Biodynamics dates from 1924 and is the oldest alternative agriculture movement. Biodynamics pre-dated the global organic agriculture movement whose founding organization, the UK’s Soil Association, dates from 1946. In fact the very word ‘organic’ was derived from the biodynamic ideal that each farm or small-holding should always work towards becoming a self-sustaining organism in its own right.

In the words of California-based viticulturist David Koball the aim of Biodynamics is this: ‘Work with the farm, not the crop, see the farm, see the whole ecology, not just the crop ecology, see the entire system, that is Biodynamics. That is the root of it all.’ See also comments by Alan York on the key principles in Biodynamics.

The particular feature of biodynamics–and where biodynamics differs from organics and indeed all other forms of alternative agriculture–is the use of nine so-called “biodynamic preparations”. These are made from cow manure, the mineral quartz (also called silica), and seven medicinal plants: yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian and Equisetum arvense or common horsetail. These nine preparations are applied to the land or crops either by being first incorporated into a compost pile or by being diluted in water as liquid sprays.

Biodynamic preparations are used in homeopathic quantities, meaning they can produce an effect in extremely diluted amounts, but they are not homeopathic treatments per se. Their purpose is to make the farm and farmer, its crops, animals and wild habitat, self-sufficient, self-sustaining and socially, economically and spiritually robust. These concepts may seem woolly in our world of smartphones and space exploration, but would have seemed less so to 1920s Europeans coping with the ravages of both the First World War and then its even deadlier successor, an influenza pandemic.

The methods used to make some of the preparations may seem strange initially but are neither hi-tech, expensive, costly environmentally nor potentially harmful. Anyone, from children to grand-parents can (and do) make these preparations. As they are not patented the Biodynamic preparations can never realistically be made purely for profit; and they seem to get good results for farms and vineyards.

See also: Setting up a comparative trial between Biodynamics and organics; and the work of Claude and Lydia Bourguignon.

KeywordsPruning wash.

Bibliography

Biodynamic Gardening (Dorling Kindersley, 2015).

Biodynamic Wine (Infinite Ideas, 2016).