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Demythologizing Biodynamic Agriculture

What attracted me to Biodynamics? My aversion to it. No offense to anyone, but biodynamic agriculture sounds like nonsense, so I want to make sense of it.

Much of it still sounds like nonsense, and when it is shrouded in semi-religious wishy-washy jargon — I lose interest. But permaculturists do the same thing! It’s no unique criticism. People who always fall back to “Rudolf Steiner says” or “Bill Mollison says” or “Sepp Holzer says” make it sound like mindless religion, turning the fallible musings of farmers into inerrant scripture. No guru is perfect.

Since I already go out of my way to take supplements, drink teas, grow my own food, avoid synthetic chemicals — and I realized that if I can accept the science that drinking green tea regularly can help fight cancer, then why not the same for the soil? I’ve come to think that biodynamic preps are probiotics for the soil.

As much as permaculturists accept the life in the soil, it is still not always the life of the soil itself. But if regular diluted amounts of natural medicines (green tea) can work over decades and if regular minute doses of noxious chemicals (arsenic) can cause serious harm over time — why not the same of the soil? Not simply the plants in the soil, but direct harm to the life of the soil itself. I suppose, if I tend to myself with regular low-dosage natural remedies, then why wouldn’t I do the same for the soil? The soil itself may not (technically) be “alive” but it can be useful to think of it as alive.

There is a general view of biodynamics by outsiders (such as myself) as a “dogma” but, honestly, most of what I’ve read is quite the contrary. It has some very peculiar ideas, and I don’t know if Maria Thun’s 12th planet Ringall exists, but I don’t need to. Maria Thun seems to have spent a life experimenting. And Ehrenfried Pfeiffer seems to have a firm grasp on chemistry and experimentation. What is ironic is that permaculturists, who claim to be “open” to experiment, are far less able to experiment: the first step in their program is to plant trees. It’s hard to revise a forest, or to see whether you did something wrong for years. The whole program Bill Mollison posits is: greater yields and less labor over time… it can involve lots of research, but once the planting of perennials begins, permaculture is explicitly less experimentation as time goes on. As Mollison said: “Less work, greater yields” as time progresses.

The big difference I see between biodynamics and conventional (even organic) agriculture is that biodynamics prepares the way for life, not by directly inoculating the soil with fungi or bacteria, nor by dumping chemicals, but by providing food for microbes (BD500). I see the BD500 as providing the environment for microbial life. Indigenous microbes automatically show up. This works better than conventional agriculture because: it doesn’t matter if you inoculate the soil with fungi or bacteria if there isn’t any FOOD for microbial life.

The difference I see between biodynamic agriculture and conventional agriculture is like the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy. Biodynamics builds up the potential for life, where conventional agriculture attempts to inject life directly. Biodynamics is the preparation that build the potential for dynamic life. Which is to say, biodynamics attempts to enable the perpetual flow from potential energy to kinetic energy and back. Modern conventional agriculture often ignores humus and composting, and because of this the life that people are trying to cultivate dies instead.

But biodynamic preparations are no substitute for remineralizing the soil, nor for employing good sense.

BD500 Biodynamics

1. Stirring water & BD500 (or regular compost) adds beneficial aerobic microbes.
2. Spraying distributes the microbes onto the soil
3. Earthworms see delicious food.
4. Worm castings enrich the soil.

To summarize:

  • Composted cow manure (BD500) applied in dilute amounts (compost tea) at regular intervals will at least provide food for earthworms.
  • The biodynamic “stirring” will at least oxygenate the water, evaporate chlorine, and help aerobic microbes to thrive. Bacteria have the highest protein by weight of any organism in the soil — and they are the foundation of all soil health.

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