Some participants in our weekly “Ask a Master Gardener” series, have expressed an interest in hearing more about biodynamic farming/gardening, a specialization within organic agriculture/gardening. Our speaker today, Tom Waller, is a retired biodynamic market gardener who ran Elm Tree Farm for 20 years. He showed us his new garden installations which he started at a his property in the Kawarthas in 2020.
What is Biodynamics
Biodynamic agriculture was first described by Rudolph Steiner in Germany in 1924, in response to a group of local farmers who were concerned about degradation of their soils and poor crop health. According to the Biodynamic Association it is a “holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition”.
Biodynamics is both a concept and a practice. It combines the application of those forces and energies that promote life and growth. The very word is significant: BIOS – LIFE: DYNAMIS – ENERGY, FORCE.E. Pfeiffer, “How to Grow Health by Building the Soil” Earthhaven.ca
Many organic gardeners would be familiar with some aspects of the biodynamic practices:
- working with Nature (in biodynamics, Tom says “in harmony with Nature”)
- feeding the soil, not the plant
- quality composting
- avoiding synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and genetically engineered crops
- crop diversification and rotation
- local food production and distribution
- locally developed and adapted seeds, plants and animals.
Biodynamic practitioners use various field and compost “preparations” to support the fertility of the land. These are sprayed or buried and are purported to stimulate plant growth and improved nutrient content of compost. Tom likens these ‘preps’ like a tuning rod for energy, because after all, everything is energy.
Tom’s efforts to convert his land for food production began with the removal of a number of trees (hemlocks) of various sizes. Garden beds were created by the hügelkultur method of layering smaller pieces of wood with leaves and then soil, which in his area tends to be sandy. His own high nitrogen (horse and poultry) compost was added as well as mineral amendments (green sand, ground limestone, and Cal-Phos™ ) to balance the nutrients in the soil. Tom’s work to prepare his garden is ongoing.
In summary, biodynamics, similar to other forms of sustainable agriculture, in its true form is a closed, living system, with recycling of materials within it, and with minimal inputs from external sources. Soil health and fertility, crop and livestock production are considered a single inter-related entity. A certification program is available through the international Demeter network (including Demeter Canada)
Tom recommends the following sources for additional information on biodynamic and organic farms and practices:
Jeff Poppin, The Barefoot Farmer, Long Hungry Creek Farm, TN.
Earth Haven Farm/Learning Centre, Thomasbury (south of Tweed), Ont.
Bob Cannard, Greenstring Farm, Sonoma County, CA
Eliot Coleman, Coastal Maine, Four Season Farm organic gardening.