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GROWER TREVOR HARRIS DISCUSSES SOME OF HIS FAVOURITE BOOKS ON BIODYNAMIC AGRICULTURE

Biodynamics was codified in a series of lectures by Austrian polymath Rudolph Steiner in 1924 – but today, a century later, the philosophy has undergone much practical experimentation, which means the surrounding literature has grown well beyond Steiner’s core tenets. Indeed, when we visited biodynamic grower Trevor Harris, we would often marvel at just how many books were written on the subject – so we asked him what books he would recommend in order to broaden our horizons even further on all things biodynamic.

Trevor: When you get involved in biodynamic farming, the level of complexity in the system can seem quite overwhelming. This does not need to be the case. The simple fact of the matter is, all you need to do is get the preps out. Getting the preps out does require precision, but learning how to do so should not be overwhelming.

There is a vast collection of material you can study when you are introduced to biodynamic farming. It can be difficult to know where to start. There is certainly enough study material and books to keep you going for a lifetime. There are all sorts of interesting rabbit holes you can go down.

Here is a brief introduction to some of the books I have both enjoyed, and found useful over the past few years. Some of them specifically reference biodynamics, while others are just in the same realm. 

 

Hugh Lovel, Quantum Agriculture (Biodynamics and Beyond)

Hugh Lovel was at the forefront of modern biodynamics with his book Quantum Agriculture. He was a scientist with a vast knowledge of chemistry and biology, and particularly how they pertain to agriculture. Hugh’s book can be used as a manual for farming, even without getting into biodynamics. It is very much a practical biodynamic farming manual though. In this book he explains “The Biochemical Sequence of Nutrition in Plants”. This is the result of his scientific research on nutrients that are required in the soil in order for other nutrients to work, and for plants to thrive. Get this right and you have the soil chemistry sorted. But that’s only part of the picture. He also covers soil biology, getting the soil food web working properly to maximise plant health. Now to get the system really humming the biodynamic preps are required. Hugh has lots of information here on how to make and use the preps. We are looking at the whole picture here.

 

Rudolf Steiner, Agriculture Course (The birth of the Biodynamic Method)

This is a translation of the agriculture course as it was given all those years ago (1924).

It is fascinating to think that farmers were looking for an alternative to industrial farming in the early 1900’s. There is a lot in the course, directed at creating a sustainable farm. It is definitely more of a study volume, and it will require supplemental study in order to get a decent grasp of it. Steiner had a large research group working with him at the time the lectures were put together. This was made up of scientists and farmers. He was also studying extensively himself. This can sometimes be overlooked. Soil chemistry, biology, and physicality are all covered in the lectures. We also get an insight into the effect the cosmos has on what we are trying to achieve at a farm level. As with some of the other volumes mentioned here it may seem quite difficult at first, but it’s well worth persevering with it. 

 

Alex Podolinski, Biodynamic Agriculture Introductory Lectures

In the volumes Alex Podolinski gives a detailed introduction to Biodynamics. He was a very practical man. He worked on perfecting the production of high-quality preps, and methods to apply them to large areas. Alex Podolinski brought biodynamics to Australia. He saw problems in agriculture there that he knew could be alleviated with the use of biodynamic preps. This is quite interesting, in that here we have a really harsh climate with very little rain combined with high temperatures. With the preps an impact was seen. This is quite important as results need to be seen. Alex Podolinski was at the forefront of the perfecting of the wet route of prep making. The desire is to make preps that are colloidal in nature when finished. He found these colloidal preps to be far more effective. Now high-quality preps are no good if you cannot apply them. Here he also worked on solutions. He helped design and build machinery to stir and apply the preps over large areas. Alex Podolinski’s biodynamic introduction is quite accessible. Here biodynamics is explained in how it pertains to modern agriculture, in a way most should be able to grasp. 

 

Vincent and Pierre Masson, A Biodynamic Manual

Vincent and Pierre Mason have been the premier prep makers in Europe for many years. They took prep making to a large scale. They have been supplying farmers across Europe with high quality preps (ourselves included, for the Waterford Distillery barley fields). As a result, they have a wealth of knowledge, both on prep making and farmers experience of using the preps. Like Alex Podolinski they use the wet/colloidal route. In this book we get vast quantities of useful information on the preps, how to make them and also how to use them. The making and use of the compost preps is covered in detail. The production of quality compost is very important on a biodynamic farm, and the inclusion of the preps in the compost is key to this. We also get guidance on farming methods. With guidance on livestock and crop husbandry. There is a section dedicated to looking after plant health, and encouraging plant growth, using plant decoctions and ferments along with information on how to make these products. It’s a book I go back to again and again.

 

Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Soil Fertility, Renewal and Preservation

Pfeiffer was a soil scientist who worked directly with Steiner in the 1920’s. When Steiner passed, Pfeiffer was central to the scientific studies, and on farm studies carried out, to develop the biodynamic farming method. He was influential in the advancement of biodynamics both in Europe and in America. He wrote many books and papers. He did a lot of work with composting and is probably best known for this. Soil Fertility is a great introduction to Pfeiffer’s work. Published in the 1940’s, it gives the reader a lot of information in a small volume. There is information on soil, farming methods, compost making, forestry, and horticulture. This is all intertwined with his scientific experimental results and photographs. Of particular interest is the chapter “Practical Results of the Biodynamic Method” where he goes through experimental results from a biodynamic farm.

