The Stockwood Community Benefit Society was founded with a particular requirement to ensure that its farmland is farmed biodynamically, and not just organically. We are passionate supporters and members of the organic movement but our particular form of organic agriculture is biodynamic, and that is a positive and purposeful choice, which this post explains in more detail.
The biodynamic approach is organic with five specific extra concepts which are a must for a biodynamic grower but which a pure organic grower will feel more or less connection to:
The farm is an individual organism – the whole farm, the microbiology of the soil, the wild and cultivated botany and biology of the farm and the farmer and farm workers, are all working together, many organisms, to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Two simple but extremely different metaphors: firstly some people have had the experience of working in a high-performing team, where things seem only to have to be thought to be happening, and there is a feeling of togetherness and community that is palpable; and secondly the way bees and ants seem to work as a whole, millions of separate organisms, but one hive, one ants nest. This principle of the farm as an organism can be experienced at Rush Farm where there are footpaths that cross out of the farm and then back in again – people comment about how it feels as though a boundary is crossed, it feels different on the farm to how it feels on the next door farm.
The biodynamic grower works with compost not with manure. The proces of composting manure involves billions and billions of micro-organisms and organisms in breaking down and transforming the manure, and a biodynamic farm always tries to use raw materials for compost making that have originated on the farm itself. This is an extraordinary process than enlivens and invigorates and provides the soil and crops with a complex and multi-faceted nutritional resource balanced to the needs of the individual farm.
The biodynamic grower adds compost preparations to the compost heaps that are made in particular ways from the common-or-garden weeds and herbs that grow in the hedgerows and field margins of the farm. The herbs and weeds are themselves a response to the natural environment of the farm, telling the knowledgeable observer about the rocks and climate of the farm at a single glance. By using these by-products of the land to create special preparations we add a positive feed-back loop to the farm, from weeds, through compost, and back to the land again, thus honing and harmonising the farm to the particular needs of the chemistry of the rocks it sits on and the weather that blows across it.
The biodynamic grower creates field-sprays to use on the land which stimulate the life processes in the soil and of the farm. These sprays help the grass and crops of the farm to respond more robustly to insufficiencies and over-abundances of warmth and wet. The horn-manure preparation stimulates the roots to drive down deep in search of water and the horn-silica preparation carries warmth forces to help the plants to compensate for too little warmth or too much wet. Both these preparations are made in cow horns by filling the horn with either cow manure or silica and burying the filled horn over winter for the manure, or over summer for the silica. The change in the horn-manure is obvious as the horn is buried full of green and smelly manure but is dug up smelling sweet and full of rich black compost. This transformation won’t happen if bull’s horns are used or if pottery, wooden or any other material that has been tested are used. The manure has been worked on by the micro-biology in the soil in a particular and amazing way and the farm is provided with a simple means to support the growing season. The horn-silica, which is ground quartz crystal, does not appear different to the naked eye when it emerges from the soil at the end of the summer, but is has been saturated with warmth and sun-forces and will be another invaluable aid to the farmer in the next growing season. The horn-manure and horn-silica are added to rain water and mixed thoroughly before being sprayed on the land. The amounts of substance when mixing the spray are equivalent to the amounts of vitamins that our bodies need, and which we might take as supplements.
Finally, the fifth aspect of biodynamic growing is an attempt to grow in sympathy with the cycle of the moon as it moves around the ecliptic. There are two principal rhythms that effect the growth of plants: the first is the vertical one of whether the moon is ascending (ie getting higher in the sky each night), or descending (ie getting lower in the sky each night). The biodynamic grower will try to sow seeds and plant seedlings out when the moon is descending, and he will try to carry out propagation techniques such as grafting when the moon is ascending. The second rhythm is the horizontal one of where the moon is rising around the zodiac. Scientific observation has shown that working the soil at different times sends a different sort of stimulating impulse into the plants that are growing in that soil. There are four different sorts of stimulation: root, flower, leaf and seed, and these relate to the earth, air, water and fire elements of the constellations around the ecliptic. For example, aquarius is an air sign and if the moon is rising in aquarius then sowing during that time will stimulate the flowers and so is ideal for cauliflower planting or for planting for cut flowers; taurus is an earth sign and is ideal for planting root crops such as carrots, beetroot and so on. This aspect of biodynamic growing attracts a great deal of attention as it is unusual for people these days to be so sensitive and conscious of the more subtle rhythms of nature, and yet, because uncorking a bottle of wine on a fruit day (seed / fruit are the same) makes the wine taste bigger and stronger, some supermarkets actually specifically timetable wine tasting events to take place on fruit days.
Biodynamic farming is involved and interesting and it awakens a consciousness of nature and the environment that is uplifting of body, soul and spirit. You can feel it in your feet as you walk across Rush Farm!