Post # 3 of 4
Biodynamics Defined from its two root words:
Bio is living organisms and Dynamics relates to energy and motion.
The new millennium has spurred an upsurge in three movements: Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic agriculture. Increasingly food and wine connoisseurs are sourcing products from one or more of these disciplines. The Grapevine Gypsy’s blog contains posts on all three topics. Biodynamics can be defined as working with the energies that create and maintain life. For growing grapes and producing wine, this translates to a view of the winery as a single integrated organism bringing all facets of the establishment into harmony and balance: the soil, grapevines, vineyard animals and all human operators. This is accomplished through environmentally sound agricultural practices as defined in the Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard which includes the integration of nine specific herbal and mineral preparations discussed below. Most biodynamic farms, however not all, use astrological calendars that detail the influence of all celestial bodies to determine the timing of farm activities such as planting, cultivating and harvesting.
In 1924 a group of farmers concerned with declining food and soil quality approached Rudolf Steiner for a solution. Steiner (1861–1925), an Austrian author, educator and philosopher, is renowned as the father of Anthroposophy – a philosophy of spiritual science that views the relationship between human beings, energy and the cosmos. Anthroposophy is rooted in German idealism and mysticism. Steiner and his followers apply anthroposophy to art, medicine, architecture, farming, eurythmic dance and ethical banking. In 1924 Steiner gave a series of eight lectures with the objective of healing the earth through agriculture. Biodynamics is the agricultural component of his work and has been well engrained in Europe since 1925 and the U.S. since 1938. It is a dynamic, knowledge through experimentation based path and practitioners have added tremendously to the evolution of Biodynamics over the last 70 years.
By 2007, national branches of the Anthroposophical Society, headquartered at the Geotheanumin Switzerland, had been established in fifty countries. Upwards of 10,000 institutions around the world are working on the basis of anthroposophy. Advocates aim to achieve in their study of esoteric experience the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences in investigations of the physical world. Steiner’s empirical applications emphasize rational verification rather than reliance on pure faith. However, as one might expect, Biodynamics has raised much curiosity and has its share of sceptics. Innumerous scientific studies on soil, food and wine quality have been conducted over the years; a link to research completed during the last twenty years can be accessed in the resource section at the bottom of this post.
Differences between Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Farming
- All three disciplines include holistic farm and animal management, water quality, soil conservation, biodiversity, integrated pest management, prohibit the use of synthetic insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers and growth hormones, require third party certification audits and annual recertification
- Organic and Biodynamics eliminate or minimize sulphur dioxide additions in the winemaking process and use of GMO’s
- Sustainability further includes water and energy conservation, air quality, broader elements of social responsibilities and strategic business planning
- Sustainability and Biodynamics incorporate community networking
- Biodynamic farming adds intangible components, incorporating the four elemental states of matter (earth, air, fire and water), nine Biodynamic preparations and coordinating all work in accordance with the sun, moon, planets and constellations
The Grapevine Gypsy and family grow an organic vegetable and flower garden and grapevines, maintain two compost bins, recycle everything and strive to adhere to principles of sustainability. As of the issue of this post, we have no direct experience with biodynamic gardening so can neither advocate for nor dispel the doctrine of esoteric beliefs however, find comfort knowing there is an international body of people so dedicated toward improving our food-chain, the health of our ecosystem and the eternal stream of human consciousness.
The Nine Biodynamic Preparations
Sprays: Sprays are dilutions of preparations that are energized by a specific stirring process known as dynamization. Practitioners believe that the mandated one- hour stirring creates a vortex in the liquid which draws in ambient energy and imprints the memory of the preparation into the solution
#500: Cow manure is packed in a cow horn and buried in the soil through the winter where it undergoes a transformation (similar to the fermenting of wine). It is then sprayed on the soil to promote root activity, stimulate beneficial microbial life in the soil, regulate nitrogen content and aid in the release of trace elements
#501: Ground quartz (silica) is mixed with rainwater, packed into a cow horn, buried in the spring and dug up in the autumn. The preparation is then sprayed on the vines to stimulate photosynthesis and the formation of chlorophyll. It is also believed to promote leaf, flower and fruit development thus influencing the color, aroma and flavor of the wine
#508: Fresh or fermented tea is brewed from horsetail plant and sprayed on the foliage to counter fungal disease and improve the vines ability to withstand water stress
Compost Preparations: Preparations #502 – #507 are added to enrich the compost pile to assure it provides an abundance of beneficial life forms to the soil and vines.
