In this third article in our series of articles about the use of ferments and peppering in the biodynamic system of farming, I am going to share the essential information of how we make and use ferments to help to keep problem weeds in check at Avondale.
It is important to remember that ferments and peppers are not quick-fixes that are used in the same way as a herbicide would be used. Our underlying aim is always to achieve, and then maintain healthy balance in our vineyard ecosystem. Therefore, we are not looking to eradicate any plant. If a weed does become a problem, we firstly want to understand why that is happening. Weeds are storytellers about the environment they are growing in. If they are starting to become an issue in any area of the farm, then we know something is out of balance in that place. A ferment is one of the ways that we can help to restore the balance, but this happens over time.
In our last article about Lucerne tea ferment we looked at a ferment that is used as a tonic and a food source for micro-life in the soil. In Biodynamic farming, ferments are also used to solve problems such as the presence of unwanted grasses or the invasiveness of a particular weed. In this case, you use the actual plant you want to bring back into balance.
An example of this may be the pioneering and aggressive grass, Cynodon Dactylon, commonly known as Kweek or Common Couch Grass. It has a deep root system and spreads strongly and fast by means of both roots, runners and seeds. To make a Kweek ferment, you need to use the reproductive parts, so that’s both the roots, runners and seeds.
How is it made?
We collect about 20 kilograms of the roots and seeds of the Kweek, which is then chopped up as finely as possible. We make use of 20 litre plastic drums, or you can use a bucket with a firm-fitting lid to make the tea. Once the chopped Kweek is in the drum, we fill it up with unpolluted water. This is important, because you don’t want chlorine in the tea as it will kill the bacteria and other micro life we need. The fermentation process needs to be anaerobic, so we fill the drum right up and then use a barrel breather with an air lock that will let off the gas without letting oxygen in. Depending on the ambient temperature, the fermentation can take from six to eight weeks. Be warned, this is a smelly brew, so you don’t want to be making it too near your home! During the fermentation a culture of micro-life is created that is living on the Kweek and effectively creating an inoculant.
Once the fermentation is complete, we sieve the brew which can be stored as it remains effective for six months to a year.
How is it used?
The Kweek or any other problem weed tea is diluted, again with unpolluted water, at a ratio of 1:10 parts. Because we want to apply it specifically to the areas where Kweek may be presenting a problem we don’t use a broad spray method to apply it in the vineyards. Instead, we will hand-spray the tea, drenching the specific patches of Kweek that we want to bring into balance. This is done in the late afternoon or early evening, and preferably on the Root days of the Biodynamic calendar.
Once again, a problem weed ferment, such as this Kweek tea is not a magic bullet offering a quick fix. To have the desired impact of reducing the pressure of the unwanted competitor, you will need to apply it probably on a monthly basis in growing season over – and it can take up to three to four years to get full control.
Read our introductory article about ferments and peppering
Read how to make Lucerne tea ferment as a general tonic and to boost your earthworm populations