Posted on January 4, 2012
“If you pursue agriculture in this way, the result can be no other than to provide the very best for man and beast.” – Rudolf Steiner
In 2010 we started a series of posts exploring the lectures of Rudolf Steiner now known as The Agriculture Course. There was no schedule and three have appeared so far: 1 December 2010, Biodynamic Wine in Southern Virginia?; 2 February 2011, Manure in Biodynamic Viticulture; and the last entry was posted 27 April 2011, Delicious Primordial Soup. We were reminded of it when our dear friend Frank Morgan wrote an introductory post on biodynamic viticulture for his blog, Drink What You Like, called Cow Horns, Manure, Planetary Alignment and Biodynamic Viticulture in Virginia and Other Eastern States?
Frank inspired us to continue the series, so today we had a look at Lecture No. 4, which presents his thoughts on the more controversial practices he espoused: the creation and use of what he called “horn manure.” Steiner summarized the subject in the first paragraph: “You have now seen what is essential in the discovery of spiritual-scientific methods for Agriculture, as it is for other spheres of life. Nature and the working of the Spirit throughout Nature must be recognized on a large scale, in an all-embracing sphere.” His concern, then, being the unification of the spiritual and nature.
How does the Spirit work through nature? Steiner describes a how all the spheres of farming life must gain insight into the working of the substances and forces that affect and permeate all of nature. He asks the assembly to consider the tree: so much more than a herbaceous annual, with its core, bark and leaves. Now consider a mound of dirt, presumably rich in humus – containing vegetable matter in a process of decomposition, and perhaps containing animal decomposition products too. Steiner asks that they imagine the hillock, now with a hole pushed into it; look at it side-by-side with the tree, ever growing outward. Both living in their way, the mound of humus bing “earthly matter [which] contains etherically living substance.” The two are essentially the same:
I am telling you all this to awaken in you an idea of the really intimate kinship between that which is contained within the contours of the plant and that which constitutes the soil around it. It is simply untrue that the life ceases with the contours — with the outer periphery of the plant. The actual life is continued, especially from the roots of the plant, into the surrounding soil. For many plants there is absolutely no hard and fast line between the life within the plant and the life of the surrounding soil in which it is living.
We must be thoroughly permeated with this idea, above all if we would understand the nature of manured earth, or of earth treated in some similar way. To manure the earth is to make it alive, so that the plant may not be brought into a dead earth and find it difficult, out of its own vitality, to achieve all that is necessary up to the fruiting process. The plant will more easily achieve what is necessary for the fruiting process, if it is immersed from the outset in an element of life. Fundamentally, all plant-growth has this slightly parasitic quality. It grows like a parasite out of the living earth. And it must be so.
All this leads up to his assertion (and it sounds slightly comical) that “ We must know how to gain a kind of personal relationship to all things that concern our farming work, and above all — though it may be a hard saying — a personal relationship to the manure, especially to the task of working with the manure.”
So here we have the introduction to what we have come to know as biodynamic compost. How can we ensure that our compost captures these etheric forces so that the plants it is applied to can most benefit?
Manuring and everything of the kind consists essentially in this, that a certain degree of livingness must be communicated to the soil, and yet not only livingness. For the possibility must also be given to bring about in the soil what I indicated yesterday, namely to enable the nitrogen to spread out in the soil in such a way that with its help the life is carried along certain fines of forces, as I showed you. That is to say: in manuring we must bring to the earth-kingdom enough nitrogen to carry the living property to those structures in the earth-kingdom to which it must be carried — under the plant, where the plant-soil has to be. This is our tack, and we must fulfil it in a scientific way.
In compost we have a means of kindling the life within the earth itself. We include in compost any kind of refuse to which little value is attached; refuse of farm and garden, from grass that we have let decay, to that which comes from fallen leaves or the like, nay, even from dead animals … These things should not by any means be despised, for they preserve something not only of the ethereal but even of the astral. And that is most important. From all that has been added to it, the compost heap really contains ethereal and living elements and also astral. Living ethereal and astral elements are contained in it — though not so intensely as in manure or in liquid manure, yet in a more stable form. The ethereal and astral settle down more firmly in the compost; especially the astral.
How concentrate the ethereal and the astral? This is where the notorious (and controversial) cow horns come in.
“What happens at the places where the horns grow and the hoofs? A locality is formed which sends the currents inward with more than usual intensity. In this locality the outer is strongly shut off; there is no communication through a permeable skin or hair. The openings which otherwise allow the currents to pass outward are completely closed. For this reason the horn-formation is connected with the entire shaping of the animal. The forming of horns and hoofs is connected with the whole shape and form of the creature.”
“The cow has horns in order to send into itself the astral-ethereal formative powers, which, pressing inward, are meant to penetrate right into the digestive organism. Precisely through the radiation that proceeds from horns and hoofs, much work arises in the digestive organism itself. Anyone who wishes to understand foot-and-mouth disease — that is, the reaction of the periphery on the digestive tract — must clearly perceive this relationship. Our remedy for foot-and-mouth disease is founded on this perception.”
“Thus in the horn you have something well adapted by its inherent nature, to ray back the living and astral properties into the inner life. In the horn you have something radiating life — nay, even radiating astrality. It is so indeed: if you could crawl about inside the living body of a cow — if you were there inside the belly of the cow you — would smell how the astral life and the living vitality pours inward from the horns. And so it is also with the hoofs.”
Here is why cow manure is superior to that of other animals:
“This is an indication, pointing to such measures as we on our part may recommend for the purpose of still further enhancing the effectiveness of what is used as ordinary farm-yard-manure. What is farm-yard-manure? It is what entered as outer food into the animal, and was received and assimilated by the organism up to a certain point. It gave occasion for the development of dynamic forces and influences in the organism, but it was not primarily used to enrich the organism with material substance. On the contrary, it was excreted. Nevertheless, it has been inside the organism and has thus been permeated with an astral and ethereal content. In the astral it has been permeated with the nitrogen-carrying forces, and in the ethereal with oxygen-carrying forces. The mass that emerges as dung is permeated with all this.”
This perceived property of combining and concentrating the astral and the ethereal in a cow’s horn is what prompted Steiner to recommend the method of creating horn compost. He’s quite specific in the procedure:
We take manure, such as we have available. We stuff it into the horn of a cow, and bury the horn a certain depth into the earth — say about 18 in. to 2 ft. 6 in., provided the soil below is not too clayey or too sandy. (We can choose a good soil for the purpose. It should not be too sandy). You see, by burying the horn with its filling of manure, we preserve in the horn the forces it was accustomed to exert within the cow itself, namely the property of raying back whatever is life-giving and astral. Through the fact that it is outwardly surrounded by the earth, all the radiations that tend to etherealise and astralise are poured into the inner hollow of the horn. And the manure inside the horn is inwardly quickened with these forces, which thus gather up and attract from the surrounding earth all that is ethereal and life-giving.
