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Beckmen on Biodynamics Part II: The Five Core Concepts of Biodynamics

Steve Beck­men has bro­ken down the com­plex sub­ject of bio­dy­nam­ic agri­cul­ture into five essen­tial tenets. Each of these aspects is a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of the bio­dy­nam­ic method. 

  1. Closed Sys­tem of Fertility
  2. Bio­di­ver­si­ty
  3. Preps
  4. Cal­en­dar
  5. Holis­tic Thinking

Bio­dy­nam­ic sys­tems con­nect the earth and sky. It con­nects plant with ani­mal. It con­nects peo­ple with the land that hosts and sup­ports them. 

The bio­dy­nam­ic sys­tem of agri­cul­ture uni­fies bold con­cepts of time, place, phi­los­o­phy, and plant biol­o­gy in an effort to cre­ate a nat­u­ral­ly fecund envi­ron­ment. A bio­di­verse envi­ron­ment is a place that is con­nect­ed to nature. The bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar informs the tim­ing of your work­flow by trans­lat­ing the rhythms of the uni­verse. Preps are the alche­my of treat­ing and invig­o­rat­ing plants with­out using extra­ne­ous chem­i­cals. A closed sys­tem pro­tects what you’ve built, and holis­tic think­ing gives you the point of view to appre­ci­ate the inter­con­nect­ed life forces behind a nat­ur­al agri­cul­tur­al setting.

Row of Vines 2016
Our soils are full of life.

Closed Sys­tem of Fertility 

In Vol­ume One of this series, we explore the bio­dy­nam­ic ide­al of a closed sys­tem. We use the term ide­al” because it is prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble for a mod­ern farm to func­tion as a total­ly inde­pen­dent sys­tem, an island of ecol­o­gy. This would require for­go­ing the use of all mod­ern equip­ment unless you extract­ed oil and met­al from your farm and built your own trac­tors on site. Mod­ern bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ers are gen­er­al­ly sat­is­fied with achiev­ing a closed sys­tem of fer­til­i­ty. This means fer­til­iz­ing your plants with waste cre­at­ed from your own farm. We achieve this by mak­ing com­post and com­post tea from our own ani­mals’ manure and apply­ing it on the soils of our vineyard.

Beckmen pmv mustard ladybug
Fostering biodiversity is paramount.

Bio­di­ver­si­ty

Indus­tri­al farm­ing prac­tices mono­cul­ture. These farms ded­i­cate their land and ener­gy to grow­ing a spe­cif­ic crop as a com­mod­i­ty. Of course, this isn’t how plants grow in nature. Take a walk through the woods, and you’ll see var­i­ous plants and ani­mals liv­ing in har­mo­ny. A bio­dy­nam­ic farm draws its inspi­ra­tion from the diverse, inter­con­nect­ed ecosys­tems of the nat­ur­al world rather than impos­ing a fac­to­ry’s pro­duc­tiv­i­ty on the land. The ben­e­fits are clear. Blights that wipe out an entire year’s har­vest are far more com­mon on farms that prac­tice mono­cul­ture. Bio­di­ver­si­ty pro­tects plants and farmers.

Since the San­ta Ynez Val­ley doesn’t get much rain, our lands wouldn’t nat­u­ral­ly fos­ter as much bio­di­ver­si­ty as we’d pre­fer with­out effort, so we take mea­sures to encour­age a wide vari­ety of plant and ani­mal life on our farm. We plant orchards and gar­dens on site and laven­der at the end of our rows to encour­age bio­di­ver­si­ty. Our ponds host a wide vari­ety of plant and ani­mal life that wouldn’t exist here with­out that step. We also take care to pre­serve the plant life and nat­ur­al ecol­o­gy that was here before us, like the mighty oak tree on Purisi­ma Moun­tain that is our logo and inspiration.

Bio­di­ver­si­ty is essen­tial to bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing. With­out our ani­mals, we couldn’t achieve a closed sys­tem of fer­til­i­ty. With­out plant­i­ng ben­e­fi­cial herbs, we couldn’t cre­ate our own bio­dy­nam­ic preps. With­out the var­i­ous life forces min­gling on our farm, we would not cre­ate a holis­tic environment. 

