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.