And so, throughout the winter — in the season when the Earth is most alive — the entire content of the horn becomes inwardly alive. For the Earth is most inwardly alive in winter-time. All that is living is stored up in this manure. Thus in the content of the horn we get a highly concentrated, life-giving manuring force. Thereafter we can dig out the horn. We take out the manure it contains.
Dynamization & Application
Before application, it is diluted in water and “dynamized” – I don’t see this term used by Steiner, but that is the term used by today’s practitioners:
To give an impression of the quantitative aspect: I always found, having first looked at the area to be manured, that a surface, say, about as big as the patch from the third window here to the first foot-path, about 1,200 square metres (between a quarter- and third-acre) is adequately provided for if we use one hornful of this manure, diluted with about half a pailful of water. You must, however, thoroughly combine the entire content of the horn with the water. That is to say, you must set to work and stir. Stir quickly, at the very edge of the pail, so that a crater is formed reaching very nearly to the bottom of the pail, and the entire contents are rapidly rotating. Then quickly reverse the direction, so that it now seethes round in the opposite direction.”
Do this for an hour and you will get a thorough penetration. Think, how little work it involves. The burden of work will really not be very great. Moreover, I can well image that — at any rate in the early stages — the otherwise idle members of a farming household will take pleasure in stirring the manure in this way. Get the sons and daughters of the house to do it and it will no doubt be wonderfully done.
Our next task will be to spray it over the tilled land so as to unite it with the earthly realm. For small surfaces you can do it with an ordinary syringe; it goes without saying, for larger surfaces you will have to devise special machines. But if you once resolve to combine your ordinary manuring with this kind of “spiritual manure,” if I may call it so, you will soon see how great a fertility can result from such measures. Above all, you will see how well they lend themselves to further development. For the method I have just described can be followed up at once by another, namely the following.
Horn silica addresses the same problem of concentrating these forces from the “other” direction — how do you capture the astral forces to maximize their benefit for the plant?
Once more you take the horns of cows. This time, however, you fill them not with manure but with quartz or silica or even orthorclase or feldspar, ground to a fine mealy powder, of which you make a mush, say of the consistency of a very thin dough. With this you fill the horn. And now, instead of letting it “hibernate,” you let the horn spend the summer in the earth and in the late autumn dig it out and keep its contents till the following spring.
So you dig out what has been exposed to the summery life within the earth, and now you treat it in a similar way. Only in this case you need far smaller quantities. You can take a fragment the size of a pea, or maybe only the size of a pin’s head, and distribute it by stirring it up well in a bucket of water. Here again, you will have to stir it for an hour, and you can now use it to sprinkle the plants externally. It will prove most beneficial with vegetables and the like.
I do not mean that you should water them with it in a crude way; you spray the plants with it, and you will presently see how well this supplements the influence which is coming from the other side, out of the earth itself, by virtue of the cow-horn manure. And now, suppose you extend this treatment to the fields an a large scale. After all, there is no great difficulty in doing so. Why should it not be possible to make machines, able to extend over whole fields the slight sprinkling that is required? If you do this, you will soon see how the dung from the cow-horn drives from below upward, while the other draws from above — neither too feebly, nor too intensely. It will have a wonderful effect, notably in the case of cereals.”
So there is the rationale for the two substances: Horn Manure draws etheric forces from below, while Horn Silica draws and concentrates astral forces from above. In practical terms, the Horn Silica is believed to enhance photosynthesis in the leaf and complements the action of the Horn Manure, which is believed to work primarily in the root zone.
Horn Manure is now commonly referred to as BD (Bio-Dynamic) Preparation 500 (BD-500), and Horn Silica as BD-501. Details of the best times of day and which days of the month have been worked out; generally it is best to spray BD-500 during the descending phase of the moon, preferably in the late afternoon, and BD-501 in the early morning when the moon and Saturn are in opposition. The interaction of days, time and the working of the soil has been studied by Maria Thun, who we wrote about in an earlier post.
It’s a curious thing how critics and naysayers of these methods react so violently. Is it because they are contrary to the precepts of scientific research, lacking double-blind studies and the resulting product patented by massive corporations? The Internet is rife with critics who object to Steiner’s theories, calling him among other things a charlatan, fakir or just simply deluded. Recall the purpose of that gathering in Koberwitz in 1924, which was described in the Preface to The Agriculture Course by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer:
The agricultural course was held from June 7 to 16, 1924, in the hospitable home of Count and Countess Keyserlingk at Koberwitz, near Breslau. It was followed by further consultations and lectures in Breslau, among them the famous “Address to Youth.” I myself had to forgo attendance at the course, as Dr. Steiner had asked me to stay at home to help take care of someone who was seriously ill. “I’ll write and tell you what goes on at the course,” Dr. Steiner said by way of solace. He never did get round to writing, no doubt because of the heavy demands on him; this was understood and regretfully accepted. On his return to Dornach, however, there was an opportunity for discussing the general situation. When I asked him whether the new methods should be started on an experimental basis, he replied: “The most important thing is to make the benefits of our agricultural preparations available to the largest possible areas over the entire earth, so that the earth may be healed and the nutritive quality of its produce improved in every respect. That should be our first objective. The experiments can come later.” He obviously thought that the proposed methods should be applied at once.
This can be understood against the background of a conversation I had with Dr. Steiner en route from Stuttgart to Dornach shortly before the agricultural course was given. He had been speaking of the need for a deepening of esoteric life, and in this connection mentioned certain faults typically found in spiritual movements. I then asked, “How can it happen that the spiritual impulse, and especially the inner schooling, for which you are constantly providing stimulus and guidance bear so little fruit? Why do the people concerned give so little evidence of spiritual experience, in spite of all their efforts? Why, worst of all, is the will for action, for the carrying out of these spiritual impulses, so weak?” I was particularly anxious to get an answer to the question as to how one could build a bridge to active participation and the carrying out of spiritual intentions without being pulled off the right path by personal ambition, illusions and petty jealousies; for, these were the negative qualities Rudolf Steiner had named as the main inner hindrances. Then came the thought-provoking and surprising answer: “This is a problem of nutrition. Nutrition as it is to-day does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.”
