Enliven Your Urban Garden Space Naturally

50covernewBy Basil Williams, D.O.
Issue: Winter 2007; Immune Integrity - Issue #50, Vol. 12

With Biodynamic Methods

Have you ever asked yourself, “How can I bring health and beauty to my small urban lot without the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides?” “Are there natural methods that I can easily utilize for my outdoor living space that will not harm my family, pets or wildlife?” “What can I do for the earth to transform easily available organic material into healthy productive soil?”
I have asked myself these questions and have applied biodynamic gardening principles to my small city lot (approximately 70' x 140' with half of the lot occupied by a house, driveway and garage). Before I acquired the lot the land was very dry with poor silt-like soil. There were very few plants, shrub or trees. The grass was sparse with many patches of dry grass due to grubs of Japanese beetles. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers had contributed to the humus-deficient soil. Work had to begin to transform the scene. Over the years I have studied Rudolf Steiner’s Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture containing eight lectures on biodynamic principles.1 There are also other books available by authors practicing biodynamic methods.2

After twelve years of working on the small lot, I can offer some aspects of my experience: Simple principles can be applied to an urban setting. The backyard is like a total living organism. Everything one does to it reflects in the outcome, the success or the failure. First and foremost the soil itself must be built up with proper organic material and/or compost to enhance growth and vitality. Soil is a combination of sand, humus, clay or silt. The combination, proportion and texture of these materials are important for healthy soil. Soil provides nutritive value, life forces and trace elements that flowers, vegetables, grass, shrubs, and trees need. Biodynamic methods help one improve the soil. The major contribution to the soil. through these methods, is the compost pile. The space I had for compost was 6' x 6'. On my city lot the compost first contained grass clippings and leaves. There are more expert ways to develop the compost pile into humus but the method I suggest in this article is a simplified method. Because of the urban setting I was conscious of reducing any smells or unaesthetic appearance. At first I formed a shallow pit about one foot in depth and covered layers of leaves, grasses with soil, compost manure ( or dehydrated manure which can even be purchased from local hardware stores). I also have a covered and protected container, exposed to the soil into which I can deposit my raw peelings of fruits and vegetables, which are then added periodically to the compost pile along with layers of straw. The entire compost pile should be kept damp (approximately 50 percent water). In the urban setting, no milk or meat products are placed in containers or added to the compost pile as these attract smells, flies and rodents. Ultimately, the best compost pile is the one that you actually do ––simple or more expert!
Because returning natural humus and organic material back to the earth is a great service to the earth, and conservation of natural substance is the task as well, applying biodynamic (BD) preparations enhances the process that would otherwise take longer. The compost pile with BD preparations facilitates the decomposition into soil products that are more accessible for the roots when compared with compost piles without BD preparations. BD preparations are available at reasonable prices from the Josephine Porter Institute.3 Pfeiffer BD compost starter is easy to use and excellent for newcomers who have small compost piles. There are also BD #502-507 compost set preparations with easy instructions for use. The humus that is produced with these products can be applied on shrubs, trees, flowers, lawns, and vegetable plots early in the spring and in the fall. The urban lot becomes healthy without the use of pesticides. Earthworms return, as do living nematodes. Beneficial nematodes eliminate the Japanese beetle grubs. While one can apply composted cow manure (purchased from the local hardware store) on the garden area, the compost from one’s own pile is best. In the spring and fall after I apply my composted material I spray my lawns, flower beds and vegetable garden with horn manure BD #500 (horn manure).4
I have also learned to work with BD #508, horsetail herbal tea, for fungal diseases and stinging nettle tea for harmful insects.
Interest in biodynamic gardening is growing. Forming study groups so that people can study, share and learn with each other can help further this important gardening method. Rudolf Steiner awakens us when he states “the benefits of the biodynamic compost preparations should be made available as quickly as possible to the largest possible areas of the entire earth, for the earth’s healing.” In the years I have used biodynamic principles I have had reverence, love and respect for Natura and periodically have given thanks to her for her health and abundance. I especially honor and acknowledge the elemental beings that selflessly work in the roots, leaves, flowers, and seeds of plants.
(1) Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture by Rudolf Steiner (Lectures given June, 1924), Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc. 1993.
(2) Gardening for Life the Biodynamic Way by Maria Thun, Hawthorn House, 1999.
Biodynamic Gardening for Health and Taste by Hilary Wright, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd. 2003.
(3) The Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics, Inc. P.O. Box 133, Woolwine, Virginia 22415. www.jpibiodynamiccs.org
(4) Also available from The Josephine Porter Institute.
Dr. Basil Williams grew up on a small farm in Michigan raising the usual farm crops and animals. After his medical training he continued to garden. In 1977 he began to study and apply practical biodynamic gardening. He has lectured on biodynamics in Ecuador, Hawaii and in other parts of the United States. Contact him at wbasilb@cs.com.