It is early morning and I have driven 2 ½ hours north of Margaret River to a beauty of a farm. It is set back where the scarp rises from the coastal plain and is well situated in a spot with abundant water. Even now, in early autumn, the fields carry great vibrancy and diversity, with a density of luxuriant grasses. The cows look exceptionally healthy and energetic as well, and it is no wonder - this farm is alive. I pull up to the barn and join a group of longtime biodynamic farmers, who are hard at work making the “500”, the critically important biodynamic preparation.
We labor filling cow horns with gorgeously scented manure freshly produced from their lactating cows which we then orient in circular patterns in a specially sited pit. They have designed a machine that extrudes the manure in such a way that it is possible to fill the horn much like filling an ice cream cone. But you have to keep up with it, because if you don’t, a pile of you-know-what will accumulate quickly. After a while I get the hang of it - tip of the horn down, held securely with one hand when placing each filled horn in the wheelbarrow and so forth. We actually are able to get into the swing of it enough to be able to carry on a conversation while we work. I turn into a question machine – the opportunity to learn from experienced farmers comes rarely. So I question and they reflect and time passes quickly. I learn tons – not just about how to make 500, but also insights about its application and effects.
We fill wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, which then are ferried over to the pit. We establish a layer by placing the horns in tight circles, based on their proper orientation, one next to the other in an area approximately one meter by five. Each successive layer is covered with a thin topping of deliciously rich loam, which is wet down slightly with water. The next layer of horn is then arranged on that and the process is repeated. When a meter and a half pile of layers is completed, we move out and start another one, adjacent to the previous column. Finally everything is covered with tin sheeting for sun protection, secured by the weight of old tires.
The preparation will remain in the ground until early spring, at which point it will be sent out to many of the biodynamic farms in Western Australia, including ours. This particular pit is capable of producing enough preparation for 100,000 acres, although this year there is only a need to cover 20,000. Since Cloudburst is small scale, we will hand stir a small amount before applying it to our land and vines. We’ve applied this preparation since we began and our soil is integrated and vibrant. The health of this farm and their magnificent cows is further testimony to the validity of this practice.
The day passes quickly and I shower off and head down the road to the winery in the dwindling light. We will be pressing the juice off the skins tonight and I don’t want to miss a thing!