In a culture where wine is regarded as the epitome of taste and culture it is encouraging to see so many Biodynamic wines achieving recognition. It may be that the renewal of our environment will become a question of community taste.

Here we have put together a series of information about growing grapes biodynamically, including a suggested spraying regime and links to other resources and links to the websites of some of our member vineyards.

Julian Castagna, of Castagna Vineyard, Beechworth Vic says:

“Biodynamics for me is not a method of selling a product; it is a method of growing a product. The biodynamic method was a sacred gift to the world by Rudolf Steiner and, if followed, will enrich our spirit as well as nourishing our bodies. It is the best way I know of allowing the land to speak through the product it grows. But, biodynamics is not a magic potion, it is not an excuse for lazy farming and although it will certainly help enliven any land to which its methods are applied, it will not produce great flavour where the potential for flavour is not present in the soil.

Our biodynamics is based almost entirely on what we have come to consider is the proper use of the preparations which we use many more times per year than is usually recommended; we use all the preparations not just 500. We make up and have available for use all year round teas of fish, seaweed, humic acid, nettle and worm juice (others also if needed). All these are fermented together with preparation 502 to 508. These teas are used in their own right but are also added to whatever else may be required as disease control in the vineyard, this of course is totally weather dependent. For example whenever we spray copper and sulphur for the control of powdery or downy we add a litre or two of each of our teas to the spray tank and these are applied together with the copper and sulphur. We apply 500 and 501 at least four times each year but sometimes replacing the 501 with 505 depending on the weather. Sometimes if the atmosphere is too dry we might apply 500 to bring in more moisture. We apply something, at each Moon opposition Saturn, often Equisetum. We have found that observation is the key, and the preparations, the tools, we always work with the planting calendar but are never constrained by it.”

The Vineyard

Experience shows that time spent preparing the soil before planting ensures strong healthy vines capable of good production and less prone to disease. Withholding the urge to rush out and plant until the soil has been prepared and enlivened can be a challenge but can also result in the satisfaction of seeing your vines soon catch up with those with less patient guardians.

Where you are taking over an existing vineyard it is a matter of establishing sound biodynamic practices without delay.

Start with spraying out the full sequence of biodynamic sprays to establish strong biological activity, develop soil structure and humus which also improves water holding capacity. (See Spray program below)

A green manure crop that suits your area and season will give lots of green material to provide nutrition and organic matter when turned in at early flowering. Forage sorghum, broad beans, millet or oats and lupins are ideal. When turning in, spray with the Biodynamic Manure Concentrate to assist breakdown of the green material. If you can repeat this green manuring before planting you will benefit.

Soil Tests: Use Soil testing laboratories that offer Albrecht soil tests, such as the Brookside Laboratories (via Nutri-Tech, or private Consultants), Swep Laboratories in Victoria or Perry Laboratories in SA. Check that your Calcium:/Magnesium ratio is in balance and other major nutrients are present. You may need to apply calcium or magnesium to establish the balance. We find with biodynamics, once you have the major nutrients present and in balance and your organic matter increases, the biodynamic preparations stimulate the bacterial and fungal activity that bring in all the trace elements that are required for your specific area. We also find that when using the biodynamic preparations much smaller amounts of recommended mineral inputs, such as lime, are required as the biological activity the preparations stimulate makes the substances more readily available to the plants.

Biodynamic practitioners also find the application of basalt dust to the area (at the rate of 1-2 tonnes per Ha) is also very beneficial, bringing in rock enzymes, trace elements and paramagnetic qualities to your land.

Application of biodynamic compost to the whole area at the rate of 2-5 tonnes per hectare will also help strongly establish all these activities in your soil. See Compost making later.

When all is ready, deep ripping along the rows ensures the easy rooting for your vines and better aeration of the soil.

Sward Management

Now you need to establish your sward or grasses between the rows.  A mixture of herbs, grasses and legumes provides variety for soil nutrition and life. The plants in the sward perform many duties. The deep taprooted varieties can access deeper nutrients, mulch-mowing provides organic matter and food for the earthworms, plus it can be thrown over the undervine areas to form a cover or weedmat. The legumes in the mix bring extra nitrogen and support the calcium processes in the soil. You will also notice your sward can also provide a habitat for beneficial insects such as predatory mites and wasps, ladybirds, lacewings hoverflies and tachnid flies. These all contribute to managing your vine parasites.

