Getting to grips with the ins and outs of biodynamic farming at Waterkloof with Farm Manager Christiaan Loots
The reason behind changing to biodynamic farming was to enhance the quality of our grapes, whilst farming in a more sustainable way. We were introduced to biodynamic farming by Waterkloof’s owner Paul Boutinot and, as all newcomers to biodynamics, we were skeptical at first. Due to the fact that biodynamic farming teaches farmers to look closer at the finer workings of nature via plant energies, astrological affects on plants (vines) , soil microbiology and methods of obtaining fertility using female cattle and homemade biodynamic preparations, it was clear that sustainability using biodynamic practices was actually realistic and achievable.
We have been farming biodynamically for at least 4 years now, and we can how the vines build on their immune systems each year. We use biodynamic compost to build up the humus in the soil, and we add worm casts and worm tea, along with the biodynamic Prep 500, to replenish beneficial microbes and fungies in the soil that will feed our vines. In doing so, the vines become self reliant and less stressed, with stronger shoots and thicker leaves. They also produced concentrated juice with better flavours, resulting from smaller berries with slightly thicker skins.
Our biodynamic vines have deeper root systems, as water penetrates the soil easier and – because the soil is alive with beneficial microbes and humus which help it retain moisture better – the vine can feed itself, instead of being force-fed expensive, artificial salt-based fertilizers which give rapid growth, but soft shoots and leaves that make the vines more accessible for pests.
What are some of the specific methods used at Waterkloof?
We plant, prune, sucker and harvest by the moon phases. We make and use all the biodynamic preparations (Prep 500 to 508). We produce tons of compost each year that contains all of the biodynamic compost preparations (Prep 503 to 508). We also use horses in the vineyards and will replace all tractor usage in the vineyards with horses by 2013.
Does biodynamic farming cost more or less than conventional methods?
Initially more for the first 3 years and then, as you replace infrastructure to accommodate horses to work the vineyards, it becomes more economical. Biodynamic farming will never be as cheap as conventional farming, but conventional farming comes at a higher price: compaction of soil, wines that doesn’t have character or a sense of place, soils with no nutritional value for the crops, crops that have to be fed artificial fertilizers in order to grow, massive pest populations that need to be treated with chemicals, herbicides that can be traced in the end product, workers that suffer respiratoral problems from exposure to agri chemicals and tractor fumes, water pollution, skin disease and a multitude of other problems. All these realities of conventional farming have been proven over and over again.