The Biodynamic® farming method is a holistic system in which all the elements of the farm are important – air, water, soil, rocks, daytime, nighttime, animals. In essence, the growing of plants is a transfer of energy from those sources to a single point – the plant. When energy from those sources rearranges itself, a dry, hard, lifeless seed springs green. Biodynamic® farming uses methods to enhance the energetic plane in the farm, or in other words support the transfer of energy between forms. As these dynamic forces are strengthened, the dynamic and life-giving properties of the plant and earth are strengthened. So what does that mean about our farming techniques, or how do we do it? First, Cowhorn is a perennial polyculture, which means we grow and harvest more than a single crop and that those crops live more than one season. Biodynamic® farming rests on several key principles, one being that biodiversity is good for all creatures, great and small.
Another principle of Biodynamic® farming is that the intellect of humankind is to be used! We must be respectful and thoughtful of all the realms that exist in our lives and spaces. For us, we have put that principle into action by intending to blend technology and art in the best way that we can to support the energetic principles mentioned above. In the vineyard, our spacing and trellising system is based on a mathematical equation of plant heights and length, and a ratio of leaves to clusters. Our equipment is specialized for our spacing and soil characteristics, to mechanize weed control while at the same time optimizing oxygen and organic matter in the soil. The garden crops were planned and planted with the vineyard equipment in mind. The crops are all tended to with concern for floor and canopy management so that the growing environment for the plants is optimized. In a nutshell, if the soil and plant are healthy, the fruit will be too!
Now let’s talk about the art. In the spring, we begin managing the vineyard canopy. Each grape plant is tended by hand. We have rules for pruning to be sure, but each plant is looked at individually. Each is nurtured and shaped according to its own unique needs, whether it is extra water, compost or ties. Each plant is a picture to be created in its own right.
A third principle of Biodynamic® farming is the application of specialized preparations that act as “fertilizers.” Generally referred to as “preps,” we adhere to the standards developed by the Demeter Association and are experimenting with tailoring our application programs as we gain more knowledge about our farm. Through our practices of Biodynamic® farming, we believe that we enhance the vitality or the life force of this property and all the creatures on it. If you ask any one of our fabulous crew (and we have the best crew there is!) they will tell you that every day they see something unfolding, returning to health, or becoming more beautiful. That is why we practice Biodynamic farming.
Our practices in the gardens are focused on the goal of improving the vitality of our soils. We believe that soil health directly contributes to strong, healthy crops. Presently, we are growing asparagus, cherries, a variety of heirloom fruit trees, artichokes, hazelnuts inoculated with Périgord black truffle and a kitchen garden.
Our products are sold to local grocers and to restaurants. The backbone of our farming program is our tillage program. In the asparagus and artichokes, our tillage program gently aerates the soil, removes unwanted weeds, and helps break down cover crops which provide nutrients to the crops. In the orchards, we practice a no-till program. Through the use of cover crops, mowing and mulching, we allow the web of underground life to evolve undisturbed by tractors and implements.
On a holistic level, our soil vitality is enhanced by application of Biodynamic® compost, compost teas, Biodynamic® preparations, and by habitat diversity. Our compost program, which is based on organic cow manure and our own green waste, provides organic matter and nutrients to the soil and crops. Compost teas and vermiculture are used to control pests and to encourage complexity of the microbiological activity in the fields.
The Biodynamic® sprays 500 and 501 are applied at timely intervals to boost either root growth (i.e., 500) or leaf growth (i.e., 501). Habitat diversity provides a more subtle effect. We like to think of it as an immune system enhancer. When the crops are exposed to the complex web of life that the Earth has to offer, they themselves become more complex, perhaps more dynamic and thus more vital.
What is Demeter?
Demeter® USA is the non-profit American chapter of Demeter International, the world’s only certifier of Biodynamic® farms and products. Biodynamic agriculture goes beyond organic, envisioning the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. In an effort to keep the farm, the farmer, the consumer, and the earth healthy, farmers avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers, utilize compost and cover crops, and set aside a minimum of 10% of their total acreage for biodiversity. The entire farm, versus a particular crop, must be certified, and farms are inspected annually. In order for a product to bear the Demeter logo it must be made with certified Biodynamic® ingredients and meet strict processing standards to ensure the purest possible product.
Habitats & Ecosystems
Cowhorn is a Demeter-certified Biodynamic® farm. Part of the certification process is to honor the environment of the farm by allowing natural functions to remain.
At Cowhorn, our current thinking is to leave some areas untouched and to “landscape” other areas. For example, we are tending our ditch bank to allow the native grasses and flowers to grow. Our “landscaping” includes removing the invasive blackberries, so that the natives can re-establish themselves.
