BIODYNAMICS: IT’S NOT JUST a FEW TECHNIQUES for the GARDEN – By Jane Weaver
In the 1840’s the chemist, Justus von Liebig, sent agriculture into a new and more materialist trajectory when he promoted the amazing notion that soil levels of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) constituted limiting factors for plant growth. Plants grown with the new NPK fertilizers were, by comparison to unhealthy struggling plants in the overworked European soils, big and lush and green (although we now find them to be over-challenged, bloated, and salty-tasting). What a blast of fresh hope those fertilizers must have been for the European farmers whose worn-out fields were prone to periodic crop failures and famines.
As time went on, it became common belief that the only chemical elements required to fertilize food crops were Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. But in the early 1920’s, after 80 years of chemical NPK fertilizer application, and therefore, the cessation of many naturally sustainable, traditional farming methods, productivity and joy in farming had plummeted. Concerned farmers asked the highly trained and respected scientist/philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, for help in regaining fertility and productivity. Thanks to Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s Preface to Steiner’s 1924 Agriculture Course Lectures (first English edition, 1974, Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association, Great Britain, p5), we can appreciate the grave situation already in effect a century ago that compelled Steiner to present his paradigm-shattering Agriculture Course:
… In 1922/23 Ernst Stegemann and a group of other farmers went to ask Rudolf Steiner’s advice about the increasing degeneration they had noticed in seed-strains and in many cultivated plants. What can be done to check this decline and to improve the quality of seed and nutrition?… Crops of lucerne [alfalfa] used commonly to be grown in the same field for as many as thirty years on end. The thirty years dwindled to nine, then to seven. Then the day came when it was considered quite an achievement to keep this crop growing in the same spot for even four or five years. Farmers used to be able to seed new crops year after year from their own rye, wheat, oats, and barley. Now they were finding that they had to resort to new strains of seed every few years…
A second group went to Dr. Steiner in concern at the increase in animal diseases, with problems of sterility and the widespread foot-and-mouth disease high on the list. …
Then Dr. Wachsmuth and the present writer went to Dr. Steiner with questions dealing particularly with the etheric nature of plants, and with formative forces in general. In reply to a question about plant diseases, Dr. Steiner told the writer that the plants themselves could never be diseased in a primary sense, “since they are the products of a healthy etheric world.” They suffer rather from diseased conditions in their environment, especially in the soil; the causes of so-called plant diseases should be sought there.
Steiner responded and outlined one of the first-ever organic agricultural systems. It is based on a working understanding of the actions of the cosmos through invisible, etheric, growth energies. Particular preparations of biological origin are made by the farmer and applied to soil, plants, and compost heaps to enhance the formative energies.
The preparations set Biodynamics apart from other organic systems. Their recipes are drawn from horticultural tradition, medieval alchemy, and the clairvoyant scientific mind of Steiner, and can appear strange and unusual to the modern conventional grower: cow horns are stuffed with cow manure and buried in a specified place and time. How could the busy farmer possibly get ahold of the necessary stag bladders? We might ask, why fool around with nettles or oak bark preparations when there is so much work to do in the garden?
And if that “prep” learning curve weren’t already steep enough, Biodynamics asserts great benefit can be gained by performing various horticultural tasks at specific moments. Without being mindful of weather or the work schedule, these moments occur when the planets or the moon move into particular locations in the sky.
To tax the questioning mind even further, Biodynamicists strive to create a farm as its own complete, independent organism with the farmer at its head — the fewer imported soil or feed amendments, the better. To many observers, adopting a Biodynamic plan for their garden or farm seems not only far-fetched but also too complicated.
All this notwithstanding, Biodynamics was never meant to be limited only to mere techniques for soil improvement and food propagation. The ultimate concern in every aspect of Steiner’s vast work was the serious issue of the evolution of human consciousness. Knowing that western civilization teetered on a dangerous route to destruction of itself and its beautiful dwelling place, Steiner hoped to inspire the first steps toward more intimate human cooperation with the natural world that sustains mankind. He could see that developing our capacity to incorporate an objective understanding of the spiritual world, and how it interrelates with the physical world, would nudge consciousness evolution along its intended and rightful course. He believed that personal and social harmony of the future are dependent upon evolved human consciousness. Remarkably, in a few pages after the quote above, Pfeiffer reports a conversation with Steiner on this very matter.
[To be continued in #2.]