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Managing Weeds, Pests and Insects with Biodynamic Methods

Managing Weeds, Pests and Insects with Biodynamic Methods

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Town and Country Farmer • Autumn 2004
Conventional farmers oftenconsider weeds the major hurdle tothe conversion to Biodynamic and Organic Agriculture.Over the pas50 years,the use of herbicides haschanged the management of farmingto the point that many of the old waysof working with weeds and understanding of good management have been lost.
One of the major shocks to Agriculturerecently has been the fact that "the use of water soluble fertilisers,herbicides andpesticides have been shown to actuallyincrease weeds!"This happens because of the loss of soilbio life,loss of healthy bacterial and fungalactivity in the soil,loss of soil organicmatter and loss of soil structure.Soils havebecome compacted,thus impervious tooxygen and water – which automaticallyexcludes soil life.One ends up with only afew dominant weeds that can survive theharsh conditions.Sometimes all thatremains is moss or algae on the surface –pioneers in plant succession,trying to getsome life back there.How do we change this scenario?Can farming come to work with weedsand nature in a new way of understandingand management?
Biodynamic,organic and biologicalagriculture look at weeds as messengers.What message are they giving us and howcan we act on the message?Killing the messenger is not an option!The farmer needs to go back into thehistory of the area/paddock/land and lookat the symptoms presenting and worktowards longer-term solutions.
1. Dominant Weeds of one type
Dominant weeds are often signs of anenvironmental problem,atmosphericimbalance or nutrient deficiency.Forexample Patterson’s Curse and Fireweed isusually a calcium and copper deficiency.Soil tests will often confirm the lack of major elements like calcium,potassiumand phosphate or the trace elements of copper etc.If thistles,wild turnip and wild carrotare in amongst your pasture,look forcompaction.These deep rooting weedswith large taproots are trying to break upthe soil and let in oxygen and water.Bindweed shows up where the soil hasbeen cultivated too wet and it has crustedover.Damp/acidic conditions will show upwith buttercups,sorrel and dock,orwaterweeds that can cope with theanaerobic conditions around their roots.
• Have soil tests done and replace majornutrients with natural mineral inputs.• Use Biodynamic soil and atmosphericpreparations to bring balance back intosoil life and soil nutrition.• Over-sow or re-pasture,if necessary.• The area may need ripping or aeratingto open up compaction and bring inoxygen and water.• Rotational grazing to support varietyand allow re-growth of all species.
2. Some weeds or herbs are MineralAccumulators:
Often,weeds are seen as a problemrather than beneficial to the land.Manyweeds and herbs are known to be mineralaccumulators and are very important tothe ongoing health of the soil.These weedsand herbs often grow naturally in an areaas they are able to bring in the missingnutrients for that area.Examples are:- Tobacco Bush,Privet,Blackberries,Phytolacca (Ink Weed),Lantana.(The legalities around noxiousweeds need to be recognised,but themessage can still be worked with.) Manyof these live happily at the edge of forestareas that have been cleared.This isbecause in our phosphate poor soils,theseplants are able to bring in (accumulate)phosphorus from the atmosphere.Theyalso attract bird life (bird droppings arehigh in phosphorus) with their berries.
• Make a Biodynamic weed tea fermentby placing the weeds in a 200 litre drum,filling with water,adding a set of Biodynamic Compost Preparations (502-507) and stir daily as you leave it toferment for 8-10 weeks.Once fermented,drench the land at 40 litres weed tea insufficient water/ha.This eliminates theneed for the weed to be there and balancesout local trace element deficiencies.• Some of these weeds/herbs are alsogreat green matter for your compost heaps.So remember to appreciate the great jobthese weeds/herbs are doing.
3.Weeds that cover bare land
If land is left uncovered due to landclearing or drought,certain weed specieswill rush in to cover the land.If it has hadbush cleared then you will attract thephosphorus type plants (as above).If it waspasture denuded,then whatever is in theseed bank and suitable for the climate atthat particular stage will grow.You oftensee broadleaf weeds with spreading rootsurfaces grow here so that as much soil aspossible can be covered at once.
The first question you must ask yourself is what are you going to cover the land withinstead?• Is it possible to re-pasture or mulchmow and add grass seed to increase speciesand change of species?
by Cheryl Kemp
 Rotational Cropping & Building Soils – Adam Collins mulch mowing a corn paddock prior tolightly discing with Manure Concentrate (CPP) application in readiness for Lupin and Vetch green manure crop.
Town and Country Farmer • Autumn 2004
• If the weeds e.g.blackberries,gorse orlantana are on steep or inaccessiblehillsides then often the only way out is toclear some smaller areas and plant treespecies that will eventually grow to shadeout the areas.• Clearing and pulling roots out,thenPeppering (see side box) to stop newgrowth and replanting,and covering thesoil is another solution.The Peppering inthis instance does not stop or kill thewoody plants,but it ensures that futureseeds are infertile.
4. Cropping weeds
This is a big subject,where we are juststarting to experiment.Specific weedscome up for specific crops.For exampleApple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes),Thornapple (Datura Stramonium) andRedroot (amaranthus) like areas wherethe soils have been loosened andmounded.Their purpose is to hold thesoils together and shade the young crop!
