We began practicing the biodynamic (BD) method of agriculture at Rosnay in 1997, when we started. At the time, it was just part of a “shotgun” approach to organic farming – throwing absolutely everything we could at getting the soil back to life, and growing healthy plants. To this day we do not profess to be BD “gurus” but simply BD “believers”, as our own experience as growers has led us to increasingly favour biodynamic methods over the standard organic ones.
Our journey into Biodynamics began when Sam read a book in his late grandfather, Clive Statham’s collection, called “Biodynamic Gardening” by John Soper. Clive was a doctor, open minded, and an avid gardener, hence his interest in this, much-derided philosophy of farming and gardening.
Soper’s book was full of practical tips, developed from the original lectures of the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, who was a scientist who looked beyond tangible matter into the etheric and astral forces which influence soil, plant, animal and human health. In the 1920’s, long before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the mainstream Organic farming movement, Steiner took ancient experience such as lunar planting rhythms and built a radical system of agriculture which is low input and self reliant. Put simply, the unseen “life forces” of the farm are manipulated or used with strategic application of various “preparations”, all of which may be produced on the farm using herbs, manures and minerals. In our experience, Biodynamic methods help produce improved qualities such as shelf life, flavour and cell structure.
After reading Soper’s book, Sam learnt more about the biodynamic way of thinking by working on BD farms in New Zealand, this continuing with Richard, Florence and Sam’s visits to BD farms and vineyards in Australia in 1997. The practical and first hand study of BD farms made us into committed practitioners, as the BD farms simply looked healthier.
For the last 13 years, we simply followed the presciptions of the Biodyamic Farming and Gardening Association (now “Biodynamics Australia”) of spraying the BD preparations at least once per year, usually 3 times. Over that time, we slowly developed our stirring methods from hand stirring in a barrel to the “Vortex” flowforms used today.
We have no doubt that the use of Preparation 500 (“Horn Manure”) and the compost preparations (various herbal stimulants) has led to a richer, darker, more porous soil, which is above all notable by its rich smell of the forest floor. We have seen and measured a rapid increase in ripeness promoted by Preparation 501 (“Horn Silica”), even though this was above all a lesson on the need to use this homeopathic “magnifying glass” with great caution in our warm to hot climate. We have employed the technique of “peppering” to control starlings, who decimated the chardonnay in 1999, keeping them out by simply spraying their potentised ash around the perimeter of the vineyard at the correct astrological time. Currently we are experimenting with the use of Valerian (Preparation 507) to prevent frost damage.
These are demonstrated and tangible benefits which have been discounted for far too long by the mainstream of reductionist, materialist science. Our view is that biodynamics cannot hurt – in start contrast with newer technologies such as genetic engineering. Working with nature is not a new concept, and therefore cannot be patented and sold for profit, and therefore is not being supported by mainstream political parties.
Have you tried using biodynamics in your own farm, vineyard or garden? We’d love to get your comments.
- To get into biodynamics, start with Biodynamic Agriculture Australia’s website
- To download a paper presented by Sam to the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology at Mildura, in August 2009, click here
- For more reading from Max Allen regarding biodynamics and wine, click here
- For another practical view, visit the Castagna vineyard website
- Biodynamic Wine wiki