What is Biodynamics?

by Sherry Wildfeuer

Reprinted with permission from the Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc.’s 1995 Resource Catalog (P.O. Box 550, Kimberton, PA 19442). This article is based on An Introduction to Biodynamic Agriculture by Sherry Wildfeuer as contained in the 1995 issue of Stella Natura

What is Biodynamic Agriculture?

What is Biodynamic agriculture? In seeking an answer let us pose the further question: Can the Earth heal itself, or has the waning of the Earth’s vitality gone too far for this? No matter where our land is located, if we are observant we will see sure signs of illness in the trees, in our cultivated plants, in the water, even in the weather. Organic agriculture rightly wants to halt the devastation of nature caused by humans; however, it has no cure for the ailing Earth. From this the following question arises: What was the original source of vitality, and is it available now?

This subject is addressed within the work of Rudolf Steiner, known as anthroposophy—a new approach to science which integrates precise observation of natural phenomena, clear thinking, and knowledge of the spirit. It offers an account of the spiritual history of the Earth as a living being, and describes the evolution of the constitution of humanity and the kingdoms of nature. Biodynamics is a science of life-forces, a recognition of the basic principles at work in nature, and an approach to agriculture which takes these principles into account to bring about balance and healing.

In a very real way, then, Biodynamics is an ongoing path of knowledge rather than an assemblage of methods and techniques. Some of the basic principles are:

It is important to get to the point where you can reckon with the effects of the stars without being the least bit superstitious. A lot of things that used to be a matter of knowledge have now degenerated into superstition, and it does no good to warm them up again.
—Agriculture, page 122 by Rudolf Steiner

Broaden Your Perspective

Just as we need to look at the magnetic field of the whole earth to comprehend a compass, to understand plant life we must expand our view to include the whole universe which affects plant growth. No narrow microscopic view will suffice. Plants are utterly open to and formed by influences from the depths of the earth to the heights of the heavens. Therefore our considerations in agriculture must range much more broadly than is generally assumed to be relevant.

Cosmic Rhythms

The light of the sun, moon, planets and stars reaches the plants in regular rhythms. Each one contributes to the life, growth, and form of the plant. By understanding the gesture and effect of each particular rhythm we can time our ground preparation, sowing, cultivating, and harvesting to the advantage of the crops we are raising. The Stella*Natura calendar is an introduction to the science of this aspect of Biodynamics.
Plant Life is Intimately Bound Up with the Life of the Soil
A balanced soil which is rich in humus, worked through by earthworms, and teeming with lively activity, is far more than the physical anchor for roots and absorbent medium for liquid nutrients to which it is reduced in conventional agriculture. (In hydroponics it is done away with altogether!) Biodynamics recognizes that soil itself can be alive, and this vitality supports the life of the plants that grow in it. Therefore, our fundamental effort is to build up stable humus in our soil through correct composting methods. It is not far-fetched to use the metaphor of a child striving to develop within a supportive versus an unsupportive social setting.

A New View of Nutrition

We gain our strength from the process of breaking down the food we eat. The more vital the food, the more it stimulates our own activity. Thus, Biodynamic farmers and gardeners aim beyond mere stomach-
In the seed we have an image of the whole universe. Each single time a seed is formed, the earthly organizing process is led to its end, to the point of chaos. And each time, within the seed-chaos, a new organism is built up out of the whole universe.
—Agriculture, page 35 by Rudolf Steiner

The Farm as the Basic Unit of Agriculture

In his Agriculture Course Rudolf Steiner posed the ideal of the self-contained farm. There should be just the right number and combination of animals to provide manure for fertility, and these animals in turn should be fed from the land. Now, however, feed is regularly brought in for animals, and manure is considered a problem. Most gardeners have access to only a small plot of land. The mixed farm is almost extinct. The landscape itself has been so divided, and the economic conditions are such that this seems an impossible ideal for many to strive for.

