Last spring, eight of us spent a morning filling a 3ft-deep, brick-lined hole in my garden with fresh cow manure. We treated it with seven specially fermented compost preparations and covered it with a wet sack and a wooden board to keep the weather out.
We had just made the biodynamic preparation known as Cow Pat Pit. In three months, no more than a pinch of this power-packed composted manure will be added to a 75-litre drum of water, stirred for an hour, then sprayed on the garden as an autumnal elixir.
Welcome to the world of biodynamics that has engrossed me after a lifetime of organic gardening. It does not mean that I have deserted the organic camp: on the contrary, it is not possible to garden biodynamically without having proper organic husbandry as a base, but it does mean that as a biodynamic practitioner I am incorporating an extra dimension that is not normally taken into account when gardening organically.
This extra dimension is best understood if we look at the word “biodynamic” and see that, derived from the Greek, bio means life and dynamic means force.
Biodynamics sets out to work with the influence of the invisible energies and forces that exist, as well as those we can see around us. And the purpose of biodynamics, as laid out by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner in his eight lectures on agriculture in 1924, is to deepen our understanding of the life forces that underlie nature’s processes in order to produce food of the highest quality.
On a practical level, Steiner’s intention was that farmers should try to work towards allowing soil and plant life to become more receptive to such energies by the use of certain compost preparations and field sprays.
Steiner had his reasons for this – he foresaw the waning vitality of the earth and predicted a time when it would become increasingly difficult for us to grow food (both of which are fairly evident to us today if we take chronic world soil erosion and global warming as examples). The use of the biodynamic preparations would, in his view, strengthen the connection between the cosmic and the terrestrial, that is, the heavenly and the earthly – the stars and the soil.
There is no doubt that organic gardening and farming, which depend on building and maintaining soil fertility and managing land ecologically, are systems that have restored our understanding of the importance of soil health and its relation to human health. The organic approach sets out to achieve and hold the balance just as it is found in nature. We mimic this in organic gardening by growing a diverse range of plants and feeding the soil, and therefore the plants, with compost and other organic matter. The difference is that the practice of biodynamics acknowledges the existence of, and sets out to work with, realms that lie beyond the visible.