I had been familiar with Weleda's beauty products for years. Their Iris moisturizer cream has been a staple in my medicine cabinet since middle school. So, when I was invited to visit the Weleda gardens in Germany, I was excited to see where the ingredients in those natural products were grown.
Weleda was founded by Rudolf Steiner, natural scientist, philosopher and creator of biodynamic agriculture. Weleda's biodynamic garden was started in the 1920s and at 135 acres it is the largest biodynamic garden in Europe. It's an amazing site to behold buzzing with bees, radiating with brightly colored flowers.
The woman currently making the garden bloom is manager Eva Maria Walle. Who better to ask for a few gardening tips? Gardeners take note!
The Daily Green: What are some essentials for a self-sustaining garden? Tools? Equipment? Soil type?
Eva Maria Walle, Weleda garden manager: Good soil with lots of healthy compost and nutrients is a big advantage when it comes to growing a healthy garden. Ideally the soil should have a good mix between sand and clay but not too much of either. Another important factor is, of course, light. Gardens need plenty of good light. A third factor contributing to a healthy garden is biodiversity, including plant diversity and insect diversity. And finally, as in biodynamic agriculture, the garden or farm should ideally function as a self-sustaining organism, where all parts are linked together as a complete ecosystem. That means that all materials for the garden, including compost, seeds and fertilizer, should come from the garden itself and contribute to the overall health and sustainability of the garden.
Biodynamic gardening was developed in the 1920s; have the gardening methods changed or adapted since?
Some of the details of the biodynamic method have changed, but the foundation and the basis has never changed. For example, the size of the farms have changed, with many getting bigger. People from many different countries, with totally different growing conditions, adapted the initial principles of biodynamic agriculture to their individual conditions, learning whats best for their area. And of course the weight and the focus on each of the details may differ depending on the farmer's own unique personality, the situation of the farm and the products cultivated, all which have an influence on how the biodynamic method is utilized.
Shown here, calendula flowers used in many of Weleda's products.
What are some mistakes you see gardening novices make?
Many times people use too much water or not enough water, or add too many minerals and fertilizers to the soil, such as nitrogen. Earthworms naturally create nitrogen in a healthy, balanced way. However, when it is added to the soil, it can change the natural soil structure and balance, which disrupts the health of the entire ecosystem.
What is the importance of diversity when gardening?
Diversity is very important for healthy plants. The opposite of a diverse farm or garden is a monoculture, and from our experience we know that monocultures are very unhealthy for the plants — it can work, but only with the help of many additives like pesticides and superficial fertilizers. Generally speaking, plants that are taken out of their natural habitat and placed in a surrounding that is unnatural tend to get sick, as artificial elements can throw an ecosystem off balance. This is true for humans and animals, as well as plants.
Biodiversity creates a complex organism, in which all parts work together. For example many flowering plants support insects, and the greater variety of insect species in a garden, the better you will be able to manage the healthy populations of individual insect species. (The beneficial insects, for instance, will keep the bad insects in check. Other methods that create and support biodiversity in a garden are crop rotation and intercropping, which allows a balance of nutrition in the soil and helps prevent plant diseases from surfacing.)
Show here, the "Bug Hotel," used to attract different types of insects.
Whats the importance of compost when gardening?
Compost has many different functions: It gives vitality and fertility to the soil by feeding the soil with minerals and nutrients. It supports the earthworms, which naturally add nitrogen to the soil. Compost will also cause the soil to warm faster in the spring, which is good for the healthy development of the plants. A healthy compost will help suppress diseases and improve the structure of the soil and the presence of many microorganisms that are beneficial to producing healthy plants.
What are your natural secrets for keeping out pests?
Although we can never eradicate pests completely in our biodynamic gardens, robust and strong plants will naturally have a high tolerance against them, much like a person with a healthy immune system will occasionally get a cold but will be able to easily fight it off. Healthy, rich compost in the soil helps as well. Also, plants that are native to the area and well-adapted to their surroundings are better able to withstand pests or diseases. When the soil and plants are in balance, and the soil is rich with healthy microbial life, the gardens ecosystem is able to maintain its health and vitality.
Some of our readers are concerned that organic gardening takes more time and doesnt produce as much yield, what do you say to people who doubt the power of biodynamic and organic gardening?
After the conversion of a conventional farm to organic cultivation, the yields may sometimes decrease a bit as the soil rebuilds its natural vitality and returns to health, but after a few years, the yields often rise to their initial levels, if not greater than before. Taking all factors into account, growing plants organically does not necessarily require more time and effort than conventional gardening. Generally, in organic agriculture, the farmer or gardener needs to be knowledgeable about the correlations and interactions of plant, soil, insects and weather. This knowledge of how all these elements interact is the key for successful, organic gardening. Its also important to remember that the superior taste of organic fruits and vegetables, and the long-term health of the earth, make organic gardening and agriculture a better choice than conventional farming.
Do you have any unique gardening methods that youve developed?
Its neither unique nor new but its the key: We see everything as part of the whole. We never isolate anything from its surrounding. We see everything as a circle and each part is a link that has a relation to other links in the complete, holistic chain.