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How Biodynamic Agriculture Works

Principles and Methods of Biodynamic Farming
Biodynamic farmers believe an assortment of animal life is important.
Biodynamic farmers believe an assortment of animal life is important.

At first glance, it may seem like biodynamic farmers practice a strange magic. Steiner's methodology includes such things as packing dung into cow horn and burying it underground in the autumn to later be transformed into a root-stimulating spray. Weed and pest control preparations involve scattering the ashes of burned pests or weeds on fields to ward off future pest problems, kind of the agricultural equivalent to mounting the heads of one's enemies on pikes outside the city walls. The farmers even consult the stars.

Is it as kooky as it sounds? Biodynamic farmers follow a spiritual methodology that is missing from organic agriculture and practice an accompanying series of steps for keeping farms sustainable and self-nourishing, as outlined by Steiner. It's biology combined with belief. They see the farm as its own closed-loop ecosystem, not just land where food is produced. While it's true biodynamic farmers are in tune with the rhythm of nature, such as how the phase of the moon may impact when it's best to plant seeds and how the planets affect plant growth, it's in combination with sustainable farming practices.

There are six principles of biodynamic farming: plant diversity, crop rotation, animal life, composting, homeopathic solutions and life forces.

Plant diversity is a method of keeping soil healthy by allowing a variety of plants to grow on uncultivated land; it's enhanced by mixing crops so plants work in support of each other (if one plant depletes a certain nutrient in the soil, a companion plant releases that same nutrient into the soil). Conventional farming practices sometimes adhere to monocropping, such as a farm planting and harvesting soybeans on the same fields year after year. In contrast, crop rotation and an assortment of animal life are an important part of sustainable agriculture. The practice of rotating crops from field to field and raising varied animal species, along with cover crops and green manures, encourages healthy soil, reduces parasites and controls weeds and pests.

Composting is elemental in biodynamic agriculture. It is the source of healthy soil -- the recycled manures and organic waste in the compost pile create humus vital to the farm. When spread on fields, the humus stabilizes nitrogen in the soil, vital to crop productivity. There are nine homeopathic preparations based on extracts from animal, plant and mineral manure, each diluted into sprays and used sparingly to homeopathically treat compost, soil and plants in a process called dynamization. Each preparation is numbered, 500 through 508 -- six are key to composting, two are used to stimulate humus and one is used to suppress fungal disease on crops.

And last but not least, the life force. Life force separates biodynamic farming from other agriculture because it's the acknowledgement that in addition to earthly influences (biology, physics, chemistry), cosmic forces (moon phases, celestial and seasonal cycles) play a role in the life of the farm.