Discussing biodynamics – Green Corner Series Hop on the Biodynamics Bandwagon

His ideas were an attempt to embed a lifestyle change brought about by the awareness that our reality is only made whole by both the material and spiritual processes working in tandem

By Joy Livingston

The question of sustainability

Be like Neo, take the red pill, it’s better for the environment and makes for a great story when marketing your products. Biodynamic agriculture has become a “next level” movement beyond organic farming, as people continue to look for that healthier lifestyle. Biodynamic farming touts that it creates a holistic, self-sustaining environment, whereby the principles and practices leave the environment in a healthier and stronger state, creating better plants. But the question is, what is it about this movement that causes people to pause and hesitate? The answer likely lies in weirder practices that go along with biodynamics, in that realm where existentialism meets metaphysics as well as the financial concerns involved with implementation and yields – is converting to biodynamics a risk still worth taking?


The ideas behind biodynamic practices

The Biodynamics movement was first conceived by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), he was widely known as a social reformer, philosopher and esoteric. In 1924 he published Agriculture outlining his model for his philosophy, Anthroposophy (this is the combination of two words: ‘anthropo’ meaning human, and ‘sophia’ meaning wisdom), it defined the idea that the natural world was guided by cosmic rhythms. His ideas were an attempt to embed a lifestyle change brought about by the awareness that our reality is only made whole by both the material and spiritual processes working in tandem, and that our consciousness must eclipse the current era’s obsession with the attachment to the material world (britannica.com).


When the stars align

But how does this translate into tangible practices in the field of vineyard cultivation? This where some of the more interesting aspects of his philosophy come into effect. Planting and harvesting on the lunar calendar for example: constellations and planetary alignments are consulted for optimal results. It is thought that the moon’s gravitational pull has an effect on the sap running through a plant’s veins, making certain days more or less favorable to perform certain agricultural activities. Following the lunar calendar, there are certain days dedicated to specific tasks thereby enhancing vineyard health – Root days are good for pruning; Fruit days, for harvesting; Leaf days, for watering; flower days are for leaving the vineyard alone.


Manure with herbs and other concoctions

Organic fertilizers are taken one step further where cows horns are packed with manure and buried until spring when they are dug up and the concentrated contents are mixed with water and sprayed over the plants to fertilize them. This compost, known as “preparation 500”, is thought to regulate pH levels, stimulate seed germination and dissolve minerals. Horn Silica, is also used, made from ground up quartz crystal, this “light refracting” substance is buried in the soil, having been placed in cow’s horns over summer, then dug up and added to water, stirred for one hour and applied as a mist in the early morning. Other preparations that are applied or buried and dug up for use include (but are not limited to), yarrow root, where the flowers are placed in a stag’s bladder and buried; Chamomile is buried in cow’s small intestines; Oak bark is placed in a cow skull and left in water over winter; Dandelion is placed in a cow’s mesentery; Equisetum is made into a tea and can be mixed with Horn silica to be sprayed as a mist. This list is obviously not exhaustive by any means, there are volumes of information that viticulturalists and farmers must study before beginning.


Is biodynamics financially viable as well as responsible

Can these practices bring about better vines? This is unclear, but there are several very prominent biodynamic wine producers in Italy that are avid proponents of this type of cultivation such as, Alessandro Fenino of Pievalta Winery, Virginie Saverys of the Avignonesi Winery in Montepulciano, Tuscany or even Alessandro Ceretto from Ceretto Wines to name but a few. The results of studies into the effectiveness and merit of biodynamics have not conclusively proven its superiority, however, some studies have revealed that biodynamic farming systems have resulted in better soil quality, such as higher organic matter, greater microbial activity, more earthworm channels, but lower crop yield when compared to conventional farming systems (Reganold 1995). In the long-term DOK field trials by FiBL (Forschungsinstitut für Biologischen Landbau) that compared biodynamic (D for Demeter), organic (O) and conventional (K for ‘konventionell’) cropping systems, these trials suggested that biodynamic practices are in fact effective. FiBLstated: “In the biodynamic system, soil organic matter (humus) content remained stable for the first 21 years of the trial while it declined in all other systems”.


Go green or go home

The benefits to the environment are obvious, since this approach removes harmful chemicals that cause damage to the soil. However, moving beyond science, there is the financial factor, something that viticulturalists and farmers cannot ignore – biodynamics requires a cost and labor commitment beyond that of regular vineyard management. The permits and documentation required to obtain a biodynamic ranking through “Demeter” can also be challenging in several ways, and then there is the added risk for larger production models since this practice may not produce the required annual yields. Regardless of these concerns, this kind of cultivation is most likely the future of viticulture and farming; consumers love the idea of biodynamic food, and scientists have proven it is a sustainable cultivation method, in terms of the soil.

As a final thought in this discussion, biodynamic farming is marketable. It makes for a great story, the process draws a curiosity and this in itself could translate into tangible sales. It is clear that regardless of any philosophical qualms some may have surrounding biodynamics, people should choose to just bite the bullet and make the effort to convert or at the very least, find out more through reputable teachers and advocates. The major environmental and sustainability concerns faced by agriculture today should be more than enough of a reason to provide an impetus for change.

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