This post is my attempt to present what little I know,
in a simple way,
for people who know nothing at all.(I have attended several lectures on Biodynamic Agriculture given by our farmers, I have visited the Demeter, Biodynamic Association, and countless other websites, and I have read a few books on the subject; but, biodynamics is a complex topic, and my knowledge is limited and academic because I am not a farmer/gardener. If you want to learn more, you will need to dig deeply into the links on this page.)
(This page ended up being much longer than expected.
If you need me to simplify it further, please LMK.)
If you need me to simplify it further, please LMK.)
Biodynamic agriculture treats the farm (or garden) as a distinct self-sustaining organism.
(In other words, everything the farm needs should be provided by the farm with no outside input.)
This farm 'organism' is managed holistically in a way that integrates plants, animals, water, air and soil into a self-regulating ecosystem, which mimics the biodiversity of natural ecosystems, amplifying the health and resilience of the farm.
One of the defining elements of biodynamic agriculture is the use of Biodynamic Preparations. Two of the preparations are foliar sprays. The remaining six are used in biodynamic compost, which is a fundamental component of the biodynamic method, serving as a way to recycle animal manures and organic wastes, stabilize nitrogen, and build soil humus. The preparations act as homeopathic catalysts, positively affecting soil quality, compost and soil microbes, the relationship between plants and nutrient elements, and especially, the quality of vegetable produce.
If you think of the farm as a living organism, these preparations help to form and support its “organ systems,” in essence: the brain, nerves, heart, skeleton, digestion, respiration, endocrine and elimination systems of the farm and plants.
BD500 Horn Humus is the result of cow manure fermented in a cow horn buried over the winter, when all of the energy is inside the Earth. When permeated by sufficient oxygen and nitrogen it allows the formation of a rich humus structure. The root zone and the rhizosphere surrounding it act as the “brain” of a plant, regulating which materials are allowed to leave and enter.
BD501 Horn Silica is made of finely ground quartz mixed with small amounts of spring water to make a paste. This is then packed into a cow horn and buried again in the ground, but this time during the spring and summer months. Its function is to enhance light metabolism in the plant, stimulating photosynthesis, increased sap sugars, and the formation of chlorophyll. BD501 also helps the plant to sense its surroundings. If you imagine BD500 setting up the “brain” of the farm and plants, then imagine BD501 setting up the “nervous and sensory system”, which is why BD500 and BD501 are used in conjunction with each other.
BD502 Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is created by fermenting yarrow blossoms in a stag's bladder. Yarrow is very high in sulfur, combined in a model way with potash. This preparation stimulates the delivery of potassium, silica and selenium activating bacteria, and helps to combine sulfur with trace elements which strengthens a plants’ ability to flower, or fruit and helps protect the plant from insect attacks. BD502 relates to the “endocrine” system, allowing the farm to regulate purification and excretion.
BD503 Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is created by fermenting chamomile flowers in a cow’s intestines. This prep is high in sulfur and related to the element calcium. It keeps plants physiologically healthy and stabilizes nitrogen. It is known to transform depleted organic sources into forms available for plant nutrition. It also protects the plant from up taking any toxic elements. BD503 relates to the activity of digestion and assimilation.
BD504 Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioeca) is made from nettles, harvested before they flower, and fermented in an unglazed earthenware pot. Stinging nettle regulates the effects of manure on soil life to provide optimum conditions for the crops . It is also well known to break-up heavy clay soils, build humus, increase nitrogen fixation, and unlock bound micronutrients. High in sulfur and iron, it can be used to correct iron imbalance, energize minerals, or activate soil enzyme potential. BD504 relates to the heart and circulation of the farm, giving it energy to function.
BD505 Oak Bark (Quercus robur) is made by grating the bark into a fine powder, then fermenting it in a cow's skull (with the lining of the brain cavity intact). This bony, calcified container harmonizes with the calcium present in the oak. The preparation provides what plants need to be upright with good form, and it dampens excessive growth forces thus reducing the crops susceptibility to fungal disease. When used over time, it will eventually raise the pH levels in the soil. BD505 relates to the skeletal system, naturally, as 77% of its substance consists of finely distributed calcium. It also develops the “immune system” of the farm, catalyzing disease resistance.
BD506 Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) made by fermenting dandelion flowers, picked early before they open up too much, in a cow’s mesentery, which is the ‘skin’ that holds the digestive organs in the body. The silica inherent in the dandelion helps to increase the flowering and fruiting stages of the plant meaning you get healthier, more vibrant looking flowers, or fruit. It also works to attune the growing crop to the subtle influences of its environment. BD506 relates to the “liver and endocrine system”, allowing the farm to balance, regulate, and harmonize its actions.
D507 Valerian (Valerianum officinalis) is merely a tincture produced from the juice of valerian blossoms. It will mobilize phosphorus in the soil and forms a "warmth mantle" over the compost heap, acting like a protective skin. This preparation is also a powerful aid against stress. BD507 relates to the farms “respiration” and ability to produce heat.
