At Purple Pear Farm, permaculture is a way of thinking, a way of looking at things and a system of design used throughout our farm.

Working with Nature
Working with systems design

The concept of permaculture was established by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late 1960s. It looks to nature and especially the forests as a model for sustainable agriculture with the elements working together in symbiotic relationships. It looks to maximise the utilisation of resources, including the sun, water, gravity and the interrelationships between the components of the system. These ‘guilds’ are a cornerstone of sustainability.

The guiding tenet is the ethic –
Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share.

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Biodynamic Agriculture

Working not just with nature but with the forces of the cosmos allows us to grow food and animals enlivened with etheric life forces.

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Who Started It?

Rudolph Steiner

In the 1920s Dr Rudolf Steiner was asked about a decline in agriculture in Europe. He had already done a lot of work on health and education. He could see that if a new agriculture didn’t eventuate that agriculture would go from bad to worse in civilised countries. Not only would intermittent periods of local starvation or high prices occur, but these conditions would become quite general … we must endeavour to shape things in such a way as to bring forth a new fertility. At the same time, the man generally credited with proposing chemical fertilisers, Justus Von Liebig (1803-1873), was questioning his own work.

He said, ‘Inorganic forces breed only inorganic substances. Through a higher force at work in living bodies, of which inorganic forces are merely the servants, substances come into being which are endowed with vital qualities’.

In biodynamics it is these vital qualities, the etheric life force, that are enhanced in the soils and the ecology. From here they enter the food to nourish not only our bodies but also our souls.

Biodynamic Preparations

We are so pleased to be home base for the operations of the Hunter Biodynamic Group though the group is itself going through a transition of sorts we continue to be involved in the creation and distribution of the Biodynamic Preparations.

Biodynamic preparations are uniquely fermented natural and organic substances that are used to steer humus forming processes in the soil, vitalise plant growth and harmonise life on the holding with that of its immediate and more distant surroundings.
Horn manure (BD 500) and horn silica (BD 501) are generally used separately, whereas BD 502 to BD 507, the compost preparations are known as a set.
Below, we look at each preparation. Our aim is to show that there is sound reason for each ingredient and remove some of the mystery or hocus pocus from biodynamic practices.
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Horn manure (BD 500)
This is the prime starter for the biodynamic process. The basic ingredient is cow manure, which is stuffed into a cow horn and buried over winter. When it is dug up in the spring, it no longer looks and smells like cow manure, but has the feel and smell of humus-rich soil. This is stirred into water and spread by large droplets over the ground.
At Purple Pear we applied BD500 for 2 years before starting the other practices.
Why in a cow horn?
I’ve noticed that after a few years the horn becomes quite thin. The bacteria used the inside of the horn to change from manure to humus. The horn is a type of antennae for cosmic forces. If other receptacles are used the manure stays as green as the day it was put down.
At Purple Pear Farm we stir the preparation by hand for 1 hour, alternating the direction of the vortex and introducing chaos in between. Hand stirring allows for intent to be injected. Stirring machines and flow forms are used in larger operations.
Why cow manure?
Steiner says, ’the dung has been inside the organism and has thus been permeated with an astral and ethereal content. In the astral it has been permeated with the nitrogen carrying forces and in the ethereal with the oxygen carrying forces. For this reason it has a life giving and also an astralising influence upon the soil, and, what is more, in the earth element itself; not only in the watery, but notably in the earthy element. It has the force to overcome what is inorganic in the earthy element.’
There are study groups to analyse what he meant, but for me, the cow manure has long been known as a great manure well-suited to growing plants. The cow, with its many stomachs, adds a great deal to her manure by way of enzymes and bacteria that benefit the soil. Enzymes can ‘overcome what is inorganic in the earthy element’ by means of their catalytic action working against entropy.
Horn Silica (BD 501)
This is made with finely ground silica quartz crystals buried in a horn over the summer. The silica forces work with photosynthesis and builds strong skeletal and cell wall structures, assisting its resistance to fungal attack. It can also be used to hasten the maturation of the plant and the seedling process. Steiner said it is the warmth aspect of silica that is important in the plant’s development.
The preparation is most often sprayed in a fine mist in the early morning. Care must be taken that the plants are not burnt in the strong sun. Spraying in the evening or on overcast days is suggested.
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Compost Preparations

These preparations (preps) are generally used in a set and are often called ‘the compost preps’. Although it is important to keep them separate in storage and in the compost, they work together to create balance in the soil nutrients. It is said that they can be used separately to achieve a specific purpose, but at Purple Pear Farm we have only ever used them in combination.