Use deep tap rooted plants such as chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, dandelions and lucerne.  Mix these with some grasses such as rye, oats, prairie grass, native grasses and legumes such as lupins, red and white clovers. Other varieties of herbs can also be used such as alyssum, dill, caraway, coriander, buckwheat and basil. Just make sure you do not choose a climbing type that will soon use your vines to lift them higher in the world.[1]

Undervine management

Vines, according to Dr.Elaine Ingham, the Soil Food Web Scientist and Microbiologist, Oregon USA, require more fungi than bacteria in the soil (a ratio of 2-5 fungi : 1 bacteria), whereas grasses likes more bacteria than fungi in their soil. By changing the compost or mulch on the surface of the under vine area, we can change the fungal bacterial ratio and keep most grass type weeds out of the under vine area.

This can be achieved using a highly fungal compost with a higher woody content such as stems, cuttings, skins and seeds (mark), wood chip or mulching hay. Another way is to grow low growing herbs under the vines, such as Thymes, Lavenders, Oregano, Parsley etc. Think of the wonderful aromas that will arise to your flowering grapes to enhance the flavours! This approach could also provide a supplementary crop for market.

Each area or state has its own vineyard mythology on under vine management. Victorian grape growers like to keep the earth bare allowing the reflected heat of the sun ripen the fruit. They also feel that mulch will attract frost, which is seen as detrimental. In Western Australia’s Margaret River area, mulching and composting under the vines and including under vine herbs once the vine is established is achieving award winning success. Margaret River has only winter rains and so weeds over summer are not an issue. Also, they don’t get frosts… It may be the climatic conditions that really determine under vine management requirements. In the Barossa Valley, where they also receive only winter rains, Biodynamic viticulturists are trialling undervine cover.

Whichever under vine management you finally choose there is agreement that in the early developmental stages for young vines, it is seen as important to keep the undervine areas cleared. If you are taking over an existing vineyard and are not able to establish a good, clean environment to plant into, this is best achieved with undervine weeders that cut just under the soil and usually have a chain flail to clear the surface. If you choose to use Glyphosate in the early stages to deter intractable weeds, mix it 1:10 with some Biodynamic Manure Concentrate to overcome the damage the Glyphosate does to the soil food web. (Beware of using Glyohosate if you are wanting to get Organic Certification.)

Note that Glyphosate will kill out the pseudomonas bacteria which protect your vines against phytophthora![2]Bruce Tainio[3]

Suggested Biodynamic Spray Program for Viticulture

Activity

Type of Biodynamic Preparation

Rate Per Ha

Stirring

Application

Times of Application

Soil preparation prior to planting vines:

Apply Combined soil preparation to green manure crops in area planned for vineyard when discing in.

245g

1 hour flowforms or stirring machine

Soil spray droplets35 ltr per ha

Moon descending or Moon opposition SaturnAfternoon

Apply Basalt rock dust and lime or soil amendments as required and deep rip rows to plant vines in.

1-2 tonnes

Spreader

Soil preparationAnd thereafter via compost

SOIL SPRAYApply to soil in rows between vines 

Combined Soil Spray-containingHorn Manure Manure Concentrate –Winter Horn  Clay508 – fermented8 x potency

245g

1 hour flowforms or stirring machine

Soil spray droplets35 ltr per ha

Moon descending or Moon opposition SaturnAfternoon

Next amATMOSPHERIC SPRAY

Horn Silica 501Summer Horn Clay508 – fresh8 x potency

2g10g1 vial per tank

1 hourFlowforms or stirring machine

Air sprayMist

SunriseDay after soil spray

Atmospheric Sprays

Horn Silica 501Summer Horn Clay508 – fresh8 x potency

2g10g1 vial per tank

1 hourflowforms

Air sprayMist

Moon opposition Saturn each month.Sunrise or sunset

Apply monthly During growth period – Spring to Harvest.

Fish or seaweedConcentrate

2 –4 ltrs/ha

20 minutes flowforms

Foliar spraya.m. or afternoon

Monthly 2-4 days up to full moon

Prior to harvest extra to lift Baume or Brix.

Horn Silica 501508 – fresh 8x(if damp)

2g1 vial per stir

1 hourflowforms

Sunrise Only need to do boundaries of each block

Ascending Moon

Post harvest Spray to assist leaves to take nutrients to soil for winter

Horn Silica 501

2g

1 hour flowforms

Sunrise

Descending moon

Compost: apply 2 x per year – spring and autumn. See Resource Manual for instructions

Make up using the Biodynamic Compost Preparations 502-508

1-2 shovelfuls per vine or 4-5 tonnes per Ha.

