Tips on Becoming a Biodynamic Gardener with a Little Help from Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course
And so the choir hints a secret law,
A sacred mystery.
—“The Metamorphosis of Plants” (the poem), Johann v. W. Goethe (1749-1832)
A biodynamic farmer cultivates awareness of the rhythm around him that is already in place, and he works with these rhythms in quantifiable and concrete ways. Rhythms are one of the languages of nature and to this he listens for what nature can teach him and for what kind of instructions he might receive from her. Biodynamics’ founder Rudolf Steiner didn’t ask the first biodynamic farmers to set aside science or their faculty of rational thinking; but he said “intellectuality is not enough; it does not get us deep enough. Nature’s life and flow are so fine and subtle that in the end they slip right through the course mesh of our rational concepts.” 1
Biodynamics’ founder Rudolf Steiner didn’t ask the first biodynamic farmers to set aside science or their faculty of rational thinking…
Biodynamics asks us to include an additional line of inquiry. The farmer observes what lives more in the beauty of nature, in our own intuition, in what lives behind the sense- perceptible world, and in the patterns of rhythm.
Most farmers are already attuned to the seasons, the weather, the length of daylight, the content of their soil. In viticulture this is called terroir. The farmer will smell the soil, pinch it, and observe its color and moisture level. He will walk the fields in winter, and by this arrive at a way of “acquiring spiritual knowledge… As he is walking through the fields, it’s suddenly there. He knows something, and afterward he tries it out.” 2
Goethean scientist Dennis Klocek calls this “entering into an agricultural imagination.” 3
Earth-breathing is a primary rhythm that can be observed. There is an in-breath in winter as seeds fall, root crops are stored, and sap is pulled down until spring. There is an exhalation in summer with its growth, colors, sounds, and busyness.
Rhythms of birth and death expressed as part of an agricultural system cannot be hidden. This is especially real for children who grow up on a farm and know that the bull calf they’ve helped raise will be in the freezer come winter; or who have experienced the death of their favorite hen after a raccoon attack.
Rhythms of birth and death expressed as part of an agricultural system cannot be hidden. This is especially real for children who grow up on a farm
Streaming in from beyond the moon and the sun, rhythms influence the farm. Rhythms were central to the natural scientific research and discoveries of Victor Schauberger (1885-1958). He wrote, “that which manifests itself throughout Nature’s vastness and unity and expresses itself in every creature and organism, is the ‘law of ceaseless cycles.’” 4
Rhythms give back to us. They are an organizing force and provide strength and structure, in this case, for the “farm soul.” By virtue of the farmer’s awareness of them, these rhythms work on him, too.
Out of what he gleans from his imaginations, the farmer can choose to selectively emphasize or work with existing natural rhythms to create a healthy farm eco-system. Examples are crop rotation, cultivation by moon rhythms, spraying of the preparations at dawn or dusk, in spring or fall.
…the farmer can choose to selectively emphasize or work with existing natural rhythms to create a healthy farm eco-system.
Through his effort, the farmer contributes the intention and action of rhythm, and it is this “rhythmic system which ensures that equilibrium, as far as possible, is maintained.”5 Balance, symmetry, and stability; this is the state we hope we have supported when a living system is pushed to the limit by climate extremes. Rhythm is a foundation of sustainability.
People often say, “I want to practice biodynamics; what is the first step to take?” Become inwardly still and pay attention to rhythms. Practice quiet listening and observation in your garden, and out in nature. The sunrise, the soil, a tree in the woods have something to teach you about your vegetable patch.
The sunrise, the soil, a tree in the woods have something to teach you about your vegetable patch.
In our next installment, we will explore what is known in biodynamics as “the farm individuality”; in other words, the separate parts or organs that make up the being that is the farm. As with any other being on this planet, the farm exists in community with others around it: the creek that runs along the border of the farm, the neighbor’s farm, the town on the outskirts. Some parts of this whole are so subtle as not to be seen, or perhaps even to be believed, like gnomes and etheric forces.
Christy Korrow is the editor of LILIPOH. Her husband is a farmer, and for many years Christy has pursued the study of biodynamics.
Rudolf Steiner, Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture, BioDynamic Association, 1993.
Dennis Klocek, Sacred Agriculture (Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Press, 2013).
Viktor Schauberger, The Water Wizard: The Extraordinary Properties of Natural Water (Gateway/Gill and Macmillan,1991).
Henk van Oort, Anthroposophy A-Z, (Forest Row, East Sussex, UK: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011).