Saturday, February 19, 2005



To give you an idea of the complexity of the preparation of biodynamic compost, and how incredible results you can get with it, you could look at the following webpages: (fully illustrated)

Here is an excerpt from that site: Biodynamic Compost: Biodynamic compost is a fundamental component of the biodynamic method; it serves as a way to recycle animal manures and organic wastes, stabilize nitrogen, and build soil humus and enhance soil health. Biodynamic compost is unique because it is made with BD preparations 502-507. Together, the BD preparations and BD compost may be considered the cornerstone of biodynamics. Here again, "biological" and "dynamic" qualities are complementary: biodynamic compost serves as a source of humus in managing soil health and biodynamic compost emanates energetic frequencies to vitalize the farm.The traditional manner in which the biodynamic compost is made is rather exacting. After the compost windrow is constructed, Preparations 502-506 are strategically placed 5-7 feet apart inside the pile, in holes poked about 20 inches deep. Preparation No. 507, or liquid valerian, is applied to the outside layer of the compost windrow by spraying or hand watering.Figure 1. Use of Biodynamic Preparations in a Compost PileValerian (507) is mixed into a liquid; a portion is pored into one hole, and the rest is sprinkled over the top of the compost pile.More specific instructions on biodynamic preparations, placement in the compost, compost making, and compost use can be found in the following booklets, available through the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association (BDFGA) in San Francisco, California:Blaser, Peter, and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer. 1984.

Bio-Dynamic Composting on the Farm: How Much Compost Should We Use? Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc., Kimberton, PA. 23p.Corrin, George. 1960. Handbook on Composting and the Bio-Dynamic Preparations. Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association, London. 32 p.Koepf, H.H. 1980. Compost - What It Is, How It Is Made, What It Does. Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc., Kimberton, PA. 18 p.Pfeiffer, Ehrenfried. 1984. Using the Bio-Dynamic Compost Preparations & Sprays in Garden, Orchard, & Farm. Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc., Kimberton, PA. 64 p.

Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961), a soil microbiologist and agronomic researcher who worked directly with Steiner, conducted extensive research on the preparation and use of biodynamic compost. For many years Pfeiffer served as a compost consultant to municipal compost facilities, most notably Oakland, CA, as well as countries in the Caribbean, Europe, and the Far East.

Pfeiffer's research into the microbiology of compost production led to the development of a compost inoculant, BD Compost Starter®, that contains all the BD compost preparations (502-507) plus stirred BD No. 500, as well as 55 different types of microorganisms (mixed cultures of bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, yeasts). BD Compost Starter® is widely used by biodynamic farmers because it is easy to apply while building the compost pile. Today, the starter is prepared and sold through the Josephine Porter Institute (JPI) for Applied Biodynamics (5) in Woolwine, Virginia.While use of BD compost preparations and/or BD Compost Starter® is universal in biodynamic composting, the actual construction and maintenance of compost piles — including frequency of aeration and length till maturity — may vary among farming operations.

The static pile method is the traditional biodynamic choice: In static piles materials are formed into a windrow, inoculated with BD preparations, covered with straw, and left undisturbed for 6 months to one year prior to use. A small amount of soil is commonly sprinkled onto the outside of the pile prior to covering with straw. Soil can also be added during the windrow construction process, when brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) feedstock materials are laid in alternating layers.On larger farms that handle massive volumes of compost feedstock, the piles are often managed with a compost turner, so the time to maturity is much shorter, for example 2-3 months.

A new development is the aerated static pile (ASP), wherein ventilation pipes are inserted into a static pile to increase oxygen supply and reduce the length of time to compost biomaturity.Contrasting viewpoints exist in the compost industry as well as amongst on-farm compost makers as to which method is best. When push comes to shove, most people agree that the best compost method is one that fits the individual farmer's situation.Recent biodynamic research supports the static pile approach as a viable compost option. In the July-August 1997 issue of Biodynamics , Dr. William Brinton of Woods End Agricultural Research Institute published "Sustainability of Modern Composting: Intensification Versus Costs and Quality. " Brinton argues that low-tech composting methods are just as effective in stabilizing nutrients and managing humus as the management and capital intensive compost systems that employ compost turners and daily monitoring. These findings are particularly encouraging to farmers choosing the low-input approach to this age-old practice of transforming organic matter into valuable humus. The full report can be viewed on Woods End Institute's website at: <>.

At the other end of the compost spectrum are the high intensity windrow systems — for example the Controlled Microbial Composting system promoted by the Siegfried Luebke family of Austria and the Advanced Compost System promoted by Edwin Blosser of Midwestern Biosystems in Illinois — that emphasize specialized compost turners, microbial inoculation, frequent turning, daily monitoring for temperature and CO2, compost fleece to cover and protect the windrow, and qualitative testing for finished compost. In addition to efficient handling of organic wastes, premium-grade compost is a goal.It should be noted these highly mechanized systems seem to fit operations that generate large volumes of animal manures or other compost feedstocks, such as a dairy farm or food processing plant. On-farm production of compost is often matched with sale of bagged or bulk compost to local horticultural operations as a supplemental income.

