23 Aug 2021

What is biodynamic farming?

author Ashley Owen
Finely ground quartz mixed with water and packed into a cow’s horn, oak bark stuffed into the skull of a farm animal and buried underground… Believe it or not, these are methods used in a specific type of farming. With more and more farmers choosing to use their land this way, what is biodynamic farming? And could it actually help to work against the dangers of modern industrial farming?

What is biodynamic farming?

Biodynamic farming is a method of farming which tries to create the best conditions for healthy crops and animals using natural methods. In some ways, it is quite similar to organic farming. However, it differs from it in that biodynamic farming uses spiritual or astrological methods alongside organic ones.

According to the UK’s Biodynamic Association, “biodynamics has metaphysical and spiritual roots that organics does not. Biodynamics thus embraces the mystery of all life processes, including the subtle and energetic realities that are not necessarily easy to measure or justify using current scientific methods.”(1)

For example, a biodynamic farm may use astrological calendars to work out when to plant and harvest their crops. They may also use special preparations intended to increase the fertility of the farm, such as those described above.


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Where does biodynamic farming come from?

The father of biodynamics is a man named Rudolf Steiner.

An extraordinarily interesting person in his own right, Steiner was a philosopher. He engaged with many complex questions about human spirituality.

He became famous later in his career for the concept of ‘anthroposophy’. Steiner used this term to describe how humans could communicate with the spiritual world via their intellect.(2)

Steiner became interested in agriculture after being one of the first to recognise that industrial farming - and particularly the overuse of chemical fertilisers - would end up damaging the environment.

He gave a series of lectures to a group of farmers in Koberwitz, Germany (now Poland) in 1924 in which he laid out his ideas. A book of these lectures allowed Steiner to share his ideas throughout the world.(3)

What are the key principles of biodynamic farming?

Biodynamic farmers see their farm as one ecosystem, where all the different elements affect one another. In fact, Steiner encouraged farmers to think of their farms as a single organism.

On a typical modern farm, you may have one area dedicated to one type of crop, Meanwhile, the animals remain elsewhere and their treatment is completely separate.

Steiner, on the other hand, wanted farmers to think of the whole farm as a living being, where the different areas of production were almost like different limbs. If the leg becomes damaged or ill, it affects the entire body.

Thus the farm must remain in a delicate balance with each element interacting with all the others. Plants, animals, soil, and even the humans who work the farm, are all a part of this special ecosystem.

Biodynamic farming welcomes and encourages biodiversity, and aims to be completely self-sufficient. That means it shouldn’t need external help in the form of artificial fertilisers and pesticides to run. Rather, biodynamic farmers aim to produce everything they need to run the farm within its own boundaries.

As such, biodynamic farming can be a very sustainable and environmentally-friendly method of agriculture. This is because it cares deeply for the local environment and produces very little waste.



How is biodynamic farming similar to organic farming?

Biodynamic farming shares lots of characteristics with organic farming, including the rejection of the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides.

For example, both methods make use of crop rotation. This makes sure that the soil in a particular area of the farm isn’t exhausted of nutrients after long periods growing the same crop.

They both avoid growing crops in monocultures and use sustainable farming methods.

What's more, they may use natural pest control methods, such as introducing a predatory species or protecting the crops through other means.(4)

However, biodynamic farming adds extra elements which are not present in organic farming.

The spiritual elements of biodynamic farming

Alongside organic farming methods, biodynamic farming introduces spiritual, astrological and magical elements to help the farm remain healthy. Think of it as Ayurveda for farmland!

Many of these elements hark back to Rudolf Steiner’s original recommendations. In his course book, he recommended particular ‘preparations’. He believed that these could improve the fertility of the farm.

Preparations 500 and 501, for example, involves packing a cow horn with either manure or silica before burying it for several months to one year. Afterwards, the contents are mixed with water and made up into a liquid which is then sprayed on the fields of the farm.

Steiner encouraged such preparations because he believed that the shape of a cow’s horn made it an effective antenna for cosmic forces, which would be absorbed into its contents.

Preparation 502 requires the farmer to pack yarrow flower heads into a stag’s bladder. Meanwhile, preparation 505 is made by packing oak bark into the skull of a domestic animal.(4)

Steiner came up with most of these preparations not through a process of scientific testing, but by ‘meditation and clairvoyance’.(4)

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