Among all the methods to cultivate the garden in a natural way, biodynamics is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and coherent. My stubborn skepticism about the effect of lunar and cosmic influences has always kept me away from this discipline, but for the past few years I have looked longingly at the beautiful garden of a dear friend. Here, everything grows healthy and lush without the use of products that are not biodynamic preparations.
For a long time I wanted to deepen and write an article on biodynamics, not practicing this discipline which I have always been afraid to speak wrongly and through. So I contacted the association of biodynamic agriculture, asking for “technical support” and got in touch with Michèle Baio, biodynamic farmer, consultant and trainer. Michele helped me focus on the most important points of this fascinating farming practice and gave us the material that you will find in this article and the following ones.
In fact, from this collaboration was born the idea of a cycle of articles, to try to understand together what biodynamics is, starting to know its basic principles. Here is the continuation of our first episode: a general introduction and two intrigues, followed by other posts to deepen the different aspects of this discipline.
Obviously reading on the internet is not enough, I advise those who want to make a biodynamic garden, or even learn more, to take a course.
More information can be requested on the website of the Biodynamic Agriculture Association and in the Lombardy section or you can write to these addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Practice of biodynamic agriculture
To explain what biodynamics is, Michele Baio offers a comparison with medicine: just as the doctor aims to take care of the patient’s body and keep it healthy, in the same way the biodynamic farmer must take care of Earth. The life of the soil is made up of great complexity: thousands of bacteria, micro-organisms and insects, whose incessant work allows all natural processes.
We can see this whole vital whole as an organism, where each element is part of a whole and where even the smallest component plays a valuable role. In this context, soil maintenance preparations are like medicines, useful for preventing and curing soil diseases.
However, care must be taken not to use drugs with side effects, such as sulphur, copper or pyrethrum, which can initially solve the problems of the garden, but which remain poisons released into the environment. With this type of treatment, not only the pest or the disease to be fought is affected: inevitably, many useful insects and microorganisms are killed, depleting the ecosystem of important parts. The better you manage to maintain a healthy environment, the less poisons the grower will have to use, a virtuous circle which, if properly applied, completely eliminates the use of harmful products.
Biodynamics carefully studies the effects of each substance and rejects the use of anything that could be toxic to the soil. The sulfur, copper and pyrethrum already mentioned are of natural origin, but this is not enough: pyrethrin, for example, is obtained from a flower but kills bees. Moreover, there is no product on the market entirely based on natural Pyrethrum, the cost would be impossible. Biodynamic preparations maintain the vitality of the soil, just as in biodynamic composting, the goal is to provide nourishment to all those invisible helpers responsible for the health of the soil.
Biodynamic cultivation is also characterized by precise time scanning: sowing, transplanting, processing and harvesting are regulated according to the position of the Moon, the Sun and the planets. Two biodynamic agricultural calendars can be used as a guide: the calendar of Maria Thun (Anthroposophical editor) and the planting and production calendar of Paolo Pistis (La Biolca editorial).
History of biodynamics: a few winks
Biodynamics was born in 1924 in Koberwitz: several farms and large landowners noted a decline in the quality of agricultural crops: obvious loss of flavor and ability to keep vegetables. These farms asked Rudolf Steiner to give a course attended by 320 people, setting up working groups to create a new farming method. They begin experimenting on 30 farms, with the Koberwitz farm, which spans 5,000 hectares, leading the way. From these first points of diffusion, it will spread throughout Northern Europe. Nazi Germany would strongly oppose the Anthroposophical movement by banning biodynamic agriculture, many Steiner employees were forced to emigrate, spreading the method to various parts of the world.
In Italy, biodynamic agriculture began to germinate in 1946 when, at the end of the war, the first pioneers founded the Association of Biodynamic Agriculture. In the 1970s, biodynamics began to be discussed a little more: Giulia Maria Crespi bought the Cascine Orsine di Bereguardo, where she created the first Italian school of biodynamic agriculture. In Rolo Gianni Catellani, the “La Farnia” cooperative is formed, training courses are launched, the first biodynamic farms are born,
Today, biodynamics is applied in some 5,000 Italian farms of all sizes, from family farms to those of hundreds of hectares and heads of cattle where 30 people work. For example, Cascine Orsine and Fattorie di Vaira, which are tangible demonstrations of good biodynamics widely applied.
Notable examples of the application of the biodynamic method in large areas can be seen in Australia, where an area equal to the Po Valley is cultivated, also in Egypt the Sekem cooperative cultivates 20,000 hectares employing 1,400 people.
The motivations that gave birth to biodynamics in 1924 are more relevant than ever: today, with modern agriculture and the agro-food industry, we produce less and less nutritious food. Studies show that over the last 20 years there has been a 40% decrease in the presence of many nutrients (proteins, vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, iron,…).
A new agriculture is needed that continues to be able, as it was a few decades ago, to produce food that is not only tasty but also rich in beneficial active principles, capable of maintaining human beings in good health. Everyone, in their own way, can simply contribute to the cultivation of their garden, taking care of the land as biodynamics teaches.