A nutritional problem which, if solved, would enable the spirit to become manifest and realise itself in human beings! With this as a background, one can understand why Dr. Steiner said that “the benefits of the bio-dynamic compost preparations should be made available as quickly as possible to the largest possible areas of the entire earth, for the earth’s healing.”
This puts the Koberwitz agricultural course in proper perspective as an introduction to understanding spiritual, cosmic forces and making them effective again in the plant world.
Appreciate that, and you understand biodynamics.
Posted on November 2, 2011
Last week found us far removed from the gentle rolling hills, fields and forests of Annefield but in the middle of Washington, DC for the most amazing wine pairing dinner. Our dear friends Sidra Forman and John Cochran periodically host dinners at their home in Washington, called appropriately “Home Restaurants.” John and Sidra formerly owned the legendary restaurant called Ruppert’s, which they closed a few years ago so they could pursue other interests. For years they have consulted with other Washington restaurants on menu planning and restaurant design, and Sidra has developed a following as a first-rate floral designer, with her work featured in publications like Martha Stewart Living. Whenever we do a DC-area wine trade show, we always have Sidra do a pair of arrangements for us. We especially enjoy receiving updates of her elegant blog, Sidra’s Food, Flowers and Garden — a welcome note of civility and grace that brings a bit of peace to an our otherwise hectic days. John and Sidra share a similar philosophy, perfectly articulated on Sidra’s website: “finding the best available seasonal ingredients and presents them in a straight forward manner that lets the raw materials speak for themselves.” Enough said.
This dinner featured a special guest — Thomas Calder, a wine broker who specializes in promoting the top natural and progressive French winegrowers, including organic and biodynamic producers. Mr Calder is an American living in Paris, and represents an exclusive collection of hand-picked , small family-owned estates throughout France.
The focus of this dinner is Jura, France’s smallest wine region. It is about 35 miles east of Burgundy, nearly adjoining Switzerland. It has an interesting history and geology, and has characteristics eerily like Virginia. We had a look at Wikipedia and Jancis Robinson’s “big book of everything,” The Oxford Companion to Wine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) to learn more.
Jura’s climate is continental, with many similarities to Burgundy, but a bit colder in the winter. Ripening the grapes appears problematic, and harvest is usually delayed as long as possible – usually into late October – in order to fully ripen the fruit. The regions’ vineyards are planted at altitudes between 820 and 1,310 feet above sea level, between the plains of the Bresse region and the Jura Mountains. The vineyard soils tend to composed of mostly clay in the lower flat lands, with more limestone-based soils in the higher elevation (sound familiar, Virginians?). Deposits of marl are scattered throughout the region with some of the area’s most regarded vineyards being found on those sites. Many vineyard slopes are quite steep, which creates problems with soil erosion.
There are four regional appellations in the Jura: Arbois, Côtes du Jura and the smaller Etoile and Château-Chalon, plus two wine style appellations that cover the whole area, Crémant du Jura and Macvin (a Vin de Liqueur).
The wines and styles are quite complicated. For an explanation of them, we turn to an expert, Wink Lorch, author of Wine Travel Guides focused on France, Italy and Spain. Ms Lorch published a detailed description of Jura as a guest columnist on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages. In it, she wrote:
Five grape varieties are used today: for whites, Chardonnay and Savagnin (sometimes called by its old name, Naturé), plus Poulsard (also called Ploussard), Trousseau and Pinot Noir for reds. Colour in the Jura is often not what it seems! Whites can vary from pale greenish through to dark amber (and that includes the famous jaune or yellow), and reds are more often than not pink, or tile-coloured at best. On labels, variety is indicated sometimes, but the style of wine rarely, unless it is the famous Vin Jaune or the sweet Vin de Paille. Any style may be made under the Arbois or Côtes du Jura appellations; Etoile is restricted to whites (including Jaune and Paille); Château-Chalon is exclusively Vin Jaune, but note that in this case the words “Vin Jaune” do not appear on the label. Apparently all this makes sense to a Frenchman and is part of la patrimoine.
To understand the whites, first one must learn about the mysterious Vin Jaune. From very ripe Savagnin grown at low yields, it undergoes conventional fermentation and malolactic fermentation and then, the magic starts. The Savagnin wine is transferred to old Burgundy pièces (barrels) incompletely filled and placed in the producer’s cave à Vin Jaune. Convention is turned on its head here, for these caves may be attics, cellars or simple storage warehouses, sometimes all three (for more complexity), but the essential is that they are well ventilated and subject to temperature fluctuations. It is these conditions that allow the voile or film of yeast (similar to flor in Jerez) to form on the surface of the wine.
And that’s it. There the wine stays for at least six years during which, each pièce is regularly checked for dangerous levels of volatile acidity and for the formation of the beneficial ethanal, which in part provides the famous goût du jaune. The testing is done mostly by a laboratory, though a few producers taste the wines too, with the aid of the dzi or tap on each barrel, placed well below the voile. A slow oxidation will have taken place, but the voile protects it from forming vinegar. Those pièces that do not make the grade are withdrawn and the wine is sold simply as Savagnin white wine (a sort of baby or second Vin Jaune) and/or is blended with Chardonnay and sold as a white. Amongst rigorous producers, the rejection rate may be as high as three-quarters of the original barrels. Those that are retained are bottled in the 62cl clavelin and sold for prices of around €25. Good producers advise aging for at least a further decade, though the best can last centuries.
While the region is steeped in tradition, its growers are at the forefront of organic methods. The organic winegrowers in the Jura have organized a trade show called Le Nez dans le vert! (“Nose in the Green”), an exhibition of organic wine from Jura, on 25 and 26 March 2012 at the Château de Gevingey, just south of Lons-le-Saunier.
Dinner included 11 wines from the Jura from two producers, Domaine André et Mireille Tissot and Caves Jean Bourdy. Both are Demeter-accredited winegrowers and certified Biodynamic (Tissot has been certified Biodynamic since 2005, and Bourdy since 2006). As a special treat, our courses included a 1953 and 1992 Côtes du Jura Blanc, and a 1959 and 1990 Côtes du Jura Rouge.
The whole thing was very causal, starting with Tissot’s non-vintage Crémant du Jura Blanc and Crémant du Jura Rosé while starters were passed while the guests mingled. A word should be included about Crémant du Jura, which is the appellation for sparkling wines from the Jura. According to the Wine Searcher website, the title was created in 1995, and includes the style of sparkling wines that have been made in the Jura since the eighteenth century. Prior to 1995 they were sold as mousseux under the region’s other appellations.
