‘Everything which happens here on earth is but a reflection of what is taking place in the cosmos…to the plant world this applies in the highest degree’– (Rudolf Steiner, 1923)
Biodynamics was developed by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. The word ‘biodynamic’ has its roots in Latin: ‘bio’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘dynamic’ meaning ‘forces,’ thus implying that nature and agriculture are permeated with life forces.
These life forces are, according to Steiner, cosmic ones that exist alongside every aspect of the physical world. In biodynamic agriculture, the cosmic forces that permeate nature are the sun, the moon and the zodiacal star system. In order to work the land biodynamically in the most beneficial way one must understand these forces.
The Sun: The sun’s effects on the earth and plants as the seasons change are the most clearly observable. Most plants begin growing in Spring, peak in Summer when the Sun is highest in the sky bringing long days and warmth, and die down in Autumn and Winter when the Sun is low, with short days and cold weather. Steiner sees these seasonal changes as an out-breathing of the earth in Summer and an in-breathing in Winter. This concept can then inform the way that biodynamic gardener works with the land.
The Moon: The moon’s strong influence on the water elements is most obvious in the tides and weather patterns. However, in addition to waxing and waning, an ‘ascending’ and ‘descending’ moon also affects the earth, as does its passage through the zodiacal system (see ‘Planting Calendar’ below).
The Zodiacal Star System: see ‘Planting Calendar’ section below.
The Biodynamic Garden as a self-contained organism:
‘the farm is (or should be) a self-supporting closed organism, where the different organs, the fields, the manure, the meadows and the animals all interrelate properly’– (Schilthuis, 1994)
Steiner suggests that any agricultural enterprise should be a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of the earth. This means understanding the earth as a living, harmonious organism comprising minerals, plants, animals and humans working together as a self-sufficient organism. The harmony and the way the different elements interact and work together within the macrocosm of the earth can then be reflected in the microcosm of the farm or garden.
The ideal model of an agricultural entity is a balanced, self-supporting ‘organism’ with a healthy mix of plants and animals. A monoculture of one or the other is not healthy. Because the farm should be looked upon as an organism it is in many ways a closed system, and thus should produce its own manure and compost.
In a garden, the biodynamic ideal is harder to achieve. However, despite a lack of domestic animals, the biodynamic gardener can still work to encourage animals into the garden organism. Wild animals such as worms, insects, bees, toads, frogs and birds can be successfully brought into the organism through good garden management and the provision of wild corners, meadows, hedges, rockeries and other animal habitats.
Unless the garden has chickens, animal manure will usually have to be brought in from outside (manure from cats and dogs is not healthy for the garden). However, the biodynamic gardener can still work towards basic the principle of self-containment through composting all garden material and raw kitchen waste.
The Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar
The Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar is an annual calendar, developed by Maria Thun, a biodynamic gardener working in Germany, as a result of decades of observation, research and experiment. Thun takes Steiner’s view that the earth is a reflection of the cosmos, in particular, that the passage of the moon through the zodiac and its position in the sky can have a strong influence on plants.
The twelve signs of the zodiac correspond to the twelve visible constellations in the night sky. The moon, in its twenty-eight-day orbit around the sun, passes through each constellation in turn.
Thun suggests that the forces of each constellation vary and that the moon as it passes through the constellation acts as a kind of ‘transmitter’ or ‘lens’ guiding the forces to Earth. These forces correspond to the four different elements: Earth, Light, Water and Warmth. Each of these four forces or impulses has their source in three out of the twelve constellations:
Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn – Earth
Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio – Water
Gemini, Libra, Aquarius – Light
Aries, Leo, Sagittarius – Warmth
As these impulses ray down upon the earth, they affect different aspects of a plant’s growth. When the moon is passing through an ‘earth constellation’ (Taurus, Virgo or Capricorn), all aspects of root development are particularly affected. When the moon is in a ‘water constellation’ (Pisces, Cancer or Scorpio) leaf development is particularly enhanced. The moon being in a ‘light constellation’ (Gemini, Libra or Aquarius) most strongly affect the flowering aspect of the plant, while when the moon is in a ‘warmth constellation’ (Aries, Leo or Sagittarius) fruiting and seed-production are most affected.
The biodynamic gardener will use the planting calendar to enhance and develop a particular part of the plant by aligning the desired forces to desired plant. For example, when cultivating carrots, one would try to carry out as much work as possible on ‘root days’ (as named in the calendar) sowing weeding, thinning harvesting. By doing this the beneficial forces of the earth element will be maximized. Conversely, when growing chamomile, one would choose ‘flower’ days to work on the plants, when the beneficial effects of the light impulse are strong.
A further cosmic impulse that is outlined in the Planting Calendar is that of the ascending and descending Moon.
Thun writes ‘after the Moon, during its monthly orbit, reaches its lowest position in the zodiac, in front of Sagittarius it begins to ascend again. Its daily arc across the sky becomes larger every day and its rising point shifts north-eastwards and its setting point moves towards the north-west. This is the time of the ascending moon.’ (Thun, 1999). This period continues until the Moon reaches its highest point, in Gemini, when the arc begins to shrink again. The Moon is then said to be descending. The periods of ascending and descending Moon lasts approximately two weeks each.
The Planting Calendar includes the times and dates of these Moon periods. When the moon is ascending plant sap rises more strongly and it is a good time for harvesting fruit and flowers. This is because the life and vitality is drawn upwards with the sap and it is therefore most concentrated. However, for planting and sowing it is better to wait for the descending Moon as at this time the sap rises only weekly and thus seeds, seedlings and transplants will have a greater chance of rooting (i.e. growing downwards) as there is very little upward ‘pull’ from the Moon. Pruning, hedge-cutting and tree-felling are good activities to carry out during the descending Moon period as any sap loss is minimized.
Schilthuis, W. (1994) Biodynamic Agriculture, Edinburgh, Floris Books.
Steiner, R. (1923) in Agriculture (1977), London, Biodynamic Agricultural Association.
Thun, M and M.K., (1999) Working with the Stars, a Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar, Launceston, Lanthorn Press.
These can be purchased from Michael Fuller Gardens at a price of £7.99 (plus post and packing).
(NB similar information from Maria Thun on cosmic/earthly connections is available in every new planting calendar, published annually by Floris Books, Edinburgh)