Hugh answers Ibo Zimmermann, Deputy Director Agriculture and Natural Resources Sciences Namibia University of Science and Technology

Dear Ibo,

How biodynamic does a farm have to be to be biodynamic? Here is what Rudolf Steiner had to say about farms:

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. (Agriculture, Lecture II)

 

What I’ve found is the most important part of a farm is its boundaries. That’s like our skin is our most important organ, without which our inner organization would neither arise nor maintain itself. You could plant casuarina trees along the boundaries and horsetail like hair in the ditches and dykes, and that would really help the farm to be self-sufficient, but how are you going to delineate the boundaries of experiment plots so they are comparable to rice paddies on biodynamic farms? My smallest rice terrace was somewhere around 7 to 8 square metres and my largest would have been more like 50 square metres. The dykes were in grass, clover, dandelions, plantain, and other ‘weeds’ that got mowed occasionally (maybe once a month) with a lawnmower. You could have used a whipper snipper. All my local frogs, from the huge bull frogs to tiny tree frogs reproduced in the rice terraces, which were teeming with life. My old farm cat developed a taste for the young bull frogs and couldn’t wait to catch them at the boundaries. She stalked them through the rice. She would emerge slathered down in mud and algae with a frog in her jaws. Her tongue bath and toilet afterward must have been a lot of work, but somehow she reckoned it was worth it–there was a really strong life going on in those terraces and the frogs must have tasted really delicious. Being from South Louisiana I never ate frogs legs raw. I always dipped my frog legs in an egg batter and dredged them in corn flour and seasoning to fry them. I never tried the frog legs from my rice terraces because I didn’t have enough rice swamp to have a night-time frog gigging party with headlamps and tridents like we had in Louisiana. But with a few acres of rice instead of a mere 120 square metres we could have had parties–a great place to grow frogs and crayfish.

 

I paint this picture above to illustrate how difficult it might be to plant one or two experiment blocks of biodynamic rice in a larger context of test plots including control plots where nothing is added or taken away. If you stir up a complex made from all the biodynamic preparations and apply this to the biodynamic plot or plots how can you keep the effect from this tone-like resonance from affecting nearby plots? And where will you get your biodynamic ecology of algae, azola, tadpoles, birds and all sorts of other aquatic and flying species and still keep them away from the other plots including the controls? I’m not saying give up and forget it. And I’m not saying you can just ignore the spill-over effects from one block to the next. You’re going to have some spill over and you’re going to have some challenges in establishing a biodynamic ecology from the soil food web up. You’re going to have to consider that biodynamic farms generally show almost triple the conventional concentrations of fungi, bacteria and protozoa, to say nothing of ants, earthworms and other higher animals–and the same with ‘weeds’ or companion plants like legumes in the rice. No. You’re going to have to do the experiments and see how much of an ecology can be imparted to the biodynamic plots and how much this can be kept separate form the other experiment plots. And the final conclusions of the experiment will need to acknowledge the limitations and challenges of the experimental methods and show how these were dealt with. Go for it, but don’t expect it to be easy.

 

To help get a fuller picture of what biodynamic farming is about I’ve attached a copy of Steiner’s agriculture lectures, Georg Adams translation. It is the earlier translation (1938) and in some respects is more poetic than the Creeger/Gardener translation which dates to the 1990s. You can also go to Rudolf Steiner audio and download an audio version of the Agriculture Course that you can listen to while driving or whatever.  http://www.rudolfsteineraudio.com/agriculture/agriculture.html

The researcher doing the rice might delve into these resources as well. Biodynamics may have resisted conventional research by virtue of its complexity. It is a comprehensive system of agriculture and it works best as a comprehensive system. Anything less will fail to show biodynamics in the light it deserves. A lot of biodynamic concepts, such as the importance of silica, can be very useful in conventional agriculture as well. For example, the USDA did research that compared the use of potassium silicate (an industrial product) with various fungicides. Even though potassium silicate is not a fungicide (it doesn’t kill fungi on contact) it prevented fungal diseases in wheat, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes better than any of the fungicides tested. Somehow the USDA refrained from blanket publicity of this fact, I suppose out of consideration for the welfare of makers of commercial fungicides.

 

Best wishes,

Hugh Lovel

Youtube of Hugh teaching Biodynamic Association of Namibia

Hugh Lovel New Book  

Quantum Agriculture:   Biodynamics and Beyond  

http://quantumagriculture.com/quantum-agriculture-biodynamics-and-beyond