The Crémant du Jura appellation covers the whole of the Jura appellation. Crémant du Jura Blanc is made from a minimum of fifty per cent Chardonnay, the remainder being made up of Savagnin. Crémant du Jura Rosé is made up of the region’s key red varieties, Poulsard and Pinot Noir, which must constitute at least half of the blend. The wines are made in the methode traditionelle, and aged in bottle with their lees for a minimum of nine months. We found them both bracing and refreshing.
During the dinner, between courses Thomas Calder took a few questions, explaining what distinguishes the Jura from other regions in France, and succinctly explained biodynamic practices to the layman. The older wines could not help but have that oxidative character that is highly prized in the region, with its aromas of walnuts and dried apricots. The way the wine is treated certainly lends complexity and a nutty finish, and this method combined with the extremely high acidity and sugar allows the wine to age for many years. There were hints of honey and citrus in the older wines, with an extremely long finish. Truly extraordinary. Caves Jean Bourdy has white wines in its cellar that date from 1911, and reds dating from the 1880s. These ancient wines aren’t museum pieces, for they are available for purchase.
We cannot do justice to the range and breadth of the food presentation and pairings since we took no notes, so please see the menu Sidra post on her blog, “Jura Wine Dinner.” The following day we ordered a mixed case of the two Crémant that we intend to serve at Thanksgiving. Finding them was a challenge; it took some digging on Wine Searcher, and we finally found both at a shop in Portland, Oregon called Sec Wines. Thank you, John and Sidra — it was truly a memorable night.
Posted on October 5, 2011
Mercifully, the weather cooperated on our chosen day for bringing in the fruit. It was sunny, cloud-free, cool and brisk — perfect in that respect, but unfortunately a “Leaf” day on the biodynamic calendar. You don’t cultivate fruit on “Leaf” days, but since we were not cultivating the fruit, perhaps with picking those cosmic forces won’t exert much influence. Happily Monday, October 3 is a “Fruit” day, and that is the day the fruit was crushed. We wrote a bit about Maria Thun’s biodynamic calendar in a earlier post (God Bless Maria Thun), and we do our best to follow her recommendations. Indeed, Ms Thun notes in this year’s calendar that the best days for the storage of fruit include October 3 to October 5 — so I think we’re all right. She did note that “Mercuy, Venus and Saturn are all in Virgo. This could bring a cold period.” And this has proven to be the case.
We started promptly at 8 am, with a crew of seven professional pickers and a half-dozen volunteers. After being fortified with coffee and pastries, everyone headed off to the vineyard. One minor snafu — our man who cuts grass and maintains the vineyard rows neglected to inform us that we were out of diesel fuel, so we couldn’t use our tractor to move about the vineyard. Not fatal, since we could manage with a pickup truck, but it made things more cumbersome. But to his credit, the vineyard floor sure was tidy. After lunch a few volunteers disappeared, which is a pity because we wanted to reward everyone with a couple of bottles of wine regardless of how long they stayed. Nevertheless, we’re grateful for the help, and I hope they enjoyed the experience. If you’re reading this — THANK YOU!
The yield? A little over one ton of Cabernet Sauvignon, and four tons of Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Sauvignon always gets hit hard by birds and other critters (but really — who can blame them?), so we need to work harder to keep them out. Even with bird netting, they work their way under it and feast. Still, we did better than last year. Putting out scare balloons helped; we didn’t bother last year. We toy with the idea of taking up falconry. You can take short classes at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, which are offered by the Falconry and Raptor Education Foundation, which also offers a more intensive (and expensive) course. Some growers in California have hired falconers to patrol their vineyards after veraison (check out this story). I made some calls to a couple of falconry associations last year to try to find someone local who might be interested, but no one would call back.
The Cabernet Franc did very well, and even with the challenging weather this season we had virtually no rot, unlike many vineyards in Virginia. We didn’t think the Cabernet Sauvignon looked that good, and some fruit with a little bit of sour rot may have made it into the bin, but when the winemaker saw it, he said “This smells GREAT!” He also said that the Cabernet Franc was the best he’d seen this year. Look at the photograph below and you see a valuable characteristic of Cabernet Franc and one of the reasons the variety does so well here — the loose clusters allow good air flow, which minimizes disease. Tight clusters give a place for mildew and botrytis and bunch rot and sour rot to hide. We had just a touch of downy mildew in the new planting that was formerly covered with grow tubes (the tubes inhibit proper coverage), which is to be expected. Besides, we don’t use fungicides when we’re close to harvest; our last application was on September 11.
Well, raise a glass to a challenging and difficult harvest. Mother Nature needs to remind us every once in a while who’s in charge, and she did this in spades, so here’s to getting this season behind us. We aren’t done yet, however; we need one last fungicide spray to eliminate all fungal inoculum, and after the first frost, we’ll do a spray of kaolin clay mixed with Horn Manure (B.D. 500) to help protect the vines over the winter. Think of the spot where the leaves dropped as tiny open wounds, which can allow in pathogens until they harden off. And with that, we turn our attention to finishing the trellising in the new planting.
Posted on June 29, 2011
Last Sunday we were able to time our vineyard spray with a “fruit day.” With cluster-close upon us, it seemed a good idea to include with our regular fungicide spray a little Preparation 501, horn silica, which is finely ground quartz crystals. The horn silica attracts light forces to the vines thereby enhancing photosynthesis and strengthens the plant against fungal attack. We also included a tea made with Preparation 508, which is a solution of fermented Equisetum arvense — horsetail herb, because of its ability to help control fungal infections –- a very useful quality in the rainy and humid early summer we’ve experienced here. Pictured here are grape clusters in our Viognier block.
But what on earth is a “fruit day”? We have gardener and biodynamic expert Maria Thun to thank for that phrase.Ms Thun has done more than just about anyone to make Biodynamic agriculture accessible. Frankly, we would be lost without her North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2011). She has devoted a lifetime to understanding biodynamics, and thankfully the work is being taken up by her son, Matthias. A life-long gardener and an authority on biodynamics, her annual biodynamic sowing and planting calendar is translated into 18 languages to advise farmers and gardeners on when to work their crops. Her recommendations are based on more than 55 years of research and experimentation. She has written a couple of other books on the subject that are well worth reading — Gardening for Life (2000) and The Biodynamic Year: Increasing Yield, Quality and Flavor (2010).