BD508 Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is brewed into a strong tea and sprayed onto plants and trees in the spring and summer to prevent fungus molds. High in silica, it regulates “watery growth” common during times of heavy rainfall (especially during full moons). This prep helps to conserve energy during these watery times to ensure a hearty plant with enough energy to fully mature with good form.
Six of the preparations represent specific planetary forces.
The seventh is the balancing force of the sun,
represented by the horn manure/horn clay preparations.
In addition, referring to the diagram repeated below, each of the compost preparations is fermented in the vessel which relates to its function in the farm organism:
- the 'skeleton' prep is fermented in a bony skull
- the 'heart' prep in an earthenware pot
- the 'endocrine' prep in the mesentery
- the 'digestion' prep in intestines
- and the 'excretion' prep in a bladder
THIS is how sophisticated biodynamic agriculture is!
The second defining element of biodynamic agriculture is its reliance on the moon and the zodiac. Everything is done according to the natural rhythms and phases of the moon and planets (this is called 'working to the lunar calendar').
There are several calendars available to help farmers determine the optimum times to sow seeds, transplant, prune, cultivate the crops and harvest them for storage. (I don't know if the lunar calendar is used in creating the preparations - will have to ask our farmers.)
The calendar defines which days are root days, flower days, leaf days, and fruit days. There are also grey/black days when nothing should be done. From StellaNature:
"...it makes sense to try to choose a root enhancing time when sowing carrots, radishes and potatoes. When sowing leafy crops, which include lettuce, cabbage, grass, etc., it is best to choose a leaf time or, second-best, a root time, but to avoid flower and fruit so as not to encourage bolting. On the other hand, annual flowers can be sown to advantage on flower days. Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, grains and other fruit crops can be sown on fruit or, second best, on flower days."
Here is another interpretation of the biodynamic calendar:
Below is a photo from Maria Thun's book showing onions in May from the previous year's September harvest. The onions harvested on leaf days (AK) are rotting. Those harvested on fruit and flower days (WK and LK) are sprouting. Only those harvested on root days (EK) are still as firm as they were in September and remain so at least until the following August. THIS is another reason why I love biodynamic agriculture: it works with nature, not against it.
And, another photo showing the difference in radishes planted according to the biodynamic calendar. I wasn't able to figure out some of the symbols - if you know them please help me correct the photo.
You can clearly see that the moon and planets have a profound impact on plants. Doesn't it make sense to use this to your advantage?
Of the three calendars linked to above, the Stella Nature calendar has the most supplemental information with instructions on using the calendar, plant categories, numerous charts of the constellations, and a plethora articles including one of the best articles on biodynamics that I've ever read. Below are the titles from the 2018 calendar:
An Approach to the Renewal of the Demeter/Persephone Mysteries by Sherry Wildfeuer
The Medicine of Yarrow by Deb Soule
Coming Late to Biodynamics: KK's Farm by Ira Haspell
Good Tree Farm by Hisham Moharram
Cultivating Stewardship by Joh Ray Gardner
Plant Elemental Spirits Behind the Veils by Josheph Murray
Working with Lost of People in the Garden an Interview with Todd Newlin
A Balancing Act to Get Things Done by Clara Osborne
Intimate, Invisible Matters by Katie Singer
Seed Leaves, Sea Gobins, Garden Dreams by Rand Burkert
The Prophetic Worldviews of Thomas Berry and Wendell Berry and Biodynamic Agriculture by William J. Gerkas
A portion of the proceeds goes towards supporting a Camphill Village.
The Maria Thun Calendar is "...presented in colour with clear symbols and explanations and includes Thun's unique insights, which go above and beyond the standard information presented in some other lunar calendars."
The third and MOST IMPORTANT DEFINING ELEMENT of biodynamics is a sense of spirituality with regards to the earth, and all living and natural things existing upon it. It is this esoteric element, anthroposophy, that is generally misunderstood and rejected by its critics even though there is evidence it's successful.
“The movement is controversial because at its core it is a philosophy, not a science,” says Linda Chalker-Scott, associate professor and urban horticulturist at the Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems at Washington State University. “It is an entanglement of some good, science-based organic practices with alchemy, astrology, and homeopathy. As long as biodynamic preparations continue to be at the heart of the movement, it will continue to be questioned by the scientific community.”
While the more spiritual and unconventional aspects of biodynamics don’t appeal to all farmers, for some, a personal connection to the land is crucial to their agricultural practice. “You may find some who practice biodynamic because it is a sound agronomic system that delivers real benefits to the farm like healthier soil, better crops, more vibrant ecology,” Candelario says. “You may also find some biodynamic farmers who would agree with all that plus they may describe their personal relationship with their farm that speaks to a deeper connection with the farm and its place in nature.”
The biodynamic preparations are required for Demeter certification, but adherence to the lunar calendar and belief in anthroposophy are not.
If you would like to farm biodyamically but you don't have animals and cannot make your own preparations they can be purchased from the Josephine Porter Institute. HOWEVER...if you don't have animals, you may have to import your manure/compost, and there is not enough clean compost to supply all the farms that want it.
THE BOTTM LINE for me:
I have SEEN and TASTED the results of biodynamic farming,
If you would like to learn more, the Oregon Biodynamic Group has a FREE online course:
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