Guide to Biodynamic Farming

Kiss the Ground’s Guide to Biodynamic Farming highlights the principles of biodynamics, explains the benefits it provides, addresses the differences between biodynamic and organic farming, and provides resources to get involved. 

What is Biodynamic Farming?

Biodynamic farming is both regenerative and organic, integrating practices from each. The practice – overseen by The Biodynamic Federation Demeter International (BFDI) – offers many benefits including:

  • No artificial fertilizers or pesticides
  • Soil that is regenerated and improved
  • Less flooding, drought, and fire hazards
  • Encourages diversity of life to create resilience
  • Food full of vitality and nutrients – no GMOs, no chemicals1
  • Low-cost, low-tech farming that everybody can practice

The BFDI is a non-profit that represents more than 7,000 farmers with about 230,000 hectares in 65 countries on all continents, except Antarctica. In 36 of these countries, farmers have gathered in biodynamic organizations2, such as the Biodynamic Association.

A biodynamic farmer sees their farm as its own ecosystem, supporting the wellbeing of the whole: soil and shrubs; flowers and meadows; forests and wetlands; cultivated land, animals, and people.

At its core, biodynamics creates habitats for plants and animals to thrive, which produces food that is full of vitality and nutrients. Biodynamics never uses Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) because it’s aimed at preserving our environment and biodiversity.

 

Soil fertility is of critical importance on Biodynamic farms. Healthy soil not only improves the content and flavor of biodynamic food, it is also the foundation for healthy ecosystems. As you learn about Biodynamics, it’s worth considering that what Biodynamics does not permit, is permitted in other forms of farming and food production.

Biodynamic Farming Principles

Biodynamics combines old-fashioned farming values with the latest scientific research. Long-term studies show that plants grow deeper roots in Demeter (biodynamic) soil, and the soil contains more earthworms and microorganisms than organic soils or conventionally farmed soils. In addition, less climate-damaging nitrous oxide is emitted.3 With the United Nations Net Zero Coalition calling for emissions to be reduced by 45% by 2030, and net zero by 2050 to keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C8, there is an urgent need to restore our planet’s biodiversity. Biodynamic agriculture is part of the solution.
On Biodynamic farms, at least 10% of the farm area must be dedicated to encouraging the biodiversity of plants and animals.9
35% more birds and 23% more insects are found on organic farmland due to the creation of natural habitats, and the absence of chemical and synthetic pesticides.9

Animals

Biodynamic farmers pay close attention to the ratio of animals they have on their farms in order to keep their ecosystem thriving. This is in stark contrast to conventionally farmed grain-fed animals living in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

Animals living on Biodynamic farms are fed a 100% organic diet—at least 80% of the feed ration for ruminants, and at least 50% for all other animals, must be biodynamically produced. A minimum of 50% of the fodder comes from the farm itself or a nearby partner.4

Biodynamic animals are never fed GMOs or hormones, never treated with antibiotics, and never forced to grow faster than nature intended.5

Biodynamically produced milk is full of flavor, and contains high levels of vitamin E and beta-carotene. The creamy fat contains the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, about 1:1. Balancing these fats is an essential part of a healthy diet.6 According to to See What Your Plants Ate by David Montgomery and Anne Bikle, conventional dairy could see a ratio as high as 6:1.

Research has shown that an animal’s horns are important for communication within the herd, physical heat balance, digestion, and metabolism. For this reason, Biodynamic farmers do not remove their cattle’s horns.7

Chickens are smart and sociable. On Biodynamic farms, chickens are free to scratch and roam outside. They produce meat and eggs with a balanced nutritional content, providing us with the nourishment that nature intended. Compared to simply Organic regulations, chickens on Biodynamic farms have more space to roam on perches, and at feeding and drinking stations.10

By integrating animals, Biodynamic farmers are able to use nutrient-rich manure and vegetable waste to produce compost that cycles nutrients back into the soil and improves soil life.

Compost

Regenerating our land is an essential part of mitigating climate change.

Biodynamics is regenerative because it aims to give back more than it takes, by using manure and vegetable waste to create compost that helps to build up nutrient-rich and carbon-storing humus in the soil. This approach to improving the soil helps to protect the climate, environment, biodiversity, and water. It also produces healthy and nourishing food.

Compared to Organic and other forms of agriculture, Biodynamics incorporates preparations made using herbs, minerals, and cow manure to help stimulate and improve soil life, in a natural and balanced way.

Research has shown that Biodynamic compost preparations increase soil life, which helps grow strong and robust plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases.13

Every 5 seconds, the equivalent of one soccer field is lost due to soil erosion.

Compared to conventional farming, Biodynamic soil is more fertile3. It has:
  • More rooting intensity
  • More earthworm mass
  • More activity of microorganisms
  • Less leakage of nitrous oxide

Want to discover what would happen if we diverted the 60 billion pounds of mineral-rich food materials that go to landfills each year in the U.S. alone, and turned them into compost?

a white logo with the letter b on it.

The Biodynamic Cow Pat Pit (CPP) preparation was developed in the 1970s by Maria Thun, who aged cow manure in a barrel, then diluted the resulting compost in water and sprayed it on the land. After the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, tests by the German Ministry of Agriculture showed that plants treated with CPP contained 55% fewer radioactive residues than their non-treated counterparts.

