A Biodynamic Herb Garden
Highly effective skin care rooted in biodynamics.
An herb garden on the heavy clay soils of the Swabian Mountains? The farmers of Eckwälden, Germany were skeptical when Dr. Hauschka Skin Care manufacturer WALA Heilmittel began searching for a plot of land in the area for the project in the 1950s. However directly behind the construction site for the new company building, chemist and company founder Rudolf Hauschka purchased a boggy meadow at the foot of the mountain.
Since that day, our gardeners have been cultivating the land using biodynamic methods, working it for many years until it became easy to work. Today, the gardeners grow more than 150 different plants for the manufacture of Dr. Hauschka Skin Care and other WALA preparations on an area of more than 11 acres. Dragonflies, toads and fire salamanders have made their homes amid the water lily pond, stream, beehives, meadows and woods.
What is biodynamic agriculture?
This farming method, developed by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in 1924, regards the garden as a primarily closed system. In fact, biodynamic farming methods actually put more into the soil than is taken out. Most of the seeds, compost and potting compost are self-produced on the farm itself. The gardeners use various plant preparations which help the compost to decompose and strengthen the resistance of the plants to pests and disease.
Working by hand is essential when dealing with plants. When sowing and harvesting, our gardeners work with the rhythms of nature. Strong, healthy, vital plants are the result. The foundation for all our natural skin care products.
At the beginning of February, we start with the first greenhouse plantings. The selection of suitable potting soils is a prerequisite for successful plant rearing. As the most important organism on the farm, the potting soils are responsible for the growth and health of the plants. We therefore use the best composts of our own production. These have usually been turned twice a year by hand. They are also treated with the biodynamic compost preparations prepared in the WALA garden from the traditional homeopathic plants valerian, stinging nettle, oak, chamomile, dandelion and yarrow. The addition of these preparations enhances the vital forces and processes in both the soil and plants, as well as their resistance against disease and pests.
Seed baths also have a positive influence on the vitality and growth of the plants. They are prepared with biodynamic compost preparations with the addition of other herbs. Valerian, for example, stimulates the germination phase and the warming processes of the plants. An oak bark preparation and chamomile prevent fungal infestation while a horn manure preparation stimulates the growth of the roots. The seeds are placed in the seed bath for 10-15 minutes in cloth bags. After they have been dried, they are ready for sowing. The only exception is the fine seeds of light-dependent germinators such as marjoram, tobacco or wormwood. These are planted directly into the seed boxes, gently packed and then finely sprayed with the seed bath fluid.
Care of seedlings
When the seedlings have fully developed their first leaves, they are transplanted singly or in groups from the seed box into plant boxes or frames. Here they have the necessary leaf and root space to develop into strong, healthy young plants. After a further phase of development they are potted and, when the roots are well developed, later planted out.
The quality of the seeds is of utmost importance. We harvest most of our seeds from the WALA garden from early summer to autumn. It is crucial to find the optimum harvesting time to ensure the good germination of the seed the following year. After harvesting, the seeds are stored in a dry place to mature further. During the winter months, they are cleaned and kept in carefully labeled containers until they are used for the next planting.
Harvesting in the WALA Herb Garden
Harvesting of plants takes place throughout the year. In the winter and spring roots like valerian (Valeriana officinalis), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and lovage (Levisticum officinale) are harvested, as well as barks like birch (Betula pendula), oak (Quercus robur) and horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). However, the main harvesting season occurs during the summer months of June and July. At this time, almost every day begins with a harvest. Towards the end of the season in the autumn, the fruits are harvested, including hawthorn in September and quince at the beginning of October.
Composting in the WALA Herb Garden
The earth is the most important factor in the growth and the health of the plants. The regular addition of compost and biodynamic preparations increase the fertility of the soil and enhance the vital processes in the earth.
In order to produce good compost, a lot of preparatory work is necessary. In the WALA gardens, there are over forty composts. Most of them are mixed composts, meaning they contain plant residues from the garden, such as grass clippings, prunings etc. In addition, layers of cow mature from the nearby Demeter farm "Sonnenhof" in Bad Boll are added to the compost. When the compost heap has reached a certain height, it is covered with straw. In the following spring or autumn, the compost is turned for the first time.
Apart from these composts, leaf and wood chip composts are prepared with leaves collected in late autumn and wood chips added when trees and bushes are cut back.
Twice yearly, in spring and in autumn, composts are turned by hand with pitchforks to promote decomposition and maturing processes. This helps to mix and loosen all the layers in the heap. In fresh composts, there can be insufficient breakdown at the core because of too much moisture and a lack of oxygen or due to the compost being too tightly packed. Turning reactivates the decomposition process. The careful turning results in optimal mixing of the materials, revitalization of the compost heap and promotion of the compost fauna.
Turning also allows the gardener to experience the heaviness or lightness of the earth in the compost heap with his or her own body. He or she can observe how richly the compost is permeated with worms and other animal creatures, examining the compost’s color, feeling its moisture and taking in its odor.
After turning, the compost preparations are added. These contain yarrow, dandelion and chamomile flowers, oak bark, green shoots of stinging nettle and the juice of valerian flowers.
Use of the compost
As soon as the breakdown processes in the compost are completed, the compost can be applied to the garden beds. Depending on the quality of the soil and the use of the beds, (e.g. for plants with high or low nutrient demands, annuals or perennials), different amounts of compost are dug in with a spade, a cultivator (four-pronged implement) or a hoe. The tillage of the soil in autumn and the subsequent action of the frost in the winter have a very positive effect on the soil structure.
The wood chip composts are spread under trees and bushes in the autumn. A selected mixture of fine, crumbly leaf mold and rich, loose mixed composts with a fine sand content is used as potting soil in the greenhouse.
The regular addition of compost enhances the long-term fertility of the soil and promotes the vital processes and forces in nature while simultaneously making the earth receptive for cosmic influences from the sun, moon, stars and planets. This gives the plants increased resistance against pests and disease.
Drying plants from the WALA Herb Garden
Dried plants or plant parts are needed for production of the body oils and medicinal oils used in WALA’s homeopathic medicines.
The plants are dried by a condensation process during which warm, moisture-laden drying air is cooled below dew point. This leads to condensation of the plant’s moisture which can then be removed in liquid form. Some of the energy generated during this process is returned to the air current. The average room temperature during the process is 77-95°F. The condensation process allows us to dry the plants as quickly as possible. This is very important for a high product quality.