Yarrow (BD 502)

The flowers of the Yarrow plant (Achillea millefolium) are used in this prep and are combined with the stag’s bladder. The Yarrow preparation works with Sulphur, potash and nitrogen in the soil as well as some other trace elements. The choice of the bladder as the organ is interesting as yarrow is said to be beneficial in treating diseases of the bladder. The yarrow flowers are placed in the bladder and hung exposed to the sun in summer and then buried in the winter so they get 6 months in the air and 6 months in the ground.
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Chamomile (BD 503)
German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is the flower used in this preparation. They are combined with the intestine of a cow. Chamomile works with calcium, Sulphur, potash and nitrogen. The calcium/Sulphur combination has fungicide properties. A sausage is made with the dried flowers and the cow intestine and buried in autumn in a clay pipe for ease of locating when dug up in spring.
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Stinging Nettle (BD 504)
This is made by using the whole plant (Urtica dioica) when in flower. It is considered strong enough to not need augmenting in an organ and is generally placed in a clay pipe for ease of locating. Stinging nettle works with iron but also Sulphur, potassium, calcium and nitrogen.
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Oak Bark (BD 505)

The bark of the English Oak (Quercus robur) is ground fine and placed in a skull of a domestic animal, which is immersed in water. The calcium effects can be used to reduce or eliminate the need for lime in the soil preparation.
Farm Practices - Purple Pear Farm School Anambah, Australia
Dandelion (BD 506)
Wilted Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum officinale) are sewn into a bovine mesentery and buried over winter.
The preparation works with silicic acid and potassium. This is important in giving the soil an ethereal quality with the ability to supply the substances the plant needs.
Farm Practices - Purple Pear Farm School Anambah, Australia

Valerian (BD 507)

This is a liquid preparation made by a ferment process from the juice of the flower of Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). The preparation provides for phosphorus.
Farm Practices - Purple Pear Farm School Anambah, Australia

Equisetum (BD 508)  

This is not part of the compost prep but stands by itself as a fungal control. The silica forces in the horse tail (Equisetum arvence) strengthen the plant’s ability to cope with conditions conducive to fungal attack. We have used Casurina tea with great effect.
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Cow Pat Pit

This preparation is also known as barrel compost and was developed by Maria Thun, who did amazing work in researching the effect of the planets on plant growth.
It is like homeopathic biodynamic compost and is used in broad acre applications to ensure the compost influences are spread across a large area.
At Purple Pear Farm, we use the Cow Pat Pit mixture after slashing to spread on pasture.
The cows are moved to a new paddock (sprayed the week before with horn silica BD501), then the paddock is slashed to return any unused pasture and weeds to the soil as organic matter. The Cow Pat Pit is diluted in warm water and stirred for twenty minutes before being applied with a bucket and brush. This has the effect of assisting in the breakdown of the organic matter and of the production of humus.
The preparation is made by mixing cow manure with basalt dust and crushed eggshells and placed in a pit for about 3 months with the addition of the compost preps 502 to 507.

Organic Growing

For me, the enjoyment of gardening is multiplied when you are treating the plants you grow with the natural sustenance they could expect in nature but with the added love that you can bring to the growing of that plant. Before I started growing organically in the early 1980s, the use of chemicals seemed to cheat me of the challenge to garden naturally. After attending a field day of the Hunter Organic Growers Society, I started to look at the health and social implications of using poisons on the food I was growing to consume.

