Monday, 24 September 2007

How does this stuff work anyway?

Article by Leigh Davison from the Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association of Australia newsletter News Leaf #4 May 1990
Biodynamic Horn Manure (500)

Autumn evening, descending moon. Two days previously the rain stopped after being with us continuously for two weeks. Typical North Coast April weather. Creeping along the contour the little tractor slips sideways on the wet hill as the uphill wheels negotiate a bump. Torn between the need to maintain constant velocity and the need to stay on all four wheels I slow down, backing off from the 5 km/hr that I been told will give optimum coverage of 3 gallons of 500 per acre of ground.
Again I wonder how important it is to be spot on with my application rate. “Will the 500 be ineffective if I slow down and it goes on too thickly?” I glance over my shoulder at the cluster nozzle on the carryall and then down at the pressure gauge at my side. The pressure is steady at just 8 psi and the droplets are big and fat just the way they are supposed to be. “But what about the length of the grass? Are the droplets getting through to the soil?” I wonder. More nagging questions. The thought once more enters my mind:
“How does this stuff work anyway?”
And away goes the now familiar thought progression:
How can those little droplets be affecting the soil structure and biological activity of the paddock? How can an ounce and a quarter of old moo p00 mixed in 3 gallons of water have any effect on a whole acre of ground? Am I risking my life for nothing?
That happened two years ago. My problem was that after three years of experimenting with biodynamics I didn’t really understand how it worked. And come to think of it I probably still don’t. But at that time I didn’t have a working model for the process, not even a wrong one. Oh sure I’d heard a few theories like:
“it’s the worm eggs in the 500”, or: “it’s loaded with micro-organisms”. But I couldn’t help thinking that if that was the case the dose rate would not be as critical as people said it was. Why would double the dose rate of worm eggs be less effective than just the right amount of them?
How does 500 work? Field days I had been to tended to concentrate on technical matters like the shape of the vortex in the mixer and droplet size in the spray nozzle. The few books that I had read did not answer the fundamental question to my satisfaction. For many, the fact that 500 seemed to enhance soil structure and biological activity was enough. For me, however, the need to formulate an understanding of the process, even a wrong understanding, was becoming a priority.
I recalled what my old scoutmaster used to say many years ago on the subject of what to do when lost in the bush: “it’s better to have a bad plan than no plan at all.”
So I set out in search of an under standing, even if it be a wrong understanding.
One book that I had barely looked at in those days was “Agriculture” by Rudolf Steiner. The eight chapters of this book correspond to the eight lectures which Steiner delivered in 1924 to get the biodynamic (BD) movement started. Several attempts on my part to grapple with its contents had led to frustration. The jargon was unfamiliar, no doubt it was related to Steiner’s anthroposophical philosophy, something about which I knew nothing.
Fortunately I was not alone in my frustration. A few other members of the local group turned out to be similarly motivated to grapple with Steiner. One of them even admitted to having already ploughed through the book once on his own. He became our discussion group leader. We agreed to meet once a month and to tackle a chapter each time.

In Nature — and indeed throughout- the Universal being — all things are in mutual interaction; the one is always working on the other.
So says Rudolph Steiner in the seventh lecture of his eight lecture course. By the time our group had reached this point there were only four diehards left out of the ten who started.
“All things are in mutual interaction” says Steiner. The modern western science of ecology concerns itself with studying these interactions. In agriculture, as in nature there are connections & relationships. The connection between the bird and the grub gives us biological pest control. The honey bee’s relationship with the flower provides her with food and us with honey. It also helps to ensure fruit set and assists in the propagation of the plant on which the flower grows.
But according to Steiner there’s more to mutual interaction than that.
‘In our materialistic age, scientists only follow up the coarser effects of one upon the other - as for instance when one creature is eaten or digested by another, or when the dung of the animals comes onto the fields. Only these coarse interactions are traced. But in. addition to these coarse inter actions, finer ones, too, are constantly taking place – effects transmitted by finer forces.”
