure and other things. We smear that on the bark, it interrupts insects. We apply BD compost around the base of the trees.
Winter pruning: we do this with a descending moon, to minimize tree bleeding. A New Moon is better than a full moon.
Summer harvest: picking with a full moon makes for juicy peaches!
Pic: our trout pond at the top of our farm. It’s a 2.5 acre foot pond, up high where we can distribute water all over our farm. We have a pump in our pond, oxygenating the water. That increases the metabolism of the ecosystem.
Pic: the pond was dug to 15 feet deep, we put in big boulders and big trees at the bottom when we built it, as trout habitat. You can see the pipes and box that let me move water out of the pond. I can do controlled discharges at 4 times the rate that water comes in, and this is useful.
We can “fertigate” with water from the pond. Trout poop is high in phosphorus, and P is your limiting factor on almost any farm. You will catch more fish on a full moon.
Pic: 24x38’ greenhouse, completely passive and unheated. It’s a Mediterranean climate in there. We grow transplants before the trees leaf out persimmons, pomegranate, olives, figs, seedless grapes, rosemary, bay leaf and pluots. In summer we grow okra, sweet peppers, melons in there. In winter we grow lettuces, leafy greens in there.
Moon cycles. The lunar cycle is like the solar cycle (low and high in the sky) but it cycles in a month. When your picking things that are up off the ground, better to do when the moon is high in the sky. When you’re harvesting root crops, better to do when the moon is low.
Beauty is the best measure of life: a biodynamic farm is a beautiful place. The Farmer is the most important animal on the BD farm. Take care of yourself. All your plants and animals need you.
The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings - Masanobu Fukuoka