Compost the Weleda way
Michael Bate, Head Gardener, Weleda UK
If there is one thing everybody who works in the Weleda gardens loves doing, it’s making compost. It is a wonderful experience, seeing the compost heap grow and then watching the original fresh matter change into a lovely fibrous material that will add to the structure and fertility of the soil.
We use a variety of ingredients: grass cuttings; cut green manures like comfrey, buckwheat, annual lupins and phacelia tanacetifolia with its mauve flowers that attract hundreds of insects, particularly encouraging those that catch aphids; tincture pressings – what is left after processing the plants we grow for medicines – which are ideal for compost because they are finely chopped; weeds before seeding; cow manure in rough proportion of 1:3 with any green material. Nettles are added: they act to get the heap going, and a seaweed meal can be sprinkled on every so often. But it is essential to add an occasional dusting of lime (kept away from the manure) which acts to balance the acidity of the heap.
We make our heaps up to 12 feet long and 5 feet wide, to a height of 4 feet, adding the different ingredients in layers. The art of making fine compost is to ensure the different elements -earth, water, air and warmth – are properly
balanced. The heap should not be too wet, nor too dry, not compacted nor too loose. Biodynamic growers follow Rudolf Steiner’s suggestion that the addition of small amounts of 6 preparations greatly enhances the breakdown of the compost and increases the benefits when it is spread on the soil. A small amount of each preparation is placed in the middle of the heap in separate amounts:
- Yarrow flowers (preparation 502) – which aid nitrogen and potassium processes in the soil
- Chamomile flowers (503) – which aid calcium processes and stabilise nitrogen in compost * Stinging nettle (504) – a sensitiser, to enable compost and soil to attune to the crop grown
- Oak bark (505) – a preventative to combat all plant diseases that are due to too much growth
- Dandelion flowers (506) – which act to sensitise plants to the surrounding environment
- Juice from pressed valerian flowers (507) which regulates phosphorus and temperature processes, and surrounds the heap with a protective blanket of warmth, is added to the finished heap. A capful of juice is stirred into a couple of gallons of warm water for 10 minutes, then sprayed over the heap.
Finally, the heap is covered with straw or hessian to protect the compost from excessive rain. To ensure thorough decomposition, the heap is remade after three weeks or so, and the outside turned to the inside. The resulting compost is ready within six months. It is best to use only very well-rotted compost/manure for seedlings and growing plants, otherwise there is a risk of fungal problems. The new substances and humus have been formed through a living process of metamorphosis, and bring these life forces with them toreinvigorate the soil and plants.
Preparations approved by the Biodynamic Agriculture Association are available for home gardeners from Paul van Midden, Crannoch Ree, Kingtcausie Estate, Maryculter, Aberdeen A81 2 5FR, telephone 01224 733778.