What is Biodynamics?
(written by John Bradshaw and reprinted with the permission of Biodynamic Growing magazine. For more details of this excellent resource on biodynamics in your garden, visit www.bdgrowing.com)
Biodynamics is an advanced organic method in which no artificial fertilisers or chemical sprays are used. Biodynamic gardeners and farmers use a range of methods including biological activator preparations to powerfully enliven soils and plants. The plant is seen in its overall context, not just isolated in a piece of soil – the influences on the plant of the soil, the water in soil and atmosphere, light and warmth, and the cosmos (sun, moon, planets and stars) are all considered. These factors are consciously balanced, allowing the plant to grow to its full potential in health and vitality, resulting in the most beautiful, tasty, health building food.
The soil is the most important basis of agriculture. Soils are gradually developed into a humus-rich, friable, well structured, well-drained state. Rudolf Steiner, in 1924, described a method of making a series of biological activator preparations that would powerfully influence soil development in all these aspects, and allow plants to grow with optimum health, feeding naturally from the soil humus, not artificially from the soil water as described below.
Natural Plant Nutrition – nutrients are contained mostly in the soil colloidal humus, in a soluble state, available to plant roots, but held by the humus colloids. The soil water is relatively free of soluble minerals. Plants have no independent warmth metabolism as have animals, and rely on sun warmth to tell them when to feed. When sun warmth indicates, the plant takes up nutrients from the soil humus using fine hair feeder roots. Plants have to transpire (evaporate water from the leaves) continuously, just as we must breathe continuously, and the roots have to take water in from the soil to replace water lost from the leaves. Water uptake is essentially a separate process from nutrient uptake. Water is taken in by thicker, more vertical roots, and is relatively free of dissolved minerals. The plant is metabolically balanced, nutrient uptake matching growth needs as dictated by the sun. The plant is upright, a healthy green colour, and resistant to insect and disease attack.
Unnatural Plant Nutrition – when artificial, water soluble fertilisers, raw manures or poorly made composts are applied to the soil, minerals dissolve in, and spread throughout, the soil water. The plant is thus forced to feed continuously because the water taken up by the roots, to replace that lost in transpiration, contains dissolved minerals – the role of the sun in governing feeding is diminished. Plants obtain more than they can metabolically use, and cells become over-full with mineral salts. The plant takes in more water to dilute these excess salts, but with the water comes more minerals. Cells become distended with mineral salts and water, the plant becomes overblown and darker green in colour. Photosynthetic efficiency is adversely affected. The plant becomes more susceptible to insects and diseases, and flavour, nutritional value and keeping quality are impaired.
Biodynamic growers use a variety of materials and techniques to develop healthy humus levels, good structure, and biological activity in the soil. Some of these are:
The Biodynamic Preparations
500 – the most powerful substance on earth for the development of soil fertility. Sprayed on moist soil, it fosters microbial activity, humus development and root growth, and leads to progressively better structured, richer, deeper and darker soils. It is made from cow manure.
501 – the light spray. It is used to bring more light into plants when excess wateriness or fertility are present in plants. Plants become crisper and more upright, and develop more flavour, sweetness and keeping quality. 501 is made from quartz crystals.
The compost preparations, 502-507 are made from specially prepared plant materials and are used in compost heaps, and added to 500 to make what is known as prepared 500, an enhanced 500.
Biodynamic growers use carefully selected implements to conserve, and further develop soil structure. For instance, gardeners use thin tyned forks rather than spades for digging.
Sowing by the moon and stars
BD growers use a sowing chart developed as a result of many years of scientific research (not based on folklore or mysticism!). Plants can be influenced to grow more to root, leaf, flower or fruit. Pruning, transplanting etc can also be carried out at optimum times.
This is only the very briefest of outlines. Refer to the articles Biodynamics – an Introduction, and The Biodynamic Preparations in Biodynamic Growing No. 1, and to Alex Podolinsky’s Bio-Dynamic Agriculture, Introductory Lectures, Vol. 1 for more detail. (see pp. 39-40 of this magazine)