Over the Christmas break I heard a couple of items on the radio about biodynamics, a gardening philosophy which treats the Earth as a dynamic, living organism which is affected by other elements of the universe – in particular the sun, moon and planets. The theory originated from ideas by Rudolf Steiner in 1924, as a response to farmers who had noticed a deterioration in the quality of crops produced using chemical fertilisers.
The USA-based Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association describes biodynamics as a “unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos”, whilst the UK Biodynamic Association describes the aim thus “to revitalise nature, grow nourishing food and advance the physical and spiritual health of humanity. Each biodynamic farm or garden is conceived of as an organism with its own individual qualities and diversity of life. Reliance on home produced compost, manures and animal feeds is a key objective and external inputs are kept to a minimum”.
It’s a philosophy that encompasses ideas such as planting (and harvesting) by the phases of the moon, and the lunar cycle as it travels through the zodiac, and is a natural progression from organic gardening, according to writer and biodynamic/organic farmer Tom Petherick in an article for The Telegraph. He also states that both Tesco & Marks and Spencer recently revealed they use the cosmic calendar to decide when it’s best for critics to taste their wine ranges!
I’d heard about biodynamics before, when Mark Rendell, a designer friend of mine, gave us a talk on the subject, and his own experiments with it based on Nick Kollerstrom’s book “Gardening and Planting by the Moon”, at a Society of Garden Designers meeting. However, I hadn’t realised that it was so widely used around the world – as well as the UK there are organisations in Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA.
Biodynamic vineyards have also been developed in many areas of the world, with growers claiming to have improved the health of their vines.
The Elysia Garden, designed by Andy Jones and constructed in 2007, claims to be the only biodynamic garden open to the public in the UK. It’s part of Garden Organic, Ryton, (previously the Henry Doubleday Research Association, HDRA) an organic growing charity.
The Biodynamics emphasis on “spiritual” values, however, is a cause for some controversy in some circles, and I suppose it could be dismissed as “mumbo jumbo” by sceptics. However, it’s an interesting topic, well-founded in ancient belief systems which pre-date our dependence on ever-decreasing fossil-fuel-based industrial agriculture, and I see no harm in finding out about something that has so many supporters. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, I guess.