In working out each year’s calendar, Ms Thun considers all aspects of lunar and solar cycles, the constellations and the movement of other planets. Each moon phase is divided into a series of “fruit,”’ “flower,” “leaf” and ”root” days. Fruit days are the days when you work plants that are harvested for those particular parts, and harvest should be on those days as well. The guide shows the best days for sowing, pruning and harvesting, offers suggestions for the control of pests and diseases, explains how to build soil fertility, offers suggestions for crop rotation, and describes how the celestial bodies affect plant growth. It is a practical guide for anyone who wants to garden or farm in harmony with nature.
Enjoying Wine the Biodynamic Way
According to biodynamic practitioners, fruit and flower days are considered the best for drinking wine. In the United Kingdom, the firms Marks & Spencer, Tesco and several others consult the biodynamic calendar before scheduling their press wine tastings.
Why is wine accorded this special treatment? Biodynamic wine growers see wine as a living organism which responds to the moon’s rhythms in a way similar to the human body. We are all familiar with the notion that there is increased crime on a full moon, for example. Empirical studies are inconsistent, and many observers dismiss these observations as dictated more by superstition than science.
Ms Thun now publishes a biodynamic calendar for wine drinkers, advising when wines are likely to be at their best. And guess what? There’s a free iPhone app for that!
Please note that the iPhone application isn’t perfect, because it gives information based on Greenwich Mean Time. Keep in mind that Greenwich Mean Time is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (i.e., if it’s 5 pm in London, it’s noon in New York – unless you’re observing Daylight Savings Time, in which case the difference is four hours). The time difference matters because “days” begin and end depending on astronomical aspects, not the movement of the sun, so a particular “day” may begin at any time. For example, June 29 is a Root “day,” which began yesterday at 7 am and continues until 9 pm tonight (the Moon is in the cold, earthy constellation Taurus, with the Sun in opposition to Pluto – this results in cool nights). Expect to do some mental gymnastics. Or consult Maria Thun’s biodynamic calendar — we carry ours everywhere.
Postscript: Maria Thun died at age 89 on 9 February 2012. Her son Matthias Thun carries on her invaluable work.
Posted on April 27, 2011
This past weekend we made our first application of the season of BD-500, otherwise known as cow horn manure. BD-500 is basically fermented cow dung. It is the basis for soil fertility, and is used for the renewal of degraded soils. It is the first preparation used during the season, but especially when one changes to the biodynamic system. With our newly prepared vineyard expansion, it is an essential addition. But what does it really do? Some of the benefits include:
Trying to understand this web leads us to some of the more esoteric aspects of biodynamics. To fully understand biodynamic viticulture, one should delve deeply into Rudolf Steiner’s theories. There is so much more to it than the “mystical” aspects that drive critics nuts. Lecture No. 3 deals with the confluence of the physical elements suffused with the spiritual that make life possible. This particular lecture is a tough one to follow – really “out there” for most readers (even for me) — but worth the effort to study and understand.
This particular lecture (from the collection published as The Agriculture Course) piques our interest because he opens with a discussion of the role and importance of nitrogen. Have you given much thought to nitrogen? As of this writing nitrogen is at the forefront of our minds because of our imminent vineyard expansion. This time last year we pulled soil samples and sent them off to a soil scientist in Remington, Virginia, who sent back a report telling us how many tons of limestone to apply, how much nitrogen, zinc and other soil amendments. We don’t fully understand the report or why these substances are needed. We should start with nitrogen, but as a prelude we must have a discussion of the role of sulphur in the cosmos.
The Mystical Power of Sulphur
To fully understand the importance of nitrogen, one must first understand what Steiner called its’ “four sisters”: carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and sulphur.* “The four sisters of nitrogen are those that are united with her in plant and animal protein, in a way that is not yet clear to the outer science of to-day.” He states that “To know the full significance of protein it will not suffice us to enumerate as its main ingredients hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. We must include another substance, of the profoundest importance for protein, and that is sulphur. Sulphur in protein is the very element which acts as mediator between the Spiritual that is spread throughout the Universe — the formative power of the Spiritual — and the physical.”
We have great respect for sulphur because — as a practical matter — it is a powerful and effective fungicide on winegrapes, and approved for organic production. Unlike synthetic fungicides, sulphur never loses its effectiveness. Those unfamiliar with Steiner’s thinking should take note of a news story appearing 22 March 2011 in the London newspaper The Independent, “Volcanoes’ role in origins of life found after 50 years lost in a lab.”
An experiment carried out more than 50 years ago has revealed that volcanoes may have played a crucial role in the formation of the first organic building blocks of life, which led to the first replicating life forms on earth about 4.5 billion years ago.
Laboratory samples left over from a 1958 experiment in an American university have revealed, with the help of modern analytical techniques, that scientists had unwittingly discovered that gasses given off by volcanoes can be used to make the vital sulphur-containing amino acids of proteins. The discovery is further vindication of the pioneering experiments of Stanley Miller, who as a young graduate student demonstrated that a “primordial soup” of water and a few simple gasses such as ammonia and hydrogen can, with the help of electricity discharges to simulate lightning, produce the more complex organic molecules of life.
Dr Miller, who died in 2007, conducted may of his experiments at the University of California, San Diego, and received worldwide recognition of his earliest work in 1953.
But there was one set of experiments carried out five years later with the volcanic gas, hydrogen sulphide, that he seemed to have put to one side without fully realizing what he had found. Jeffrey Bada, a former student of Dr Miller’s who is now a Professor of Marine Chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, discovered the residue samples from the original 1958 experiment and analysed the contents using highly sensitive chemical techniques that were not available 50 years ago. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that Dr Miller was the first scientist to synthesize important sulphur-containing amino acids in this simulation of the environment of the early Earth. In total, Professor Bada’s team found 23 amino acids and four similar compounds known as amines in Dr Miller’s discarded samples, including seven substances containing sulphur.
During the course of that experiment, the scientists discovered that 15 percent of the carbon compounds had become organic compounds, and 2 percent of the carbon have become amino acids — the building blocks of life itself. This early experiment showed that amino acids, which combine to form proteins, which, in turn, form cellular structures and control reactions in living things. Sulphur-bearing amino acids were discovered in the early 19th century. According to an article appearing online in Wikipedia, in 1806, the French chemists Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin and Pierre Jean Robiquet isolated a compound in asparagus that proved to be asparagine, the first amino acid to be discovered. Another amino acid, cystine, was discovered in 1810, although its monomer, cysteine, was discovered much later in 1884. Glycine and leucine were also discovered in 1820.While Steiner no doubt knew of this pioneering work in isolating amino acids, Dr Miller’s research in the substances involved in the creation of life on Earth suggests that Steiner intuitively knew that sulphur suffused all of life itself.
