September 1, 2013

Maine Gardener: Biodynamics writer covers lots of healthy ground

By TOM ATWELL

Deb Soule founded Avena Botanicals in 1985, creating a successful business from medicinal herbs grown on a 3-acre farm.

click image to enlarge

Deb Soule gets into medicinal plants as well as biodynamic preparations and basic garden tips in her new book.

Courtesy of Avena Botanicals

Soule is an organic gardener, but even beyond that, is a biodynamic gardener, which involves following a system of principles laid down by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 and brought to the United States in 1938.

Soule's new book, "How to Move Like a Gardener: Planting and Preparing Medicines from Plants," includes an introduction to biodynamic gardening. It also provides some good gardening advice even if you are not ready to go into biodynamic gardening.

The last part of the book discusses how to grow and use common plants to improve your health, as food, teas, tinctures, oils, powders, rubs and more.

"I really wanted to write a book that would have a larger audience than just herbalists," Soule said in a telephone interview. "I wanted to reach out into the gardening community to people who might want to learn about medicinal plants and possibly curious about biodynamics. I wanted to reach out to both gardeners and herbalists, gardeners who are not herbalists and herbalists who are not gardeners."

In reading the book, I thought that biodynamic gardening might be beyond a lot of backyard gardeners because of complex preparations that are used.

One, called horn manure or BD 500, involves getting fresh manure from a lactating organic cow, stuffing it into a cow's horn, burying it in September and leaving it in the ground for six to eight months.

Once the horn is dug up, a golf-ball size ball of horn manure is stirred for an hour into three or four gallons of water, around 5 p.m. on a day selected by the biodynamic calendar. That solution is spread around the garden within two hours, using a wallpaper brush specifically kept for that purpose, dripping and spraying on bare soil around the garden and around trees and other plants.

Other preparations include ground silica that is buried in a horn and such items as white yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian and horsetail (the plant, not from an animal) that are prepared according to specific instructions.

The book explains in detail the benefits of each of these biodynamic compost preparations.

"With all of the different preparations, you can buy them. You don't have to prepare them," she said. "If you buy them, they are not difficult at all to incorporate into your gardening routines."

And it is not necessary for a gardener to do all of them to make improvements in the garden, she said.

The most important thing for any garden, Soule said, is compost.

"Gardeners should find a good quality compost," she said. "They should find a farmer near them or a local greenhouse that is selling compost. I'm not a big fan of bagged compost, but there are a lot of Maine companies making and selling good compost. That compost will enliven the soil, and when you improve the soil you will find you have less pest trouble."

Her second piece of advice to all beginning gardeners is to start small, because it can be discouraging to have a garden that you don't have enough time to tend properly.

Soule said that chanting, singing, meditation and praying while preparing garden amendments or doing chores affects both the preparation and the attitude of the gardener.

"It helps me to be grounded and present, and makes me feel more effective and happier as a gardener," she said. "Being more grounded and centered and in a joyful state of mind helps me do a better job with the preparations."

Soule said she had been working as an herbalist for 15 years before she really understood the role of pollinators in the garden, and that is why she put a section on pollinators toward the front of the book.

She said every gardener should make an effort to have a lot of plants that are enjoyed by pollinators and to avoid using pesticides that can harm them.

Almost half the book is devoted to the various herbs and other plants that have medicinal purposes, how to grow them, how to use them and what problems they will address in the human body.

She thinks that many plants that people consider weeds, such as the dandelion, have many benefits that people do not recognize.

Soule's book is full of pictures, all taken at the Avena Botanicals' 3-acre garden, most taken by her and her staff, others taken by professional photographers who allowed her to use them.

It took her four and a half years to write the book, and although it is self-published, she hired a professional book designer, David Allen, who spent five months helping her put the book together.

The title, she said, came because she is always telling her mandolin teacher that she has to teach him to move like a gardener, and he suggested it.

Soule said she has just begun marketing the book, and it is available at Avena Botanicals and a lot of local bookstores.

She said she hopes to sell it mostly at local book and garden stores, but it will soon be available through various online booksellers.

The biodynamic preparations can be purchased at the Josephine Porter Institute at jpibiodynamics.com. Avena Botanicals is at avenabotanicals.com.

Soule will be a keynote speaker Sept. 21 at the Common Ground Fair in Unity.

Her topic -- women gardeners globally and locally -- was selected before the book came out, and is one that has interested her for many years.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

 

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