 

Maria Thun, The Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar

This is an annual publication that gives guidelines on what is happening with the cosmos throughout the year. It gives a breakdown on a day-by-day basis’s of positive and negative influences from the cosmos. There are indications as to what work we should undertake as a result of these influences. In practice it’s not as difficult as it sounds. The effect can be quite dramatic. We trimmed hedges on both favourable and unfavourable days, and the results were stark. The hedges trimmed on favourable days grew back well and even; the hedges trimmed on unfavourable days grew back poorly and uneven. Well worth having this on the shelf. 

 

Glen Atkinson, The Energetic Activities in Biodynamic Agriculture

Glen Atkinson worked with Weleda for a number of years, and here he was introduced to the work of Rudolf Steiner. He has a vast knowledge of the planetary bodies and the affects they have on us. He also works with potencies of biodynamic preps, and runs a very successful business selling them to both main stream and organic farmers. In this book he gives us a new understanding of the “Agriculture Course” and Glen is particularly good on the energetic activities and on the influence of the cosmos. He points to the “Medical Lectures” given by Steiner in the preceding years to the “Agriculture Course” as giving an insight to understanding the later. This gives us a new understanding. By also looking at the medical lectures we have a clearer view.  

 

Sir Albert Howard, The Soil and Health A Study of Organic Agriculture

Sir Albert Howard arrived in India with the idea of teaching the locals how to farm using western industrial methods. What transpired was very different. He observed the local peasants and saw value in their farming methods. He also observed their health and the health of their animals. This led him to make the connection between healthy soil and healthy humans. He is quoted as saying “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible”. He proceeded using his scientific background to work with the Indian farmers, and also ran a research farm to document a system of agriculture that would be sustainable and healthy. In The Soil and Health he covers some of his findings while in India, as well as a history of worldwide agriculture methods down through the ages. As the title suggests, soil and health are covered here, and the interrelation of both. Of particular interest is the study of compost making. Here we have a description of the Indore method of composting and the scientific studies which lead to it. This book was written in the 1940’s, but is very relevant today.

 

Lilli Kolisko, Agriculture of Tomorrow

Lilli Kolisko worked closely with Rudolf Steiner, conducting a lot of scientific research for him. Her main body of work was in the field of potencies. She worked throughout her life experimenting with different potencies of different substances and recording the results. In Agriculture of Tomorrow she documents the experimental work she carried out with Steiner, and the work she continued throughout her life. She has documented her experiments with the preps here, which is certainly of interest. This book may not be for everyone as it is quite scientific, but its value, and the tireless work Lilli Kolisko has put into her experiments and this book, cannot be denied. We are all indebted to her, as this is a really valuable research volume. 

 

William A. Albrecht Ph.D., Albrecht’s Foundation Concepts

Albrecht was a professor at the University of Missouri. He worked all his life studying and teaching about soils. The central theme of his teaching was the importance of the major cations in the soil and particularly their ratios to each other. He also emphasised the importance of the macro and micro nutrients. He did extensive experiments on soils and the affect different nutrient levels had on plant health. He also made the connection between soil nutrition and animal or human health: “Food is fabricated soil fertility”. Throughout his life Albrecht gave many public lectures (not just college lectures); he also wrote many papers on soil science and his findings. This book is a collection of some of those lectures and papers spanning from 1919 to 1974, and it also includes experimental results. Albrecht’s insight into soil nutrition and health is fascinating. It is approached in a scientific way, without being tied to the status quo. Here we gain a new understanding of plant nutrition.

 

Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, Secrets of the soil/ Secret Life of Plants

These two books explore all sorts of strange and wonderful things that were happening in both the fields and in scientific labs around America and Europe. Published in the 70’s and 80’s, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird travelled around and met with people who were using unusual methods or experimenting with unusual methods to improve the health of plants or even just to influence them. It is a testament to what is possible in nature. All that is required is a somewhat inquisitive mind and it is surprising what you can discover. These are both fascinating books that give us an insight of the alternatives that are available.

 

Enzo Nastati, Basic Biodynamic Agriculture in 9 Meetings

This book comes from a course that was given in Italy. It is based on Enzo Nastati’s experiences as a biodynamic farmer, and on his research into how to improve biodynamic methods along with how to use them for modern problems. It is an introduction to Biodynamics and Anthroposophy. Having said it is an introduction, most who are new to biodynamics would probably find it very difficult if it’s the first book they ever pick up. Never the less it is well worth a visit when a bit of experience has been gained. Enzo Nastati covers the preps, plants, their diseases and farming process. He also covers the energies that affect them both earthly and cosmic. The biodynamic calendar is also covered. His knowledge of these energies and their effects is vast. 

EDITORIAL