Forestry & Woodlot Management

How to Make a Biodynamic Tree Paste

by Hugh J. Courtney, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

Tree paste is an excellent way to fertilize a tree and help it deal with disease.  It can be applied any time of the year but one preferred time is late in the fall or in late winter.  Here is a simplified version with proportions calculated to make enough paste to apply to several trees. 

Suggested equipment and materials

• Power drill with ½ inch mixing chuck
• 5 or 6 gallon (19 or 23 litre) bucket
• 5 pounds (2.25 kilograms) Bentonite clay
• 2 to 2.5 gallons (7.5 to 9.5 litres) water (see below)
• ½ gallon (2 litres) fermented Equisetum tea (BD508)
• 2 units ELA (Earth Legacy Agriculture) Field Activator

Preparing the water

Water from a well should be exposed to the sun and starlight for at least 24 hours prior to use. If the water is chlorinated, 48 hours of exposure is recommended. Fresh, not stagnant, pond water is acceptable. Recently collected rainwater is preferred but be aware of its acidic properties. The ideal container for exposing water to sunlight is a copper kettle or a ceramic crock.  A stainless steel container can also be used.  A plastic bucket is a last resort, but never use an aluminum container.

Tree Paste Instructions

Place two gallons of de-chlorintated water in a five- or six-gallon plastic bucket. Slowly add the clay while stirring contents using the power drill mixer. Mix the water thoroughly with the clay (20 minutes). Hand mixing requires several hours.  When half of the clay has been added, slowly add the ELA Field Activator and the fermented Equisetum tea and continue to stir.

Add the remaining clay until the mixture is thick and pastelike. Let it sit for a few hours. Stir again slightly to see if additional water is needed. If the material is to be applied in a spray form, dilute to the desired consistency suitable for your spray equipment—possibly twice as much water as originally called for. Three units each of Biodynamic Compound (BC) Preparation and Horn Manure (BD500) may be substituted for the two units of the Field Activator. 

Prior to applying tree paste, remove as much loose bark as possible using a wire brush, putty knife or other scraping tool. Use an extra-large brush to apply the paste to the tree trunk and larger lower limbs.  Heavy duty rubber gloves may also be used.

Binding agents sometimes used

• Castor oil: ¼ cup or less, also used as a healing agent
• Linseed oil: ¼ cup or less 

Some recipes add Horn Silica (BD501) preparation, powdered stinging nettle, liquid seaweed, whey, diatomaceous earth, lime, as well as other helpful ingredients. For further reading on tree care and how to apply tree paste, see Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s "The Biodynamic Treatment of Fruit Trees, Berries and Shrubs".

Hugh Courtney - Writer, Mentor, Teacher, Researcher 

In addition to contributing articles, Hugh Courtney has taken on the advisory role of forecasting favourable and unfavorable times for this calendar. He has devoted more than 40 years to perfecting the art of making biodynamic preparations. Taking a cue from his own mentor, Josephine Porter, who declared, “These preparations are no secret, I will teach anyone who wants to learn how to make them,” he has mentored hundreds of people on the finer points of making quality preparations. 

Ever concerned about keeping this special art form alive into the future, in 2009, Hugh founded Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC to provide quality preparations for discerning practitioners.

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Importance of Trees and Forests

by Hugh Courtney, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

When do trees become a wood or woods and ultimately a forest?  To answer this question, we can use a dictionary, in this case, The Random House Dictionary.  

A tree is “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk ordinarily growing to a considerable height and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.”

The definition of woods or wood is described as “a large and thick collection of growing trees, a grove or forest.” 

When we examine the word forest, it is defined as, “a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush.” 
When we try to sort out the difference between forest, grove and woods, we understand that all these terms refer to an area covered with trees.

These definitions do not take us to a real understanding but lead us in circular directions. It’s no wonder that such sayings as “I can’t see the forest for the trees,” and, “I can’t see the trees for the forest” continue to permeate our way of speaking. 

To remedy this lack of understanding, it may be useful to look at trees from a spiritual perspective rather than merely from a physical aspect. For that spiritual view, let us turn to Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course, most specifically, the Adams translation. Steiner’s insights on the role of trees in nature are both numerous and eye opening. Before detailing some of those insights, it is helpful to review some of the terms he uses.

He describes nature as consisting of four basic kingdoms, each of which adds a particular physical quality and/or spiritual aspect. The Mineral Kingdom presents only the realm of physical substance here on Earth. The Plant Kingdom adds the quality of livingness or life, or to use Steiner’s term, the plant possesses an etheric body as well as a physical body. When we look at the Animal Kingdom, in addition to a physical and a life body, a soul or an astral body is included which brings forward the qualities of movement and feeling. The fourth kingdom of Nature, the Human Kingdom, adds a spiritual or ego body to the other three bodies. It is this body which allows us to express a unique individuality or personality here on Earth.

