Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gardeners and Growers!

Prelude for the upcoming activities of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of Ireland (see events list below)

Have you ever hear of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer? As an organic farmer or gardener you might have read one of his books: Grow a Garden & Be Self Sufficient—still the best introduction to organic-biodynamic horticulture. (copies available from the Office of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, Watergarden Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, €12.50)

Here’s an extract from an article on Pfeiffer by A.W. Martinez, Collier’s, May 31, 1952. (for the full article see

The City With Golden Garbage?

Trained bacteria, turned loose on the refuse of Oakland, Cal., produce a rich, sweet-smelling fertilizer that’s guaranteed to perform near miracles for farm land. It’s like backyard compost, and it could save the nation billions of dollars.Dr. Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer, German-born biochemistOne morning in October, 1950, two strangers walked into the office of Tony Dalcino, president of the Oakland Scavenger Company, with a proposition that turned Dalcino’s casual smile into a look of utter disbelief.

His callers wanted to know whether the company would let them have part of the daily haul of garbage from the city of Oakland, California. They hoped, they said, to put the garbage on an assembly line and sell it!

The two visitors were Richard Stovroff, a young owner of a wastepaper business in Buffalo, New York. The other was Dr. Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer, German-born biochemist, holder of an honorary U.S. medical degree, and lifelong experimenter with new ways to grow better food.
Pfeiffer, a tall, robust, pink-cheeked man with an infectious twinkle, explained. In the course of his researches he had discovered a new ‘race” of bacteria which converts garbage into a sweet-smelling black earth fertilizer which could perform virtual miracles for the land. A tablespoon of the bacteria, grown in test tubes, could turn a ton of garbage into rich humus in three weeks.

Pfeiffer told Dalcino: “It costs the American taxpayers a few billion dollars a year when we throw away as garbage the precious minerals and organic material we take out of the soil in the form of food. At the same time it costs farmers nearly $7,000,000,000 a year to put some of these minerals back in the ground in the form of chemical fertilizers. That doesn’t make sense.” He had, he added, decided to do something about it ever since his arrival in the U.S. in 1940 as a refugee from war-ravaged Europe.

In control tests at Pfeiffer’s Biochemical Research Laboratory at Spring Valley, New York, vegetables grown in this converted garbage weighed 25 per cent more than those grown with conventional fertilizers, with from one to three times more vitamin A. The garbage-compost treated soil showed from one to four times as much life-giving nitrogen, and grain showed a consistently higher protein content. Laboratory experiments proved that the mixture could restore even sterile sandy soil to vigorous fertility and make rich farm land out of desert if adequate water was available. The converted garbage restored organic matter, mineral balance and structure, giving soil body, and permitting it to absorb and hold water. The organic matter released a powerful concentration of bacteria whose digestive activities and decay created plant foods, soil-binding humus and released nitrogen.

Alas, the city of Oakland did not take Pfeiffer up on his offer. Now, half a century on, have we moved on, or found anything better?

We invite everyone interested in learning more about Pfeiffer’s biodynamic approach to composting farmyard manure and barrel composting to participate under the Skillnet programme at the following venues and events:

11 AM – 4 PM on each of the following dates:
May 9, June 6, and July 4, plus a date in September to be confirmed
at Camphill Jerpoint, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny
May 16, June 13, and July 11 plus a date in September to be confirmedat John McDonnell’s farm, Shalvanstown Organics,Slane, Co Meath

We will also assess the state of the compost via microscopy in order to establish the soil-food-web and create “Barrel Compost” the backyard gardeners gold ! Please bring appropriate clothing, overalls, boots, (a dungfork if you can)

Registration prior to the events essential at the BdAAI office

We look forward to seeing you all, as we will hardly have another 50 years to move to a sustainable agriculture!

Michael Miklis, Biodynamic Agricultural Association in Ireland, Watergarden, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, Tel. / Fax. 056-7754214, email: Website

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