Biodynamic farming

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Biodynamic agriculture refers to a holistic system of organic farming that places emphasis on food quality and soil health. The system was developed in the early 1900s in response to the growing awareness amongst farmers about the adverse impact of using chemical fertilizers.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

Although Biodynamic Agriculture methods may loosely be termed organic, they differ from organic farming on some basic issues. Unlike organic farmers, who see nothing wrong in procuring organic fertilizers and seedstock from the market, Biodynamic farmers see the farm as a single entity that is able to generate its own fertilizer and pest control mechanisms. Also, Biodynamic farmers believe that there is a right time for planting, cultivating and harvesting, which they determine using an astronomical calendar.

All about biodynamic farming

Today, Biodynamics has proponents in over fifty countries across the world. In 2004 there were 120 certified biodynamic producers in the UK alone.

Rudolf Steiner and Biodynamics

The concept of Biodynamic agriculture was developed in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian philosopher-scientist. In a series of lectures on agriculture in Breslau in Germany (now in Poland), Steiner spoke of an alternate world view that encompassed farming. These lectures have been reproduced in his book, Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture.

For Steiner, farming had a spiritual aspect that could not be addressed within the parameters of physical science. It dealt, he felt, with the mystical business of creating life, which could not possibly be contained in mere physical principles.

Steiner coined the term Anthroposophy (Greek word meaning 'wisdom of Man'). With a vision that extended way beyond farming, he argued for the study of spiritual science that used a conscious methodology and was followed by rigorous thinking activity. Using this methodology, he offered new insights to medicine, education, the arts, social reform and economics as well as agriculture.

Principles of Biodynamic agriculture

The basic principle of Biodynamics is that the farm is a self-contained entity which is capable of meeting all its needs. The land, the soil, plants, animals and even the farmer is a part of this entity, and the well-being or ill-health of any one of these parts will cause an imbalance in the system. Farming is just one aspect of this whole.

In order to achieve good crop yields, maintain soil quality and manage pests, the farmer needs to balance the needs of the entire eco-system, or the farm. So the aim of the farmer is not to reap a good harvest – his aim is to enrich the farm, its products, and its inhabitants, acknowledging the influence of cosmic and terrestrial forces upon it.

Steiner believed that the natural rhythms of the sun, moon, planets, and stars contribute to the growth and development of plants on earth. In order to determine the best time for ground preparation, sowing, cultivating, and harvesting a crop, it is important to understanding the effect of each rhythm.

Biodynamic farming practices

There are several practices that Biodynamic farmers use. Some are the same techniques organic farmers also use, for example crop rotation, multiple cropping, composting farm waste. Biodynamic farmers also maintain populations of a variety of animals in order to vary grazing patterns and reduce parasites.

Biodynamic farmers also use cover crops like rapeseed, mustard and radish to conserve soil nutrients, for worm control, to fix nitrogen in the soil and to maintain soil quality.

Green manuring is another biodynamic farming practice in which crop materials are incorporated into the soil while they are still green, or soon after they have flowered. Their decomposition is similar to the natural composting process and results in the production of humus.

The use of biodynamic sprays and composts is an integral part of this system of agriculture. These special sprays stimulate biological activity in the soil, and improve the retention of nutrients in the soil.

Biodynamic sprays and composts

There are two types of sprays -- Horn Manure and Horn Silica. Horn Manure is cow manure that has been all winter in the soil, inside a cow horn. Horn Silica is finely ground quartz meal that has spent the entire summer in the soil inside a cow horn. To use, the sprays are added in small quantities to a bucket of water. They are vigorously stirred in one direction till a deep crater is formed in the centre. Then they are stirred in the opposite direction in the same way. In this manner, the dynamic properties of the manure are released into the water, making them more effective for the soil and plant when sprayed.

Horn Manure is sprayed on the soil before commencing sowing and planting. It helps the plant develop healthy roots and revitalises the soil. Horn Silica is finely misted on the growing plant. It enables good metabolism and helps the crop to develop well.

Biodynamic compost is made using six basic medicinal plants -- yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak, dandelion and valerian. These plants are fermented in the soil to enhance their qualities. In order to be effective, some compost plants need to be encased in materials derived from animal organs. Compost made from these medicinal plants contains nutrients like sulphur, potassium, nitrogen, calcium, silica and phosphorus in the form most easily absorbed by plants, leading to healthy growth.

Each medicinal plant has a specific purpose. Yarrow helps to replenish minerals like potassium and sulphur in soils depleted by repeated cultivation. Chamomile is connected with calcium reactions in the soil. It stabilises plant nutrients, controls excessive fermentation and encourages plant growth. Stinging Nettle is related to iron, and helps stabilise nitrogen. Oak Bark Preparation is calcium-rich and had anti-fungal and antiseptic qualities. Dandelion is connected with living silica processes, and enables the effective relationships between the plant and its natural habitat. Valerian Preparation has an affinity to phosphorous and imparts warmth to the compost heap.

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Biodynamics labels

Demeter, a Biodynamic certificate, verifies to consumers in over 50 countries that a particular food or product has been produced by biodynamic methods. Inspectors visit Biodynamic farmers and processors every year and assess their methods, on the basis of which they are certified. (For more details, visit Demeter)

References

  • Biodynamics
  • Biodynamics FAQs
  • About Biodynamics
  • Biodynamics Calendar

Additional Information

(For a 2007 calendar recommending best root, seed, fruit and flower periods for farmers in the US, visit Biodynamic Farm Calendar)

Biodynamics research insitutes ==

  • Institute for Biodynamic Research (IBDF), Germany
  • Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBl), Switzerland
  • The Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics (JPI), USA
  • Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI), USA
  • Kolisko Institute, USA
  • Biodynamic Research Institute (SBFI), Sweden
  • Biodynamic Research Association of Denmark (BRAD), Denmark
Discussion

Are biodynamically grown products more expensive than organically farmed products or are they priced similarly? Are there any particular crops which are not suitable..... Read more inside