Tony Hudson: Biodynamic Market Gardener

Tony Hudson:  Biodynamic Market Gardener


Tony Hudson is a biodynamic market gardener who farms on a leased 1.2 acre site in southeast Auckland. Tony bought his first house truck in his native England when he was just 23 and so began a life on the road and a keen interest in growing food that landed him up on the other side of the world. I first really became involved with the biodynamics when I was living in Denmark of all places. I was given a beautiful book by a good friend called ‘Secrets of the Soil’. It’s a must-read and it went from there. I was hooked. Austrian Rudolf Steiner, founder of the biodynamic approach to agriculture, was a highly-trained scientist and respected philosopher in his time… …who came to prominence for his spiritual-scientific approach to knowledge called anthroposophy. We have a strong tradition of Steiner in New Zealand with Steiner Waldorf schools, Hohepa homes, Weleda health and beauty products and Taruna College. Much of this is based in Hawkes Bay. I did the course at Taruna, Hawkes Bay, which is about organic and biodynamic gardening and farming. It was an amazing course – life-changing in a way. This is the only course for that domain that is delivered anywhere globally. Not even in Germany where biodynamics originates. I see you’ve just tilled the soil here Tony. What have you planted? OK, in here Rob we’ve got lovely white turnips. And how long have they been in? They went in just over a week ago. See they’ve come up really quickly. (Very quickly). And how are you irrigating it? No irrigation of this as yet. We’ve had plenty of rain coming through and also we had the full moon last week which brought that influence through which is great. Great, and what’s the soil like here? It looks really loamy, is it? It is over this area. This is why I’ve decided to come and farm in this area of the farm. It’s a medium loam, no real aggregate, good drainage, fine tilth as you can see, perfect for any sort of cultivation. And you’ve got a few different crops going on here. Yes Rob we’ve got a nice variety of crops. Well over here we’ve got a leafy green crop which is pink-stemmed kale (That’s a good one.) which you’ll know and beetroot. And you’re growing most of these from seed? Everything’s gone from seeds. Some crops in the middle of summer, we have to transplant because that’s what they prefer. But generally we like to replicate what nature does and with the biodynamics we can do this. Nature drops its seed and then off it goes. It grows in the ground and that’s what I like to do with direct sow. It’s really important. Who’s eating all these lovely vegetables? Well taking the vegetables to a local market and listening to people as to what they want and now selling them locally at a weekly vegetable box scheme which I’ve set up for Maraetai and Beachlands area. So how’s the kale gone this year Tony? I see there’s a few holes in it here. Yeah unfortunately as you’ll appreciate at this time of the year we do get the white butterfly coming in and laying their eggs and then they just munch away. And is there anything you can put on the things like the kale to help prevent the butterflies biodynamically? Yeah we have a number of different preparations which we can use and sprays which are completely natural. And the favourite one which we use, which is mainly for the humidity and against the butterfly is called 508. And it’s a very simple formula of a plant that grows in Canterbury, South Island, which is known as horsetail. Full of silica. So Tony where’s north from here? North is behind us Rob, so that’s north-south and then we’ve got the southwesterly blowing at the moment. I can feel it. So you put your beds specifically in this direction? Yeah we always try and, depending on the slope of the land, we always try and plant north-south south-north. So it’s better for the sunlight. It’s better for the plants, so the plant, the crop, can have a good amount of sunlight. So there’s sun on both sides of the crop. (Yes.) That’s great. And I see you’ve got a mesclun mix going through here. They seem to be doing well. You’ve got quite a bit of variety through here. Yeah this is the mild mesclun mix which we grow throughout the year and right into the winter. And it’s just another favourite of the customers at markets. And how do you cope with the weeds through here? Yeah the weeds is of course a major problem. But also it’s good to work with the weeds so we use the beautiful tool Niwashi and we just, literally just come in gently and dig dig dig through. And you don’t remove the weeds? You just let them compost back into the soil? Yes it’s really important, like you do with organics and permaculture and other home gardens, it’s more