The organic movement has come a long way in recent years and nowadays organically grown fruit and vegetables are almost mainstream.
Permaculture is also understood by more and more people and is spreading world-wide. Yet Biodynamic growing methods together with the ‘brand name’ of Demeter has some way to go before having the same popular understanding, and some of the myths are dispelled.
So rather than explaining the biodynamic theories based on Rudolph Steiners’ lectures, here are some practical tips on how to ‘step up’ from being an organic gardener to becoming a biodynamic gardener. Hopefully by applying these theories in practice, you can experience these methods.
Biodynamic gardening can allow you to form a better spiritual and physical connection with your garden.
This is achieved by:
Growing your crops close to nature’s rhythms
Closely observing your garden or the land
Witnessing an increase in vitality of your soil and plants through application of biodynamic preparations
Sowing, planting, hoeing, and harvesting in harmony with nature, using the phases of the moon and planets.
So what do you need to do to upgrade from organic to biodynamic?
One of the first things you need to try to increase is the vitality of your soil. As an organic gardener you already know that applying chemical fertilizers has a detrimental effect on your soil in the long term. At this stage you may already be using plant based fertilizers (green manures, fertilizers made of nettles, comfrey ) or animal manures .
Biodynamic growers enhance soil vitality by applying biodynamic preparations to the land and by also adding compost preparations either to the compost heap or to use as ‘teas’ to apply to crops and the land. These preparations are applied in very small (homeopathic) quantities and are available from the BDAA. They come with full instructions and there is enough literature around to go deeper into explaining why certain plants are chosen for preparations and why they are stored in an unusual way.
Spring is a good time to use the 'Horn Manure' preparation (made with cow manure stored in a cow horn over winter underground). After stirring a small quantity of cow manure preparation for an hour you apply it to your plot by hand before you start planting.
Spring is also a good time to start a new compost heap and you can add compost preparations such as Yarrow, chamomile, nettle, dandelion, oak bark and valerian, when you have enough material. Again, guidelines and instructions come with the preparations. The nettle preparation is quite easy to make yourself and I have included instructions at the end.
When you are ready to sow and plant, bear in mind that open pollinated seeds are important. All biodynamic seeds are organic, open pollinated and grown on biodynamic farms and land. These types of seeds can be used for seed saving and swapping and plant diversity alive and they will have evolved to suit your local climate and soil conditions.
Biodynamic gardeners and growers see things holistically. For them, harmony and balance comes from sowing the seed, watching the plant go through different cycles in an archetypical way, producing flowers and by collecting seeds again after pollination.
So the biodynamic gardener (who is part of that cycle of life) accurately plans activities in order to best take advantage of various cycles of the moon, planets, stars and sun. You can use various aids (such as lunar gardening calendars) but you will also learn a lot through observation. The biodynamic planting calendars take notice of waxing and waning moon cycles, which are quite easy to observe.
Less obvious is the ascending and descending of the moon’s path, which changes once a month from a lower arc to a bigger one. This is just like the sun changing its path in the sky from low in winter to high in summer (as seen from earth in the northern hemisphere). The calendar can assist you in choosing the optimum times to sow, plant, harvest and tend to crops but don’t look at it as a dogmatic regime that you have to follow under all circumstances. There are always alternatives if you have missed the optimal time.
Practical tips on using biodynamic methods for preparing your beds
After having applied the horn manure preparation in spring, hoe when the moon is waxing and in Leo, (which will bring all weed seeds in the ground to germinate) and then hoe again when the moon is waning and in Capricorn. This will remove the unwanted weed seedlings.
To make your very own nettle preparation, dig an area in your garden or allotment deep enough to hold a huge amount of fresh stinging nettles. Cut the nettles in June/July and cover with topsoil. Now you have to wait for a whole year before opening your marked area where you will find a much smaller amount of nettle compost.
The moon is responsible for the tides and is also the ruler of all liquid elements and their movement in the soil, plants and in our bodies. Hence the moons position in the sky will affect the absorption of water and nutrients of plants and you should bear in mind which direction these energies and fluids go when planting and pruning and when you harvest your crops for storage.
If you are interested and would like to follow these planting methods, have a look at www.lunarorganics.com for a planting calendar and other gardening tips. You can also buy biodynamic seeds here.
You can order the biodynamic preparations from www.biodynamic.org.uk
For a useful DVD that demistifies biodynamics and is full of practical, visual information, see Biodynamic Gardening - The tools and techniques to nurture your garden