To understand the whole of what Steiner is trying to communicate, we’ll consider first those building blocks of the universe being bound together by sulphur: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. We start with nitrogen, what Seiner called the “mediator.”
Nitrogen guides the life into the form or configuration which is embodied in the carbon. Wherever nitrogen occurs, its task is to mediate between the life and the spiritual essence which to begin with is in the carbon-nature. Everywhere — in the animal kingdom and in the plant and even in the Earth — the bridge between carbon and oxygen is built by nitrogen. And the spirituality which — once again with the help of sulphur is working thus in nitrogen, is that which we are wont to describe as the astral. It is the astral spirituality in the human astral body. It is the astral spirituality in the Earth’s environment. For as you know, there too the astral is working — in the life of plants and animals, and so on.
Thus, spiritually speaking we have the astral placed between the oxygen and the carbon, and this astral impresses itself upon the physical by making use of nitrogen. Nitrogen enables it to work physically. Wherever nitrogen is, thither the astral extends. The ethereal principle of life would flow away everywhere like a cloud, it would take no account of the carbon-framework were it not for the nitrogen. The nitrogen has an immense power of attraction for the carbon-framework. Wherever the lines are traced and the paths mapped out in the carbon, thither the nitrogen carries the oxygen — thither the astral in the nitrogen drags the ethereal.
Nitrogen is for ever dragging the living to the spiritual principle. Therefore, in man, nitrogen is so essential to the life of the soul. For the soul itself is the mediator between the Spirit and the mere principle of life. Truly, this nitrogen is a most wonderful thing. If we could trace its paths in the human organism, we should perceive in it once more a complete human being. This “nitrogen-man” actually exists. If we could peel him out of the body he would be the finest ghost you could imagine. For the nitrogen-man imitates to perfection whatever is there in the solid human framework, while on the other hand it flows perpetually into the element of life.
Now you can see into the human breathing process. Through it man receives into himself the oxygen — that is, the ethereal life. Then comes the internal nitrogen, and carries the oxygen everywhere — wherever there is carbon, i.e., wherever there is something formed and figured, albeit in everlasting change and movement. Thither the nitrogen carries the oxygen, so that it may fetch the carbon and get rid of it. Nitrogen is the real mediator, for the oxygen to be turned into carbonic acid and so to be breathed out.
As a practical matter, nitrogen is essential for many processes; it is crucial for any life on Earth. It is in all amino acids, it is incorporated into proteins, and it is present in the bases that make up the nucleic acids DNA and RNA. In plants, nitrogen is used in chlorophyll molecules, which are essential for photosynthesis and growth. Although earth’s atmosphere is an abundant source of nitrogen, most is relatively unusable by plants, so they must absorb it through chemical interactions through their roots.Chemical processing, or natural fixation , are necessary to convert gaseous nitrogen into forms usable by living organisms. This makes nitrogen a crucial part of food production.
Steiner then shared his thoughts on plants and their interaction with these same substances:
Here once more you see how we encounter Nature’s most wonderfully intimate workings. Carbon is the true form-creator in all plants; carbon it is that forms the framework or scaffolding. But in the course of earthly evolution this was made difficult for carbon. It could indeed form the plants if it only had water beneath it. Then it would be equal to the task. But now the limestone is there beneath it, and the limestone disturbs it. Therefore it allies itself to silica. Silica and carbon together — in union with clay, once more create the forms. They do so in alliance because the resistance, of the limestone-nature must be overcome.
How then does the plant itself live in the midst of this process? Down there below, the limestone-principle tries to get hold of it with tentacles and clutches, while up above the silica would tend to make it very fine, slender and fibrous — like the aquatic plants. But in the midst — giving rise to our actual plant forms — there is the carbon, which orders all these things. And as our astral body brings about an inner order between our Ego and our ether body, so does the nitrogen work in between, as the astral.
All this we must learn to understand. We must perceive how the nitrogen is there at work, in between the lime — the clay — and the silicious — natures —in between all that the limestone of itself would constantly drag downward, and the silica of itself would constantly ray upward. Here then the question arises, what is the proper way to bring the nitrogen-nature into the world of plants? We shall deal with this question tomorrow, and so find our way to the various forms of manuring.
We like to keep these posts short because we don’t want to bore you, so we’ll return to this topic another time sometime soon.
*Note: We prefer the British spelling “sulphur” to the American “sulfer”, which harks back to the original Latin name for this essential element, although the “f” spelling is the standard spelling when discussed in chemistry.
Posted on February 2, 2011
We’ve already described a few key points in Rudolf Steiner’s Lecture No. 1 as it relates to Biodynamic viticulture; here we examine Lecture No. 2.
Writers describing the Biodynamic farm return time and again to the expressed ideal: that a Biodynamic farm is self-sufficient organism, enlivened by the practitioner through the use of specially-prepared compost and spray preparations, in cooperation with natural rhythms. But what does that really mean?
If a farm is truly a healthy “organism”, it will have a diverse ecosystem. It will be completely self-sufficient and produce everything it needs. This would mean growing the food to feed the farmer, and all the food to feed the animals. Consider this a moment: is this ideal truly possible? It would require a lot of work. If one were to truly live according to this philosophy, it would mean not only growing all of one’s own food and animal feed, but growing all the constituent parts: grow the wheat for your bread, mill it, and make the bread yourself; all fruits, vegetables and meat would be products of the farm, and stored for use during the fall and winter. You would slaughter your own chickens, pigs and cattle. The animal’s manure would be composted and fertilize the fields. I doubt that many Biodynamic practitioners are able to go to such lengths, and must rely on off-farm inputs in order to live.
Even Rudolf Steiner recognized the difficulty. In the second if his famous lectures at Koberwitz, Germany (now part of Poland) he stated:
A farm is true to its essential nature, in the best sense of the word, if it is conceived as a kind of individual entity in itself — a self-contained individuality. Every farm should approximate to this condition. This ideal cannot be absolutely attained, but it should be observed as far as possible. Whatever you need for agricultural production, you should try to posses it within the farm itself (including in the “farm,” needless to say, the due amount of cattle). Properly speaking, any manures or the like which you bring into the farm from outside should be regarded rather as a remedy for a sick farm. That is the ideal. A thoroughly healthy farm should be able to produce within itself all that it needs.