Spread in inter-rows in autumn or under vines and then mulch in spring.

Biodynamic Pasting

Biodynamic Paste

20kg pailEnough for 100 vines

Mix till sloppyAnd either paint on or spray thinner solution

Cover trunk and over pruning cuts

At pruning (descending moon) or over winter

Irrigation

Biodynamic soils retain water in the humus which is created using biodynamic practises. The biodynamic plants also develop extensive rooting systems which can access deeper water sources. Biodynamic viticulturists have found that they use 50-75% less water than neighbours with the added bonus of a better tasting crop! Dryland viticulture works for many biodynamic viticulturists, depending on location and personal choice.

Fungal Disease – prevention

Fungal disease happens when a number of climatic and plant health stresses coincide. Plant health is improved immeasurably by using the biodynamic preparations and sprays. Through keeping the sugar saps up and the sap pH at 6.4 the plant does not attract insects. Bruce Tainio, microbiologist and agricultural consultant in Washington, USA, has found that if the sap pH is higher than 6.4 the plant is susceptible to insect attack. A low, more acidic sap pH, will also see disease ensue. Fungal diseases occur also when the moisture and warmth levels are up. Biodynamic viticulturists watch the weather and also use the Antipodean Astro Calendar to alert them to potential climatic problems ahead. For instance, when there is a Full Moon and Moon Perigee,[4] (which is when the Moon is closest to the earth) they know and can prepare for increased risk of fungal activity. Under these circumstances the Earth is over-endowed with watery forces, and by regularly using the compost preparations and the horn silica sprays and equisetum (BD508) or Casuarina spray (which balances watery forces) it is possible to strengthen the plant against this possibility of fungal disease. The horn silica also keeps the sugar sap levels up in times of stress, so the plant is strong enough to withstand the adverse conditions.

Milk or whey is used to protect against Powdery Mildew with great success. Trials by Peter Crisp,[5]et al, found that in comparison with other organic type sprays, the Lactoferrin in whey and milk causes the hyphae of the Unicinula necator to collapse within 24 hours. This is a potential replacement for sulphur sprays in the vineyard.

Use of the biodynamic manure concentrate, seaweed or fish concentrate sprays can also keep the beneficial fungi and bacteria up to high levels on the vine leaves, preventing infestation of non-beneficial, pathogenic fungi and bacteria. (These sprays are similar to the compost teas that Dr Elaine Ingham has found to be of great benefit for disease control.)

Mildew and Fungal Infestation prevention prior to prolonged wet weather

This article was written during the prolonged wet weather during 2010 – 2011

Ideally the whole Biodynamic treatments have been applied to the vineyard earlier in the season, such as:

  • composting of vines in autumn
  • tree pasting of the vine trunks after pruning
  • application of the Soil Sprays – Horn Manure 500, Manure Concentrate, Winter Horn Clay and fermented 508 late spring, mid winter and monthly since August
  • application of the Atmospheric Sprays -Horn Silica 501, Equisetum 508 (fresh) or fresh Casuarina tea and Summer Horn Clay, prior to leaf shoot
  • Seaweed Tea applications every 2nd week with added fresh Casuarina Tea as the weather was wet and humid

So now, as the weather increasingly tends towards fungal conditions – wet and warm, plus the forecast of unstable weather and thunderstorms and heavy rain and wind for December up till Christmas, we need to work even more strongly with support and prevention activity in the vineyard. January right up to harvest does not look any better in the weather projections, so to survive we need to really keep on top of the sprays to the vineyard.

Suggested Program

Before 2nd week of December apply one more Soil Spray – Combined Soil Preparation (Contains 500, Manure Concentrate, Winter Horn Clay and Ferm 508) preferably after a few dry days.Apply in afternoon, at the rate of 40-50 litres per ha or as you are able depending on your area and spray system, droplets to the soil.

Next am, early, spray a fine mist over the vines of the Atmospheric spray, 501, Summer Horn Clay and Fresh 508 or fresh Casuarina Tea.