BD Preps

Bio­dy­nam­ic agri­cul­ture pre­scribes the use of at least eight preps” to encour­age plant vital­i­ty. Two of these are horn preps.” They are made by stuff­ing cow manure (BD-500) or sil­i­ca (ground quartz) and rain­wa­ter (BD-501) into a cow’s horn and bury­ing it to mature. The result­ing mix­ture is unearthed and applied to the vine­yards. The BD-500 goes into the soil and the BD-501 gets sprayed on the vines. Preps 502 – 507 are the com­post preps. They are made from ben­e­fi­cial herbs and sup­port the com­post­ing process and plant vital­i­ty. Per­haps the most cru­cial dif­fer­ence between organ­ic farm­ing and bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is the use of these preps to treat your plants and com­post. The use of these preps sup­ports and enlivens the life of our soils and vines.

There is one addi­tion­al bio­dy­nam­ic prep, prep 508, which is accept­ed by some bio­dy­nam­ic prac­ti­tion­ers but not by oth­ers. This fer­ment­ed tea of the horse­tail herb (Equi­se­tum arvense) helps pre­vent plant fungus.

TR Template 7
Biodynamic agriculture requires the the use of beneficial herbs and flowers, which we grow ourselves.

Cal­en­dar

Bio­dy­nam­ic agri­cul­ture is a sys­tem that is guid­ed by the flow of the cos­mos, not by dai­ly whims or a sched­ule of what is most con­ve­nient. Bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ers use an astral cal­en­dar to guide their deci­sions, sim­i­lar to what you might find in a Farmer’s Almanac. The posi­tion of the moon and con­stel­la­tions effect what Rudolph Stein­er referred to as ethers,” which are forces of nature that become height­ened on dif­fer­ent days depend­ing on which con­stel­la­tion the moon is in. Orig­i­nal­ly earth, water, fire, and air, these four forces were inter­pret­ed to farm­ers as root, leaf, flower, and fruit. 

Since we farm grapes, we try to do a lot of our work on fruit days, but farm­ing 150 acres means we work every day. Our field sprays of the preps are always done on fruit days. Addi­tion­al­ly, the most impor­tant work on our small­er-pro­duc­tion wines and best vine­yard blocks are also per­formed on fruit days. We have found we pre­fer to work with our white grapes on flower days and have good suc­cess with till­ing and weed­ing on both root days and water days depend­ing on the vine­yard block. 

Har­vest­ing on a fruit day won’t change the way that the wine tastes (nei­ther will drink­ing it on a fruit day; this is a myth). Har­vest­ing on fruit days will increase the longevi­ty of the wine, which allows our small-pro­duc­tion wines to age longer in your cel­lar, drink longer while they’re open, and evolve in more inter­est­ing ways over those hap­py years. The rea­son that the wis­dom con­tained with­in Farmer’s Almanacs has been con­sult­ed for so long is that it works. Mak­ing deci­sions accord­ing to the cycles in the bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar helps us ensure that our wines last decades in the bot­tle. On root days, when we might be plow­ing, the bio­dy­nam­ic pota­to farmer is pick­ing to ensure that his crop lasts longer in your root cellar!

Bd symbols together
We perform different tasks on different blocks depending on our position in the universe.

Holis­tic Think­ing

Mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic think­ing tends to view sys­tems at a gran­u­lar lev­el. It breaks the uni­verse down into sep­a­rate mol­e­cules and sees these as build­ing blocks that can be tak­en apart and rearranged. This isn’t an incor­rect way of think­ing, and obvi­ous­ly it has led us to incred­i­ble sci­en­tif­ic progress. How­ev­er, it is not the only way to per­ceive the uni­verse. Holis­tic think­ing is an alter­na­tive way of view­ing the nat­ur­al world. Holis­tic think­ing focus­es on con­nec­tions rather than indi­vid­ual parts. The empha­sis is placed on life rather than mat­ter and rela­tion­ships rather than com­po­nent parts. On a holis­tic farm, rich­ness of life takes pri­or­i­ty. Soils are sup­posed to be teem­ing with worms.

A spir­i­tu­al leap of faith is required to ful­ly accept holis­tic think­ing. You have to stop see­ing farm­ing as a series of mechan­i­cal and chem­i­cal inter­ven­tions and begin to re-envi­sion agri­cul­ture as the pro­mo­tion of life and the strength­en­ing of life forces that bond all liv­ing things. The inter­de­pen­dent nature of dif­fer­ent life forms requires a big pic­ture view of your farm, and indeed the uni­verse. We are all con­nect­ed. Food and wine come from life, and they enrich ours when they are grown in a sus­tain­able man­ner and craft­ed with intention.

In future install­ments of Beck­men on Bio­dy­nam­ics, we will go into fur­ther detail on each of the remain­ing core bio­dy­nam­ic con­cepts. Stay tuned!

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