Spreading Compost

Yet we can seek the essential gesture of such a farm also under other circumstances. It has to do with preservation and recycling of the life-forces with which we are working. Vegetable waste, manure, leaves, food scraps, all contain precious vitality which can be held and put to use for building up the soil if they are handled wisely. Or, that potential can be squandered and dispersed through poor management. Thus, composting is a key activity in Biodynamic agriculture.

Another value of the farm is the educational opportunity to imitate nature’s wise self-sufficiency within a limited area. The farm itself becomes the teacher. It is interesting that in certain areas people have tried with some success to create farms through the association of several parcels of non-contiguous land.

Medicine for the Earth

Biodynamics is a science of life-forces, a recognition of the basic principles at work in nature, and an approach to agriculture which takes these principles into account to bring about balance and healing.

No matter how carefully we husband our resources, through the very fact of removing crops from the land we are depleting the earth. Is there a source from which to draw new life-forces into nature?

We depend upon the tremendous energy of the sun for all life on earth. All the planets in our solar system are actively influencing plant and animal life as well, each with a particular gift or quality. This has been known by older cultures, which identified certain plants and bodily organs with each planet. Rudolf Steiner pointed out that a new science of such cosmic influences would have to replace the old instinctive wisdom and tradition. Out of his own insight he introduced what are known as the Biodynamics Preparations. By bringing together particular elements from nature at certain seasons of the year, the forces which they bear are concentrated and are then able to be used to focus the chaotic elements within the compost, inwardly “organizing” the piles. Two of the Preparations are used directly in the field, one on the earth before planting to stimulate soil life, and one on the leaves of growing crops to enhance their capacity to receive the light. In these Preparations we have medicine for the Earth which draws in new life-forces from the cosmos.

Economics Based on Knowledge of the Job

Rudolf Steiner emphasized the absurdity of agricultural economics being determined by people who have never actually raised crops or managed a farm. We know how disastrous the effects have been when this is the case. Farmers are forced to adopt measures which their own judgment cannot support, for purely economic reasons.

A new approach to this situation requires the association of producers and consumers for their mutual benefit. One way that was born in the Biodynamic movement and is spreading rapidly, is the Community Supported Agriculture movement. Gardens or farms gather around them a circle of supporters who agree in advance to meet the financial needs of the enterprise and its workers, and the supporters each receive a share of the produce as the season progresses. The income of the land worker is thus guaranteed, and the budget is determined according to insight rather than financial pressure. The consumers become conscious of the real needs of the farm; they rejoice in the rich harvests, and remain faithful under adverse circumstances.

Reading the Book of Nature

Everything in nature reveals something of its essential character in its form and gesture. Silica is polar opposite to limestone, for example, in its relation to water, and the way it supports plant growth. We have a similar polarity between those plants which swell out and provide substantial nourishment for animals and people, and those plants which go quickly to seed, focusing on reproducing themselves rather than on producing food. Among animals there are those, like the cow, in which the metabolic functions predominate. And there are others, like the sensitive deer, in which the nerve-sense activities come more to the fore. These are just a few “letters of the alphabet.” Careful observations of nature—in shade and full sun, in wet and dry areas, on different soils, will yield a more fluid grasp of the elements. So eventually one learns to “read” the language of nature. And then one can be creative, bringing new emphasis and balance through specific techniques.

In the seed we have an image of the whole universe. Each single time a seed is formed, the earthly organizing process is led to its end, to the point of chaos. And each time, within the seed-chaos, a new organism is built up out of the whole universe.

—Agriculture, page 35 by Rudolf Steiner

These principles were expressed by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 in a series of lectures given in response to earnest questions brought by farmers who noticed even then a deterioration in seed quality and animal fertility. Practitioners and experimenters over the last seventy years have added tremendously to the body of knowledge known as Biodynamics. The practical indications given in Steiner’s Agriculture Course have shown themselves to be still helpful, and it is a constant source of awe and inspiration for even the most experienced farmers and gardeners to discover that they can always come to deeper levels of understanding.

For more information on Biodynamics visit the
“Home Page of the Biodynamic Association of America.”