Biodynamic: The Past and Future of Agriculture

by Paige Lahnam

Everyone has heard of organic foods; we know that they are good for us and that they tend to be more expensive in the grocery store, but the term “biodynamic” is a new one for most people in America.  Europeans and Australians are the pioneers of biodynamic farming and almost a decade after its inception, it is difficult to obtain biodynamic seeds in America and education on the topic is limited.  The concept is much older than organic, but much less understood.

Biodynamic is the next leap in sustainable agriculture: the past, present, and future of growing.

Biodynamic is the big brother of organic.  In order to acquire a biodynamic certification, an organic certification is needed.   Matt Visser, representative of Territorial Seed Company’s Biodynamic Sero Seed says “organic tells you what not to do and biodynamic tells you what you should do,” meaning that organic regulates the use of harmful chemicals and biodynamic gives the alternative.  Biodynamic is the next leap in sustainable agriculture: the past, present, and future of growing.  

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We are now carrying a brand new, biodynamic seed line called Sero Biodynamic Seed, created from Territorial Seed Company. Also check out our newest product, Malibu Compost, produced entirely from biodynamic farms.

The USDA implemented the National Organic Program in 2002, while biodynamic farming has been around since 1924. This led to the founding of the International Demeter Biodynamic Certification, the oldest ecological certification organization in the world.  After the industrial revolution, people moved from their farms to the city.  Agriculture lay in the shadow of factories. Chemical fertilizers and sprays pushed for fast, controlled mass production and extreme specialization.  No longer were farmers planting multiple crops, but rather a handful of cash crops, such as corn, wheat, and rye grass.  Cattle farmers no longer grew their own feed, but had it brought in from feed specialized farms. Things began to fail.

Many farmers turned to Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and scientist who coined the term “biodynamic”.  Steiner believed that the farm operated as an ecosystem, supporting plants, animals, and farmer in a cohesive, self-sustaining environment that did not negatively impact the surrounding land.  He believed that when farmers separated themselves from the farm, everything else followed suit. A biodynamic farm is incorporated into the surrounding environment.

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Rudolph Steiner

To create this seamless system, biodynamic certification requires 10% of the total area certified allotted to native plants and wildlife. The land is not reassigned, tilled beyond recognition. A farmer moves in to the native landscape, acknowledges and enters the existing ecosystem.

The certification requires all that the organic label calls for and then some.  Access to the outdoors and room to lie down is a must for livestock, but biodynamic certification also specifies that animals be allowed to carry out normal social behaviors, such as young animals playing together, and appropriate water and perching space availability for waterfowl and poultry.  All of the components of organic regulations are braided together so that every aspect of the farm interconnects.  The fodder for cattle grows on site and relies on particular grazing habits for nutrients.  All nutrients are recycled from the farm itself.

The biodynamic farm is meant to be a living, breathing organism that regulates itself.

The farmer is not out tilling the ground, breaking up the beneficial colonies of fungi and bacteria, regulating water usage and nutrient input.  The farmer is covering the soil to hold in water and nutrients, building it up with compost made from farm waste, laying it on the earth for the insects and microorganisms to mix in.  This farmer does not toil in the fields, but realizes that every member of the farm has a role to play and a time to play it.  Moon phases dictate when to weed, when to plant, when to harvest.  The biodynamic farmer moves with nature, never against it.

Photo by Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association

Photo by Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association

Agriculture has become a drain on our environment.  Nutrient leaching, erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions are pressing concerns.  10% of greenhouse gasses in the U.S. come from agriculture.  The focus of biodynamic farming and gardening is to mimic nature as closely as possible, to get away from the culture of mass production and to work towards reversing negative effects on the environment by building nutrient packed soil. This does not mean having a wild, out of control yard.  This means that waste products are put to good use, covering the soil, and adding nutrients to it.  It means supporting the beneficial wildlife in the garden, from fungi to insects.  When we support the hard workers buzzing and creeping around us, we reduce our own labor.  Beneficial insects control pest insects, and the same is true for bacteria and fungi.  The concept is to go back to how we used to grow things: within a self-sustaining system.  Biodynamic certification came about in a time of big change and big business.  It was a cry for help when things weren’t working the way they used to and it is a 90-year-old movement to protect our food and our future.

