Gardens - Specialty Gardens

Michael Straub on biodynamic gardening

The manager of medicinal plant gardens for Weleda shares the fundamentals of this natural gardening method

biodynamic-gardening-michaelstra.jpgQ: Can you tell our readers the history of Weleda and the connection to biodynamic gardening?

A: Weleda was founded in 1921 by Dr. Rudolf Steiner and Dr. Ita Wegman, who were looking to develop an approach to health care that would use natural ingredients to work with and support the body’s own healing tendencies. It was at this time that they started to create the world’s first biodynamic garden to grow some of the ingredients they needed.

The current Weleda garden in Wetzgau, Germany, has been around for 54 years. The landscaping areas are coherently bound to each other—hedges and bushes serve to structure and protect from external influences.

We host internal trainings on a regular basis to familiarize new employees with the diverse specialty fields of the medicinal gardening process: rearing, wild collection, toxic plants, dangerous materials—sometimes, this is accompanied by documentaries. For each culture, there is a specific cultivation method, written down in our internal handbook.

Another step for sustainable plant sourcing is the start of cultivation, which has  worked well with plants like rosemary, Canadian curcuma or yellow gentian. We try to adopt at least one plant a year into our cultivation—this sounds easy, but is based on systematic research. Rare medicinal plants live in very special surroundings, and the ideal conditions therefore need to be determined and mimicked. In order to do that, we work closely with universities and other research facilities.

A purification plant for plants is also part of the nursery, as well as a photovoltaics plant to generate power. In addition to all that, the garden is a huge attraction, last year we had about 15,000 visitors.
Q: What is biodynamic gardening?

A: In biodynamic gardening, plants thrive without the use of pesticides or chemicals and gardeners harvest with their hands. It’s based on the understanding that soil, plants, animals and humans need to work together as a whole. Of importance is the careful treatment of the soil—composting, fertilization and pest control are achieved using natural methods and chemicals are forbidden. We compost all plant waste leftover from our tinctures production, which we use to fertilize the fields—what’s produced by the garden really helps to nourish the land. Planting, crop rotation and harvesting follow the natural rhythms of the sun, moon and planets.

Crop rotation plays a big role in biodynamic gardening, as one-third of the garden is populated by cover crops as a means to regenerate the soil and feed beneficial insects with pollen and nectar.

Flowers and hedges serve as a source of nutrition and refuge for beneficial organisms. Generally, crop rotation plays a big role—one third of the area is populated by cover crops, as a means to regenerate the soil, as well as for feeding the beneficial insects with pollen and nectar living in it. To make the garden—which is considered an organism—complete, we have several ponds, as well as bees and five ducks to eat snails. In our green houses, we use cultured organisms to keep plant damage down. For five years, we’ve now completely composted plant waste left over from our tinctures production. With this compost, we fertilize the fields, which is how the circular flow comes into being. What’s produced by the garden, helps to nourish the garden.

Q: What are some easy biodynamic gardening practices that readers can apply to their own gardens?

A: Composting, green manuring, crop rotation and natural methods for fertilization, weed and pest control.

Inset photo: Michael Straub is based in Schwabish Gmund, Germany, at Weleda’s biodynamic garden.


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