The Alchemist’s garden

INTRO: Biodynamic gardener Howard Dobson has an alternative approach to growing vegetables in his Constantia garden.

COPY: At first glance, Howard Dobson’s garden looks like any typical, well cared for suburban garden. The manicured green lawn is edged with pretty shrubs. Then you notice a few unusual aspects – a pyramid -shaped net construction in the far corner, for example: “Oh that’s a chicken ark”, says Howard, “I got the design from John Seymour’s Practical Self-Sufficiency.” The portable, netted device which houses chickens is placed on top of vegetable beds and the chicken manure fertilises the plants. As it turns out, Howard discovered that this didn’t work very well in practice: “Chicken manure is too strong to be applied directly to plants. When I get chickens again, I’m going to add the manure to the compost heap.” This takes pride of place in the vegetable patch. “It’s a lady Eve Balfour. This method of constructing a compost heap was named after the New Zealander who started the Soil Association in England.”
Biodynamic gardening is a sustainable, organic method of farming and growing vegetables that was developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861 -1925). Practitioners use special preparations for their land that are not commercially available. Some of the ingredients (cows’ intestines!) seem, he admits, weird to the uninitiated – “almost alchemical.” He insists that planting according to the position of the sun and moon is not airy-fairy. “I’m a pragmatist and a scientist at heart. I try things and see if they work. Farming is in my blood. My grandfather was a farmer. Biodynamic gardening is something you grow into. You need a creative imagination. The proof that biodynamic gardening works is in the delicious vegetables that my garden produces. I don’t necessarily grow the biggest cabbages or the flashiest turnips. But the vegetables taste excellent and have nutritional value. If you eat biodynamic vegetables you become more spiritual.”
He’s happy to admit that not all his ideas have worked. “I’m in the process of switching from one system to another. At first I used rotational methods of planting but found it difficult to keep track of what I planted.”
Howard avoids genetically modified seeds and hybrids: “They are so weak.” Biodynamic gardeners grow and collect their own seeds and don’t use pesticides. They depend on the plants being vigorous enough to repel pests.
Even the water that Howard uses is not ordinary but energized by passing through Flowforms designed by sculptor John Wilkes of Emerson College. Howard has the patent to produce these in South Africa and many farmers, initially sceptical, have been getting great results from using energised water.
Howard doesn’t use mulch: “If you prepare the soil properly and irrigate lightly every morning you keep the soil in good condition. Mulch encourages pests. If you hoe properly, you don’t have a weed problem.” He plants his vegetables in rows of raised beds. Howard admits that digging these is hard work: “just to dig one bed’s an afternoon’s work. But after the initial input, a biodynamic garden is low maintenance. I spend half an hour in the garden every day.”
For Howard gardening is about much more than growing pretty flowers. “I’m a Taurean. I like the earth. It’s therapy, a soul thing.”

JPG 553 or 560 The flowform at the front of Howard’s home energises the water that he uses on the vegetable garden.
Jpg 557 One of the unusual items in Howard’s garden is the chicken ark – a mobile home for chickens .
Jpg 557 546 In a few months these tiny seedlings will provide Howard with a bountiful harvest of radish, beetroot, cabbage and lettuce.
Jpg 547. Howard rests on the stoop. BiAAodynamic gardening is hard work at first and low maintenance later.
Jpg 543 Lady Muck. This compost bin is named after Lady Eve Balfour.
537 -532 For Howard, spending time in the garden is soul therapy.

Going biodynamic.
Contact Howard Dobson for further information on training courses in the Western Cape 021- 794- 3318
Buying biodynamic
If you want to sample biodynamic produce, bring a basket to the Constantia Waldorf Organic and Biodynamic Market Spaanschemat River Road and stock up on fruit, veggies and dairy produce. The market takes place every Friday from 11h00 – 15h00. Any Enquiries, contact Roger Oxlee on 021- 7944 353 or 082 569 9894. On Saturday, the Timour Hall Organic and Biodynamic Market takes place at the Christian Community centre in Timour Hall Road, Plumstead from 10h00-12h00. Any enquiries, contact Heike Prinz 021- 794 6018. The Rondebosch Market, is situated next to the library and is held on Saturdays from 10h00-12h00. If shopping at markets seems like hard work, the ethical Co-op offers an on-line service at Place your order on-line and they will deliver organic, natural and environmentally friendly products to your doorstep.

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