Biodynamic Tree Paste©
By Hugh Lovel
In the US back in the 50s and 60s most highways were 2 lane rural affairs, and on our family’s summer vacations it was common to see orchards where one or another sort of lime wash was painted on the tree trunks up at least to the first limbs. I asked mom and dad about it, and they said it was to thicken the bark and support the trees.
When I started farming one of the first problems I encountered was beetle larvae boring beneath the bark at the base of my young apple trees. When I met Peter Escher, who became my farming mentor, my first question was what was killing my trees? Peter, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s partner in setting up Threefold Farm and the Pfeiffer Laboratories, was the biodynamic apple guru who introduced biodynamic tree paste.
Peter said he didn’t know, let’s go see the trees. Right away he discovered the beetles, but the beetle larvae were not the cause, he said. The cause was too much raw manure, which weakened the trees and set up unhealthy conditions. Then he pointed out signs of fire blight, an apple disease that plugs up the tree’s circulatory system and kills branches, limbs and sometimes whole trees. Though the apple industry generally doesn’t recognize nitrate as the cause, Peter was firm in this opinion. Sadly, he reckoned if a tree had trouble early on it was best to start over with a new tree, and I needed to get the soil right before planting new trees. He didn’t even mention tree paste. I wasn’t ready. That came later.
Biodynamic Tree Paste
Getting the soil right wasn’t something that happened quickly. Peter sent me a pamphlet by H. H. Koepf entitled “Nitrate: An Ailing Organism Calls For Healing”. He also referred me to Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course. In Steiner’s view we should consider the trunk of the tree as though it was ‘mounded up soil’, though soil ‘in a more living condition than the soil in which our herbaceous plants and grains are growing’. The [tree] plants are ‘rooted in the twigs and branches of the tree just as other plants are rooted in the earth’. (pp 139-140 Agriculture, R. Steiner, Creeger/Gardner translation.) Though it was a struggle in my first few years of farming, I gradually began to understand that giving a lime wash to the trunks of fruit trees was somewhat akin to making a lime application to the soil. Elsewhere in his Agriculture Course (p 68) Steiner talks about the desirable effect quicklime has with stabilizing nitrogen in the soil and in the composting process.
After Peter’s death in 1984 Harvey Lisle took his place in mentoring me, and it was with Harvey in his apple orchard in Norwalk, Ohio that I had my first encounter with biodynamic tree paste. Though nearly eighty at the time, Harvey was always learning, experimenting and thinking outside the customary boundaries. My previous background had prepared me for understanding Harvey’s approach to tree paste, which was at all times fresh and creative.
We took some of Harvey’s soil, a clay-rich mud, and stirred it vigorously, first in one direction and then in the reverse direction, back and forth for a few minutes in a bucket of horsetail extract we had made from boiling a heaping double handful of dried meadow horsetail herb. Then we poured it through a sieve and after that through a fine filter. This was our base, to which we added some horn manure, some barrel compost (aka cow pat pit compound or CPP) and some horn silica. From Harvey’s viewpoint we needed to impart ALL of the forces of the biodynamic preparations to the tree. We also added a small quantity of fresh cow manure and equal amounts of builder’s lime (aka slaked lime or quicklime) for calcium and basalt powder for silica. This was because Harvey reasoned we wanted to bolster the bark of his particular trees in these materials as well.
Harvey was deeply into dowsing as a means of accessing the intuition, so we dowsed for the quantities of each of the materials we added. Perhaps in different circumstances the mix would be somewhat different. Lastly we added a small quantity of raw linseed oil as a binder to help the soupy mixture stick to the tree bark. Then we ‘potentized’ the entire lot for 15 minutes in the typical biodynamic fashion of creating a vortex in one direction and then reversing it and creating a counter vortex, and alternating back and forth to get a thorough penetration of the forces into the water. We applied the finished mixture using a wall paper brush, slathering this ‘tree paste’ on his tree trunks.
BD Tree Spray
Perhaps calling it ‘tree paste’ was a bit misleading because the word ‘paste’ tends to imply a stiff mixture, and in terms of practical application Peter Escher’s tree paste was more easily applied when it was the consistency of latex paint. The idea is one of building, strengthening and enriching the bark and trunk of the tree, which can be thought of as the ‘soil’ out of which the tree’s vegetative growth springs. Biodynamic tree paste or spray is a logical extension of the lime wash old time fruit growers might have used.
In applying it Harvey and I used thick brushes to soak it into all the cracks and crevasses of the bark on up into the lower limbs. As we did this we cleaned away all vegetation around the base and removed any lichens we found growing on the bark, leaving the tree with what amounted to a fresh coat of ‘fertiliser’, energetic, organic and mineral, on all its lower portions.
Although Harvey only had a small orchard, with large-scale modern operations the tree paste could be screened through a paint filter and sprayed on with a paint gun as part of annual pruning. These days I would be inclined to use a bit of fulvic acid and a small amount of concentrated sea minerals, which is the pot liquor left over after evaporation of sea water for table salt. If I had any homeopathic preparations made from ashing pest specimens I would also add these.
The recipe should vary from place to place with the needs of the soil, landscape and circumstances as well as the type of orchard or vineyard being treated. If I knew I had a specific mineral deficiency, such as manganese or molybdenum, I might add a highly dilute dose of these as well. If I had access to a super clay, such as Azomite, micro-min or zeolite, I would probably use it as well; and I’d probably check my reasoning regarding amounts against my intuition by dowsing. Though the mix should vary to suit the circumstance, a basic recipe might go like this:
A General Recipe
- First obtain a quantity of fine clay extracted from healthy, clean-smelling soil. This can be produced by dissolving, stirring and filtering soil (as described above), letting the clay settle out over a couple weeks’ time and pouring the water off as with refining potter’s clay.
- Add enough of this to 16 litres of horsetail or casuarina decoction—a lightly simmered extract sometimes referred to as BD 508—in a 20 litre bucket to arrive at the consistency of paint. This should be sufficient to paint the trunks of anywhere from an acre to a hectare’s worth (2.5 acres) of trees (or vines). Of course, much depends on the method of application, how big the trees are and how thoroughly the trees or vines are covered. Experience is the ultimate guide.
- For every acre’s worth of mixture (20 litres give or take some) add enough horn manure, horn silica and CPP (barrel compost) to cover that amount of area. Horn clay, if available, should also be included, and any insect or pest peppers may also be added at rates appropriate for the acreage.
- Add 500 mls liquid fulvic concentrate and 300 mls liquid sea minerals.
- Add dry minerals as indicated by soil testing. This may include lime, siliceous rock powder, gypsum, rock phosphate and small amounts of trace mineral salts. For example this could be 0.5 to 1 kg of quicklime, 1 to 2 kg micronized basalt or 1 kg diatomaceous earth, 0.5 kg of gypsum (for sulphur) 0.2 to 0.5 kg rock phosphate. Any trace minerals such as manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, etc. should be limited to 10 grams or less.
- Up to a litre of raw linseed oil or other emulsifying oil can be added so the coating sticks to the bark and doesn’t wash off with heavy rains.
- Thoroughly mix or potentize before application.
BD Tree Paste reclaims a neglected apple tree Peter Proctor workshop in apple orchard in India
Autumn biodynamic workshop in what was an abandoned apple orchard in Uttaranchal, reclaimed
using biodynamic management and the use of Biodynamic Tree Paste.