“Finer forces!” In earlier lectures the words ‘etheric’ and ‘astral’ had kept popping up. Our study group had a hard time with them until we got hold of a little book called ‘Studying the Agriculture Course” by John Soper. In this commentary on Steiner’s lectures Soper points out that in other writings Steiner refers to the etheric “as a suctional force” and that other esoteric writers regard it as a polar opposite to gravity (referred to by some as levity). In his commentary on the second chapter Soper says:
‘… is the interplay of inward- pulling gravity and outward-sucking ether (levity) which brings to ‘expression the forms and the rhythms of all life on the physical plane. Just as gravity can manifest in a general way or as centers of gravity in individual objects, so too does the etheric behave both as a general force working from the infinite periphery of the cosmos or as individualized activity in living organisms; in the latter case it functions as what is known as an “etheric body” or “body of formative forces”. Every living body from the lowest to the highest has a corresponding “etheric body” or “body of formative forces”.
To date there has been little acceptance of the existence of en etheric body in main stream scientific circles. However, in the field of alternative healing its existence is widely acknowledged... According to Dr. Richard Gerber, author of a book called “Vibrational Medicine” (Bear & Co., Santa Fe, 1988) the
etheric bodies of living organisms. Previously only visible to clairvoyants, can now be detected objectively using a technique called Kirlian photography. He claims that healing methods like homeopathy actually work at the “vibrational” (as opposed to the material) level on the etheric body of the patient.
One of the functions of the etheric body is to provide what Gerber refers to as a “holo- graphic energy template”. This template guides “the cellular growth of the physical structure of the body”. In this way, for example, the pattern of lines on the fingerprint is precisely replicated after an injury. And it’s the etheric body that organizes the composition and arrangement of material cells in the developing .fetus or the sprouting seed.
Because the etheric body underlies and energizes the physical body and to a large extent controls events at that level, there is obviously great potential for healing the physical body by intervening at the etheric. One of the inter faces between the etheric and physical bodies is the set of acupuncture meridians. By balancing the flow of subtle energy in these meridians the acupuncturist is able to bring about healing in the actual physical body.
According to Gerber there are even more subtle levels of existence associated with animal and human beings. Even more refined than the etheric is the emotional or “astral” body. It’s only in the last few decades that Western medicine has fully acknowledged the link between emotional stress and physical disease. However, in the early part of this century Dr. Edward Bach “perceived that the illness-personality link was an outgrowth of dysfunctional energetic patterns within the subtle bodies”. The Bach flower remedies are the product of the work that followed on from this insight.
Gerber explains the relationship of the astral, etheric and physical bodies in the
Following passage:
“The astral energies have their impact upon the physical brain and nervous system through their subtle linkup with the etheric body and it’s inter connections with the physical body. Unlike the etheric body which supports and energizes the physical body, the astral body also functions as a vehicle of consciousness which can exist separately, yet connected to, the physical body”.
In his commentary on Steiner’s ‘Agriculture” John Soper indicates that the etheric bodies of plants, animals and humans are directly nourished by a stream of etheric forces continuously flowing in from the cosmos. In animals and humans the astral bodies are similarly nourished by streams of even subtler astral energy which originate, as the name suggests, with the planets of our solar system. While plants do not possess astral bodies as such, they too are connected to the astral realm and are embedded in a cloud of astral energy.
Homeopathic medicines and Bach flower remedies cure illness by operating at the subtle or vibrational level. They make positive changes to the astral and etheric bodies. These changes are relayed down to lower levels and thus affect the physical manifestation of the disease, similarly, it seems; the biodynamic preparations work at the vibrational levels. Applications of 500 affect the astral and etheric levels of an agro ecosystem. These higher level changes translate into improved soil structure and biological activity at the material level.
In medicine and agriculture there is a similarity in the contrast that exists between the mainstream/materialist paradigm and the alternative/ vibrational approach. In the following passage from his commentary on Steiner (Chapter 5), John Soper highlights this contrast in relation to plant nutrition.