#502: Yarrow blossoms are stuffed into a stag’s bladder in early summer, hung in the sun, buried through the winter and then dug up in the following spring. The purpose of this ritual is to provide and attract potassium, sulphur and trace minerals for the nutrition of the grapevine
#503: Chamomile flower heads are stuffed into bovine intestine and buried. It is added to stabilize nitrogen within the compost to subsequently enhance microbial soil life and stimulate plant growth
#504: Stinging Nettle is packed into an inert container, buried and aged. This preparation augments soil health and provides plants with necessary nutritional components
#505: Ground oak bark (Quercus Robur) is packed in the skull of a farm animal and buried in a moist location through the winter. This calcium-rich preparation combats harmful plant diseases and fungal attacks
#506: Dandelion heads are stuffed into the lining of a cow’s abdominal cavity with the goal of supplementing the relationship between silica and potassium to supercharge silica’s ability to attract cosmic forces to the soil
#507: Fermented juice of valerian flowers is divided: Half is infused into the compost pile and half is sprayed over it. Valerian reacts with phosphorus to enhance its availability in the soil
Lunar and Cosmic Cycles and Their Effect on Grape Growing:
It is a scientific fact that the moon has a powerful effect on water as demonstrated by the ocean tides and the human body is 70% fluid. Also consider our biological clock that is attuned to the earth’s rotation, known as Circadian Rhythm. Plants follow natural cycles as well. In the 1950’s Maria Thun (1922 – 2012), author and lifelong Biodynamic farmer and experimenter decided to subject Steiner’s principles to controlled trials on her farm on the outskirts of Darmstadt, Germany. Over years of research while planting vegetables when the moon was in different constellations, she concluded the following.
- Root crops do best if sown when the moon is passing through constellations associated with the earth element
- Leafy crops do best when associated with water signs
- Flowering plants do best when associated with air signs
- Fruits do best when associated with fire signs
In 1962 Maria began publishing an annual Sowing and Planting Calendar. An added bonus is her review of basic astronomy needed to comprehend and use the calendar. She also published a book that details the principles behind her methods titled “Gardening for Life: the Biodynamic Way”. In 2010, in collaboration with her son Matthias, she authored a second annual calendar, “When Wine Tastes Best: A Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers” setting out the most promising days for popping the cork based on the position of the moon. Many formal wine-tastings worldwide are scheduled when wines are predicted to taste their best based on these principles.
Animals are a crucial element of a Biodynamic farm, and in addition to their obvious contribution to a farm’s fertility, their care and welfare are given extensive consideration. Housing must allow animals to move freely and protect them from heat, dust, excess humidity, and harmful gasses such as ammonia. Poultry cages are prohibited, every animal must be given a dry, soft and insulated spot where it can lie down and rest, and access to free range forage and the outdoors is required. Homeopathic remedies in place of vaccines are strongly recommended, and the use of antibiotics and growth hormones is prohibited. If an animal is being raised for the sale of meat, eggs or milk, a minimum of one- half of its feed must come from the farm, and the remainder must be Demeter certified.
The Demeter Association is the accrediting body for Biodynamic Certification. Demeter is the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility. The international headquarters are located in Brussels, Belgium and has set forth the 55 page Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard that forms a common legal foundation and agricultural framework for Biodynamic practice worldwide. Annual inspection is ongoing and agents may make unannounced visits at their discretion.
The U.S arm of Demeter International is located in Oregon and meets the requirements set by Demeter International. To receive accreditation a farm must have been operating biodynamically for a minimum of three years and have already received USDA Organic Certification. Annual inspection is ongoing and agents may make unannounced visits at their discretion. The majority of the U.S. certified biodynamic farms are on the West Coast and in the Northeast. There are none in Texas however, there are pockets of practitioners.
Upon the creation of the Biodynamic Association in 1938, (the oldest sustainable agriculture non-profit organization in North America), biodynamic practitioners have played a key role in the revitalization of holistic agriculture, demonstrating how to bring health and flavor back into our food. Their efforts pioneered the early organic farming movement and piloted the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and the concept spread rapidly. Gardens or farms gather a circle of devoted supporters who guarantee in advance to sponsor the financial needs of the enterprise and its workers. Each receives a share of the produce. Consumers remain conscious of the real needs of the farm and are rewarded with rich harvests. The recent upsurge in all three movements, Sustainability, Organics and Biodynamics springs optimism for continued improvement in agricultural and horticultural production steeped in holistic principles that can only make this a better earth for our children.
Studies in the Science of Biodynamics:
The Science behind Biodynamics by Dr. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University July 26, 2011 http://articles.extension.org/pages/28756/the-science-behind-biodynamics#.VJRMjV4CA
List of numerous other Biodynamic Research Studies Conducted in the last 20 Years:
For a list of Biodynamic Wineries click here
Sources for Biodynamic Preparations and Publications:
Biodynamic farms strive to make their own preparations. However, they can be purchased from the Josephine Porter Institute, a beautiful farm in southwest Virginia. An array of publications is also available www.jpibiodynamics.org.
Wine from Sky to Earth by Nicholas Joly
Agriculture by Rudolph Steiner
Demeter Association USA www.demeter-usa.org
Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association www.biodynamics.com
National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service www.attra.org/attra-pub/biodynamic.html
“What is Biodynamics” by Sherry Wildfeuer taken from StellaNatura 1995 Calendar