Sources:

“Biodynamic Farm Standard.” Demeter Association Inc. (2014): 1-50. Feb. 2014. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.demeter-usa.org/downloads/Demeter-Farm-Standard.pdf>.

“Agriculture.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Tompkins, Peter, and Christopher Bird. Secrets of the Soil: New Solutions for Restoring Our Planet. Anchorage, AK: Earthpulse, 1998. Print.

Visser, Matt. “Matt Visser of Sero Biodynamic Seeds.” Telephone interview. Spring 2015.

“Guide to Organic Certification.” Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic Food Program (2008): 1-54. WSDA Organics. Washington State Dept. of Agriculture Organic Food Program, 2008. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/Organic/Certificate/2009/Reference_Material/237_Guide_OrgCertification.pdf>.

Paige Lanham is a recent graduate of Western Washington University. She has earned a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in English and is a seed buyer, plant receiver, and blogger at Garden Spot Nursery. She is a newcomer botanist and writer and likes to play in the dirt.

February Mid-Winter Photo Contest

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Hey Snap Happy Garden Photographers!

Every season, we provide a photo contest for gardeners to submit pictures of their garden. As a year-round garden store, winter is an exciting time for us. Soil beds are being prepped, seeds are being planted, hellebores and primroses are popping color into planters and garden beds.

There’s no theme, just have fun! Photos can include outdoor garden beds, planters and other wintertime wonders.

Submission deadline is Monday, Feb. 16th. First-prize winner will receive a $20 gift certificate to our store! (Perhaps a new pair of gloves, another row of primroses, etc.)

The Low Down (or the Rules):

  • No experience or skill necessary
  • One photo per submitter (only one submission please)
  • Make sure the photo is in .jpeg or .png format
  • Send to Audra at audra@garden-spot.com
  • Include your name, number, and email with your submission

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Audra with the email provided.

Good luck and happy snapping!

Twelve Days of the Gardener’s Christmas: A Holiday Wish List for 2015

Have a friend or family member that’s known for their green thumb? Looking for that perfect gift you know they’ll enjoy for seasons to come? Want to do something other than a Garden Spot Gift Certificate (although they are awesome)?

Here are our Top Twelve Christmas Gifts:

2015 Old Farmer’s Almanac:

Since 1792, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has provided weather forecasts, recipes and daily advice to organize your gardening seasons. The newest 2015 edition is now available.

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Garden Gloves

After a long year in the garden, a new pair of gloves will inspire the new season ahead. From classic to kids to heavy duty, there’s a special pair designed for your gardening needs.

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Bird Houses and Tweet Treats

Don’t forget the birds! Although its winter, there native residents here all year long. With our brand new line of suet bird cakes, warm up these garden friends with a brand new home.

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Indoor Amaryllis and Paperwhite Bulbs

Don’t let winter gray your day. Add some indoor color with blooming paperwhites and amaryllis. These exotic beauties are fun to watch grow. Also, all paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs are 25% off from now until the end of the month!

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Wind Chimes

Music of the Spheres Wind Chimes not only produce beautiful sounds but also are beautiful to hang on the porch or in the garden. These specialty wind chimes have their own different tones by size.

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Hellebores

Known as the Christmas Rose, hellebores are evergreen perennials that bloom gorgeous flowers from now until spring. From now until the end of the month, all hellebores will be 25% off!

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Houseplants

As a long-term gift for a forever loved one, houseplants come in many varieties. Whether you choose succulents or tropicals or a Peace Lily (as depicted above), houseplants are all year long.

