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Beckman purisima mountain vineyard

Basics of Biodynamic Farming

Posted: Jul 17, 2015

Bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is not some­thing eas­i­ly described. It has so many intri­cate and unusu­al lay­ers that dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from chem­i­cal or organ­ic farm­ing, that most peo­ple are cau­tious to start peel­ing away towards its truth. At the end of the day, bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is just that – a way of farm­ing. Fol­low along, as we go on a basic step-by-step jour­ney through the world of bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing, from its ori­gin to its implementation.

History of Biodynamic Farming

Rudolf Stein­er (18611925) is the found­ing father of bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing, and impor­tant­ly, this wasn’t his sole focus in life. Stein­er stud­ied sci­ence, phi­los­o­phy, dra­ma, med­i­cine, archi­tec­ture, and more; he cre­at­ed the Wal­dorf School of Edu­ca­tion in 1919. Stein­er wrote and pre­sent­ed a series of eight lec­tures in 1924 which, as a whole, define bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing. To tru­ly under­stand this way of farm­ing, read the full col­lec­tion of lec­tures in Steiner’s Agri­cul­ture Course: The Birth of the Bio­dy­nam­ic Method.

In the ear­ly 1900’s, farm­ers were notic­ing con­sis­tent issues on their farms, from weak seed vital­i­ty to dis­eased plants to a lack of nutri­tion in the har­vest­ed pro­duce. Stein­er believed these prob­lems stemmed from the lab­o­ra­to­ry-cre­at­ed min­er­al fer­til­iz­ers peo­ple had begun to use to nour­ish their farms. Soil health has always been at the fore­front of farmer’s minds; it was dis­cov­ered that nitro­gen (most impor­tant­ly), phos­pho­rus, and potas­si­um are the ele­ments most lack­ing in soil, so when chemist Jus­tus von Liebig cre­at­ed a nitro­gen-based fer­til­iz­er (more well known as NPK), farm­ers believed this solved their defi­cien­cy prob­lem and thus used the fer­til­iz­er with abundance.

Bio­dy­nam­ics offers a much dif­fer­ent solu­tion to the farmer’s prob­lems, focus­ing on the spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion to agri­cul­ture. Under­stand that the earth is a liv­ing and dying being with­in this solar sys­tem, that it is all inter­con­nect­ed and self-sus­tain­ing. We, as bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ers, are work­ing to replen­ish the Earth. The way we replen­ish and heal the Earth is through bio­dy­nam­ic prepa­ra­tions and com­post, which are very dif­fer­ent than the wide­ly-used min­er­al based fer­til­iz­ers and pesticides.

Important Components of Biodynamic Farming

A key dif­fer­ence between farm­ing meth­ods is that organ­ic and chem­i­cal farm­ing are based in the mate­r­i­al world and bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing incor­po­rates aspects of the spir­i­tu­al world. If you remem­ber this prin­ci­ple, it will be eas­i­er to under­stand the rea­son­ing behind bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing. Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is often glossed over when peo­ple try to explain bio­dy­nam­ics, because lis­ten­ers often make snap-judge­ments based on their own spir­i­tu­al beliefs. Try to remove your prej­u­dices, as we exam­ine the three main prac­tices that define and dif­fer­en­ti­ate bio­dy­nam­ic farming.

