Earth Day: Learn Why Biodynamic Soils Are the Healthiest
27% of rangeland Soil Study by Organic Vineyard Demonstrates Benefits of Biodynamic Farming
A recent study 23 by Bonterra Organic Vineyards, a leading organic wine brand in the U.S., demonstrates the beneficial impact organic and biodynamic farming have on soil health.
Pacific Agroecology, 24 an environmental research and consulting company, performed the soil analyses of Bonterra’s 13 vineyards in Mendocino County. Three of the vineyards use biodynamic methods, nine use organic methods and one uses conventional methods. Bonterra provides the following summary of these three farming methods: 25
” Conventional — Farming practices … that permit the use of synthetic non-organic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers for management of crops and competitive vegetation.
Organic — Agricultural practices that exclude the use of synthetic non-organic inputs — such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer — in favor of fostering the natural vitality of the farm through integrated pest management, cover crops, and building healthy soil.
Biodynamic — Formally defined in 1924, an approach to organic cultivation that views the farm as a living organism where plants, animals and humans interrelate as members of an intricately connected ecosystem that follows the cycles of nature.”
Results reveal biodynamic sites have the greatest amounts of organic carbon in the soil, followed closely by sites using organic principles. Either method is far superior to conventional farming, sequestering 12.8% and 9.4% more carbon per acre respectively than the conventional site. More specifically, the comparison of organic carbon in the soil revealed: Conventional land had 41,000 pounds of soil organic carbon per acre Organic land had 45,200 pounds of soil organic carbon per acre Biodynamic land had 46,300 pounds of soil organic carbon per acre
What’s more, they also tested undeveloped wildland owned by Bonterra, finding total carbon storage was even higher here than in any of the cultivated areas. This finding suggests efforts to conserve wildland is an important undertaking. Joseph Brinkley, director of vineyards for Bonterra told NewHope: 26
“Soil organic carbon — something regenerative farming strives to enhance — is a signal of how well a landscape captures and stores carbon, and also contributes many long-term benefits to soil health, such as improved aeration, drought resistance, and erosion prevention.”
Elizabeth Drake, regenerative development manager for Bonterra, added, 27 “We’re excited about the potential impact of this study, which we hope inspires other farmers to examine the benefits of organic and biodynamic agriculture.” Biodynamic Farming Is Organic — And Then Some
Biodynamic farming is a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture initially developed by Austrian scholar Rudolf Steiner, 28 Ph.D., (1861-1925). He taught there is an invisible force that aids and sustains humanity, and biodynamic farming makes use of a wide variety of influences, including planetary influences and moon phases.
As just one of many examples of Steiner’s comprehensive approach to farming, biodynamic farmers will not cut off the horns on their cows, as the animal’s horns are a primary sensory organ, and a complex interrelated relationship exists between the horns and the animal’s digestive system.
To this day, Steiner’s book “Agriculture: Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture” serves as the basis of biodynamic farming everywhere, and his agriculture course, first offered in 1924, is available for free online. 29
Not only does biodynamic farming provide superior crops both in volume and increased density of nutrients, but biodynamic farms are also completely self-sustaining.
This self-sustainability is what sets biodynamic farms apart from organic farms, and translates into far stricter certification criteria. When something is certified biodynamic, you can be sure you’re getting food that has been produced according to the most rigorous sustainability criteria available.
For example, while an organic farmer can section off as little as 10 percent of the farm for the growing of certified organic goods, in order to be certified as a biodynamic farmer, your entire farm must be biodynamic.
In addition to that, biodynamic certification also requires 10 percent of the land be dedicated to increasing biodiversity, such as forest, wetland or insectary. Biodynamic farming also has most or all of the features associated with regenerative agriculture , such as crop rotation, cover crops and so on. Creating a Biodynamic Garden
If you’re currently gardening or planning to start, consider implementing some biodynamic principles. As noted in a previous Mother Nature Network article on biodynamic gardening: 30
“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.’
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.”
The article goes on to provide additional tips and guidance for budding biodynamic gardeners. For example, biodynamic principles include treating your compost with fermented medicinal herb preparations that enhance the availability of nutrients and microbial activity.
Biodynamic sprays, made from manure, ground quartz crystals and horsetail, are applied at certain times to further boost soil and plant health. You’d also want to follow a biodynamic planting calendar to ensure an optimal crop. Basic Regenerative Farming Principles
While biodynamic principles are the gold standard, you can take a big step in the right direction simply by following these five basic regenerative principles for building a healthy soil ecosystem:
Avoid disturbing the soil microbiome with tillage, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides — The less mechanical disturbance, the better. The same applies in your home garden. The more you till, the faster the soil degrades and is destroyed, as it destroys soil aggregates and mycorrhizal fungi, which houses the microorganisms needed for nutrient transfer.
