Biodynamics: My Introduction

Ping!
Ping! With a Redhead in the background

It’s humbling. I am at the bottom of yet another steep learning curve . . . not (as suggested in my last post) of Ayn Rand’s philosophy—I haven’t had time to stop by a book store to check out her works—but that of Biodynamic planting. BD.
IMG_2612This is the time of year I attempt to join that illustrious community called “real gardeners”. I have pulled out my seeding paraphernalia and contemplated my what-some-day-might-pass-as-a-garden with a tickle in the belly. A hope for warmth to follow winter’s cold. Anticipation of that peaceful and amazing process called growing one’s own seedlings: placing a seed into soil and having it grow big and strong, not straggly, eventually to produce a vegetable, fruit, leaf or root. Typically, on an arbitrarily chosen day and time, I don my gardening gloves and proceed to stick seeds into the soil. I begin calmly and in organized fashion. Time passes. I don’t have enough wood sticks to mark what has gone where. Confusion sets in. The gloves come off. I am only half way through the seed packets and it’s hours later and what was to have brought me Zen peace, releases the furies; I become a stressed out wreck. I know none of the seeds will sprout, never mind flourish . . . and what, might I ask, kind of attitude is that with which to plant a seed? It hurts the seeds’ feelings. Surrounds them with negative energy. And just look at the seed packets expiration date. . . . Why would they sprout? Why had I wasted my day sticking one . . . eventually four seeds into each pod?

In short, it’s my annual ADD nightmare of good intentions failing. The results are leggy, yellow tomatoes and burgeoning squashes that yet wilt because getting them from the pod into the ground is usually a drawn out affair, lasting well into June because I have been called away and left the seedlings forgotten, or unmentioned in my notes to the cat and chicken sitter/s who had not signed on for gardening, too. The seeds that had been so determined to sprout are left unwatered, ignored and lonely. Unlike our cats, who present us with cold shoulders for anything resembling more than an eight hour-shift absence, the seedlings are stoic. They seem to know their destiny. This is Darwin’s View, after all. The weak and pathetic are destined to be compost.

Which, I have learned, is fine. Plants don’t mind that. They, unlike some species I might name, know they are part of the big picture. Their energies will cycle around again. They are part of a whole. They are not dying, only changing.

“For the future the essential thing is not to make an abstract distinction between the material and the spiritual, but to look for the spiritual itself in the material, so that one can describe it as spiritual, and recognize in what is spiritual its transition into matter and its way of working there.” Rudolf Steiner as quoted from the Stella Natura 2015 Biodynamic Planting Calendar.

Welcome to a beautiful way of looking at the world, and to biodynamics. Active biology. It takes the energies of the cosmos into account. The influences of the planets and stars. The rising and setting of the sun and moon. The life of the soil. Introduced by Rudolph Steiner in the early twentieth century, BD is an organic (before the word became overused), sustainable (ibid) way of agriculture that nurtures, rather than poisons. As one reads about BD, one might be startled by its recognition of plant spirits, and its use of certain unusual practices. Some have called it pseudoscience. And magical thinking. The fascinating part being that it works. Those practicing it, including Steiner, knew people—particularly those depending on the profitability of the fossil fuel and pesticide industries–would call it barmy, denigrate and smear it, work to destroy it. Indeed they did. And so the practitioners of biodynamics did two things: they didn’t talk much about the more bizarre aspects of it, and took meticulous notes (a.k.a. research) of when and how the seeds and soils and astrological signs interacted. The care and industry that has gone into creating the biodynamic calendars that sits on my desk is inspiring and exhausting to think of. If this is not scientific data . . . well, who cares. It works.

Well, for some people it works. For me? It is yet to be determined. Did I mention the steep learning curve before me?

IMG_2693My BD calendar. I have two of them: Maria Thun’s and Stella Natura‘s. IMG_2694I compare them so that I might continue to live in conflict and angst when they don’t agree. . . .

Last Sunday, both told me it was a leaf day. I had already divided and organized all my seed packets into four categories: leaf, fruit, flower and root. TIMG_2691hat alone empowered me. I didn’t have to plant everything all in one day. In fact, I must not! The BD calendar showed me, simply and specifically, when it is best to plant which seeds and it’s all to do with the moon and the stars and the energies floating about that I had previously been oblivious to, and still was, except now I knew they were there.

SoIMG_2601_2. Two Sundays ago was a fruit day. I took the shoe box with my leaf seeds and went outside, setting the seed packets down next to last year’s compost, where it resided in a raised bed that harbored the remains of last year’s unsuccessful fall lettuce garden. I went to the tool shed and opened its doors to find the piles of plant containers we had shoved in there last fall . . . early winter. And a bag of peat in which Carl had kept our BD 500 prep all winter. A bag of winter rye that had made for a fat and happy mouse. Unusable-because-it-is-poison Miracle Gro. Organic succulent plant potting soil. Garden tools.

I extracted some peat moss and garden gloves. Set up all of last year’s plastic seedling containers that I had saved, erring towards reuse, rather than recycle. I spent the next two hours mixing the peat into the compost with some wood ash from our wood stove, and then filling the containers with said mixture, and getting it all wet, and then the seeds. I started with great patience and satisfaction, fighting off my habitual anxiety; apparently I don’t trust the seeds to do what they do, and so tend to revert to putting two to four seeds into one pod. Particularly those seeds that have expired. Might as well get them out of the way and plant them all.

But only the leaf seeds! It was psychologically so much less stressful. To divide the seeds and thereby accomplish the more doable task at hand. I kept them well damped and put them inside the house to prevent the chickens from pecking them and the cold from chilling them.

Three days later? Sprouts. Lots of sprouts. How proud was I?

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Not at all because  none of them looked at all like the tomatoes, eggplants, luffa nor squashes I had planted. What was growing in my seedling containers?

I waited. Tick tock. It looked remarkably like grass. Not pot grass but grass grass. The kind one walks on. Or hay. Or . . . rye. I was growing winter rye in my seedling trays. How so? Why leafs not fruits?

While contemplating that question, I weeded my trays. Disheartened. Depressed. I mean, it’s one thing to feel overwhelmed by the task of seeding, to feel it’s a pathetic attempt. But rye? Really?

As it turned out, the peat moss had been joined with the winter rye by the mouse in the tool shed. Our ever-available-for-information-and-help neighbors suggested I wait. Sure enough, a tomato seedling peaked out. An eggplant. Three luffa! Peas. Redemption was good. Maybe the rye added missing nitrogen to the soil. And the BD 500 prep an energy and these seedlings would grow up with their two cotyledon leaves muscled as Mr. Atlas on display.

Time will tell. I’m not too hopeful. I might start over again.

Meantime, today is a root day. Carl is out planting his potatoes and I’m going to fill the newly laid out garden beds with soil. And then plant what root seeds I have.: beets, carrots, radishes.

This weekend is the Grub Street Conference where I will get to meet fellow She Writes Press Authors Kristen Harnisch whose book The Vintner’s Daughter I began last week on the train. Anjali Mitter Duva (The Faint Promise of Rain). Mary Rowan (Leaving the Beach). And Connie Hertzberg Mayo (The Island of Worthy Boys). 

To conclude with sunset at Darwin’s View last night. Photos cannot do it justice. Mother Nature outdid herself once again.

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Panoramic shot by Carl!

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