One afternoon last summer, an official from the Department of Agriculture unexpectedly stopped by Angela Macke’s farm in Leelanau County, Michigan, to give her—believe it or not—an award for attracting monarch butterflies.
A few weeks later, after she sprayed several acres of crops with a solution of pulverized rose quartz, one of her farmer neighbors called to ask why there were hundreds and hundreds of birds of all species, butterflies, and bees “swarming” over and around her land.
More validation for her unorthodox farming practices arrived in the bushel of dirt her now nine- and eleven-year-old sons dug up from a plot of stinging nettles: dozens of earthworms—a fivefold increase in a matter of four years.
Macke owns Light of Day Organics, the only Demeter-certified biodynamic farm in Michigan, not far from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the state’s west coast. When asked why she gave up a successful career as a heart surgery nurse to farm, the advanced master gardener bats away the question with an “Are you serious?” eye roll. “Each morning, I awaken excited to do this work ... confident that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be ... and where I can do the most good,” she says.
Her farm now exceeds 25 acres, representing over 240 varieties of cultivated plants. Why biodynamic? “In conventional farming,” she says, quoting a near-sacred mantra of her brethren, “you take more from the earth than you give back. In organic farming, you try to give back the same as you take out. In biodynamics, you give back more to the earth than you take out. It’s a reverential approach to the unique role of every living thing.”
As a rule, she purposely plants at least ten percent extra for birds, bees, butterflies, and other native inhabitants, and “sets aside” over 20 percent of her land for untouched natural biodiversity preservation (minimal interaction of humans in these areas, except for application of biodynamic preparations). Her gardening strategy assures that there is always something in bloom, “not only to delight the eye but to provide an ongoing supply of seed and food for the wildlife.” She points to crabapple trees as an example of all-season abundance: “spring blossoms, summer shade, fall color, and much needed fruit for birds in the winter.”
What else can curious gardeners do to integrate biodynamics into their home gardens?
Plan ahead: Collect seeds locally, if possible, or order from a biodynamic source such as Turtle Tree Coop.
Define the purpose and announce your intention for your garden: Be clear in your mind about the type of garden you wish to create (e.g., vegetable garden, ornamental, rock/Zen, etc.), and confidently state aloud to the soil, for example, “This rock garden is for me to peacefully meditate in.”
Define the boundaries of your garden: Use hedges, shrubs, fencing, rock walls, etc. (Are deer a part of the garden or do you have to fence them out?)
Identify the right time to plant: Refer to Maria Thun’s or Stella Natura’s Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar to ascertain the most beneficial lunar cycles for planting, a factor of the moon’s gravitational pull on the earth’s moisture.
Diversify to control predators and increase crop yields: Plant marigolds alongside tomato plants, for example, because the annual flower produces a chemical through the root system that drives away nematodes, a microscopic worm that feeds on tomato roots. The flower also has a potent aroma that repels most garden pests, including the green horned tomato worm. Macke also points to the Native American origination of the “Three Sisters:” corn, beans, and squash planted together on one mound. Corn offers support for beans to climb, the beans replenish the soil with nutrients, and the squash vines provide mulch to conserve water and prevent excess weeds.
Embrace the soil: Garden with bare feet and hands. Caress the soil; tell it about you. Remember, you are also an important part of your garden’s ecosystem.
Imprint your seeds with your genetic material: Before planting, Macke places seeds under her tongue for nine minutes while she prepares the planting bed in her bare feet, then holds the soaked seeds in her palms and exhales her breath on the seeds to further warm and impress upon them. Lastly, she lifts the seeds skyward and asks all of creation to provide the seeds everything they need to grow perfectly and to then nourish her body with the blessing of the food grown specifically for her.
Avoid artificial mulches: Use as many on-property resources as possible to start your own closed-loop system. (For example, reseed your annuals every year and plant additional perennials from saved seed each fall.) Artificial mulch impedes energy from flowing in and out of the soil. Use a wood chipper to grind up pruned or fallen branches from your property to use as mulch instead of buying bagged mulches.
Investigate the use of biodynamic preparations: Biodynamic agriculture uses nine carefully concocted “preparations” that are used in field sprays and to inoculate compost. The preps go through a process of potentizing and are used in minute doses similar to homeopathy. This practice serves to revitalize soil, stimulate roots, encourage microorganisms, and aid the photosynthetic process.
Visit lightofdayorganics.com to learn more about Macke’s farm and line of biodynamic loose-leaf teas. For more information on biodynamics, visit the Josephine Porter Institute website at jpibiodynamics.org and biodynamic.org.