Similarly, by adding synthetic nitrogen to the soil, the biology is radically altered — it starts consuming carbon in the soil aggregate, which destroys the soil structure.
Without soil structure water cannot infiltrate and move throughout the soil profile and be stored via organic matter. The soil aggregates also provide the home for soil biology, which is critical to producing nutrient dense food.
Protect the soil’s surface with cover crops and cover crop residue — Forest and prairie lands are completely covered with vegetation and this is the environment farmers need to emulate. That vegetation protects the soil not only from wind and water erosion, but also from excessive heating and cooling. These living plants are what end up actually “growing” topsoil.
In your home garden, you can use mulch, wood chips or lawn clippings to do this. You never want to leave soil bare, as bare soil will have a negative effect on soil biology and the water cycle. Cover crops and other forms of “soil armor,” such as wood chips, effectively prevent water evaporation and lowers the soil temperature.
There is easily a 20-degree F difference or more between soil that is bare and soil that is covered. When air temperatures reach 90 degrees or so, soil temperatures will rise well above 100 degrees, which will dry everything out and fry the plants’ roots.
“If you have good armor or residue on the soil surface, the temperature there can be in the 80-degree range. Those plants are growing. It’s a huge difference in production for the producer,” Brown says.
Diversify — Having a diverse array of plant life is essential, and cover crops fulfill this requirement as well. Home gardens will also benefit from cover crops, helping to improve the soil, attract beneficial insects and capture more sunlight (energy).
Maintain living roots in the ground as long as possible — In conventional farming, once a cash crop is harvested, there’s nothing left in the field to capture sunlight and keep growing. Maintaining some kind of growth at all times is key. If you have a small vegetable garden, don’t leave it bare once you’ve harvested your veggies. Instead, plant a cover crop in anticipation for the next season.
To make the transition back from cover crop to your chosen vegetables the following season, avoid the temptation to till the cover crop into the soil. Instead, use one of the following methods to kill off the cover crop and prepare the plot for new crop growth: Stomp the cover crop into the ground with your feet or a board (simply attach two rope handles to a 2×4 board and then use the board to step down the crop) If the cover crop has started to form seed heads, you can kill it off by rolling a crop roller or small barrel over it Cut the growth down and leave the residue on top (although it works better if it’s rolled or stepped down)
Once the cover crop has been killed off, you’re ready to plant your vegetable seeds. For a small garden, use a hoe to part the cover crop remains over to the side. Create a small slice in the soil, drop in your seeds and cover with a small amount of soil. If you’re planting a transplant, simply move the cover crop aside, dig the hole and plant as normal.
Integrate livestock and other animals, including insects — Centuries ago, large herds of bison and elk moved across the landscape, foraging, depositing manure and trampling vegetation into the ground. All of this is part of the natural cycle that is missing when animals are kept in concentrated animal feeding operations .
Many have started raising chickens in their backyards again and chickens are an excellent addition to a sustainable garden. Rabbits, pigeons and ducks are other alternatives that could work in some suburban areas, but even if circumstances or local laws prevent you from adding animals, be sure to plant flowering plants that attract pollinators and predator insects, as these will naturally help ward off pests that might otherwise decimate your main crop. Protect the Earth by Voting With Your Pocketbook Every Day
Even if you’re not inclined to grow your own food, you can help steer the agricultural industry toward safer, more sustainable systems by supporting your local farmers and choosing fresh, local produce, ideally organically or biodynamically grown.
Also, remember to choose organic, grass fed/pasture-raised beef, poultry and dairy, in addition to organic produce, as CAFOs are just as destructive as chemical-based agriculture. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you find local sources of farm-fresh foods.
Demeter USA — Demeter-USA.org provides a directory of certified Biodynamic farms and brands.
American Grassfed Association (AGA) — The goal of the American Grassfed Association is to promote the grass fed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education.
Their website also allows you to search for AGA approved producers certified according to strict standards that include being raised on a diet of 100 percent forage; raised on pasture and never confined to a feedlot; never treated with antibiotics or hormones; and born and raised on American family farms.
EatWild.com — EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce raw dairy products as well as grass fed beef and other farm-fresh produce (although not all are certified organic). Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass fed products.
Weston A. Price Foundation — Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.
Grassfed Exchange — The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass fed meats across the U.S.
Local Harvest — This website will help you find farmers markets, family farms and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass fed meats and many other goodies.
Farmers Markets — A national listing of farmers markets.
Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals — The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, hotels and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) — CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
The Cornucopia Institute — The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO “organic” production from authentic organic practices.
RealMilk.com — If you’re still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund 31 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws. 32 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com. 0