Burying cow horns filled with manure and planting crops according to the lunar cycles. What is this all about?
Biodynamic farming is certified organic farming but on a whole different level. Biodynamic comes from the word ‘bio’(life) and ‘dyn’ (force). When applied to agriculture, it means working with life’s forces or processes. It was developed in the early 1920s by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer. Steiner was one of the pioneers in the organic farming movement. He developed biodynamics in partnership with a group of farmers who were concerned with the decline in soil and animal health that they were witnessing on their farms. This was at the time when chemical fertilisers and pesticides were being produced. Steiner warned that the wide spread use of chemical fertilisers would lead to the decline in soil, plant and animal health, and the subsequent devitalisation of food.
Biodynamic is a system that views the whole farm (including the fields, plants, animals and people) as a holistic self sustaining, self contained, living organism. One of the fundamental principles is to have the farm be totally self sufficient. It is called a ‘closed loop’ system whereby feed or fertiliser from external sources is kept to a minimum or not at all.
Another distinct difference from standard organic farming is the metaphysical and spiritual roots that biodynamic farmers have. Due to their view that the health of the farm is number one, there are many, some unusual, practices that they adhere to. Biodynamic farmers work to develop their capacity to sense and observe the more subtle forces at work in nature, and to use their insights to further enhance the vitality of their farms.
Working with nature is an ongoing dialogue for these farmers. They see the soil as everything. ‘Living’ soil, which has worms, organisms and broken down matter, plays a huge part. Building up the humus content of the soil is imperative in the ecosystem of the farm. Using chemicals kills the nature of the soil; causing soil poverty and making it lifeless. Healthy soil = healthy planet = healthy people.
So what about those cow horns they bury? Cow manure is another key element in biodynamics. They pack cow horns with manure and bury them from Autumn to Spring. When they dig them up, the manure has changed composition. They believe that the manure has absorbed the energy of the earth during winter, becoming more potent in its fertilising properties. Next, it is heavily diluted with water and forms part of the various preparations and sprays that the farmers use. These preparations, made up of herbs and minerals as well, assist in breaking down the soil, making it easier to cultivate. They also make the soil healthy, due to the microbial element they have, and also stimulates root growth, to name a few.
Following the astronomical calendar is a unique aspect of biodynamic farming. Being in touch with nature – its rhythms, cycles and planetary influences has subtle affects on the growth and development of plants and animals. A biodynamic planting calendar indicates optimal times for sowing, cultivating and harvesting based on this information.
Working with nature as a whole, to understand insects, plants and soil are all intimately connected. Pest control is practiced by using companion planting, building up the humus levels in the soil, liquid manures, herbal preparations and natural insecticides.
For biodynamic farmers, their focus isn’t on maximum production, at the expense of the health of their land or the health, and quality, of the food they produce. Their focus is making food for the betterment of mankind.
Eating quality food is what we should all be striving for. Biodynamic is just that. Try a biodynamic apple or carrot when next out shopping. You may be pleasantly surprised!