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Biodynamics

The Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner came up with the term Biodynamics when he said that there was more to growing productively than planting and harvesting. He concluded that disease problems, pests and a reduction in soil fertility were due to the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Since a series of lectures he gave in 1924 the work has continued and the Biodynamic movement has followers around the world. They believe that the Earth is ailing and requires more than just organic means to be healed. A holistic approach is needed that includes spiritual and cosmic forces along with the use of Preparations to enhance the growing conditions.
Rudolph Steiner proposed that the ideal farm should be self-contained with the animals providing enough manure for fertility, and the crops produced would feed them. This is not to far from the concepts proposed by the Permaculture movement. In the garden we can recycle all of the vegetable waste and food scraps through composting to keep the soil 'alive'.
The soil is alive and is kept in its most vital state by the build-up of stable humus through composting. This healthy, living soil provides food which has greater quality than that produced by chemical farming which has the emphasis on quantity.

Steiner was not the first to link good cultural practice with celestial influence. In The Gardener's Labyrinth, the first popular gardening book published around 1577, Thomas Hill who was an astrologer as well as a gardener, laid out complex schemes linked to the Zodiac for planting and harvesting. He referred to earlier Roman writings by Lucius Iunius Moderatus Columella (AD 4 - ca. AD 70), and Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC 27 BC). Of the former he wrote:

"all seeds bestowed in the garden, for the use and the benefit of the kitchen or the pot, ought rather to be in the increase of the Moon, as from the first, unto the sixth day; forasmuch as all seeds committed to the earth, in the decrease or wane of the Moon, either slowly break and shoot up, or else so weakly increase, that these after serve to smal (sic.) purpose"

To follow the Biodynamic method a number of principles have to be taken on board. This is when it all gets complicated and somewhat mystical.

Lunar Effects

Breathing Cycles

The Preparations

Ashing Pests and Weeds

Conclusion

Followers of the Biodynamic method call it "a science of life-forces", but believers in "intelligent design" say that it has scientific merit! Maybe they could be described as "Organic Fundamentalists" or an Extreme Organic movement!
The principles have some validity with scientific scrutiny. Light is essential for life and following the sun is understandable, but whether light from the moon, planets and stars has an effect is less believable. Certainly their orbits are predictable and regular so using their motion to determine the time of planting and harvesting is valid, but with our changing climate many of the indicators are no longer synchronous.
The gravitational effects of the moon are of great significance as they produce the tides. These had an even greater influence billions of years ago when the moon was much closer to the earth, creating massive seas which eroded the land mass to provide the raw materials for life to begin. Since then it has moved further away and continues to do so by about 38mm a year. Whether this has any effect on plant growth is what is being considered here. This could be an effect on ground water and the movement of sap.
Adding the Preparations to compost would provide some micronutrients, but the lengthy stirring and sprinkling them around has more of a ritualistic overtone than anything horticultural. The method of preparation has similarities to homeopathic remedies, perhaps it's 'homeopathy for the garden'.
Using biodynamic techniques may well improve crops, but this could be due to better husbandry. It provides a discipline of cultivation through soil improvement with lots of organic matter and more care when planting. It is often said that growing potatoes is a great way to improve a garden, this is due to the extra digging and organic matter used when cultivating the soil and not the potatoes themselves, although the dense topgrowth does crowd out weeds. There is no doubt that growing organically with natural manures, composts, and without chemical fertilizers, produces crops which mature slightly slower and taste better. However, the lower yields would not be a sustainible way to feed the nation even if we all become vegans with our own little plot - also where would the cow horns and manure for the Preparations come from?!

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