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Tillandsia Sand Terrariums

Commonly known as Air Plants, Tillandsias are indoor, tropical plants that require no soil. You can design a unique gift idea by placing tillandsia in colored sand, rock or marbles within a glass enclosure.

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Herbal Gardener’s Rosemary Leaf Soap

Made by Brambleberry, Herbal Gardener’s Rosemary Leaf Soap is aromatic and soothing for the hardworking hands of gardeners! Tough on dirt yet soft on hands, the benefits are endless!

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Soil Moisture Meter

Accurate and easy to use, moistures meters monitor your watering for effective plant care. Perfect for patio containers and indoor houseplants, moisture meters read moisture levels beneath the surface of your soil.

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Metal Art from WillowSteel

Handcrafted by local metal artist WillowSteel, the various types of styles, sizes and metals are made to compliment your garden home. Check out our selection in store.

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Tools: Garden Claw, Hori Hori and Trowel

A brand new set of tools is every gardeners dream. Whether to replace lost ones or those worn by use, be excited to work the soil with a traditional garden claw, Good Grips Hori Hori or a classic trowel.

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Amaryllis: A Love Story

By Marcy Plattner

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Holiday Amaryllis complimented by a Hellebore

My first experience with Amaryllis was in my early childhood. I remember it as a disappointment. My mother would buy a box with a bulb, soil and a green plastic pot for $2.98 at the grocery store. I remember having fun planting the bulb and setting it out on a windowsill in the winter, but I do not remember it ever blooming.

That was my introduction. My real infatuation with Amaryllis began about 30 years ago with Nellie Smith, the matriarch of Smith Gardens on Marine Drive. Nellie was an “Amaryllis Queen” with a true passion for these amazing bulbs. Nellie would successfully hold over 100 Amaryllis bulbs every year. Every season they would rebloom for her.

Over the years, her bulbs grew so big that they could barley fit in a 6-inch pot. When I met Nellie, even though she was re tired from her day-to-day nursery duties, she was still a force of energy. She lived in a little house next to an old wooden row of greenhouses. It was built in the old style with square-framed panes of glass accented with whitewashed, fragrant mossy wood.

Smith Gardens Nursery today is still located on Marine Drive in Bellingham. Over the years it has bloomed into a network of wholesale nurseries with locations up and down the West Coast. Even though Nellie passed away in 2003, Smith Gardens is now managed by 4th and 5th generation of Smiths. Nellie would be proud.

I will always treasure the experience of visiting “Nellie’s Greenhouse” when all her beloved bulbs were in glorious winter bloom.  Looking back, I regret that I never asked how she did it.  Was it the way she stored her bulbs? Was it her fertilizer? Was it her timing? If I could only wind back the clock!

There was an unfortunate tragedy during a particularly bitter winter storm in 1985.

The snow load on her old greenhouse became so heavy that the roof broke through. Nellie lost her entire Amaryllis collection to the cold.  Like the true gardener she was, she was not defeated. She continued to collect, but it never was quite as grand of a show.

Nellie’s collection showed me what was possible and helped me set my sights on the goal of growing one great Amaryllis each season. It wasn’t long before I found myself wanting to grow more than just one Amaryllis and more than just the color red…

In the early years when I opened the Garden Spot, I searched for top quality Amaryllis. With a stroke of luck, I found a grower from Holland who would ship huge, softball-sized Dutch Amaryllis Bulbs. They were expensive, so I only dared to bring a few in to try.  As they began to sell, I began to hear stories from my customers. They would let me know how many blooms they got from one bulb.

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‘Bright Spark’ Amaryllis

“Marcy, I have three blooms and there is one more coming!” was one of the many comments I’d get from my fellow Amaryllis growers.

Robin Plume thrilled me when she sent me a photo of her collection of bulbs with multi-flowers.

Soon new colors became available, like the first Lime blooming varieties! Then double blooms started appearing. I was even finding miniature varieties. So cute! After a couple of more years, even more cool Amaryllis came out on the market, such as the variety ‘La Paz’ which looks like an Orchid.