In other areas, our landscaping is more structured. For example, by Blocks 6 and D we are building a rock wall and will plant a maple tree so that we will have shade in the years to come. Yet a third approach to honoring the natural environment involves creating corridors for bugs and small animals to use as highways through the farm.
A tour of Cowhorn would show habitat breaks throughout the farm that serve this function. For our aviary friends, we built a series of perches to allow them to travel from the mountainside to the river without harm. Our experiences so far have shown us that by working with these spaces respectfully, vitality and surprises result!
As in the gardens, our practices in the vineyard are focused on the goal of improving the vitality of our soils. Check out the information in the “Gardens” section to read about our practices concerning the soil, fertilizers and pest control. In the vineyard, though, we add two additional elements.
The first is a sophisticated tillage program. Always focusing on maintaining soil health, we gently perform a cycle of weed control, aeration, nutrient cycling and cover cropping to provide healthy growing conditions for the vines. The main distinction between the vineyard blocks and the garden blocks is that the vineyard blocks are where the Applegate River used to run thousands of years ago. Being old riverbed, the soils are exceedingly well-drained and excruciatingly rocky (just ask our ankles!) Our tillage program is so sophis-ticated it does all the stuff listed above, and it works in rocks so thick you can’t even see down to the soil!
The second addition is our canopy management. During the spring and summer months, we manage the vineyard canopy by hand. Working by hand allows us to create individual spaces which optimize the conditions for fruit ripening on each plant. By the end of the season, these individual spaces combined with a healthy vineyard floor create for us a harvest of fruit that is uniform in ripeness, delectable, vibrant and lush.
Respectfully, we acknowledge that our intention is simply to provide a favorable environment in which all the elements of the farm can live dynamically and with vitality. In return, we have been rewarded with beautiful, beautiful fruit!
Like our farm, our winery is Demeter-certified Biodynamic®. That means we are always attempting to make the finest wines possible with the least amount of intervention, in the form of manipulations, chemicals, additives or ingredients. Our goal is to allow the grapes to develop into wine as purely as possible. Though we agree with this in principle for the Earth (consuming less chemicals and products), we also think that a pure process allows the essential flavors of the vineyard to be expressed most clearly. We work in the vineyard to create perfect conditions so that the fruit we produce is as pleasurable as possible. We want our process in the winery to protect the flavors that have already developed. We believe this is how truly wonderful wine results!
In the winery, our practices are focused on prevention, cleanliness and gentle guidance. Specifically, we believe that grapes know how to become wine – they’ve been doing it for thousands of years! However, if left to themselves they might not become great wine. Therefore, we turn to the intention of blending cleanliness and technology with a gentle hand. To begin, our wines develop using only the native yeasts that came in from the fields. Using native yeasts guarantees that our wine is a unique expression of our farm and fruit. The complexity and vitality that we encourage in the fields comes into the winery in the form of grapes and yeasts.
Because native yeasts are gentler than manufactured yeasts, we keep our winery very clean in order to encourage the good bugs and discourage the bad bugs, so to speak. During the fermentation process, we use our lab to monitor the progress of the wines. If we watch and monitor them, we hope to stay in front of the wines, thus protecting them from conditions that can cause them to lessen in quality. To that aim, each room in our winery is individually temperature controlled and each tank is individually controlled allowing us to provide the specific conditions that the juice needs during fermentation and storage. When ready, we bottle on site using our own state-of-the-art bottling line. By controlling all of the functions from the growing of the grapes through the bottling of the wine we allow each wine to achieve its own unique perfection!
Cowhorn is a Demeter-certified Biodynamic® grower and processor. That means we adhere to the standards of growing and processing as put forth by Demeter Association and Demeter International. For more on what these standards mean, you can check out the Demeter Association or the Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association websites.
Cowhorn’s farm and winery have been both Demeter certified biodynamic and Stellar certified organic since 2006. We believe that certification is essential for two reasons. First, having the certification on our product labels assures the consumer that the products they are eating, drinking, wearing (plant based products include cosmetics and personal care products) have been grown and processed in accordance with a set of standards that can be verified by an independent third party. It’s not just marketing. In other words, it isn’t Biodynamic® because we say it is; it is because Demeter says it is.
The second reason we certify is that the Biodynamic® movement is really cool! All over the world, people are acknowledging that our precious Earth needs support, that she has been extracted from, paved and polluted for too long. Being part of this fantastic movement, and working with and learning from people with values that we share makes us work harder and feel more proud of our farm!