Cultivation,cultivation,cultivation!!Timing,use of spring tine harrows,fingerweeders,push hoes (for smaller areas).• Mulching,covering the ground,turning in a green manure crop prior toplanting to clear some of the seed bankout.• No-Till:grow a tall green manure cropsuch as forage sorghum and roll it over tolie flat on the ground.Go through with acoulter to plant seedlings into groundcover.• Under-sowing:grow a low growingground cover type crop or plant,such asPurslane in potatoes to keep areasbetween crops covered,or pasture grassesthat will come up after the crop overheadis harvested and become part of therotational grazing program.Double cropping:e.g.soybeans orclover between the rows.• Peppering:collecting weed seed headsfrom last crop,burning to ash and puttingout the ash as the next crop is planted.
The appearance of insects attackingplants on horticultural crops is a sign of imbalance.Insects can tell if a plant isunder stress and that is why sudden attackis a sign from your crop that all is not well.Using insecticides whether organic orconventional is only killing the messengeragain.In Biodynamics,the Horn SilicaPreparation 501 is excellent at bringing theatmospheric aspect into balance andkeeping the plant’s sugar saps up (highBrix).Moulds,mildews and fungal diseaseoften occur when the earth andatmosphere is moist and warm.Rudolf Steiner,initiator of Biodynamics oftenspoke of the boundary of the top of thesoil moving up into the plant as the soilbecomes over-permeated with too muchmoon (water) forces.This often occurs atFull Moon and when the Moon is close tothe earth (Perigee).When this happensthe soil life also moves up into the plantthinking they are still in the soil,leading tomildew and fungal diseases.Horn Silica Preparation 501 andEquisetum 508 brings the balance of waterin the atmosphere and helps push backthose too strong moon forces,into the soil.Regularly applying BiodynamicPreparations as a precautionary pre-planting program in Spring and earlySummer also strengthens the plants andkeeps sugar sap levels up.
The importance of Horn SilicaPreparation 501
In the Spring issue (Volume 20 No.3)we spoke of the role of Horn SilicaPreparation 501 in increasingphotosynthesis and the sugar sap levelsgoing to the plant roots as exudates,thusincreasing the nutrients to attract thebeneficial bacteria and fungi in the soilmicro-life leading to better growth forcesto the plant.Biodynamic Grape growers using theHorn Silica Preparation 501 have noticedthat the skin on their grapes is stronger,the peduncle is woodier and thicker,andeven the leaves more robust,and thus havemore resistance to fungal,insect attackand splitting.Spraying the BiodynamicSprays such as Seaweed brew and FishEmulsion or Biodynamic Compost Teashas also shown to keep the beneficialdominant fungi and bacteria coating theleaves and fruit well to keep out the non-beneficials!The speed at which the Horn SilicaPreparation 501 can turn things around isquite dramatic.Recently,I had a call froma wheat farmer to say that Red LeggedEarth Mite was attacking his young shootsof wheat – as they usually did at this stageof the crop.I checked when he had lastused 501 and he replied "not yet".Isuggested he go out next morning,early,and spray the crop area,a light mist intothe air at sunrise – even just going aroundthe boundary of the wheat crop.He rang later to say that the RedLegged Earth Mite was leaving the crop –running in confused circles and movingout! He had balanced the atmosphere andalso lifted the sugar sap levels of the wheatshoots.The next crop he put out theBiodynamic Soil sprays (Horn ManurePreparation 500,Manure Concentrate -CPP,Horn Clay and Fermented 508) andthe Atmospheric sprays (Horn SilicaPreparation 501 and Fresh Equisetum orCasuarina 508) prior to planting and four-leaf stage,saving insect attack.
Sugar Sap levels as anIndicator of Health
The best way to check sugar sap levelsis through taste.Check some of yourpasture grasses to see if they taste sweetand flavourful – they will also be to yourstock.Testing Brix levels - lifting to over 12 isa sign that all is well.Using all theBiodynamic Preparations also ensures thepresence of complex long chain sugars,which are also helping the plant tooptimum health.(See side box for shortand long chain sugars).
Buffalo Fly
Rotational grazing,keeping ahead of the cycles,ensuring there are Dung beetlesto eat the fly larvae in the dung,andhealthy soils and animals all help here.But whilst getting to that stage of balance,peppered Buffalo Fly ash – preferablypotentised to 8x in the drinking watertroughs can have a good effect.Seaweed,either as a liquid Biodynamic brew orpowdered and added to their water ormineral licks also supports the animals inthis summer stress.
Monolyptas Beetle
Monolyptas fly when the new leavesand flowers are out and can strip trees of all their new growth.A BiodynamicTropical Fruit grower,Gordon Northam,of Sandy Beach,North of Coffs Harbourhas had great success in overcoming hisMonolypta problem.When they came in and totally buzzedhis trees,he placed plastic sheeting under atree,hit it a few times and then collectedall the beetles below.He then blendedthem in the blender with water and diluted1:10 and sprayed back on.The result:noMonolyptas.They have also kept awaythis year as well.Gordon left two macadamiasunsprayed so he can collect more beetles,if he needs the spray again.They were justabout stripped,but none of the other treeswere touched!
Dealing with Birds and Animal pests
Raiders of the crops! In the long-termlandholders need to look at thebiodiversity and predator cropping,asdetailed below.Meanwhile,manyproducers have found peppering of theproblem bird (e.g.starlings in grapes,28’s(a parrot),cockatoos and bowerbirds) oranimal (wombats,roos,rats,snakes,fruitbats) to be of fantastic help.Biodynamic Olive and Grape Grower,Jude Gauntlett of Nerrabup,WA,confirmsthat they have been having marvellousresults with Biodynamic Peppering againstparrots."Last year we picked not an olive from19 trees," states Jude."This year we haveno parrots and loads of olives – only
 Brix Refractometer for checking sugar saplevels.

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