Biodynamic Gardening: Grow healthy plants and amazing produce with the help of moon and nature’s cycles by Monty Waldrin

Regenerative Farming Practices

Correctly managed pasture-fed animals—using holistic planned grazing— offset more greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) than they create, and can regenerate the land to absorb and retain water, and increase biodiversity.17

By regularly growing their crops in different locations—called crop rotation—Biodynamic farmers help to improve the mineral content of their soil, reduce soil pests, and improve the quality and yields of the food that they produce.11

Soil armor—known as green manure or cover cropping where the soil is always covered with living plants or crop residue, wood chips, or mulch—is another way that Biodynamic farmers improve their soil and the nutrient density of the food they produce. Cover cropping avoids bare soil, which is more vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Bare soil also gets much hotter at midday and colder at night, and in general, makes it much harder for soil biology to thrive.17

Biodynamic vs. Organic Farming Practices

Chemical fertilizers were developed off of technology used to make bombs in World War I, and pesticides were developed from nerve gas technology11. Biodynamic and Organic farming both believe that artificial chemicals and pesticides are bad for nature and the production of food. Biodynamic and Organic farms create ecosystems where nature fertilizes and controls pests. Biodynamics goes a step further than Organic farms with the use of Biodynamic preparations.

Biodynamic Preparations

Biodynamics encourages the use of compost and spray extract preparations that are produced using nutrient giving and resilience building plants.13

When used together, Biodynamic preparations either enhance the life of the soil and the relationship between soil and plants (increasing plant immunity) or strengthen photosynthesis and enhance ripening.13

It’s important to note that Biodynamics helps farmers to be as self-sufficient as possible. Biodynamic preparations can be made by anybody, making them low-cost and accessible to all, which helps farmers avoid the purchase of expensive artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

Farming with the Sun, Mood and Cosmos

Plants don’t have the freedom to choose what they eat or how much light they get, which means they are attuned to the influences of nature and the seasonal cycles.

When you stop to consider that the power of the moon’s gravity can affect the tides on Earth 18, it’s easy to appreciate how that same power can affect the water in the soil or sap in plants; and the amount of extra sunlight reflected at night during a full moon. And, the moon is just one of many influences.

Biodynamic gardeners and farmers observe the rhythms and cycles of the earth, sun, moon, stars, and planets and seek to understand the subtle ways that the environment and wider cosmos influence the growth and development of plants and animals.15

Extensive research shows there are optimal times to conduct work on the farm from planting and sowing to harvesting and pruning.14 The Maria Thun Biodynamic Almanac is the go-to for Biodynamic farmers and gardeners.

Benefits of Biodynamic Farming

Biodynamic farming has shown these initial benefits:

  • More Flowering Plants: 80% more diversity of flowering plants. 9
  • More Pollinators: 3-7 times as many bee species.9
  • Increased Biodiversity: Biodynamic farmers plant vegetables, herbs, flowers, berries, fruits, nuts, grains, pasture, forage, and pollinator hedgerows.9
  • Healthy Soil: Reducing the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere and storing it in the soil as carbon.16
  • More Soil Life: 50% to 80% more soil optimizers, like earthworms.9
  • Less Flooding and Drought: Regenerating soil and keeping land covered with living plants can drastically reduce flooding and drought.9
  • Reduced Fire Hazards: Increased soil moisture, sustained plant growth, and more local rainfall.17
  • Reduced Dead Zones & Water Pollution: Without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, Biodynamic farms have less runoff, and less underground water contamination.17 As a consumer, it might feel like you can’t change how farmers produce their food, however, by making conscious buying decisions and choosing products that are good for people and the planet, you will be voting with your money, and encouraging farmers to switch from conventional to regenerative, organic, and Biodynamic.

How To Support Biodynamic Farming

Education

As a consumer, it might feel like you can’t change how farmers produce their food, however, by making conscious buying decisions and choosing products that are good for people and the planet, you will be voting with your money, and encouraging farmers to switch from conventional to regenerative, organic, and Biodynamic.

If you have a bit of time, and a bit of space, you could try Biodynamic gardening to grow your own vegetables.

Action

Buying from a local farm is a great way to know how your food is produced. If you get onto a farm tour or visit a farm shop or grocery store, you can ask:

  • How is the soil kept healthy?
  • Is compost used (i.e. is it made on the farm)?
  • Are cover crops used?
  • How do you choose which fertilizers to use? 
  • How do you deal with pests and diseases?
  • Are crops rotated around the farm?

You can find farms, biodynamic groups, businesses, and others using the Biodynamic Directory. If you don’t have a local farm or farm shop you could search online for ‘local CSA delivery near me’.

Biodynamic farming gives back more than it takes, helps to improve the climate crisis, and produces food in a way that allows people, animals, plants, and the planet to live and thrive, together.

About the Author

By day, James Walters is Head of Digital Marketing at thecancercoach.org. By night, James helps to inspire others to regenerate soils, eliminate waste, improve our health and happiness, reverse climate change, and protect our beautiful planet for future generations by growing, eating, and living sustainably (and, of course, regeneratively…). You can find James at naffordjunction.co.uk and instagram.com/naffordjunction.
James Walters

Expires June 19th!