Every year we take a new course at the University of Nature and this year we are studying Biodynamics and applying it to our whole field not just the veg patch.
This article might seem a bit wacky to some, and it might challenge your thinking and beliefs, but bear with it and check out the results before you go and find something else to occupy your time.
What is Biodynamics?
A big part of biodynamics is about working with the cycles of the sun, moon, planets and stars and utilising these to bring cosmic energy into the soil and the growth and vitality of our crops. So we do all plant related activities at the best time for the particular crop that we are growing.
As growers we want a certain part of the plant according to our needs, there are four parts of the plant which we may want from each plant crop.
Each type is dealt with on different days according those cycles of heavenly bodies. So we sow root crops on root days. we transplant, hoe, harvest root crops on root days, and so on for the other types as well. In this way we derive the best quality and quantity of crop.
One of the big ideas is that the heavens are raining down cosmic energy on the Earth constantly but when the moon for example stands in the way of energy from one part of the zodiac of stars then the qualities of this cosmic energy is reduced which affects the different types of plants in different ways.
Another idea is that these cosmic energies can be better utilised in the soil, the plants and land generally by application of certain natural preparations like horn manure, horn silica and herbal compounds.
Rudolph Steiner inspired the biodynamic methods in 1924 and it has been continued and refined by the Biodynamic Association ever since.
Rudolf Steiner (1860-1925), an Austrian born philosopher, educator and mystic, gave various lectures between the years 1919-1924 that focused on his philosophy, known as Anthroposophy. These beliefs held by Steiner proposed to revitalize society by integrating rationalism and mysticism. He suggested this could reconcile the increasingly divergent trends of technological progress and spiritual enlightenment. His interest in literature led to an interest in people. His thought was influenced to a great extent by oriental philosophy, specifically, Buddhism, Hinduism and the Vedic Scriptures. His spiritual knowledge influenced his thoughts on medicine (Eurythmy), education (Waldorf Schools), art and agriculture (Bio-dynamic). His lectures on agriculture were towards the end of his life and epitomize much of his philosophy. Steiner defined Anthroposophy as “a path of knowledge whose objective is to guide the spiritual in man to the spiritual in the universe.”
Anthro= man sophy= knowledge
Anthro + posophy = the Wisdom about Man
We use horn manure (BD500), which is a preparation made by filling a cow horn with manure and burying it for a while. We use it to build soil structure, humus and promotes soil micro-life thus enhancing the plants’ uptake of nutrition.
We use horn silica (BD501), which is a preparation made by filling a cow horn with silica and burying it for a while. It is concerned with the above-ground energies and is used to enhance photosynthesis in the leaves and ensure optimal fruiting.
We use a herbal remedy to set off our compost heaps after they are filled. It brings tremendous heat to the heap and speeds up the composting process.
We have always practised crop rotation but only in order to avoid diseases. We used to plant crops together that might suffer from common diseases like alliums, legumes, brassicas and root crops. By moving each crop each year to a new patch of soil we would reduce the probability of disease following the crop.
With our understanding of biodynamics we now organise our crops differently and have a new reason to rotate them. We now organise our crops by type, so all the root crops go together as before, the leaf crops go together, the flower crops go together and the seed/fruit crops go together. Each type uses and therefore depletes specific aspects of the fertility of the soil and so by rotating them by type we allow the soil to recover.
The result does not look much different than before but it does have some differences and it allows us to think differently about planting and rotation plans.
Sowing and Planting
We sow our plants according to the calendar, so all roots are sown on root days etc. This means our workload is regulated by the calendar and some days are unproductive (quiet) days when no sowing is done, which gives an excuse for a rest or to do a project.
In the morning the earth breaths out (so the flow is upwards) and this is better for upward growing plant types (leaf, flower and fruit/seed types) and in the afternoon the earth breaths in (so the flow is downwards) making it a better time to work with root crops.
Plants that we have grown from seed in the greenhouse need to be transplanted and the biodynamic system recommends transplanting either side of the new moon for the northern hemisphere, and always on the appropriate day for that type of plant.
Weeding and Hoeing
As a result of organising our plots by plant type we can hoe each plot on the specified day of the calendar and bring fresh energy into the soil for that type of plant.
In the morning the earth breaths out and this is better for upward growing plant types (leaf, flower and fruit/seed types) and in the afternoon the earth breaths in making it a better time to work with root crops.
The other aspect of hoeing is that as the earth breaths out it eliminates some of the moisture in the soil and so if it is wet this can be of benefit to eliminate some of the excessive moisture, and conversely in the afternoon, as the earth is breathing in, this can bring added moisture to the soil if it is particularly dry.
We have only been doing biodynamic gardening for this year and we are not looking to measure all our crop yields because life is too short, and is for living not counting. However we can see the health and size of our crops have increased dramatically. Now this might be just luck or an exceptional year so we will see next year if we are just as lucky and then we will know for sure.
But let me leave you with this observation from people who come and visit. They say “Oh, look at the size of those onions!” pointing at the ones nearest the path, to which I reply “yes, they are big aren’t they, I’ll show you the big ones later!”
About one third of our onions are around 500 grammes each. Our courgettes plants usually look a bit weedy and produce minimal fruits but this year they each stand 1 meter tall and 2 meters across and our squashes are the same monster size. We started eating our leeks in early July because they were the size of last winters leeks. In fact all of our crops are bigger, healthier and more productive than we’ve seen before.