This view conflicts with the Darwinian concept of the human being as a mere higher animal.  Steiner’s view raises humans to a level of spiritual importance in the universe. Perhaps, also, that view repositions Planet Earth from a mere speck in a vast cosmos to a unique experiment of an entire hierarchy of spiritual beings.   
With this brief introduction to Steiner’s vocabulary, let us return to his description of the importance of trees in Nature. We are given a special glimpse into the nature of trees in his seventh lecture of the Agriculture Course delivered on June 15, 1924.  Steiner reminds us to view the subject from a macrocosmic perspective rather than a microcosmic one, and in particular, that we understand that within Nature everything is connected with everything else.

To help us better understand the unique expression of trees, Steiner asks us to grasp that the buds, leaves, flowers and fruit on a tree exist with a root as well. He suggests that plants growing out of the soil essentially share a common root below the soil. In the tree, which he tells us to view as though it were earth heaped up, the root zone for what grows out of the tree is actually the cambium layer. The cambium layer is analogous to the common root zone shared by herbaceous plants underneath the soil.

Steiner goes on to describe trees—particularly fruit and deciduous trees—as “gatherers of astral substance.” That astral substance expresses itself specifically through the world of insects in the form of beings, such as butterflies, bees, other flying insects and birds. Steiner then embarks on a wide-ranging description of the myriad interconnections within nature that would not happen if there were no trees. The amazing spiritual insights he provides puts trees in a category by themselves, to the extent that trees can almost be seen as a separate kingdom of nature, residing somewhere between the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom. 
Indeed, if we look to the Chinese system of elements, we find five elements labeled as Fire, Earth, Water, Metal and Wood. This is in contrast to the system we are accustomed to in the western world with the four elements, namely Fire, Earth, Air and Water.  

Through the unique function of the cambium layer within trees, Steiner goes on to say, “a relative poverty of ether is engendered in the tree, [which] makes the earthly soil rather more dead in the environment of the tree.” Without the rich astrality in the tree tops, the insect world would not exist. Without the poverty of ether in the vicinity of tree roots, the larval stage of the insect world would not exist. Ultimately the earthworm is able to regulate the vitality in the Earth. Without trees and the refined etheric body within the cambium layer, no birds, butterflies, insects and earthworms would be present. He states that “the regulation of woods and forests is an essential part of agriculture.”

At a certain point, Steiner indicates that “a regular division of labor between the bird world and the butterfly world” has come about in that the world of herbaceous plants and shrubs is served by “the butterfly world and the whole realm of trees is served by the bird world.”  

From a somewhat distinct perspective, I also need to quote from Karsten Massei’s book, School of Elemental Beings, on page 36, where he explains the role of trees in relation to the elemental beings, “The trees are extremely important for the beings of the elemental world. Elemental meetings take place under the vaulted and peaceful roof of the trees, during which they receive instructions from higher beings. Trees also stand between the other world and this one. This is connected with the substance of wood. The living wood is the substantial foundation for the other world and this world meeting in the trees. The fact that trees stand at this threshold of worlds is also the reason that very specific elemental beings are born in the trees.”    

Hugh Courtney - Writer, Mentor, Teacher, Researcher 

In addition to contributing articles, Hugh Courtney has taken on the advisory role of forecasting favourable and unfavorable times for this calendar. He has devoted more than 40 years to perfecting the art of making biodynamic preparations. Taking a cue from his own mentor, Josephine Porter, who declared, “These preparations are no secret, I will teach anyone who wants to learn how to make them,” he has mentored hundreds of people on the finer points of making quality preparations. 

Ever concerned about keeping this special art form alive into the future, in 2009, Hugh founded Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC to provide quality preparations for discerning practitioners.

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Benefits of Windbreaks

by Donald Craig, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

Shortly after humans started clearing forests for agriculture, they found it necessary to plant windbreaks to compensate for the benefits lost by the removal of the forests.

Some of those benefits include:

•  Protection of buildings due to slowing down of winter winds;
•  Reduction of both soil and water erosion;
•  Control of snow accumulation around buildings 
    and along roadways; 
•  Provision of habitats for birds and predator insects who 
    control infestations of crop-eating insects;
•  Increase of crop yields;
•  Production of food and other harvestable products. 

In Ontario, most of us have seen windbreaks of spruce or cedar, which were planted around houses and sometimes entire farmsteads in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Those windbreaks were planted to reduce heating costs and to make houses more comfortable in the winter.  We all know from listening to weather reports that the wind chill factor significantly increases the heat loss from our bodies and our homes.  Wind- breaks were planted around the west and north sides and less frequently along the east sides of buildings to reduce that wind chill factor. 

