Biodynamic farming finds its roots in traditional farming. Therefore, its origins are very ancient. However, the birth of the recent ‘biodynamic movement’ and the term itself arose in the early 20th century.
Considered the ‘father of biodynamics,’ Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was approached by a group of concerned farmers in Germany starting in 1914. They were noticing a steady decline in soil fertility, seed germination/vitality, farm animal health and successively crop quality. After WWI ended in 1918, the use of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers in agriculture was widespread throughout Europe. Steiner was one of the first public figures to denounce the use of widespread chemical fertilizers, foreboding that they would lead to an overall deterioration of soils.
In response to the rising concern in the German agricultural sector - and their persistence in asking Steiner to advise them - he drafted a methodology to harness and maintain a farm’s inherent fertility, focusing on building soil health. It is important to note that Steiner did not invent biodynamics. He spent years doing research through old agricultural texts, studying in-depth traditional practices that had fallen by the wayside. Steiner sorted, accumulated and polished this traditional agriculture information.
Steiner gave a series of lectures in 1924 called the Agriculture Course, which is now considered the foundation of the modern biodynamic farming movement. His agriculture lectures highlighted the use of compost, biodiversity, limiting off site inputs and detailed specific compost preparations designed to bring life and balance back into the soil.
This farming philosophy is a practical extension of nature’s already present processes, and seeks to heighten these activities: decomposition, organic matter production, photosynthesis, plant and root development, and soil structure transformation. Biodynamics identifies natural processes and enhances them through farming practices and the use of preparations.
To understand biodynamic and traditional farming, one’s mindset has to shift. Feeding the plant/vine, and then expecting it to flourish, is a very conventional approach. Biodynamic farming systems are specifically designed to feed soil so the vines can thrive without the use of conventional chemicals. This farming system emphasizes self-containing sustainability and closing the loop - limiting off site inputs as much as possible.
Preceding our modern era by eons, understanding the cycles of the sun and the moon was an essential condition for the development of our agricultural societies. Ancient civilizations developed their ways of farming revolving around complex calendar systems. These calendar systems are reflected in astronomical clocks featured on most European cathedrals that originated in the Middle Ages. Again, this knowledge is included in the original farmer’s almanac established in 1792.
Before modern technology, the understanding of cycles and their influence on farming was common knowledge, and passed down through generations. Since the beginning of the chemical farming era, this ancient knowledge has faded away as farmers rely more on technology. Today the influence of the moon upon crops is seen as mere folklore, or even worse, as witchcraft; rare are the growers taking into consideration the farmer’s almanac.
The biodynamic farming calendar was developed by Maria Thun and first published in 1962. After years of research and trials, Maria Thun found that for specific crops, the timing of planting and other key farming tasks performed during particular times yielded different results. It provides the positions of the sun and moon in the sky. It has since been used for decades by farmers around the world.
The calendar was originally designed for farmers and gardeners growing annual crops. These days it is widely used by vineyards. Vines are perennials and don’t respond the same way annual plants do. This has led to a lot of confusion. From here came the well-known dogmatism of ‘good days and bad days.’
Our approach to the calendar is practical and can be implemented easily into any farm system.
Enhances transformation processes such as: sub soil to top soil and promotes root growth. The purpose of the preparation is to breed, propagate and innoculate the soil with its own microorganisms (beneficial bacteria, fungi). These microbes are responsible for creating organic matter and a soil rich in plant available nutrients. Breeding your own local microbial population is important, they are terroir specific. It is applied in winter to enhance root development and root structure of the vine (remember, soil and roots are most active during this time). This preparation builds soil structure, and essentially feeds the soil nutrients after producing a crop.
Silica (quartz crystal) acts as a great balancer, bringing each vine into equilibrium by stimulating the plant’s ability to self-regulate photosynthesis. It supports, enhances, and balances a vine’s photosynthetic process. In so doing, silica enhances and regulates vigor of the vine. In fact, silica applications enhance whatever process the plant is already doing - vegetative growth, cluster development or ripening. Silica also helps combat mildew and botrytis – it reduces the humidity in the canopy much like the sun’s heat does.
Compost is food for your land. It is vital to feed the soil, so that the vine can feed itself and thrive. Each year, as we reap harvest of the crops, we export essential nutrients and minerals from the soil. Feeding the soil is the primary philosophy of traditional, organic and biodynamic agriculture. Not all compost is created equal, as the quality can vary widely among producers. The best way to ensure high quality compost is to make your own on site.
Preparations 502 to 507 go into the compost. They are made from plants that have been used traditionally to medicinally aid digestion in humans and animals. Together they organize and revitalize the compost, and they work in synergy with each other. These preparations aid in the transformation and digestion of the pile during the composting process.
This is made from esquisetum (horsetail), and enhances the plant’s resistance to diseases and pathogens, including fungal infection.
Originally developed by Maria Thun, this preparation is made with cow manure, eggshells, basalt, and preparations 502-507. It has a myriad of benefits: provides essential nutrients to soil and plants, aids in decomposition of organic matter and formation of humus, neutralizes toxic damage from farm chemicals, and stimulates soil microorganism activity. This application is particularly high in calcium, and complimentary to preparation #500.