Biodynamic farming, the technique of acknowledging the life force of the earth by restoring vegetal and animal products to it, a philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1924, is a delicate subject. Some people are gung-ho about it; others are deeply skeptical. Because our goal is to produce high quality organic wines and since we also firmly believe in careful stewardship of the earth, we have decided to adopt biodynamic measures in the vineyards.
One of these measures is the preparation of 500P, a horn manure which reinforces subterranean life and root growth. Six months ago, our consultant on all matters biodynamic, Adriano Zago, procured cow manure from the organic cows at the Il Borro estate, which belongs to Salvatore Ferragamo, and cow horns from female cows (who had lived a healthy life at Fondazione Le Madri). Under his supervision, a team stuffed the horns with manure, after which the horns were buried in a distant part of our organic vegetable garden, and to be precise, not far from the arugula.
This morning, under an April sky that we so hoped would bring rain, we had the distinct pleasure of unearthing the first 100 horns. First, we brushed them free of the extra dirt that caked their exteriors, then we removed the top layer of soil and finally we tapped out the 500P. Inside the horns were long, brown crescents of the neutral/sweet smelling preparation. No hint of the scent of manure remained. According to Adriano, our horn manure is perfect: neither too moist nor dry. We kneaded the 500P until it had the consistency of crumbled, boiled potatoes. We then scraped it into a terracotta pot, which we transported into the old oliaio (the dark olive oil storage room near our wine cellar). Once the blend is mature, we will place it in a glazed earthenware pot in a specially made peat-lined wooden crate.
Before we can use the 500P, it needs to mature for one to two months, during which time it will be observed and periodically dampened with catchment water. Then we will use 100g per hectare to increase the vitality of the soil and reinforce the roots. Specifically, water will be added to it and it will be distributed over our vineyards on mild spring and autumn afternoons as the moon wanes. How will we actually know if the 500P makes a difference? Adriano says, “We have already seen immense changes in the soil structure since we started using biodynamic measures. The humus formation has increased. There is also a noticeable increase in macro-organisms such as earthworms, nematodes, mites, ants and so on, all of which aid the increase of humus formation. The colour, consistency, and odour of the soil will further improve and so will the water penetrability and moisture-holding capacity.”
The teamwork involved in this project, not to mention the good laughs we had, was proof enough for me that biodynamics is a great way of bringing people together in a forward-thinking and wholesome way. Cheers, Rudy!
To see more photos go to Flickr