23 Jun 2016

Method creates a healthy system of plants, animals and soil while considering wellbeing.

Many people are familiar with how organic gardening avoids using chemicals and focuses instead on more natural and ecological approaches to growing food. Biodynamic gardening takes that approach to the next level not just by changing what organic gardeners do in the garden but also by  altering how they view the garden.

That view is one in which all of the many aspects that make up a garden - soil, plants and animals (both domestic and wild) - are seen and managed not as individual parts but as a single, integrated, self-sustaining whole. If that sounds like a holistic approach to digging in the dirt, it is. Welcome to biodynamic gardening.

Biodynamic gardening starts with building truly healthy soil through thoughtfully integrating both plants and animals in the garden and creating fertility by rotating crops, growing green manures such as vetch or clover, and carefully  composting plant waste, kitchen scraps and farm animal manures (such as chicken or rabbit) with the help of medicinal herbal preparations.

"It's not just about what chemicals you can't use but what you can actively do to create a healthy garden whole that sustains itself," said Thea Maria Carlson, director of programs for the Biodynamic Association in Milwaukee. "And it works on any scale, even in a small space."

Bee Flower
The ideal biodynamic garden includes both plants and animals. A growing number of cities and suburbs now allow homeowners to keep small numbers of chickens, rabbits, beehives or even goats. But even without these domestic animals, creating a garden that attracts such common creatures as earthworms, bees, ladybugs, praying mantises, birds and other  beneficial insects, including microbial ones in the soil, is something any small-scale gardener can do.

"There are different ways to balance plant and animal life with the garden," Carlson said.

In a biodynamic garden,  compost is treated with preparations made from fermented medicinal herbs, which enhance the nutrient availability and microbial activity in the compost, and in turn the garden soil.
Six herbs are used to make the Biodynamic compost preparations:

  • Yarrow flowers
  • Chamomile blossoms
  • Stinging nettles
  • Oak bark
  • Dandelion blossoms
  • Valerian flowers 

These are each applied to the soil or plants at specific times in the year to enhance the health and fertility of the garden.

Valerian Flower 
Another important aspect of Biodynamic gardening is developing an awareness of the influence of the sun, moon and planets on the garden. Several Biodynamic planting calendars are published each year to help gardeners build that awareness. Through careful observation, gardeners can develop their own sense of how changes in the cosmos around us affect the life of the soil and the plants growing in it.

 "Biodynamic gardening allows gardeners to develop a relationship with the garden that takes their enjoyment of gardening to the next level,"

The principles and practices of Biodynamic gardening are older than the modern-day organic gardening movement. Biodynamic gardening traces its roots to a series of lectures that Austrian philosopher and social reformer  Rudolf Steiner gave to a group of farmers in 1924. For more information and resources about biodynamic principles, visit the Biodynamic Association's website.