A great author on the subject of sulf-sufficiency was John Seymour (1914-2004), who wrote about it (and lived it) for some 40 years. His book The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2003) is a bible of sorts to the self-sufficiency movement. This book teaches all the skills needed to live independently in harmony with the land harnessing natural forms of energy, raising crops and keeping livestock, preserving foodstuffs, making beer and wine, basketry, carpentry, weaving, and much more. It goes so far as to advise how much land you need to set aside for your animals, for your kitchen garden, which crops to raise and how many animals you need, based on the size of your family. It’s a practical guide and we refer to it often.
Biodynamics is more than a philosophy — being a committed Biodynamic practitioner is a lifestyle, not a label. As the Master observed:
Nay more, if you have the right number of cows, horses, pigs, etc., severally, the proportion of admixture in the manure will also be correct. This is due to the fact that the animals will eat the right measure of what is provided for them by the growth of plants. They eat the right quantity of what the Earth is able to provide. Hence in the course of their organic processes they bring forth just the amount of manure which needs to be given back again to the Earth.
This therefore is the case. We cannot carry it out absolutely, but in the ideal sense it is correct. If we are obliged to import any manure from outside the farm, properly speaking we should only use it as a remedy — as a medicament for a farm that has already grown ill. The farm is only healthy inasmuch as it provides its own manure from its own stock. Naturally, this will necessitate our developing a proper science of the number of animals of a given sort which we need for a given kind of farm. This need not cause any alarm. Such a science will arise in good time, as soon as we begin to have any knowledge again of the inner forces concerned….
He then turns to the influence of the cosmos and its relationship to the plants and animals drawing sustenance from the Earth:
This, therefore, is the ABC for our judgment of plant-growth. We must always be able to say, what in the plant is cosmic, and what is terrestrial or earthly. How can we adapt the soil of the earth, by its special consistency, as it were to densify the cosmic and thereby hold it back more in the root and leaf? Or again, how can we thin it out so that it is drawn upward in a dilute condition, right up into the flowers, giving them colour — or into the fruit-forming process, permeating the fruit with a fine and delicate taste? For if you have apricots or plums with a fine taste — this taste, just like the colour of the flowers, is the cosmic quality which has been carried upward, right into the fruit. In the apple you are eating Jupiter, in the plum you are actually eating Saturn.
Now the plant-growth of the Earth is not all. To any given district of the Earth a specific animal life also belongs. For reasons which will presently be evident, we may for the moment leave man out, but we cannot neglect animal life. For this is the peculiar fact; the best — if I may call it so — cosmic qualitative analysis takes place of its own accord, in the life of a certain district of the Earth, overgrown as it is with plants, along with the animals in the same region. This is the peculiar fact — and I should be glad if my statements were tested, for if you subsequently test them you will certainly find them confirmed. This is the peculiar relation. If in any farm you have the right amount of horses, cows and other animals, these animals taken together will give just the amount of manure which you need for the farm itself, in order, as I said, to add something more to what has already turned into chaos.
Could it be that manure brings order out of chaos? That’s an interesting thought. Francois Bouchet in L’Agriculture Bio’Dynamique: Comment l’appliquer dans la vigne (Paris: Deux versants éditeur, 2003) had an interesting observation about the use of fertilizer: “We pretend to fertilize the land by using fertilizer. But do we realize that we’re merely fertilizing the water, thereby risking polluting the groundwater? Bio-dynamie focuses on fertilizing the land, and the land alone.”
We now have a herd of Holstein cattle at Annefield, living in the pasture just north of the house. They’re a comforting sight as they languidly graze and amble about. With the Holsteins on the farm, we can now plan on creating our own biodynamic compost and horn manure, thereby taking another small step toward self-sufficiency.
There is much more to manure, its preparation and its use which we will explore later, particularly the almost magical Horn Manure, BD-500. We rely on the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Bio-Dynamics for our Biodynamic preparations. We just received a shipment of the preparations we need for this year’s growing season and for our vineyard expansion this spring. This year we are planting three new varieties: Pinot Gris, Vidal Blanc and Vermentio. Ours will be the only Vermentino vineyard in Virginia.
Posted on December 1, 2010
Are we growing biodynamic wine in Southern Virginia? No, not yet — but we’re trying.
What is Biodynamic agriculture? Biodynamic agriculture is a system with its roots in a series of eight lectures given in 1924 by Dr Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian scientist and philosopher. These lectures were taught by Steiner in response to observations from farmers that soils were becoming depleted following the introduction of chemical fertilizers at the turn of the century. In addition to degraded soil conditions, the farmers noticed deterioration in the health and quality of crops and livestock. What was to be done? In his Preface to Steiner’s lectures, collected and published as The Agriculture Course (London: Wilding & Son Ltd., 1958) Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, M.D. wrote:
In the Agricultural Course … Rudolf Steiner set forth the basic new way of thinking about the relationship of earth and soil to the formative forces of the etheric, astral and ego activity of nature. He pointed out particularly how the health of soil, plants and animals depends upon bringing nature into connection again with the cosmic creative, shaping forces. The practical method he gave for treating soil, manure and compost, and especially for making the bio-dynamic compost preparations, was intended above all to serve the purpose of reanimating the natural forces which in nature and in modern agriculture were on the wane.
Biodynamic practices are an interpretation by Steiner’s followers of the prescriptions contained in the Lectures, for Steiner spoke of the preparations in the most general terms. Dr Pfeiffer wrote:
In 1923 Rudolf Steiner described for the first time how to make the bio-dynamic compost preparations, simply giving the recipe without any sort of explanation — just “do this and then that.” Dr Wachsmuth and I then proceeded to make the first batch of preparation 500 [Horn Manure]. This was then buried in the garden of the “Sonnenhof” in Arlesheim, Switzerland. The momentous day came in the early summer of 1924 when this first lot of 500 was dug up again in the presence of Dr Steiner, Dr Wegman, Dr Wachsmuth, a few other co-workers and myself. It was a sunny afternoon. We began digging at the spot where memory, aided by a few landmarks, prompted us to search. We dug on and on. The reader will understand that a good deal more sweating was done over the waste of Dr Steiner’s time than over the strenuousness of the labour. Finally he became impatient and turned to leave for a five o’clock appointment at his studio. The spade grated on the first cowhorn in the very nick of time.
Dr Steiner turned back, called for a pail of water, and proceeded to show us how to apportion the horn’s contents to the water, and the correct way of stirring it. As the author’s walking-stick was the only stirring implement at hand, it was pressed into service. Rudolf Steiner was particularly concerned with demonstrating the energetic stirring, the forming of a funnel or crater, and the rapid changing of direction to make a whirlpool. Nothing was said about the possibility of stirring with the hand or with a birch-whisk. Brief directions followed as to how the preparation was to be sprayed when the stirring was finished. Dr Steiner then indicated with a motion of his hand over the garden how large an area the available spray would cover. Such was the momentous occasion marking the birth-hour of a world-wide agricultural movement.
