It would be a month or so ago that my new neighbour moved in, we shook hands and all was merry. He said how nice my garden was – which given the amount of weeds growing in it, came as something of a surprise to me. Never mind, like it he did. He then went on to mention something about the Kraaijbeekerhof estate which is run on bio-dynamic principles. Well, it’s supposed to be, at least. I asked him if he was interested in bio-dynamics and he said he didn’t know anything about it because he was more interested in permaculture.
‘Oh,’ I thought to myself at the time. ‘Oh, dear.’
You see, the people who find the principles of permaculture interesting do so because of their lack, not their presence. Aside from a few basic rules, like not using pesticides, atomic weapons and artificial fertilizers, there’s not much to stop you doing anything you like. Come to think of it, I’m not sure about the last exclusion, but I could be wrong. Some people use artificial fertilizers and think they’re gardening organically, but that’s our modern world for you.
Permaculture in this respect – oh, that’s it: you’re not allowed to dig the soil or somesuch. And to be truthful, too much digging doesn’t do the soil much good. I don’t dig my pathways and they’ve got more worms than the rest of my garden put together, so there must be some wisdom in this. Given the poverty of my soil, I do need to get stuff down there, stuff like bentonite clay and rock dust. It doesn’t get there by itself, and if you wait with a no-dig system, it’ll take three decades. And I want to be able to grow my cabbages this year, not in twenty five years time.
Anyway, the kind of people who are attracted to permaculture are usually those who don’t like making decisions. That is to say, they can do what they like, when they like. People like me, in bio-dynamic’s militant wing, are less happy with this kind of happy-go-lucky stance. Plants are plants and there are very good reasons why they grow, and there are very good reasons for using the homeopathic remedies to improve both the soil and the plant. Both of these imply an adherence to the natural rhythms of a plant’s life. Not to do so would actually weaken the plant.
But then, not doing so weakens the person, too. Which is, after all, why people are attracted to permaculture: (and you will have to excuse my language) they are weak. There is no other word for it. If, instead of making a decision, someone settles back into their comfort zone in order to deal with life, then they aren’t meeting their life’s challenges, are they? You either strengthen yourself by meeting your challenges – even if it is on a very occasional basis – or you make yourself weaker. Now this may seem like the typical “yes-no” argument that intellectuals employ; the difference here is that this is the life you’re leading. You have choices, which when push comes to shove, mean that you have to make a decision. Do it or not to do it. The ‘not to do it’ option leaves you having learned less; the ‘do it’ may lead you to learn that doing it is really dangerous, so you stop doing it. Well, that’s fair enough; at least you tried. At least you learned what not to do the next time you happen on that circumstance. Doing nothing leaves you utterly defenceless in the face of any kind of challenge, leave alone danger.
Getting things wrong is what our life is all about: we’re not here to say “I can’t do anything about that” because that helps nobody. Either you try, either you learn, or you don’t. When it comes to plants, it’s incredibly easy to get it wrong. Over-watering, under-watering; over-fertilizing, under-fertilizing. Too much sun, too little sun. Too much shade, too little shade. The list is practically endless; the point here isn’t the plant, it’s the experience one gains from growing them. The list of “dos and don’ts” in bio-dynamics is very long, and if you husband your soil according to Maria Thun’s star calendar then the list is even longer. Again, it’s not so much that one does these things or not; it’s what you learn about the world and yourself that is important. My recent illness – only a cold, but it laid me up for three weeks – meant that my planting was well behind schedule. So I planted seed during the time when one shouldn’t. There wasn’t much I could do about it, given that I wanted plants and wasn’t prepared to wait another two weeks before planting them… and everybody around me was planting potatoes on a fruit day.
Not that there’d be much difference, on a gardening scale, the improvements are largely invisible. Especially where yield is concerned. Mind you, my veggies do taste nice, and the seed I keep is now extremely vigorous. It’s why acorns like growing near the parent plant: they’re attuned to that soil.
Oh, you thought it was genetics?
I mean, what are you going to learn about a tree from genetics? I assure you, grow your own plants and make a few mistakes and you’ll learn a helluva lot more about how nature works. What’s more, you’ll learn a lot quicker if you strive for the best, rather than doing as you please by joining the permaculture society.