Even Martha Stewart started featuring Amaryllis varieties in her magazine. Wedding magazines and lifestyle magazines soon were showing photo spreads of the latest colors. Amaryllis introductions are announced, along with new photos, each year in Holland.  It is like Fashion Week in New York City. I want them all!

Over the years whenever I find other Amaryllis aficionados that got their bulbs to dependably rebloom each year, I’ve learned to ask lots of questions. With the answers I’ve come to understand the basics of forcing these bulb beauties.

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Photo Credit to Melinda Creed


Here are my tips for success:

1.Select a firm, top quality Amaryllis bulb from your local, independent nursery (wink wink).

2. Plant your bulb in a pot where the bulb is only 2 inches away from the inside edge of the pot, and it’s only sitting 3/4 deep in the pot from the top of the soil line. Amaryllis like to feel snug in its container.

3. Do not overwater. Just keep it moist. If you are using a container with no drainage holes, just keep the watering slightly above the hairy roots. Most Amaryllis failure comes with over-watering because of root rot.

4. After your Amaryllis blooms, the long, green and sappy leaves will remain. Cut back the bloom stem and leave the leaves. Continue to water and fertilize like a regular houseplant.

5.After frost in May, transplant your leafy bulb out into a sunny spot in your garden where you will water and fertilize it all summer.

6. Stop watering your Amaryllis in September and let it dry down like an onion. Then dig it up, cut off the dried foliage and let your bulb cure in a cool dry place until November.

7.Then plant it in a pot, and soon it will begin to sprout a new bloom. If your bulb does not rebloom and you get just leaves, don’t give up! It just means that your bulb did not build up enough energy. Keep your leaves healthy and repeat the over-summering process. It should rebloom for you the following year.


Now I want you to become part of our Amaryllis Admiration Society. I want to hear your stories. I want to see your pictures. I want to know your secrets of success.

Mid-Fall Photo Contest

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Hey Snap Happy Gardeners!

It’s that time of the season for our Mid-Fall Photo Contest and we’re looking for anything outdoors that promotes this time of year: pumpkins, gourds, decorated porches, autumn gardens, seasonal containers, harvested veggies, etc.

If it feels like fall, then it looks like fall!

This contest will run for two weeks from October 23rd through November 6th (for those who want some Thanksgiving instead of Halloween themed submissions, although both are accepted for submission).

First prize receives a $20 gift certificate to our store!

The Low Down (or the Rules):

  • No experience or skill necessary!
  • One photo per submitter (only one submission please)
  • Make sure the photo in .jpeg format
  • Send to Audra at audra@garden-spot.com
  • Include your name, number, and email with your submission

Here’s the link to our Mid-Summer Photo Contest submissions for inspiration:

https://gardenspotnursery.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/winner-of-the-mid-summer-photo-contest/

Have fun everyone! We can’t wait to see what your autumn has unfolded!

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact Audra at the email address provided above.

The Self Sustaining Garden: Our Place in the Soil Food Web

by Paige Lahnam

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We become a dozen different people when we step into our gardens: architects, chemists, chefs, doctors, exterminators, and various others.  When the earth needs to breath, we are there to turn it, when it is hungry, we feed it, when it crumbles and washes away beneath our feet, we build more, making the gardeners’ job a relentless one.  It is hard to imagine how the soil gets along without us in our surrounding forests.  Who is there to treat common issues of those plants?  What sort of prevention strategy is in place?   

The reason our backs ache and our hands grow calluses like weeds is that in nature, the work that we take on—bold and ambitious gardeners that we are—is divided amongst trillions of organisms in the soil food web.

Maybe we are a little overworked.

With a little more awareness and a lot less work, we can promote a healthy, neat garden with a wild spirit.

After years of tilling and fertilizing, modern farms struggle with erosion and depletion of soil nutrients.  We compulsively remove our grass clippings, leaves, and yard waste, taking nutrients away and letting the earth give and give until there is nothing left.  By building our own soils we alleviate this problem and lock nutrients into our gardens, keeping nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium right where they belong: nourishing our plants and cycling from one character in our soil story to the next.