As these windbreaks matured, it was discovered that they collected snow.  In the prairies,  this was convenient because any snow that stayed on a farmer’s land provided water for his crops the following summer.  In Ontario, this is not considered as much of a benefit because we generally receive sufficient precipitation in the growing season.  However, one useful benefit is the fact that accumulation of snow along a windbreak takes longer to melt; they stretch out spring water flows over a longer period of time, and this process lowers the flood peak. 

Wherever windbreaks accumulate snow in temperate climates, they can be either  convenient or inconvenient depending on the design, the species of trees used, the location of nearby buildings, and laneways, as well as their stage of development.  The old slat-and-wire “Canadian” snow fence was designed and installed by road maintenance crews to slow the wind and deposit snow before it reached the road surface.  Then, they discovered that as the wind picked up speed approaching the road, it had a tendency to pick up snow rather than deposit it.  This artificial snow fence wind-break has a 50 percent porosity. 

When living windbreaks of cedar or spruce are planted too close to the road and provide close to 50 percent porosity, they also accumulate snow downwind and can dump snow on lanes or roadways.  As time goes on and the limbs touch each other, the porosity drops to 40 or 30 percent or less, and the snow starts to accumulate on the upwind side of the windbreak. Later as some of the bottom limbs die off, snow starts to accumulate on the roadway again and it becomes necessary to prune all the bottom branches two to three meters above the ground to allow the wind to carry the snow off the road.

I think most people are aware that windbreaks help reduce soil erosion. However, few people know that we once had deserts of blowing sand in Ontario from the late 19th to mid-20th century.  This was caused by clear cutting the native forest.  Under agreements between local municipalities and the Province of Ontario, larger as well as smaller tracts of land, including what is now the Larose forest, the Ganaraska forest, the Northumberland forest, the Norfolk County forest and the Simcoe County forest, were replanted by the provincial forestry department. Other sand dunes were controlled by planting windbreaks and remained as working farms.

Windbreaks planted on the contours or across slopes reduce water-related soil erosion and subsequent siltation of nearby streams, ponds, lakes and rivers.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, the agricultural industry was in trouble in Great Britain.  Yields were so low that it was not worthwhile to plant crops.  Many properties were purchased by nouveau-rich industrialists and turned into vast show gardens.  One of the discoveries made was that the hedgerows that were planted for flowers and beautiful foliage increased crop yields in adjacent fields.  This was primarily because the birds and predator insects living in the hedgerows controlled the previously uncontrolled insect pests.

Research has been done all over the world—in temperate as well as tropical climates—to determine the effects of windbreaks on crop yields.  Whether it is fruit crops, such as apples or strawberries, or underground crops, such as potatoes and peanuts, or field crops, such as wheat, corn or beans, the results are the same—windbreaks increase crop yields. 

Dr. Charles Baldwin from Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology (now called the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus) showed crop increases on both sides of windbreaks, which more than compensated for the land they occupied and the few adjacent rows of crops where the yield was reduced.  The yield loss extended out one half of the height of the windbreak. From there out to 10 times the height of the windbreak, the yields were above the field average.  He subtracted the yield loss where the trees were and the loss out to half the windbreak height and found an average net gain of 7 percent yield on one side and a 15 percent increase in yield on the other side.  More recently, people with yield monitors on their combines have noticed an increase of between 0.5 and 10 times the height of a windbreak or woodlot.  Unfortunately some people see the low crop yield in the first few rows beside the windbreak and assume that the increase in crop yield further out is in spite of the windbreak not because of it.  

There is no perfect species for windbreaks.  Nor is there a perfect spacing or porosity.  On the prairies, where water is restricted and growth rates as well as ultimate size are limited, several rows are often planted.  In Ontario, we often plant a single row of spruce or cedar around a house where we want to slow down the wind as much as possible.  A second row planted 20 to 30 feet from the first  may be advisable, but for crop-yield increases and reduced soil erosion, even a single row of cedar, spruce or deciduous species may be too dense.  It turns out that the more we reduce the wind speed on the downwind side of a windbreak, the sooner it gets back up to full speed again.  For both wind erosion and crop yield increases, a porosity of 40 to 60 percent is adequate. 

Most people seem to think we need coniferous species because they are dense all year round.  In the case of crop yields, most crops are only growing during the period when the leaves are on deciduous trees, so these trees are just as effective for field windbreaks as the coniferous species. Moreover, deciduous trees located on the southern exposures of homes provide shade and coolness in the summer but enable the sun to heat the homes to some degree in the winter.  

Donald Craig is a registered Professional Forester who has spent over 30 years designing and planting windbreaks, and advising land owners on how to manage them.  He remembers planting his first tree in 1969 near London, Ontario. Several years ago, he took his grandchildren back to that same area, which is now called the Shetland Conservation Area. 

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