Ten Rules of Biodynamic Farming
As Presented by Trauger Groh
Summary by Shain Saberon
In Farms of Tomorrow Revisited by Trauger Groh, the author summarizes Rudolph Steiner’s writings on agriculture. His approach to agriculture is broadly characterized as biodynamic farming. I believe in many tenants of this method; therefore, it is useful for you, the consumer, to understand some of these ideas.
Rule 1: No Non-organics On The Farm
I believe the most important idea presented in this work is that “Gardeners and farmers should remain in the realm of the living with all measures and applications.” In my opinion, this excludes most applications of minerals, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and mineral substances in animal feed. At EverGreen farm we follow this advice.
Further it is explained, “The only exceptions to these rules would be lime for amending soil and salt for animal consumption. If these items are used, it is best to remain as close to the realm of living as possible.” This leads me to believe that greensand and ground oyster shell are also acceptable. Many organic farmers I know liberally apply these mineral amendments to their compost and soil. I believe our soil will most benefit from the trace amounts of several minerals available in greensand. Greensand is the mineralized remains of ancient seabeds and is clearly from the “realm of the living.”
Last of all Steiner recommends, “ For animal, especially ruminants, shrubs should be available as a forage (herbal plants of the families labieate, compoitae, and umbelliferae). Pigs can be kept free of supplements if they are allowed contact with living soil.” Currently we have a few shrubs that our goats and horses both graze, but improvements need to be made in this realm on our farm. We absolutely follow the advice given on the keeping of swine.
Rule 2: Keep Animals on the Farm to Supply Animal Manure
Another of Rudolph Steiner’s observations was to supply the necessary amount of animal manure “necessary for healthy plant growth by keeping on the farm a sufficient number of animals in the right harmonious combination.” Later Groh states, “It is best to have a mixed population of animals. Most important, the farm should have chickens, pigs, horses, and goats. Cows are also a healthy addition but are secondary to the first set of animals mentioned.” At EverGreen farm we follow these principles. Each year we continue to better understand the benefits of keeping animals and then using the compost from their manures to feed the soil that in turn feeds them with rich grasses and leftover crops.
Rule 3: Feed Your Animals From Your Farm
Another principle presented by Steiner is that animals on your farm should be nurtured with feeds that are grown on your farm. He argues that animals, plants, and macrobiotic life forms in the soil adapt to each other raising the level of health for all through a symbiotic process. At EverGreen Farm chickens, goats, pigs, and horses are feed from pasture and left over vegetables not meeting our standards for sale. Although this only is possible for one-half the year, we feel it is a giant step in the right direction.
Rule 4: Grow a Great Diversity of Cash and Cover Crops
Steiner believed in diversity, not the monoculture that dominates the American agricultural landscape of today. Modern industrialized agricultural practices require ever increasing amounts of chemical inputs to combat various infestations that arise when agriculturist plant only one crop.
Steiner declared, “Aim for as great of a diversity of plants on the farm as possible in combination with, and as part of the crop rotation.” Later he explained, “Fertility and productivity in nature arise out of diversity.” Besides cash crops, a well-managed farm is abundant with grasses, clovers, and deep-rooting plants like alfalfa.”
At EverGreen Farm we grow over thirty vegetable varieties. Whenever possible, we follow these crops with a fall or spring planting of rye grass and field peas. Not only do we advocate a multiplicity of crops, but we also rotate the plants we grow to combat the negative natural consequences caused by uniformity.
Rule 5: Fertilize Fields with Animal and Plant Manures
Steiner pushed for farmers to “Recognize that the circulation of carbon, or organic substance, throughout the soil, plants, and the air is the basis of permanent fertility. This circulation expresses itself in the creation and breakdown of humus substance in the soil.” To achieve this we apply both animal manures and plant based compost to our fields at EverGreen Farm.
Rule 6: Encourage Silica by Encouraging Living Soils
Another tenant of biodynamics argued was to “Strengthen silica circulation in the soil by encouraging microbiotic processes.” At our farm we achieve this by applying animal and plant manures, avoiding synthetic substances (especially petrochemical fertilizers) and tilling the ground as little as possible.
Silica is primarily a product of living organism found in living soils. The application of green and animal manures and the avoidance of the application of synthetic substances has already been thoroughly discussed. However, the last part of this rule touches on another important principle—no/low till farming. At our farm we are continually tinkering with rotations and systems that will allow us to reduce the amount of tillage on our farm. Admittedly, we have room to improve in this area
Rule 7: Create a Balance Among all Living Things
“Create a harmonious balance in the soil, plants, animals, and the landscape. This should include a balance between field, pasture, and wetland.” I believe we have made significant improvement in the last few years in our balance of field and pasture. At this moment, regrettably, we have no wetland. In spite of our limited space, this is a concern and an issue we plan to address.
Rule 8: A Natural Environment-Hedgerows and Ponds
“Restore the destroyed natural environment.” This is primarily achieved by encouraging natural hedgerows and wetlands. Steiner admonished us to cultivate variety of trees and shrubs in hedgerows that create windbreaks to control soil erosion and provide habitat for beneficial animals. Also, he advocated the creations of ponds to encourage the formation of dew and provide habitat for other beneficial animals and insects unique to wetlands. This is another weakness of our farm, and we hope to correct this imperfection too.
Rule 9: Biological Weed and Pest Controls-Crop/Animal Rotations
“Implement biological weed and pest controls. Specifically, practice rotating crops, fields, pastures, and consequently animals.” We follow this practice religiously.
Rule 10: Follow Natural Rhythms
“Reestablish a rhythmical natural order in animal husbandry and field care that is connected to the rhythms of the earth and its cosmic environment of the sun, moon, and other planets.” This is where biodynamics loses me. However, I have an open mind. If this principle can be proven beneficial to me in a logical and observable form, I will embrace it.