Weekly apply Biodynamic Seaweed and Casuarina Tea as a foliar spray – about 100 litres per ha a light spray to cover the leaves. The aim is to keep the beneficial fungi and bacteria on the leaves at 90% coverage. This will prevent pathogenic fungi getting a foothold. The Seaweed will act as a tonic to keep the vines healthy and support against stress as well as adding the Biodynamic Preparations to support and attract beneficial fungi and bacteria.

If you wish to use sulphur, (which will burn off all fungi and bacteria) you will need to be back early next am to once again apply the Seaweed and Casuarina to rebuild the beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Apply the Atmospheric spray, Horn Silica 501, Summer Horn Clay and Equisetum 508 (fresh) 2 weekly to above the canopy early am or late afternoon. Even if it is lightly raining.

I am not worrying about Moon opp Saturn etc- the weather is the major issue this season – just get everything out as you are able. The Horn Silica (501) will strengthen the cellular tissue and keep the leaves and skin of the grapes strong and healthy and able to resist the wet and rot that normally accompanies this weather.

Amounts to use:

  • Seaweed tea at the rate of 1 litre per ha
  • Casuarina Tea (508) fresh at the rate of 1 litre per ha
  • 508 Fresh – 1 vial of 5 mls does 25ha. (available from BAA)
  • Soil Spray – Combined Soil Preparation 245 gm per ha in whatever amount of water to cover are in droplets to soil
  • Atmospheric Spray – 501 1-2 gm per ha, 508 as above, Summer Horn Clay 10gm per ha

Recipe for fresh Equisetum Tea: (or Casuarina Tea)

In 10 litre stainless steel saucepan put in 100 gm dried Equisetum, (available from BAA), or half fill with fresh Casuarina needles. Bring to boil and simmer 20 mins. Leave overnight to cool. Use at the rate of one litre per ha in 100 litres water for a preventative spray.

For acute fungal infestation use at the rate of up to 10 litres per ha of the concentrate, diluted in 100 litres of water.

Composting

Compost is best made on farm and applied annually. Biodynamic viticulturists recycle grape mark and their prunings through their composts. Having your own cow or cattle grazing for their influence and manure is the ideal situation. James Millton, Gold medal biodynamic viticulturist from Gisborne, NZ, stated that he had put off having cows and making compost for years. He now admits that once he finally did it, he was amazed by the improvement in the whole farm integrity. Recycling the farm waste back via compost facilitates developing the right microorganisms for your particular vineyard, growing and improving the strength and health of soil and plant. Just as we know certain plants need the specific symbiotic micorrhiza around their roots so they can grow, so the biodynamic vineyard is able to develop the specific symbiotic microlife in the soil. The use of the prunings and woody matter in the compost help fungal development under the vines aiding this soil and plant health.

Compost would be made after harvest and pruning and used the following year. It will not need turning during its maturation. The use of the biodynamic compost preparations 502-507 will help the regulate the cycling of elements within the soil as well as feeding the soil food web. Compost on a vineyard would go out at the rate of 2-5 cubic metres/ha.

Biodynamic compost is a means of incorporating additives, such as basalt dust and seaweed. Only small quantities of additives (about 5% of normal recommended applications) are needed when they are included in the compost, where they are broken down and chelated by the bacterial and fungal organisms in the heap. This makes them readily available in the soil when applied, thus reducing costs and increasing efficacy.

Biodynamic Paste

Biodynamic Paste provides nutrients, discourages growths and damaging insects, promotes healing and reduces transplant shock.

Though our formula is a secret, we will say that it’s a complex formula that includes kaolin clay, biodynamic cow manure, biodynamic manure concentrate which include the compost preparations, diatomaceous earth, fine basalt dust, horn manure 500, fermented equisetum, stinging nettle tea and biodynamic seaweed concentrate.

Always use it as a wound dressing after pruning. Use it when you plant out or move a plant. Use it for any damaged sections and it is ideal as a root dip for bare rooted plants. It should be used on vines annually and we have included here an article written by one of our members on it’s use in Dying Arm disease.

Dying Arm Disease

Established in 1982 by Nelly and Alan Cooper, Cobaw Ridge Winery, in the Macedon Ranges of Victoria is a family vineyard producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah & Lagrein. The Coopers were the first Australian commercial producers of Lagrein, a rare Northern Italian variety.

