Biodynamics Explained

As the organic farming offshoot expands, brush up on its very stringent requirements.

By Karen Taylor Quinn April 17, 2013 Published in the May 2013 issue of Seattle Met

If you’ve bought food and wine at a local co-op lately, you’ve probably started to see more of the little black-and-white stickers that say “Certified Biodynamic.” But what does that mean? Let’s dig in.


I buy certified-organic food. How is this different?
Think of it as a subset of organic farming. Chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs—they’re all verboten. But biodynamic farming goes much further, using...unique fertilization methods (called preparations) and planting cycles dictated by the moon.


Rudolf Steiner

Is this a new thing?
Not even close. Rudolf Steiner introduced biodynamic farming principles and techniques in a series of lectures all the way back in 1924. 

Wait, who was Rudolf Steiner?
Glad you asked. Steiner was an Austrian philosopher whose prolific body of work included 25 books and more than 6,000 lectures on at least 350 subjects. 

Wow. So he must have known a lot about farming, huh?
Not at all. But he did believe he could communicate with the cosmos. So there’s that.


About Those Soil Preparations…
Steiner developed nine, numbered 500 to 508, which he unveiled in his lectures on the subject, such as: 

Image: Shutterstock

Preparation 500
A cow horn is filled with dung from a lactating cow and buried in a pit two-and-a-half- to five-feet deep during winter. After four months, the horn is uncovered and its contents are dissolved in water, stirred, and sprayed over the crops four times a year in specific quantities. 

Image: Shutterstock


Preparation 503
The flower from German chamomile is stuffed into a bovine intestine and buried in the earth for winter, which is supposed to stabilize soil nitrogen and stimulate plant growth.




Image: Shutterstock

Lunar Logic
Most biodynamic farmers and viticulturists follow moon cycles for planting, harvesting, and pruning. For example:

Waxing Moon 
Moisture is thought to flow more strongly while the moon is waxing into the first quarter, which theoretically favors plants that mature above ground, such as grapes, flowers, and lettuces.

Waning Moon 
When the moon shrinks from full to new, moisture in the soil decreases, and plants are thought to be more rootcentric. This is when farmers concentrate on planting root veggies, such as potatoes, carrots, and fennel. 


“Even the organic movement has been industrialized, with farmers just substituting materials that are allowed for ones that aren’t. Demeter USA is the first standard to codify the original intent of organic before organic and sustainable were even coined.”
—Jim Fullmer, executive director of Demeter USA 

“These processes were not developed through scientific methodology.... Steiner declared that these spiritualistically determined methods did not need to be confirmed through traditional scientific testing but were ‘true and correct’ unto themselves.”
—Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Washington State University associate professor


By the Numbers

75 Years since the U.S.’s first biodynamic organization began operating, in New York. Since then, Oregon-based Demeter USA has become the main certification body. 

45 Countries that are home to certified biodynamic farms and wineries

170 Certified biodynamic farms and wineries in the U.S. 

Certified wineries and vineyards in Washington state

20% Amount of organic food sold in Europe that is biodynamic

Amount of organic food sold in the U.S. that is biodynamic


Image: Shutterstock

What About the Animals?
You need a calculator to keep your poultry husbandry practices in line. Among other things, you... 

  • Must keep two roosters for every 100 hens
  • May not keep more than 4.4 adult hens per square meter
  • May not slaughter poultry younger than 56 days
  • Must provide poultry with at least 8 hours of darkness



Published: May 2013

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