Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reflections on Biodynamics

Biodynamics. It seems this word evokes an interesting emotional response when said and talked about among growers, and those new to growing. For me, I meet the word with hesitation and interest. I am hesitant because so much about the philosophy is unknown to me. The mystery surrounding this practice could be intentional as far as I can surmise. I am interested because I’ve seem the amount of food grown on biodynamic fields.

The philosophy, and it is important to consider this a philosophy just like “organic” (when either of these ideas morphs from philosophy to a marketing gimmick, as in organics, the purity of the practice is corrupted) was first described to me as “beyond organics”. And in a sort of weird joke biodynamics was described as “organics on steroids”. “Steroids” is just used to elude to biodynamics being equivalent to organics pumped up, or taken to an extreme. Organic on steroids would just be the industrial food system.

So, my interest finally got the best of me and I have been following a biodynamic planting calendar since early February. The calendar is the only biodynamic practice I am following, I have not yet delved into the world of biodynamic preparations--bull horns, etc. But, following this calendar has proven to warrant public reflection (I am not trying keep biodynamics shroud in mystery!). I would like to express some thoughts on the subject for those who may have never heard of the concept, or are like me with feelings of hesitation and interest but have been scared to try practicing biodynamics.

The calendar is based astrological phases--not very strange since all calendars are basically based on this. But, the calendar is also based on knowing when certain planets will be in a particular alignment with the Earth, moon, sun, and other planets. For example, a biodynamic experiment demonstrated that a particular planet influenced the flower color of certain plants. When these seeds were planted during the period Mars was influencing the earth, the flowers were red. When planted with venus, yellow; with Pluto, blue. This sounds really crazy, and sort of exciting, but as far as I know every farmer, and maybe everyone, in ancient societies knew this type of information. We are all still told in grade school how ancient cultures, the Myans, Egyptians, etc planted by constellations and when they were visible in a particular part of the night sky. It is also well known of how explorers used the stars for navigating. What I am trying to say is that these are not new ideas, and are in fact really old. We have simply forgotten them. In true Puritan/American fashion we decided we would do without ancient knowledge--we would find our own way.

What I feel has been the most positive aspect of using this calendar is its power to organize. The calendar breaks up plant types into four categories--leaf, root, fruit, and flower. Everyday corresponds to one of these categories. So, when I go into the greenhouse to start seeds in early February I can go in knowing exactly what I am going to plant that day. This has brought clarity and focus to my thoughts while planting. If I know it is a leaf day, my mind is consumed with thoughts of lettuce, spinach, kale, collards and other leafy plants. I can focus on those specific plants. I am not distracted by thoughts of tomatoes, or beets, or anything. If nothing else, I think the intentionality that this calendar brings to my interactions with seeds is the most influential result. I am ok with saying that the seeds can detect my energy, and will either feed on or reject that energy. By being as intentional as I can with the seeds, the greater chance I have that they will respond positively to me. And, as a grower, I have a vested interest in how the plants respond to me. The idea of intentionality has opened me up to a prayer I say when sowing seeds. It is an Indian prayer that Indian farmers say during planting. They say, “May this seed be exhaustless.”

I have also found myself feeling personally connected to other farmers following this calendar, and the moon. I’m not sure if this has any real affect on my plants and such, but I can imagine feeling more connected to people and natural elements is positive. When I plant tomatoes and then notice an almost full moon the next night, I feel the moon and I are working together to grow those tomatoes. The same is true with feeling connected to other farmers. I feel supported by them when I know we are all planting the same type of plant on the same days.

There are more scientific explanations of the benefits of biodynamics. It is said that when the moon is closer to the earth or full, it causes the seed to swell from the water in the seed. This makes since considering the moons affect on ocean tides.

I actually haven’t found any negative aspects to working with the calendar. However, I would not recommend relying totally on the biodynamic methods. You still have to be knowledgeable of gardening and farming. You still have to keep an eye on the weather. You still have to build your soil. You still have to cover crop. You still have to listen to your plants needs. And you still have to watch for pests.