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  • Writer's pictureSimon Hawk

Fundamentals of Biodynamic Farming

According to the Biodynamic Association, “biodynamics is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition.”

Like organic farming, biodynamic farming utilizes natural fertilizers and soil enhancements like manure and minerals and eschews the use of chemical pesticides and other artificial additives.

Biodynamics takes the ethos of organic farming and takes it ten steps further. Dr. Rudolf Steiner is credited as the founder of the biodynamic movement, the principals of which are based on his work in the early 1920s. It embraces a holistic approach to agriculture and has been applied to gardens, farms, vineyards, orchards and ranches.

Creating harmony between all of the natural elements is paramount in biodynamic farming. Practically, this means planting or caretaking of compatible trees and plants, supporting beneficial wildlife and insects for pollination and natural pest control, keeping livestock for supplying manure, using crop rotation and composting to return nutrients to the earth.

Fundamental to biodynamics is the idea that a farm is a closed system. Ideally, material on the farm will feed the animals, whose manure in turn will feed the crops. Similarly, pest control is managed via predators, who live on the portion of the farm that is set aside for natural habitat. Furthermore, the farmer should have an intimate relationship with his or her farm and should tend it with intent. All of this leads to something biodynamicists call “farm individuality,” which sounds a bit weird until you think of it as the agricultural version of terroir.

Rudolph Steiner also believed in the importance of harnessing cosmic energies. This, he argued, could be achieved in several ways: farming with intent, timing practices in accordance with celestial calendars, and using animal “sheaths” for some of the preparations. Steiner felt that certain animals, especially the cow, boast a high degree of “astrality,” and that the use of their organs was essential for the transformation of the substrate (be it flower, manure, or crushed quartz) into something vital. This practice also harkens back to a time when it was common to use all parts of the animal. As Katherine Cole puts it in her exceptional book Voodoo Vintners, “Bones became flutes; horns and internal organs were the Ziploc bags and Tupperware containers of their day.”

The nine preparations, outlined below, are central to the physical practice of biodynamics. Three of them are intended as field sprays and six are added to compost. To produce the sprays, small quantities of material are added to water and then “dynamized.” This is achieved by swirling in one direction until a vortex forms, then swirling in the opposite direction until another vortex forms, and so on. As with the animal sheaths, this is thought to transmute the mixture and imbue it with a “living force.”

“The real focus of biodynamics is on building soil,” Elizabeth Candelario, President of Demeter USA explains—hence the amount of time and attention given to compost. Author Monty Waldin suggests that Steiner thought not just of the farm but also of compost as a living being, and the preps are meant to represent its organs: “yarrow as the lungs, breathing in cosmic influences, chamomile as the stomach, making sure the mix of elements within the pile and soil are digested and processed correctly, stinging nettle as the liver, its influence being to cleanse; oak bark as the brain, reining in excess; dandelion as the inner body or self of the pile, holding the other energies and influences within the pile together; and valerian as the blood, bringing warmth, stimulating life.”

While some of the above might resonate with anyone who’s sipped chamomile to soothe an upset stomach, the rest is harder for skeptics to wrap their arms around. Which circles back to biodynamics being virtually impossible to “prove.” If not a leap, at the least a broad stride of faith is required to fully embrace the practice.

BD Preps

500: Manure from a lactating cow placed inside a cowhorn and buried during winter. Made into tea and sprayed onto soil in late spring. Supposed to stimulate soil microbial life and encourage root growth.

501: Paste of silica (powdered quartz) and water placed inside a cowhorn and buried during summer. Made into tea and sprayed on leaves in spring at daybreak. Supposed to encourage photosynthesis and ripening.

502: Yarrow flowers stuffed into deer bladder, dried in the sun, and buried over winter. Added to compost. Supposed to aid in the absorption of nutrients from the soil.

503: Chamomile flowers stuffed into a cow intestine, dried in the sun, and buried over winter. Added to compost. Supposed to stabilize calcium and nitrogen. 

504: Stinging nettles buried for a year. Added to compost. Supposed to help breakdown of materials inside compost.

505: Oak bark stuffed inside the skull of a farm animal and stored somewhere moist for the winter. Added to compost. Supposed to raise pH of soil, ward off disease, and prevent excessive plant growth.

506: Dandelion flowers stuffed into the connective tissue of a cow’s stomach, dried in the sun, and buried over the winter. Added to compost. Supposed to aid uptake of silica and potassium.

507: Valerian flowers, pressed into a juice and sprayed onto compose. Supposed to heat compost and add phosphorous.

508: Horsetail plant boiled into a tea. Combined with Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate) and wettable sulfur and sprayed on vines or soil during the waxing moon. Supposed to fight fungal infections.

Farming By the Moon

Lunar calendars are not created equal. There are several noteworthy moon “cycles” defined by astronomy:

Synodic rhythm: The phases of the moon including full, new, waxing, and waning moons caused by the relative positions of the earth, moon, and sun. This is the basis for the lunar calendar, and one full cycle takes 29.5 days.

Tropical rhythm: The height of the moon in the sky with respect to the horizon. The periodicity is 27.3 days, where the moon is described as “ascending” or “descending.”

Sidereal rhythm: The orbit of the moon around the earth, which lasts slightly longer than the tropical rhythm. Phases are described by the astrological constellation behind the moon from the perspective of the earth (i.e., moon in Taurus).

This is the basis for Maria Thun’s biodynamic calendar. The biodynamic calendar is distinct from the lunar calendar. Biodynamic practitioners who farm by the moon may rely on one of these calendars, or both.

Farming folklore dating back as far as Pliny the Elder references the moon cycles. Diverse cultures developed moon-dependent customs around the timing of sowing seeds, harvest, and fertility cycles. The Farmers' Almanac website has information on planting by the lunar calendar.

References to the lunar calendar’s effect on seed germination, plant metabolism, behavior and reproductive cycles of animals, and the water content of lumber can be found in the scientific literature. Ocean tides, caused by the gravitational forces exerted by the moon and sun, are a clear example of the effect of the synodic moon cycle. While these effects are not universally accepted by the scientific community, the wide-ranging observations of researchers across many disciplines suggests that it is reasonable that moon phase impacts biological processes.

Thun’s biodynamic calendar is based on sidereal rhythms and claims that plant behavior is organized into fruit, flower, root, and leaf days, called trigons, depending on the astrological sign that lies behind the moon. Fruit days correspond with fire signs, flower days with air signs, root days with earth signs, and leaf days with water signs

For a very detailed description of the evolution of the biodynamic principles view this article :

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