  1. Your farm is a self-sus­tain­ing organ­ism. What is found and cre­at­ed on the farm is inte­grat­ed back into the farm, whether it be the phys­i­cal mate­ri­als or the ener­gy of the farmer as he works with the earth and the plants. Oth­er types of farm­ing might share this sen­ti­ment, but it’s more of an atti­tude and less of some­thing that is incor­po­rat­ed in the day-in, day-out oper­a­tions. Bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ers apply this belief into actu­al prac­tice through the use of prepa­ra­tions, among oth­er things.
  2. Fol­low­ing the bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar. Bio­dy­nam­ics takes into account that oth­er parts of the cos­mos have an effect on this plan­et. The farmer not only con­nects his work with the move­ment of our planet’s sun and moon, but with all mem­bers of our solar sys­tem and beyond to the entire cos­mos. How is this dif­fer­ent than the Farmer’s Almanac cal­en­dar, or the cal­en­dar that dic­tates astrol­o­gy column’s horo­scopes? This is where things get very tech­ni­cal and com­plex. An ele­men­tary expla­na­tion is that the bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar is based on where the parts of our solar sys­tem are locat­ed, in the con­stel­la­tion that lies behind them, when viewed from Earth. It uses the astro­nom­i­cal sys­tem of con­stel­la­tion bound­aries, as opposed to oth­er cal­en­dars that ass­es the loca­tion of the Earth rel­a­tive to its Sun and oth­er plan­ets with­in the solar sys­tem. The bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar rec­og­nizes the cos­mos’ forces affect four ele­ments on this plan­et: earth, air, water, and fire. Those same forces then affect the four parts of plants: roots, flow­ers, leaves, and fruit/​seeds. A cal­en­dar is used to track the strength of these forces, and helps the farmer deter­mine which days are best for cer­tain activ­i­ties (apply­ing prepa­ra­tions, prun­ing, till­ing, har­vest­ing, etc.).
  3. Apply­ing bio­dy­nam­ic prepa­ra­tions and com­post. The defin­ing fea­ture of bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is the prepa­ra­tions used to nour­ish and replen­ish the earth. Chem­i­cal farm­ing uses com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent ingre­di­ents to revi­tal­ize soil and plants; organ­ic farm­ing is focused on using benign sub­stances and avoid­ing the tox­ic mate­ri­als found in chem­i­cal agri­cul­ture. The bio­dy­nam­ic preps bring ener­gy forces onto the farm, thus into the pro­duce and into the ani­mals and peo­ple who con­sume the pro­duce. Prepa­ra­tions are cre­at­ed from herbs and ani­mal manures and are applied to the farm in var­i­ous home­o­path­ic dos­es. For the sake of sim­plic­i­ty, these are the nine preparations:
  • 500 Horn manure: applied to the vine­yard soils
  • 501 Pow­dered quartz: applied to the vines
  • 502 Yarrow: applied to main­ly bio­dy­nam­ic com­post piles, and a lit­tle bit to the vines
  • 503 Chamomile: applied to main­ly bio­dy­nam­ic com­post piles, and a lit­tle bit to the vines
  • 504 Sting­ing net­tle: applied to main­ly bio­dy­nam­ic com­post piles, and a lit­tle bit to the vines
  • 505 Oak bark: applied to main­ly bio­dy­nam­ic com­post piles, and a lit­tle bit to the vines
  • 506 Dan­de­lion: applied to main­ly bio­dy­nam­ic com­post piles, and a lit­tle bit to the vines
  • 507 Valer­ian: applied to main­ly bio­dy­nam­ic com­post piles, and a lit­tle bit to the vines
  • 508 Horse­tail herb: applied to vine­yard soils to pre­vent fungus

Bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ers imple­ment oth­er prac­tices besides the above three on their farms. For exam­ple: using cov­er crops, hav­ing ani­mals, and keep­ing a source of water on the farm. Bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ers also farm proac­tive­ly, think­ing ahead to what prob­lems might arise and tak­ing pre­ven­ta­tive action to stop them, as opposed to tak­ing reac­tionary farm­ing mea­sures once the prob­lem has occurred. Using the bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar helps with man­ag­ing this, as well.

Biodynamic Farming at Beckmen

You can learn Why Steve Beck­men Chose Bio­dy­nam­ics in 2002, when we start­ed bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing on a select 17 acres of Purisi­ma Moun­tain Vine­yard. The results were impres­sive. The soil changed dras­ti­cal­ly, retain­ing more mois­ture, greater bio­di­ver­si­ty, and an increased lev­el of nutri­ents. The vines grew straight up and the leaves were rich in col­or, shiny, and healthy. The qual­i­ty of fruit grow­ing on the vines was exceptional.

The defin­ing result was an increased qual­i­ty of wine made from the orig­i­nal bio­dy­nam­ic block. Block Six Syrah was cre­at­ed to high­light this increase in qual­i­ty in 2003. What does this increase in qual­i­ty mean, exact­ly? It means a clear­er, more focused expres­sion of the vari­etal and the vine­yard. It means increased tex­ture, nuance, and a high­er qual­i­ty of tan­nins in our wines. It helps to tame the inher­ent pow­er of our Purisi­ma Moun­tain Vine­yard grapes, and bal­ance that pow­er with ele­gance and com­plex­i­ty which is now the hall­mark of all Beck­men wines.

There are more con­cepts behind bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing – the dif­fer­ent sys­tems, lev­els, and natures of plants and human beings; the lev­els of sub­na­ture and esther­ic forces – that can be dif­fi­cult to tru­ly com­pre­hend. For us, trust­ing bio­dy­nam­ics became a sim­ple deci­sion when the qual­i­ty of the bio­dy­nam­i­cal­ly grown grapes exceed­ed the tra­di­tion­al­ly” grown grapes on all accounts. Some­times you have to stop doubt­ing why some­thing works, and trust the results you see. Our goal is to con­tin­u­al­ly improve, and in our mind bio­dy­nam­ics allows us to achieve the purest expres­sion of Purisi­ma Moun­tain ter­roir, the heart of our wine­grow­ing philosophy.

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