What impressed me at the time, and still gives one much to think about, was how these step-by-step developments illustrate Dr Steiner’s practical way of working. He never proceeded from preconceived abstract dogma, but always dealt with the concrete given facts of the situation. There was such germinal potency in his indications that a few sentences or a short paragraph often sufficed to create the foundation for a farmer’s or scientist’s whole life-work; the agricultural course is full of such instances. A study of his indications can therefore scarcely be thorough enough. One does not have to try to puzzle them out, but can simply follow them to the letter.
Dr Steiner begins the Lectures (Lecture No. 1, 7th June, 1924) by explaining the role of silica and its interaction with the plant life and the cosmos. In Biodynamic practice, this substance is called Horn Silica, or BD-501:
In the Medicine that proceeds from Anthroposophical Science, silicious substances are an essential constituent of numerous medicaments. A large class of illnesses are treated with silicic acid taken internally, or outwardly as baths. In effect, practically everything that shows itself in abnormal conditions of the senses is influenced in a peculiar way by silicon. (I do not say what lies in the senses themselves, but that which shows itself in the senses, including the inner senses — calling forth pains here or there in the organs of the body).
Not only so; throughout the “household of Nature,” as we have grown accustomed to call it, silicon plays the greatest imaginable part, for it not only exists where we discover it in quartz or other rocks, but in an extremely fine state of distribution it is present in the atmosphere. Indeed, it is everywhere. Half of the Earth that is at our disposal is of silica. …
Now we can go still farther. Everything that lives in the silicious nature contains forces which comes not from the Earth but from the so-called distant planets, the planets beyond the Sun — Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. That which proceeds from these distant plants influences the life of plants via the silicious and kindred substances into the plant and also into the animal life of the Earth. On the other hand, from all that is represented by the planets near the Earth — Moon, Mercury and Venus — forces work via the limestone and kindred substances. Thus we may say, for every tilled field: Therein are working the silicious and the limestone natures; in the former, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars; and in the latter, Moon, Venus and Mercury. …
On the other hand, when plants become foodstuffs to a large extent — when they evolve in such a way that the substances in them become foodstuffs for animal and man, then Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, working via the silicious nature, are concerned in the process. The silicious nature opens the plant-being to the wide spaces of the Universe and awakens the senses of the plant-being in such a way as to receive from all quarters of the Universe the forces which are moulded by these distant planets. Whenever this occurs, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are playing their part. From the sphere of the Moon, Venus and Mercury, on the other hand, is received all that which makes the plant capable of reproduction.
To begin with, no doubt this appears as a simple piece of information. But truths like this, derived from a somewhat wider horizon, lead of their own accord from knowledge into practice. For we must ask ourselves: If forces come into the Earth from Moon, Venus and Mercury and become effective in the life of plants, by what means can the process be more or lese quickened or restrained? By what means can the influences of Moon or Saturn on the life of plants be hindered, and by what means assisted?
Steiner concluded in Lecture No. 1 that “The more intimate influences which are at work in the whole Universe are no longer understood. These must be looked for again along such lines as I have hinted at to-day. I have only introduced the subject; I have only tried to show where the questions arise — questions which go far beyond the customary points of view. We shall continue and go deeper in this way, and then apply, what we have found, in practice.”
Dr Steiner’s prescriptions have been adopted by a number of winegrowers, and is rooted in viewing viticulture in a more fundamental way than conventional practice, by acknowledging and working in tandem with the influence of the cosmos. As David Ridgway, 1st Sommelier at La Tour d’Argent in Paris, France acknowledged in the Preface to Nicholas Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine (Austin, TX: Acres USA, 1999):
Biodynamics is often considered to be a marginal, even eccentric way of doing things. However, biodynamics is almost entirely based on ancestral methods. For example, we acknowledge the influence of the moon, sun and stars on the tides, but at present we deny that the same effects extend to grapevines, which we treat like machines that are turned on or off according to our wishes. There are many reasons for which biodynamics could be applauded, but central among them is its abandonment of all chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.
This statement isn’t entirely true, for Biodynamic winegrowers must still rely on the fungicides that are allowed in organic viticulture, namely sulfur and copper sulphate. François Bouchet gives precise recommendations on their use while balancing their use with practical recommendations in his book, L’Agriculture Bio’Dynamique: Comment l’appliquer dans la vigne (Paris: Deux versants éditeur, 2003).
While writing these lines, I must be honest and acknowledge that even in biodynamic practices, and despite very encouraging results coming from trials run as we speak, we still depend on copper and sulfur treatments, though certainly biodynamics practiced correctly, along with the contribution from various teas, allows us to decrease the amount of these chemicals used by ten or more times. We have almost reached our goals, and the kinds of treatments used now, I must grant, will doubtless be altered within the next three or four years.
Application of preventive treatments has to be thought through, and their rhythm must be very tightly controlled, because the chemicals used (copper and sulfur), are merely contact elements. In order to considerably diminish the doses and lessen phytotoxicity, we should take care to follow these treatments by the application of teas or decoctions.
In order for us to become truly Biodynamic, we must fully understand the interaction of the preparations and their effectiveness in practice. We do shun broad-spectrum insecticides, for we prefer to allow the web of beneficial insects to thrive in a balanced environment without poisons, with the exception of our most intractable foe, the grape berry moth (Paralobesia viteana (Clemens)) which is endemic to Virginia due to the prevalence of wild grapes throughout the mid-Atlantic. We control this pest with Intrepid, a selective insecticide that targets only the grape berry moth by acting as a growth regulator, thereby preventing it from completing its’ lifecycle. We would prefer to give this insecticide up as well and allow bats and parasitic wasps to control the pests, but we must first make the vineyard hospitable to these beneficial creatures.
We are slowly weaning ourselves from conventional fungicides, but have not yet given them up. Happily our vineyard consultant has told us that since we began our biodynamic program three years ago that our vineyard is the cleanest of all his clients, with virtually no phomopsis, downy mildew, powdery mildew or black rot. “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up,” he says. Until we learn how to make them ourselves, we obtain our biodynamic preparations from The Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics in Woolwine, Virginia. So we apply the teas and decoctions Dr Steiner, Dr Pfeiffer and Mr Bouchet recommend, and look to the planets, the moon, the sun and the stars — and let those heavenly bodies guide our actions in the vineyard. We’ll write more on that later.
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