Organic growing is not just about ‘not using chemicals’. It is building healthy soil so a healthy plant can grow. Many of the pests and diseases in plants can be overcome if plant selection is appropriate for the growing conditions and the plant has what it needs to grow well. Natural resistance to pest attack is provided by the plants themselves.

We find a minimal need for inputs to the farm when we have manure from the cow and comfrey from the weed barrier to make compost which adds humus to the soil. Humus allows for moisture retention, microbes to convert minerals and organic matter to plant food and cation exchange to prevent leaching of the nutrient from the soil.

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Mandala Gardens

The Purple Pear Farm market-garden was designed on inspiration from Linda Woodrow via her book The Permaculture Home Garden. I was teaching a permaculture course in Dungog and showed a stack of books that participants could look up for further reading, with an explanation on their content. I said of Linda’s book that it was full of relevant information but that I thought it was not serious permaculture. Someone asked why I thought that and I had no good answer (I probably thought it was too neat). I went home and reread the book and decided to implement a mandala garden design.
I understand that ‘mandala’ comes from a Sanskrit word for circle and is an ancient design encompassing the universe and completeness and self-unity.
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The Operation

The thing that impressed me with the concept of mandala gardens was the way the elements work together, a synchronicity that makes the whole much greater than the sum of the parts.

The mere fact that in a mandala garden the paths are reduced by half of a conventional garden allows for greater edge, and the continuous polyculture incorporates guilds where individual elements benefit from the existence of the other elements. It allows for a harmonious interaction between the components for the benefit of the productivity.
Element 1
An example of this is the fruit trees that also provide shade for the beds in summer and supplement the diets of the chickens as well as providing a crop for us. The fruit trees are surrounded by herbs which we pick, while providing a deterrent to insect pests and attracting others like the predatory wasps.
Element 2
Areas around the fruit trees are used for compost piles six months of the year and beds for the long term or selective crops for the other 6 months.
Things such as onions and garlic as well as tomatoes and peas, carrots and capsicum are grown in the soil that has just been used for compost or for another crop according to the nutrient demand of the crop.
Dwarf oleanders are used in this area as ‘over wintering’ sites for beneficial insects such as lady beetles.
Element 3
The centre circle of the mandala is given to providing ecology for the garden. The pond at the centre of this circle is used to provide a microclimate for the other beds by absorbing temperature during the day and radiating it at night. As well as a place to grow water chestnuts, it provides a drink of water to birds and lizards and is home to frogs. All these things play an important part in balancing the ecology and minimising the impact of pests. Stepping stones are besser blocks and the cavity is used as a home to lizards. The bed provides a crop of perennial herbs and plants such as Thyme and Rhubarb.
Element 4
The 6 beds around the centre circle are planted with annuals. A chook dome is placed on the bed for 2 weeks. For the first week the chickens scratch and eat either the grass or remnant crop. The bed is then covered with mulch which the chickens scratch through for insects and weed seeds while spreading manure and cultivating the ground. When the dome is moved to the next site the bed is ready for planting out with seedlings raised in the propagation house. Seedlings are set out according to the growth size and rate, as well as the needs of harvesting. Things such as cabbages are interplanted with bok choy, at the centre of the circle. They both need harvesting only once and the bok choy is harvested long before the cabbage, giving room for the spread the cabbage will need. Beetroot and hearting lettuce are also planted in this zone.
The area towards the edge is planted with plucking plants like open lettuce, silverbeet, tatsoi, parsley and rocket. Similar attention is given to setting out, so plants that mature more slowly get the room they need when faster growing plants have finished producing. As the dome is moved each fortnight, a continual succession of cropping is achieved. With the dome rotating between 2 mandalas, it will be 6 months before the chickens are back on the same ground. Some weeding and replanting is possible on the beds with bush beans used to add nitrogen and pumpkins and sunflowers as a second crop.
Attention is paid to crop rotation to avoid pest build-up associated with similar types of plants. For example, areas planted to lettuce will be planted to beans or Asian greens in subsequent plantings. Care must be taken to plant second crops that will mature before the chooks are back on that bed.