Louis Swann mixes a valerian solution as part of barrel compost blend. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Spring ritual goes into barrel composting in the Alberni Valley

Biodynamic method summons forces of nature and cosmos

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

No matter what people may think of biodynamic agriculture — and the practice is not without its skeptics — the benefits of barrel composting to body and spirit are beyond dispute.

That much was evident at a demonstration of barrel composting by Gary and Louis Swann of Leda Biodynamic Farm.

Anna Lewis, horticultural co-ordinator at Healthy Harvest Farm and an agricultural support worker with the ACRD, hosted the workshop-style demo in a greenhouse one stormy morning last week. Since the Swanns adopted biodynamic methods on their Batty Road organic farm several years ago, the barrel composting has become a familiar spring ritual to some in the Alberni Valley.

“Yes, it is a ritual,” Louis remarked as about a dozen people gathered around a pile of cow manure, shovels at the ready to begin a process intended to summon elemental forces of nature and the cosmos.

While multiple ingredients go into barrel composting, they don’t necessarily require a barrel. The name stems from the barrel or keg originally used. No barrels were in sight on this day. Instead, four people with flat shovels rotated around the pile, turning the manure in a rhythmic and energetic dance. Volunteers take turns spelling off.

“When we make compost, we try to get a lot of people involved,” Gary explained. “It’s an invitation to elemental being.”

Garden-variety compost is sometimes described by growers as “black gold.” This, however, is no ordinary compost but rather a key component in the practice of biodynamic methods.

Biodynamic agriculture was developed by Austrian philosopher and social reformist Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s as a response to modernization and proliferation of chemicals in farming. His ideas gained ferment at a time when many people in Europe and North America were receptive to new ideas around spiritualism and the natural order.

“One of the things he played a big part in was looking up at the cosmos, the moon and the sun and the Zodiac,” Louis said. “All these sort of layers, the rhythms of life. He was really into making people more aware of their surroundings … He was laying a spiritual foundation for the renewal of agriculture.”

Biodynamics regards the farm as a living whole, ideally a self-sustaining one. The approach dovetails with efforts to improve food security in order to reduce society’s reliance on industrial-scale agriculture, increasingly viewed as unsustainable.

“We should be able to feed ourselves in this valley,” said Gary, who, along with his wife Jacqueline, has farmed organically in the valley since the early 1970s.

While Steiner’s hypothesis wasn’t tested scientifically, he inspired countless others to adopt biodynamic methods in step with the environmental movement.

Aside from some strong backs, barrel composting requires addition of basalt and eggshell as initial ingredients. After a full hour of mixing, six herbs — yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valerian — are carefully added. The blend is placed in a pit for four months, covered with burlap and a small wooden pyramid (a half barrel can be substituted).

A little goes a long way. Dissolved in water, the compost is broadcast using a wide brush, flicked in a circular fashion to mimic natural forces.

“What barrel composting does, it gets the biodynamic processes spread around the garden.”

“And it works,” Louis added, citing superior flavour and storage capability of foods through use of barrel compost. Higher yields are another plus factor.

The Swanns retail their barrel compost for $12 a half cup at the Spirit Square Farmers Market held on Saturdays at Harbour Quay.

Just Posted

Celebrate cycling in Port Alberni during Bike to Work and School Week

Numerous ‘celebration stations’ are planned for May 28 to June 2

Ahousaht welcomes massive Surfrider Canada conference to Meares Island near Tofino

“It was the first time we’ve all come together.”

Alberni RCMP kept busy with 170 calls over May long weekend

Detachment answers calls from fatal vehicle crash to man with a gun, trailer thefts

Alberni pub owner kicks off new event for car lovers

Car enthusiast Helen Poon debuts Cars and Coffee on May 27

Chaos and creativity reign at Alberni’s Rollin Art Centre

The next art exhibit at the Rollin Art Centre will be an… Continue reading

Fuel truck crash closes B.C. highway, sends two to hospital

The Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island is expected to be closed until Thursday evening

Media are not an arm of the police, Vice lawyer tells Supreme Court hearing

Ben Makuch challenges Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that he must give materials for stories to RCMP

B.C. launches plan to tackle doctor shortage, emergency room congestion

John Horgan aims to set up regional primary care networks in a ‘team-based’ approach

Vancouver, Squamish pipeline challenges dismissed by court in B.C.

Justice Christopher Grauer ruled the province’s decision to issue the certificate was reasonable

Early learning programs for Indigenous kids get $30M boost

B.C. government to help expand Aboriginal Head Start Association programs with three-year funding

Ferry sailing cancelled after ship’s second officer falls ill

Coastal Inspiration’s 8:15 p.m. sailing to Nanaimo on Tuesday cancelled, passengers to be compensated

B.C. man recounts intense rescue of couple caught in mudslide

Something told Dan Anderson to go back to the scene of a major mudslide on the long weekend.

The priciest home for sale in Canada: A $38M Vancouver penthouse

Canada’s luxury real estate: The top 10 most expensive properties for sale right now

Most Read