There is a community weaving itself beneath our feet: a vast interconnected network of life.   We forget about that cylinder of root mass once it is removed from its plastic sheath and submerged in the hole.  The seeds that slip from paper sleeves also slip our minds until they emerge from the ground as plants.  Where do those roots go and who do they meet along the way?

The soil food web contains many characters, most of which we have all encountered in our own soil explorations.  Earthworms, ants, centipedes, and ladybugs are old friends, and contribute to a much larger system that is seldom seen.

When leaves fall from trees, they drop to the soil where shredders like ants and millipedes break the leaves apart so that they are easier for the bacteria and fungus to digest.  Nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon are absorbed from dead material and encased inside the bodies of fungus and bacteria.  At this point, plants cannot absorb these recycled nutrients.  They are working on a scheme of their own and produce excess sugars, which sweat out of their roots, providing a tasty snack for any fungi or bacteria hanging around. Mycorrhizae intertwine themselves between roots, and bacteria cling to particles of soil nearby.  When a nematode comes along and takes a delicious bite from a mycorrhizal hyphae, the nutrients contained within the body of the fungus run right through the nematode and are deposited near the roots, ready to be sucked up and put to good use.  This is also true for hungry protozoa that eat bacteria.

It is much easier to establish a living system that feeds itself, retains water, and aerates the soil than to be the personal servant of each needy plant in your yard.

Common practices such as tilling and adding inorganic fertilizers to the ground kill the beneficial organisms that supply our plants with nutrients.  This lack of nutrients necessitates a constant influx of fertilizer into the soil, most of which is flushed out by water before it even reaches the roots.  The salts from the fertilizers dehydrate the sensitive bodies of microorganisms, sterilizing the soil, however, it is possible to inoculate sterile earth with life.

Establishing your Food Web:

The first step to obtaining better soil is observation.  Try to see what is living in your backyard.  There are ways, such as setting pitfall traps (burying a cup so that bugs fall into it and cannot climb up the sides) and soil sampling, to determine the makeup of your food web.

Because there are many things that we do that harm helpful organisms, getting to know the beasties that occupy your plants’ space will help you learn the good guys from the bad.     

Once you’ve identified your true friends, inoculation is the next step.  Compost is pre-soil, partially decomposed and full to the brim with beneficial organisms.  If it’s decomposing, it’s alive.  By heaping compost on top of your existing soil, without mixing it in, you are introducing this decomposition into your food web and soil is being built beneath that compost.  A layer of wood chips can be put on top of this to act as both a food source for the soil building organisms and as a buffer for weeds, drought, and cold weather.

When you make these initial changes to your garden, the only maintenance required will be raking up any weeds that do manage to sprout and adding wood chips.  You will no longer need to feed (or you can feed your organisms by adding organics like kelp meal) and only occasional watering while planting will be needed.  You will have created a sort of terrarium under your feet; a flourishing self-sustaining ecosystem resembling an old growth forest, or other wild area.

As far as disease is concerned, keeping your plants healthy allows them to fight infection.  An aerated compost tea can assist with any health issues as it contains a high concentration of our compost critters and can be sprayed on leaves as well as used as a soil drench.  Beneficial bacteria colonize this space, preventing disease causing bacteria or fungus, like powdery mildew, from taking up residence.

Our involvement in our gardens becomes less frantic when we start paying attention to what existed before us and what will subsist after us.

We can become a part of the food web in our gardens, abandoning our posts as lonely warriors and joining forces with a fun cast of critters who know when to work and when to kick back.  By setting up our plants for success, we get a front row seat to their inherit brilliance.

Resources 

Lowenfels, Jeff, and Wayne Lewis. Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2010.

Back to Eden. Dir. Dana Richardson and Sarah Zentz. Perf. Paul Gautschi. 2011.