Ultimately, the choice of composting method will depend to a large extent on the scale of farming operation, equipment and financial resources on hand, and intended goals for compost end-use.Research at Washington State University (WSU) by Dr. Lynn Carpenter-Boggs and Dr. John Reaganold found that biodynamic compost preparations have a significant effect on compost and the composting process.Biodynamically treated composts had higher temperatures, matured faster, and had higher nitrates than control compost piles inoculated with field soil instead of the preparations. The WSU research is unique for two reasons: it was the first biodynamic compost research undertaken at a land-grant university, and it demonstrated that biodynamic preparations are not only effective, but effective in homeopathic quantities.

A summary of this research can be found on the USDA-Agriculture Research Service's Tektran Website at: Effects of Biodynamic Preparations on Compost Development
In related research, Carpenter-Boggs and Reaganold found that biodynamically managed soils (i.e., treated with biodynamic compost and biodynamic field sprays) had greater capacity to support heterotrophic microflora activity, higher soil microorganism activity, and different types of soil microrganisms than conventionally managed soils (i.e., treated with mineral fertilizers and pesticides).

A summary of this latter research can be found on the USDA-Agriculture Research Service's Tektran Website at:Biodynamic Compost and Field Preparations: Effects on Soil Biological Community
Because compost is often at a premium on farms, European biodynamic researcher Maria Thun developed Barrel Compost. Consisting of fresh cow manure that has been treated with the original preparations as well as egg shells and basalt rock dust — then allowed to ferment in a pit for about 3 months, finished Barrel Compost is diluted in water and applied directly to the fields as a spray. Use of Barrel Compost compensates to some degree for lack of sufficient compost. A variation on Barrel Compost is mixing stinging nettle with fresh cow manure in a 50:50 volume to volume ratio.Some notable concepts and practices relating to soil and compost management from the biodynamic experience.

Microbial inoculation: Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer's work with composts in the 1940's and 50's led to the development of the BD Compost Starter®, one of the earliest compost inoculants in commercial use in the United States.Soil in Compost: The addition of soil to compost was an early biodynamic practice prescribed by Steiner. Dr. Pfeiffer discussed the reasons and benefits for adding soils to compost in the 1954 edition of Bio-Dynamics Journal (Vol. 12, No. 2) in an article titled "Raw Materials Useful for Composting." He said that soil is an essential ingredient to compost and should be added at 10%-20% of the windrow volume.Mineralized Compost: The addition of rock powders (greensand, granite dust) to compost piles is a long-time biodynamic practice known as mineralized compost. The dusts add mineral components to the compost and the organic acids released during the decomposition process help solubilize minerals in the rock powders to make nutrients more available to plants.

Phases of Compost: An outgrowth of Dr. Pfeiffer's compost research was a clearer understanding of the Breakdown and Buildup compost phases:The Breakdown Phase: In the breakdown phase organic residues are decomposed into smaller particles. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, amines, and finally to ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and free nitrogen. Urea, uric acids, and other non-protein nitrogen-containing compunds are reduced to ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and free nitrogen. Carbon compounds are oxidized to carbon dioxide (aerobic) or reduced methane (anaerobic).The identification and understanding of breakdown microorganisms led to the development of a microbial inoculant to moderate and speed up the breakdown phase. The BD Compost Starter® developed by Dr. Pfeiffer contains a balanced mixture of the most favorable breakdown organisms, ammonifiers, nitrate formers, cellulose, sugar, and starch digesters in order to bring about the desired results. The microbial inoculant also works against organisms that cause putrefaction and odors.

The Buildup Phase: In the build-up phase simple compounds are re-synthesized into complex humic substances. The organisms responsible for transformation to humus are aerobic and facultative aerobic, sporing and non-sporing and nitrogen fixing bacteria of the azotobacter and nitrosomonas group. Actinomycetes and streptomycetes also play an important role. The addition of soil, 10% by volume, favors the development and survival of these latter organisms. The development of humus is evident in color changes in the compost, and through qualitative tests such as the circular chromatography method.Compost & Soil Evaluation: Biodynamic research into compost preparation and soil humus conditions has led to the development or specialized use of several unique qualitative tests.A notable contribution of biodynamics is the image-forming qualitative methods of analysis; e.g., circular chromatography, sensitive crystallization, capillary dynamolysis, and the drop-picture method. Other methods focus on the biological-chemical condition; e.g., The Solvita® Compost Test Kit and The Solvita® Soil Test Kit (8), colorimetric humus value, and potential pH.


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