Earth Books, 2015
pbk, 145 pp
Reviewed by Trevor Sharman
I was keen to review this book as a dedicated gardener, trying to work as close to an organic approach as possible. I had heard of biodynamics (BD) and saw this as a gateway into understanding and maybe even adopting this approach, so my expectations were high.
I did enjoy Elen Sentier’s down to earth style and simple descriptions of the basics, although this could be somewhat repetitive. Elen is also keen to be inclusive to anyone who might have only a partial commitment to BD. This reassuring approach kept me engaged through the explanations of the ‘Star Calendar’, a cornerstone of BD. I was aware that the moon was a key element in relation to sowing, planting and cultivation in the BD approach, but was amazed at the complexity of the claimed connections between the constellations and the Earth, mediated through the ‘lens’ of the moon.
I am open to there being strong links between growing plants and the lunar cycle. The gravitational relationship between Earth and Moon is manifest in the tides, so any organism can be understood to have its own cellular ‘tides’, affecting its development. Beyond that I needed more convincing of the influences of the stars and the BD interpretations of their different orders of influence.
Elen is a professional and award winning gardener and knows lots about gardening and the importance of soil structure and the value of compost. The area of creating compost using the BD approaches varies from the conventional however.
Elen introduces us to the mysteries of the ‘preps’, the preparations which are key elements in promoting the health and fecundity of soil and plants and in controlling pests and diseases. Cow manure is the key ingredient of prep 500, but it is its processing which apparently imbues it with the BD magic. This process involves burying it within a cow’s horn for 6 months before retrieving it for use. Similarly prep 501 is prepared by burying rock dust in a cow’s horn for a similar period. Prep 1 is of great value to root crops and prep 2 to leaf crops, but should be used in conjunction with the Star Calendar, and care taken in terms of which plants get sprinkled, so not to create an adverse effect.
The mixing process is also closely prescribed, taking an hour each time, beginning before dawn preferably. (Elen suggests the stirring and the mixing of other described supplements could be a social event, to share the burden and benefits of BD preparations. Your friends would need to be early risers!)
These arcane and somewhat bizarre requirements reach even more exotic levels in the case of the supplements, with carefully gathered flowers etc, being required to be buried in various animal intestines and skulls for long periods to produce the required end product. Fortunately, all the preparations and compost additives can be bought through the BD association. The stirring however cannot be so easily delegated!
I wanted so much to understand the links and connections between the different preparations and practices and their impact on plants, however this information was sparse. Elen mentions the importance of mycorrhyzal fungi in plant growth, but not how the BD approach facilitates this. She describes the importance of trace elements to plant life, made available via the preparations and the value of the stirring process as a means of creating electrical charge in the water molecules to facilitate bonding of nutrients to roots and I can also accept that the cosmic context is far more mysterious than a humble gardener may grasp. I am open to there being far more to the process of life and the development of living things than are written on the back of a seed packet, however, how Rudolph Steiner and his followers intuited some of the apparently esoteric connections via the stars and the preparations to this process is not convincingly communicated through this book. The claims that ’it just works’ without much definition or qualification of what these outcomes are is also unconvincing.
Growing plants, particularly as food, can enable wonderful insight into the processes of life. BD’s theses linking this process to our cosmic context and to microscopic processes is a powerful invitation to step into a sense of the sacredness and wonder of these processes. However its ‘theology’ to me remains less digestible despite this accessible book.