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Introduction To Biodynamics

biodynamics
Filling cow horns with manure to make BD 500. Photo by FreeProd33

Biodynamics is a method of organic farming that views the entire farm (or garden) as an organism. Biodynamics utilises a closed-loop system where growers aim to produce everything needed by the farm on the farm itself. While this sort of system is used in other organic farming methods including permaculture, biodynamics also incorporates other unique practices. These include the use of specially formulated ‘preparations’ to nourish the soil, planting and harvesting with reference to influences of the solar system and working with natural forces to revitalise their land.

As in permaculture, biodynamics treats soil fertility, plant growth and livestock care as a holistic system. Each part is interconnected with all of the others and the health and wellbeing of each part is important for the successful running of the farm as a whole. With its emphasis on local production and distribution, closed-loop systems and sustainable, ecologically sound practices, biodynamics is a farming method that integrates well with permaculture.

Biodynamics originated in Germany in the 1920s, based in part on the philosophies of Rudolph Steiner, who is most wellknown as the founder of the Waldorf or Steiner education system. Steiner gave lectures on agriculture at the request of local farmers who had noticed degradation of their soils as well as a decline in the health and quality of crops and livestock due to chemical fertiliser and pesticide use. Although not a farmer himself, Steiner built on his social theories of the interconnectedness of life to see the farm as a self-sustaining holistic system.

THE BENEFITS OF BIODYNAMICS

Like organic farming, biodynamics is a way to produce food without relying on synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. It produces quality, nutrient-rich food while minimising negative environmental impact. By not relying on off-farm inputs, such as fertiliser or seed stock, biodynamics offers a farming method that is both ecologically and financially sustainable. As we face a future of even more uncertain weather events, the benefits of biodynamic growing becomes more apparent.

As biodynamic practices aim to build resilience in livestock, plants and soil, this strengthens resistance to drought and other extreme weather events.

BIODYNAMIC PRACTICES

Biodynamic preparations

One of the main practices of biodynamics is the use of preparations or ‘preps’. Preps are fermented mixtures prepared with herbs, weeds, animal ingredients and other natural and organic materials according to traditional recipes and methods. These preps are added to the soil and compost, where they introduce nutrients and beneficial bacteria into the soil, and increase water carrying capacity.

Preparations are usually diluted and mixed through water using a vortex. This is then sprayed on garden beds, fields or compost. A long-term study published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture (December 1, 2005) noted that the biodynamic preps sprayed on the fields contained phytohormone (plant hormone) substances that stimulated plant growth, and that the compost preps improved the nutrient content of compost.

To access many of these biodynamic preps, you’ll need to join a biodynamics group or an association such as Biodynamic Agriculture Australia.

The significance of prep ingredients

In biodynamic farming, the symbolism of the ingredients holds significance. For biodynamic growers, the ingredients have inherent traits that align with the effects they aim to create within the soil. Each ingredient is selected for the energetic properties it embodies, as well as the physical properties. In this way, they can harness those traits to improve the soil and the plants.

Cows hold particular significance, with their products utilised in a variety of biodynamic preps: both BD 500 and BD 501 make use of a cow horn, BD 505 uses a skull and BD 503 uses cow’s intestines. The cow is viewed as a very earthy animal, as it is heavy, grounded in its stance and feeds with its head low to the ground. The use of the cow is believed to attract grounding, earthy energy with which to focus the energy of the prep within the soil. This works alongside the physical elements of the prep: the humus-building carbon and nitrogen of the manure, and the enzymes and bacteria direct from the four stomachs of the cow.

Below are some of the most common and well-known biodynamic preps, their ingredients and uses.

Horn Manure (BD 500)

The image of stuffing a cow horn with a thick brown paste to make Horn Manure prep (also known as BD 500) in synonymous with biodynamics in many people’s minds. In simple terms, it is a cow horn filled with cow manure, buried in the earth during autumn and dug up again in spring.

Underground, bacteria from the manure and the horn interact, enriching the manure with minerals and nutrients from the bone.

