If we look back to its origins, biodynamics has evolved a great deal.
At the origin of biodynamics we find a controversial and prolific gentleman named Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), author of “Agriculture Course”, rendered possible following a long study of the scientific work of Goethe. Wolfgang von Goethe is renowned above all for his novels and dramas (including Faust). But his scientific work, in particular “The Metamorphosis of Plants” is just as much of prime importance. His theory popular in the 19th century was forgotten in the 20th century, but has returned on the crest of the wave with the latest discoveries in molecular genetics. Starting from an identical initial structure, the plants’ homeotic genes govern development toward this or that organ. With the aid of many observations, Goethe was right.
In 1920 chemistry had already invaded agriculture to a large extent and farmers were worried about the increasing doses of fertilizers they had to inject in order to upkeep yields and for the sterility of the soils of the harvests.
Two German agronomists, Ehrhardt Bartsch and Immanuel Vögele sounded the alert. On request of many farmers, between 7 and 16 June 1924, at the estate of Count Keyserling – very worried himself – Rudolf Steiner delivered a series of eight lectures known as the “Agriculture Course” which set the bases for biodynamics.
The originality of the “Agriculture Course” was that it questioned the chemical agriculture of Baron Von Liebig by reacting against chemical additives that degrade the soil and that were very much in use back then. For Steiner, agriculture in general is a global living being with livestock, trees, crops, all to the rhythm of cycles. He formalized what was empirical before and did not need to be named or protected since chemistry did not exist.
Biodynamics strengthen the plant with infusions of nettle and horsetail (Equisetium) and others. Let’s take the nettle macerate for example: the dissemination of the recipe was forbidden for a long time in France and was actually cause for smirks. Today, we perfectly understand the way it works since the infusion acts both as antiseptic and as leaf nutrient. This twofold function is well present in the spirit of biodynamics: to make sure that the plant is stronger against attacks and give it an added spur during its fight.
With this approach, some practices may seem esoteric at first glance. The same holds true for the so-called “Process 500”, i.e. cow manure immersed inside a cow horn and buried in the soil at the beginning of winter and then removed in the spring. During these 6 months, the dung turns into a colloidal substance similar to Humus, it is mixed with water heated to 30-35°C (dynamization) and then sprayed on the soil. This preparation may make people smile, but the biological activity inside the horn is incredibly intense, the number of aerobic microorganisms is surprising (hence its name: 500 million/gram), for the joy of the soil that becomes “energized”. According to biodynamics, life begins with life in the soil that gives balance to the plant and to the animals that work together in a global way: 500P is, here too, the example. This Process 500 has proven its efficacy when it became necessary to rehabilitate millions of hectares of soil rendered sterile by massive doses of DDT insecticide.
Alex Podolinsky, the father of modern biodynamics, has adapted 500P and revitalized soils rendered inert by DDT in just a few years. Thanks to 500P, roots were able to seek out the nutrients they needed, progressively expelling the insecticide from the soil. Evidently, science cannot really explain the phenomenon, just like magnetic force was considered contrary to the laws of Newton and was object of a sour scientific controversy that lasted over two hundred years.
The notion of Sun/Moon is controversial, too. Although no one dares question the influence of the sun, the influence of the moon (and in particular that of the other planets) seems more mysterious. Theses are continuously being published sustaining that the influence of the moon does not exist. Already back in 1939, E. and L. Kolisko demonstrated with detailed experiments the importance of the phases of the moon on plant growth (Agriculture of Tomorrow, London) and lumberjacks have always organized pruning around them.
What is anthroposophy?
Simultaneously with his work on Goethe, Rudolf Steiner presented a PhD thesis in philosophy that would lead to anthroposophy.
Anthroposophy describes spiritual phenomena with the same precision that science uses to describe the physical world.
“Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises in man as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling; and it can be justified only inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need. He alone can acknowledge anthroposophy, who finds in it what he himself in his own inner life feels impelled to seek. Hence only they can be anthroposophists who feel certain questions on the nature of man and the universe as an elemental need of life, just as one feels hunger and thirst.” (Rudolf Steiner)
Are biodynamics esoteric?
The connection (?) between esotericism and biodynamics has always been invoked when a new approach that second-guesses some given certainties comes into play. Today, the effect of horsetail is well known, as is that of the common comfrey, the willow or camomile. Our grandparents used them because they were very effective. This, however, does not mean that the contributions of modern science should be rejected.
Treating a soil with herbicides is the fastest way to kill off every form of life. The contribution by biodynamics is to demonstrate that a more respectful approach toward the environment allows being at least just as effective without jeopardizing the future. Furthermore, a very recent study by the French National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) has just shown that crops would be a lot less prone to disease without the pesticides designed to protect them.
Far from any esotericism, biodynamics is a method, an instrument to reproduce Humus, to return fertility to the soil.