Saturday, October 21, 2017

What is biodynamic farming?

Biodynamic winery in winter

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I have heard the term biodynamic and wondered what was involved.  Some consider it voodoo science and quackery, a scam.  Others feel it is holistic natural way of gardening. leveraging mystical forces.  The description I like is it is organic permaculture with a spiritual twist.  

Biodynamic farming is actually the precursor to organic and sustainable farming.  It is from Dr. Steiner’s teaching of how to work with the earth and heavens to farm in harmony with nature that the term “organic farming” was coined by those describing Dr. Steiner’s farming approach.
What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

After WWI, the chemical companies had stock piles of bomb making and nerve gas materials.  They repurposed these into fertilizer and insecticides for agriculture, which are toxic to soil microbial life.  German farmers saw that the health of their crops and animals began to decline.  They asked Dr. Steiner to come see and provide guidance.  Dr. Steiner's philosophy I think is summed up nicely by this quote "You need to stop thinking of your farms as factories and envision them as living organisms-self-contained, self-sustaining, following the cycles of nature, and able to create their own health and vitality out of the living dynamics of the farm."

Biodynamic gardening was developed in Germany in the early 1920’s by philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner.  Dr. Steiner believed that the soil, plants, animals and everything in the solar system is interconnected.  The backbone of the method is the making of preparations used in minute amounts to enhance production.  Biodynamic gardening results in much enhanced soil and veggie nutrition and increased top soil depth Biodynamic soil study

Many gardeners feel that the approach is too complicated to implement in their gardens.  However, you can purchase the preparations to add to your compost.  I purchased mine from Malibu Compost.  You can compost in small spaces or even indoors.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors.  

There is a deep devotion to the soil’s health, animal welfare, and the cycles of the moon and stars.  Gardening by the phase of the Moon  It is important that 10% of farmland is set aside as a biodiversity preserve.  As with organic, farms have to be certified to claim their products are “biodynamic” by following the Demeter Processing Standard.

Free range chickens used for pest patrol (control)
As with organic gardening, biodynamic uses only all natural amendments, pest and weed control.  As with permaculture, biodynamic gardening is self-contained with no outside inputs brought into the farm.  Permaculture-companion planting on steroids   Cover crops are used routinely.  The farm is considered a wholly connected organism.  There is also significant emphasis on water conservation and companion planting.  Planting and harvesting is done by the phases of the moon and astral conditions like those our grandparents followed using the Farmers Almanac.

There are 9 “preparations” used in biodynamic (BD):  BD#500 horn manure, BD#501 horn silica, BD#502 yarrow, BD#503 chamomile, BD#504 stinging nettle, BD#505 oak bark, BD#506 dandelion, BD#507 valerian, and BD#508 horsetail.  BD#502-507 are collectively known as the compost preparations.

BD#500 is a cow horn packed with cow manure and buried in the ground for the winter; the preparation smells like chocolate come spring.  BD#501 is silica packed in a cow horn buried in the ground for the summer.  BD#502 is yarrow blossoms sown into a stag bladder that is hung in the summer sun and buried for the winter.  BD#503 is chamomile blossoms stuffed in a bovine intestine and buried over winter.  BD#504 is the entire stinging nettle plant ground up and buried in the ground surrounded by peat moss for a full year.  BD#505 is ground oak bark packed in an empty skull with the membrane intact and buried in swamp like conditions for the winter.  BD#506 is dandelion blossoms stuffed into bovine mesentery or peritoneum membrane and buried for the winter.  BD#507 is the juice of valerian blossoms that is fermented for a few weeks.  BD#508 is a horsetail tea.  

Cover crops are important for soil retention, soil nutrition, and soil enhancement
It is best if the preparations are made on the property that it will be used.  Steiner believed burying the preparations in the ground gave cosmic and earth energy to them.  If you are going to purchase the preparations, purchase them from a farm in the same continent.  

Spray applications of 501 and 507 raises the top level depth from shallow to a depth of 14” over several years according to biodynamic wineries.  Using cover crops and adding compost to the soil is the backbone of organic practices that has been shown to increase top soil depth.  Biodynamic farmers believe the spray applications enhance these practices to another level.

BD#508 spray is used to combat fungal conditions.  I sprayed my garden with BD#508 this summer as I had lots of fungal pressure with all the rain we got last June and the rain is even greater this summer.  I did see a reduction in fungal damage.  It takes a few years of caring for the farm to get it to optimal levels.

To try out the benefit of biodynamic in our garden without personally finding the ingredients and making the preparations, I purchased Bu’s Brews by Malibu Compost biodynamic compost tea bags.  I add the compost tea bags to my water pail and water my pots and garden plants after aerating the biodynamic compost tea as recommended.  I then compost the bags in my compost pile that I add back to the garden.

You can purchase wines and food products that are raised biodynamically.  Whole Foods carries many biodynamic brands or you can search for them on Amazon.  Here is a directory of biodynamic product

My sister, mom and I at Beckman vineyards
Over the holidays a couple of years ago, my sister and mom wanted to know what “adventure” I was up for during my stay in the Los Angeles area.  I wanted to visit a biodynamic farm to talk to the farmers to get a better understanding of what biodynamic is all about.  We toured a biodynamic winery, Beckmen Winery & Vineyard in Los Olivos, CA, and an organic, regenerative permaculture urban farm, Fairview Gardens in Goleta, CA,  

The most well known biodynamic farms are likely wineries in the US.  Frey, Beckmen, Quivira, Bass Vineyards, and Benziger are a few wineries that raise their grapes following biodynamic practices.  Beckman Winery is within driving distance of LA.  Beckmen Winery produces excellent wines.  You can visit the winery, have a picnic, and try their wines in their tasting room.

I am a big fan of organic and working with and supporting nature.  Biodynamic farming embodies this approach.  The additional layer with biodynamic is the preparations used in small quantities in your compost piles to impart the energies of the earth and sky and being self-sufficient within the farm itself.  Dr. Steiner believed all was connected together as a living organism.  Even though scientific proof of how the energies are imparted is a mystery, studies prove the soil and nutrition of plants in a biodynamic farm is higher than conventional.  

We find out more each year of how interconnected everything is.

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