After it is dug up, a small amount of the paste is diluted in water and sprayed onto the soil. The regular use of BD 500 enhances the natural biota of the soil, encouraging increased populations of soil bacteria, fungi and earthworms. This in turn leads to enhanced root development, better nutrient uptake and healthier more resilient and productive plants.

Horn Silica (BD 501)

In a similar process to Horn Manure, the Horn Silica Preparation (also known as BD 501) is made by filling a cow horn with finely ground silica quartz crystals. This is then buried in the earth throughout summer.

This preparation is thought to support photosynthesis and help strengthen cell wall structures in plants. This builds resistance to fungal attack, and can also be used to hasten the development of the plant.

Compost Preps (BD 502-507)

The compost preps are a series of six preps that work in conjunction with each other to create balance in the soil nutrients. They are known as the preps BD 502-507. Each compost prep generally combines a part of a plant with an organ or bone of an animal. They each work to balance specific minerals and elements within the soil. For example, 502 combines the flowers of the yarrow plant with a stag’s bladder and works to balance sulphur, potash and nitrogen in the soil. Prep 507 ferments the juice from valerian flowers and works to balance phosphorus levels.

The compost preps are an ideal way for a beginner to start incorporating biodynamics into their gardening. Applying these preps to the compost supports the better decomposition of organic matter and the formation of humus, and allows better uptake of a broad range of elements and minerals. This creates enriched compost that brings benefits to the whole garden.

biodynamics
Photo by Mark Brown
biodynamics
Photo by FreeProd33


Clockwise from top: A Biodynamic preparation being mixed in a ‘flowform’; Cow horns filled with cow manure being buried to make BD 500; A cow intestine stuffed with German chamomile flowers is placed inside a clay pipe and then buried over winter to make BD 503 prep; Applying BD preps to the soil; A cow horn filled with manure to make BD 500.



biodynamics
Photo by Mark Brown
biodynamics
Photo by Mark Brown
biodynamics
Photo by Kate Beveridge

USE OF THE VORTEX

The vortex is a pattern that is seen repeatedly in nature. Eddies in a river energise and oxygenate the water flowing through it. A cyclone creates destruction but encourages new growth. Wherever it is encountered, the vortex merges order and disorder. Biodynamic growers aim to create a similar effect when diluting preps for distribution.

Prior to application, a small amount of the prep is added to a large body of water. The grower then stirs the water vigorously in one direction to create an energising vortex, pauses then stirs in the other direction against the current, creating chaos in the middle, then an ordered vortex in the other direction. This pattern of order/chaos/order is repeated for an hour or more to fully mix the prep. This process is thought to oxygenate the diluted prep and charge it with the dynamic forces of nature, which are then imparted to the soil when the prep is spread.

PLANTING BY THE STARS

Many biodynamic growers seek to understand the ways that the cycles of the sun, moon, planets and stars can influence the development of their gardens and animals. They believe that the movements of these affect the Earth in different ways, and therefore different days of the year are optimal for sowing, transplanting, cultivating, harvesting and using the biodynamic preparations.

Growers often refer to specialised calendars that outline and interpret the movement of the celestial bodies. They use these to guide the processes of the garden and bring them into line with these rhythms.

INCORPORATING BIODYNAMICS INTO YOUR FARM OR GARDEN

It’s a great idea to join your local biodynamics group. If you don’t know of one, contact Biodynamic Agriculture Australia (their website is a fantastic resource) or a state-wide organisation, such as Australia Biodynamics-Victoria, to link up with others inspired by biodynamics. By joining a group you’ll be able to get your hands on the biodynamic preps, which you can’t access otherwise. You’ll also meet people full of enthusiasm and knowledge to guide you.

Once you’ve got access to biodynamic preps, try your hand at using the compost preps. This is the easiest way to get the benefits of biodynamics into your garden, as they’ll enrich your compost, which in turn enriches the rest of your garden.

It’s also worthwhile finding a good biodynamic planting calendar, such as the Antipodean Astro Calendar by Brian Keats. You can also find great guides on the internet.

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