Summer is the season of abundance in our gardens. At this time, the vegetable garden is planted and filling out with budding flowers that soon will be vegetables. The perennial flowerbeds are awakening from their winter dormancy and are displaying their beautiful flowers. The orchard tree fruits are swelling towards becoming our juicy summer treats.
Bill Burr, Head Gardener
Daily harvest from the vegetable garden—everything from nasturtium flowers and flax seeds to carrots and unripe apples—usually keeps us busy in the mornings. The load literally gets heavier as our fruit trees ripen. Last year alone our one ‘White Babcock’ peach tree produced 275 pounds of fruit! This year we’re lucky to add fresh chicken eggs to the daily harvest. The chickens are doing great being moved around in the mobile coop and are laying eggs daily. We have eight hens and one very handsome and charming rooster.
Here at The Reserve, our vineyards have been certified organic since 2008. This doesn’t include a three-year transition period, which means that we’ve been adhering to organic practices and products since 2005. Farming organic has been the goal since the Reserve’s inception.
Unlike organic agriculture, which simply aims to do no harm to the earth, the goal of biodynamic agriculture is to actively heal—to make the soil even healthier than it was before it was farmed. And since soil health is of the utmost importance in vineyards, where the same vines must grow from the same patch of dirt for decades, we feel that embracing this practice leads to better overall health. It’s easy to get hung up on the weirdness of it all and dismiss biodynamics as the farming equivalent of a cult. However, this style of farming, because it is so natural, forces us to spend more time in the gardens and vineyards and to think more holistically. Simply, we believe that this increased care translates to purer fruit and a purer expression of the vineyards in the wines.
As early as 2003, we started to apply some biodynamic approaches to the land and vineyards. There is much mystique surrounding biodynamic agriculture. I will try my best to break down what it is and explain why we take that approach. Biodynamics started in the early 1920s based on the spiritual insights and practical suggestions of Austrian writer, educator, and social activist Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Biodynamics is a holistic approach to farming and gardening that takes organic principles to the next level. It’s about much more than not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Biodynamic methods take organic practices and expands on them to manage the land (including fields, woods, wetlands, plants, animals, and people) as one interconnected whole organism.
A biodynamic farm is an “individuality” that reflects the unique qualities of its particular place, climate, and community. According to the Biodynamic Association, “Biodynamics is agriculture as stewardship, working with the ecological, ethical, and spiritual aspects of farms and gardens to restore the integrity of the natural environment to enhance the quality, flavor, and nutrition of food.”
Biodynamic methods are designed to stimulate the farm’s natural fertility, health, and terroir through the integration of crops and livestock, the restoration of on-farm biodiversity, and thoughtful cooperation with the influences of the sun, moon, and plants on the earth. It’s striving for a balance and diversity of crops and livestock so that the farm may become as self-sustaining as possible. We grow, produce, and process nine different preparations here on the Reserve’s grounds and make our own compost.
Let’s talk about those preparations in a little more detail. The nine biodynamic preparations are as follows:
BD#500-Horn Manure (spray)
Cow horns stuffed with organic cow manure buried in the ground in the fall to sit all winter to be dug up in the late spring. We spray this into the vineyard soils to promote root activity, stimulate soil icroorganisms, and increase beneficial bacteria growth. It regulates lime and nitrogen content, helps in the release of trace elements, and stimulates the germination of seeds.
BD#501-Horn Silica (spray)
Cow horns stuffed with finely ground quartz crystals buried in the ground during the hot months (April-September). It enhances light metabolism of the plant and stimulates photosynthesis and formation of chlorophyll. It influences color, aroma, flavor, and the quality of each crop.
BD#502-507 Compost Preparations
The six compost preparations are made from specific herbs: yarrow flowers, chamomile blossoms, the whole areal portion of the stinging nettle while in flower, oak bark, dandelion blossoms, and valerian flowers. Four of these six preparations are enveloped in sheaths of animal organs. All but one is buried in the ground for a specified period of time. When the preparations are ready, they have the appearance of well-ripened compost—with the exception of the valerian preparation, which is in a liquid form. These preparations are put directly into the compost pile.
· BD#502-Yarrow (solid) flowers packed in a casing and buried in the ground to break down. It initiates life processes in the compost pile utilizing the forces of sulfur and potassium. This assists plants in the uptake of trace elements in extremely dilute quantities for nutrition support to proliferate growth.
· BD#503-Chamomile (solid) flowers packed in casing and buried in the ground to break down. Chamomile stabilizes nitrogen in the compost pile such that it’s available to plants for their continued growth through the interaction of calcium and potassium processes.
· BD#504-Stinging nettle whole plant (solid) that’s buried in a pot to break down. Organizes circulatory life in the plant through the processes of potassium, calcium, and iron. Provides intelligence to the plant to seek the individual components of nutrition needed for optimal health.
· BD#505-Oak bark (solid) that’s finely ground into a powder and buried in the ground. Provides healing forces to combat disease through a living form of calcium in the bark.
· BD#506-Dandelion flowers (solid) stuffed in a casing buried in the ground to break down. Stimulates the relationship between silica and potassium so that silica can attract cosmic forces to the soil.
· BD#507-Valerian flowers pressed into a liquid (spray). Provides the warmth of phosphorus to the compost pile engendering life of the pile, and proper utilization of phosphorous by the soil. Utilized independently in an atmospheric spray form, as a frost protectant.
BD#508-Horestail Herb (equisetum arvense) Brewed Tea (spray)
Serves as a preventative to lessen the effects when conditions are conducive to fungus problems. Complements BD #501 and works well in conjunction with BD #505 to increase resistance to disease, pests, and pathogenic fungi.
BC-Barrel Compost (spray)
consists of four basic components: cow manure, basalt, ground eggshells, and the six compost preparations placed in a barrel buried in the ground. We use this in conjunction with BD#500 to stimulate the soil.
Beyond these practices, biodynamics is ultimately about a new way of seeing, understanding, and working with the material and non-material aspects of our world. Toward this end, biodynamic farmers also work to develop their capacity to sense and observe the subtle forces at work in nature and to use their own insights to enhance the vitality of their farms. For this reason, biodynamic methods are not set in stone, but rather are in a continuous state of evolution and individualization.
We follow the Stella Natura calendar, which is a biodynamic planting calendar that works with the movements of the moon and planets through the constellations and explain how to time seed sowing, cultivation, and harvesting to enhance the quality of crops. So, if I’m sowing a bed of carrots, I coordinate by doing so on a root day on the calendar. I similarly consult the calendar so that we harvest grapes on a fruit day.
By applying these principles to our vines, vegetables, olives, compost, and flowers, we believe we’re enhancing the quality of our products—putting them at the high standards we strive for year in, and year out.