The Coopers wanted a healthy workplace and long term sustainability and so converted to organic and then biodynamic, and have recently become the 5th Australian producer accepted into the elite Biodynamic group Return to Terroir, joining Ngeringa, Castagna, Jasper Hill and Cullen Wines)

“There’s no doubt that the vines do look better using the biodynamic preparations,” says Alan Cooper. “They have thicker leaves, thicker skins on the grapes, better tannins and therefore better wines.

“We have been using the Biodynamic Paste for two winters as a direct post pruning application onto the fresh cuts and around the crown of the vines. The paste is simply mixed into a thin slurry and hand applied with a brush.

“Given that most of our vines are now 25+ years old, we have been seeing more and more Eutypa Lata, (Dying Arm Disease), occurring in the vines. Coating the fresh cuts with the protective paste aides the healing process and blocks the entry of the fungus that causes the Eutypa in the first place. It is also a very economical alternative to some of the commercial treatments for Eutypa.

“The end point of Eutypa is vine death so anything we can do to help build the strength of the vines should assist them to fight the infection and the paste has most of the preparations mixed in, so it nourishes as well as heals.

Cobaw Ridge Winery has a Cellar door opening Thursday to Monday and mail orders can be made at www.cobawridge.com.au

Harvesting time

Regular use of the horn silica 501 throughout the whole year can lead to improved flavour and plant health. Brix /Baume levels will be raised by the use of the horn silica 501. It lifts the sugar sap levels, often overnight, so that instead of having to wait weeks for a lift at such a precarious time, a quick move to harvest can ensue. The horn silica 501 increases the dry matter content of the fruit as well as strengthening the skins. It also creates the all important flavour, which is what wine making is all about.

Vern Tebbutt, of Piallago Vineyards, Margaret River, WA, notes that the woodiness of the peduncles of the Cabernet Sauvignon were as thick as a pencil – a hallmark of well ripened fruit. At Pialligo they have been experimenting with biodynamics on 5 Hectares of vines. It was the only part of their 50 Ha vineyard that survived the harvest rains in 2003 that ruined the rest of their crop (as well as most of the district’s). Their Baume lifted from 12.3 to 13.2 (equivalent to 24% Brix) in 3 days after the application of horn silica preparation 501. They are so pleased with their biodynamic crop that they are now working with the rest of the vineyard using biodynamic management.

[1] See Green Harvest 07 5494 4676 www.greenharvest.com.au

[2 & 3] Bruce Tainio :Interview with Graeme Sait, Nutrition Rules G.Sait Soil Therapy Pty.Ltd

[4] See Biodynamic Astro Calendar

[5] Crisp.P.(1) Scott.E.A. (1) Wicks, T.B. (2) Univ.Adelaide, Sustainable control of grapevine powdery mildew, Unicinula necator.

(1) School of Agriculture and Wine, Glen Osmond SA.
(2) SA Research and Development Institute, South Australia.

Further Information

The Not-So-Quiet Revolution: Biodynamics

The use of specifically developed preparations that assist in connecting the whole farm unit with the dynamic rhythms of the earth and atmosphere … working with the living soil and the invisible energies of nature.

Applying the biodynamic preparations on a vineyard

A You Tube by BAA member Sam Statham of Rosnay Organic Wines of Australia, Canowindra, NSW. Sam won the Department of Primary Industries 2012 NSW Organic Pioneer Award.

More Vineyards

  • Blind Corner – Blind Corner is a small, family owned vineyard in Wilyabrup, Margaret River. The dry-grown vineyard is managed using natural techniques and we hand-make each wine with minimal additions to better express our site and each season.
  • Gemtree Vineyards – owned and run by third generation grapegrowers, the Buttery Family. The family is dedicated to producing iconic wines of the highest quality from their McLaren Vale vineyards which since 2008 have been farmed biodynamically and are fully certified organic.
  • Hotham Ridge Winery. Organic/Biodynamic principles have been used since 2005. 1.5 hours south of Perth. Cheetaning Park. Organic/Biodynamic principals are used to produce Verjuice, vino cotto and vinegars.
  • Kalleske Wines – Award winning biodynamic wines from the Barossa Valley.
  • Red, White and Green Biodynamics in Australian vineyards
  • Woodhaven Vineyard – has been a member of Biodynamic Agriculture Australia since 2005 and regularly applies a range of our biodynamic preparations. Woodhaven was one of the first, if not the first, vineyard in theMornington Peninsula wine region to adopt the biodynamic principles and established their vineyard along biodynamic lines from day one, rather than establishing the vineyard first and transitioning to biodynamics later.