“The modern approach to manuring (i.e. fertilizing) insists that the chemical substances (i.e. nutrients) taken away with each crop, including nitrogen, must be returned to the soil in some form or another - the cheaper the better: there is a soil reservoir of plant nutrients which must be kept up to a definite level if yields are to be sustained. To a certain extent this approach is correct... But when we come to look at the plant/soil cover as a living whole, we see that there must also be a reservoir of life force which has to be considered, for we remove forces as well as substances at harvest time”.
In other words it is not just the material nutrients but the life force, or vitality of the system that needs to be topped up. Soper continues:
“Not only should we conserve and return all residues of living things before they have become completely dead and mineralized, but we should also strive to create conditions under which plant and soil become sufficiently sensitive to react to and absorb the incoming stream of life from the cosmos. In this way we can replenish the life reservoir and ensure both quantity and quality of our produce”.
What I understand from this passage is that it’s as important to get it right at the etheric and astral levels as at the material level. Conventional and indeed organic farmers, being totally concerned with matching material nutrient inputs to outputs miss this point. If I under stand Soper and Steiner correctly, a system which is sufficiently sensitive to the incoming stream of life forces will take care of the material nutrient needs of its plants automatically. The controversial topic of biological transmutation gets mentioned in this context.
Australian agriculture is heavily dependent on non-renewable inputs of phosphate. On current estimates world phosphate deposits will be exhausted in just three generations. The argument that goes on between conventional and organic farmers over the rights and wrongs of super- phosphate will be irrelevant in 70 years.
The supply of incoming life forces, on the other hand, is virtually inexhaustible. At a time when sustainability is becoming an urgent priority the biodynamic approach to phosphorus fertility seems to have much to recommend it. As I understand it there are two complementary courses of action to achieve this end. Firstly, on the material level, to requote Soper, we should:
“Conserve and return all residues of living things before they have become completely dead and mineralized”
Via the composting process if possible. Secondly, on the vibrational level, the addition of minute amounts of herbal preparations to the compost enhances certain subtle processes associated with plant nutrients. In the case of phosphorus one gram of a preparation made from valerian flowers is sufficient to stimulate the “phosphorus process” in a 15 tonne compost heap .Also at the vibrational level, requoting Soper again, we should:
“strive to create conditions under which plant and soil become sufficiently sensitive to react to and absorb the incoming stream of life from the cosmos”
• That, I now gather, is what I am doing when I spray the paddocks with 500. It’s taken me five long years to figure that out. I’m not sure whether I feel resentful or grateful for the fact that nobody just gave me a model that I could understand back then at day one. Maybe they did and I just didn’t hear them. At any rate I’m not sorry that I had to work through Steiner’s “Agriculture” as there have been many spin-off benefits. In fact we’re going through it again, only more painstakingly this time. It now takes us several hours to get through half a chapter. Passages that were meaningless at the first reading now demand attention.
Being a materialistic/rationalist by nature and conditioning I have found it difficult to accept much of what Steiner says. However from my own experience, and that of others, BD seems to work. It seems logical therefore to accept the fact that the “finer forces” of which Steiner speaks are indeed constantly streaming in from the cosmos and that the BD farmer’s main task is to sensitize his or her system to them.
Reading Steiner’s agriculture lectures one gets the impression of a man with sound vision describing a breathtaking view to a group of people who have been blind from birth. It’s to Steiner’s credit that he was able, at least partly, to communicate his broader perception to the likes of us. For example I always thought the agricultural value of cowdung was as a source of plant nutrients and organic matter and that was that. But according to Dr. Steiner there’s more to the humble cowpie than meets the eye. In describing the multi-dimensional nature of the raw material for the mysterious 500 he says:
‘In the dung, therefore, we have before us something ethereal and astral. For this reason, it has a life-giving and also astralising influence upon the soil. .
I’m now at a stage in this saga when I am able to accept statements like that without a cynical smirk. I even find myself feeling grateful to Dr. Steiner, not just for pointing me towards way of farming that doesn’t deplete non-renewable resources, but also for helping me in my personal .struggle to understand the mysteries of life and he universe.
Leigh Davison