important to leave the weed on the bed. ‘Cos it acts as a mulch as well. Tony, I see you let some of your brassicas go to seed here. What was that for? Yeah I like to have the beneficial flowers growing within the growing areas of the market garden. And that is really food for the little birds and obviously still there’s lots of bees around. So between the rows I often grow beneficial crops mainly in the summertime – phacelia, buckwheat and mustard (All the good stuff.) An essential element of biodynamic practice is the use of preparations. Steiner prescribed 9 different preparations to help with soil fertilisation. The first 2 are used for preparing fields and the 7 are used for making compost. OK Rob I just want to introduce you to our biodynamics HQ. Good, in the old shipping container. It’s nice and solid. Certainly is for the southwester today. So I understand the preparation 500 which most biodynamic farmers use, but I see you’ve got other preparations here. Yeah Rob, these are known as compost preps and they are numbered from 502 to 507. It’s just a number that was given by Steiner so we can identify the different plants. As you’ll notice yarrow, nettle, dandelion, German chamomile, oakbark and valerian and all of these different plants are represented by different planets of the 7 planets that we have around earth… …and they all radiate their influence which is, for example, 506 is dandelion and it’s ruled by the planet Jupiter and dandelion is full of silica. Which is really needed in the garden. (Yes.) OK Rob would you like to come and have a look at the barrel compost that we’re making here. These are the liquid manures. In here we have the compost preps 502 to 507 (Great.) and what we do is, what we had on the board just now, this is what we have. These are all the preps, compost preps, wrapped up individually with a comfrey leaf and they hang down. And what we’re trying to recreate is this is actually the universe, so these are each planet hanging down. We’ve got the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury here, so these are going to be radiating their influence into the liquid manure which is here, which is made up of comfrey and cow manure that’s from a lactating cow. Which is important. (Which is really important.) So over the next 28 days this’ll break down and then we can transfer it to the spray machine and then we can apply it to the growing areas. Great. And so this is the preparation 500, the backbone of all biodynamic farming? Yes it is Rob, the 500 is the ultimate to the biodynamics. It changes everything about the soil structure. 500 is cow manure that’s come from a lactating cow and it is put into a cow horn, a female cow horn, and then it’s buried in the ground, in a shallow pit, in the winter months for about 6 months, 5 months. And then it’s lifted in the spring, and then we bang the horns and this beautiful shaped like a cow horn comes out and then we have 500. The actual cauldron, the 500 stir that we do takes one hour and we do it using the vortex motion. If you’ve heard about it all, where we stir with the 500 which has already been placed in here, and we stir around for about 20 seconds and get it to that lovely whirlpool-looking item… …and basically what we’re doing by stirring it is creating friction, it brings warmth and it pulls in the natural cosmic energies of the universe into the water. And we get it rotating nice and fast and then we create chaos back the other way. So it goes every 20 seconds? Roughly, and we go backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards for approximately one hour. Well that’s good exercise. (It’s great.) So when there’s a group of you here, whether we’ve got woofers or friends or we have a proper workshop and we talk about biodynamics and making 500 and we are doing this stirring the whole time. This smaller bucket can be used for the home gardener. It’s perfect. OK so even somebody with just a small plot of land can make their own preparations. In your very own backyard all you need is a bucket, something to stir your preparation with and your water, which is rain water, and your preparation 500 which you can buy directly from an association or somebody else who’s made it. And you can turn it into a little event in your own backyard with your friends and family. Or get the kids involved. (Exactly. It’s wonderful.) Get the eggs. Hello. Take your eggs out. Thank you. The most rewarding thing about this life of mine right now is having the connection, which is what the soul requires in life, that great question: why are we here? what are we doing here? what is our purpose? The soul says: I want to grow food and give goodness to people, to humanity.

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