On the 22nd February, we gathered for the first of ten Grow Your Own workshops of 2020. Led by Kai Lange, a grower and biodynamic educator, the aim of each session is to attend to the seasonal needs of the garden and to learn by doing.
The February session was all about planning and pruning. After introductions, Kai spoke about plant connections: links between roots, stems and leaves as well as with subterranean communities in the soil and above ground communities on the ground and in the atmosphere.
Kai highlighted the biodynamic approach: that is centred around working from the heart and work that gives us inner as well as outer energy.
Plants as messengers
We covered some basics of site choice including topography, climate, plant life. Plants growing can tell us a lot about the character of the site - including soil life and water and light availability. For example, Equisteum, Docks and Thistle can indicate anaerobic activity. Through their growth habit, including their tap roots, they can help to bring light and air to the site.
Soil fertility = soil life
We learnt about the importance of soil fertility and how soil fertility hinges upon healthy soil life. We can support soil life as gardeners through building up organic matter and helping to bring air and light into the soil through the kinds of plants we grow and practices we use. We spoke about no-dig methods and Kai encouraged minimum till, rather using forks to open up the soil to light and moisture.
Green manure, Phacelia: as a cover crop Phacelia supports soil fertility.
We spoke about the importance of crop rotation to avoid disease build up. Particularly important for alliums, potato and brassica plant families.
We also learnt about the nutrient needs of different plant families. Leafy crops and rooty crops generally require little energy whilst brassicas and fruity crops (such as tomatoes, squash, corn, courgettes) require a lot of fertility. The biodynamic calendar groups activity according to ROOTS, FRUITS, LEAF and FLOWER this can help with planning.
The month of February is the time to plant greenhouse crops (tomatoes, aubergines, chillies), salads and leafy crops (such as chard and spinach), beetroot and brassicas.
After a yummy shared lunch - including some fiery Global Gardens horseradish pickle made by Vaida, we went out in to the garden and learnt more about pruning.
Two key take-home points with pruning. First, remove any dead, diseased or damaged wood. Second, aim for an open canopy that supports air and light circulation.