Seeds and human culture

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Seeds and human culture

Post by Mark »

Renewing Seed and Human Culture
Bernard Jarman (2001)

The practice of biodynamic agriculture leads towards an ever deeper and closer understanding of nature and the hidden alchemy at work within and between her different kingdoms. Our increasing awareness of the interdependence and delicate balance existing between all forms of life in the context of that one global organism that makes up our planet, is awakening a whole new consciousness for life. There is a dawning recognition that each animal and plant species exists, not for itself alone and for its own advancement, but primarily to serve the greater well being of the earth's entire ecosystem.

This radical idea accepted by more and more leading scientists promises to overturn long held theories of evolution and "the struggle for existence." This could have far reaching implications not only for our understanding of nature but also for human social behaviour. Our socio economic system for so long dominated by competition and the "survival of the fittest" could be transformed through living with the inner picture of service to the common good.

When in 1924 Rudolf Steiner gave the course of lectures on agriculture, which inspired the biodynamic movement, he pointed towards the importance of learning to embrace the whole earth with consciousness and to take account of the influences streaming in from the planets, the fixed stars, and the far reaches of the cosmos. In the seventy five years since these lectures were held, biodynamic agriculture has developed and spread to all parts of the world. Wherever it has taken root new social forms and a renewal of cultural values have been set in train.

Today's global economy and its aggressive exploitation of the earth, places the issue of sustainable agriculture into stark focus. Biodynamic agriculture is consciously sustainable in every detail. As a self-contained evolving organism, every biodynamic farm seeks to rely on its own production to supply the needs of its livestock and on its own compost and manures to provide for the soil's fertility. On the strength of this inner circuit a healthy surplus can provide food for a wide circle of consumers and new relationships of trade and cultural exchange can develop around the farm. In this way a cell for a new social organism begins to emerge.

The current drive to impose biotechnology on a reluctant world threatens to destroy what remains of older sustainable cultures as well as the biodiversity of traditional farming. Until fairly recently every farmer grew and saved his own seed as a matter of course and each had its own uniquely adapted crop variety which differed even from that of his neighbours.

Nowadays however, farmers are forced to rely on an increasingly limited range of highly bred, chemical intensive (and if the seed companies have their way - genetically modified) seed varieties, purchased on the global market.

Furthermore because hybrid seeds won't breed true, seed saving is rapidly becoming a thing of the past and with disastrous social consequences. As old and tested local plant varieties disappear so too does the independence and self-reliance of the farming community especially in so-called Third World Countries. It can be seen time and time again that a thriving indigenous seed culture reflects a thriving and
self-confident people.

Biodynamic Seeds

The development and production of biodynamic seeds has never been so crucial for the future survival of agriculture as it is today. Not only do we need to rescue and save valuable seed varieties from extinction - a vital task in itself - we also need to breed new strong and healthy varieties adapted to biodynamic and organic growing conditions. Much valuable research has already been undertaken during the last decades and individual pioneers have achieved considerable success in using biodynamic methods to improve existing cereal and vegetable varieties as well as to develop new ones. In contrast to modern plant breeding methods in which perceived active genetic constituents of plant varieties are selected and treated in a laboratory, biodynamic seed breeding extends its approach in a holistic way to include the formative influences of the earth, its environment and the world of the stars.

Relationship of Sun and Earth
Fundamental to all life on earth is that primal tension which exists between sun and earth. A tension rooted partly in the gravitational pull between them and partly as a result of the polarity of light and darkness expressed in their essential natures. Plant life expresses itself through endeavouring to weave a bridge between the two and by being at home in darkness and in light by turns.

The sun provides energy, warmth and light with which the plant can build its living substance and unfold its form. Developing step by step through a whole metamorphosis of form it comes to full revelation in the flower.

Thereafter it dies back and begins to decay. Generation after generation of plants grow, mature and return to the earth as sustenance for earthworns, micro-organisms and other builders of fertile humus. Each year the seasons are different, warm, wet or cold spells occurring at different moments in the growth cycle causing changes to sap flow, sugar content or checks in development. We may imagine how an impression of the each season Lives on as a memory in the living soil. Here in the darkness of the soil, carried in the stream of time, conditions are prepared out of which a new plant can grow.

The sun also draws the plant upward as it grows, leading it towards the utmost periphery of the universe. When the flower opens out growth comes to an end, yet the path upward continues, and as pollen grains it expands out towards the furthest breadths of space. Surrounded by light, warmth and air these minutest of material particles waft through moving air and shimmering starlight until carried by wind or insect they return to create a fertile seed. We may imagine how the whole surrounding cosmos has influenced and is contained within this seed as a result of what has taken place up there among the clouds.

Two different routes are taken to prepare for a new plant's birth - one through the earth and one through the sun. In the living darkness of the soil a place is prepared to receive the seed that has its vitality bequeathed on it by the light filled atmosphere - and by the sun. Planting a seed in the soil is as Goethe recognised the true moment of fertilisation. Only then does the plant have the possibility to grow.

Successful biodynamic plant growing begins with the careful management of soil and compost. Building and maintaining a stable, fertile soil is essential. Organic material of all kinds, from household scraps to garden weeds can be transformed into sweet-smelling compost using the well-tried methods practised throughout the organic movement. The addition to the compost of carefully fermented herb-based biodynamic preparations facilitates a more ordered and thorough transformation in the compost. They also assist the soil on which it is spread to become more sensitive and receptive to the influences streaming in from its environment.

The Preparations

These "biodynamic compost preparations" made from a number of well-known herbs and prepared by a process of enhancement using certain carefully chosen animal organ sheaths, each have a unique quality and specific role to play in the humus-building processes taking place in a compost pile.
  • • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Connected to the potassium and sulphur processes in the soil, the yarrow preparation enables the soil to draw in substances finely distributed in the atmosphere and beyond - which can help to replenish a soil grown tired through many years of cultivation.
    • Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla). Connected with the calcium process, the chamomile preparation gives the soil a capacity to stabilise its nutrients and to harmonise and invigorate plant growth.
    • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). This preparation helps the soil develop an inner sensitivity towards the substances and forces needed by specific plants grown in the soil.
    • Oak Bark (Quercus robur). This preparation helps through its connection with calcium to ward off so-called plant diseases and fungus attacks.
    • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has a connection to the silica process in plants and is able to activate the influences streaming in from the earth's surrounding.
    •Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a plant with a strong affinity for warmth and order. It gives the plant a warmth blanket and stimulates the activity of phosphorus.
When placed as a group yet individually sited into a compost heap, the effects of these preparations slowly radiate out through the compost thence to the soil.

Two further preparations are applied directly on the soil and to the plant. The formative forces of plant development can be enhanced with these "horn manure" and "horn silica" preparations. These are special field sprays made from cow manure and ground quartz which have undergone a process of fermentation in a cow horn beneath the soil during winter and summer respectively.

Horn manure sprayed on the soil helps draw the plant roots down into a healthy connection with the earth while horn silica sprayed directly onto the growing plant at critical moments in its development helps to regulate and vitalise the plants fluid metabolism, increase sugar content, its general quality and enhance the vitality of seeds.

These specifically biodynamic measures taken together with sound organic practice serve to create a vital and well-balanced soil in which the seeds of chosen plant varieties can find optimum germination and growing conditions.

Sowing Times

Not only is the relationship between sun and earth important. When seeds of high quality are sought the subtle influences streaming in from the twelve constellations of the zodiac also need considering.

In their daily and yearly movement across the sky (as perceived from our perspective), the stars are in a constantly changing relationship to the earth. Within the short space of 24 hours, the entire sphere of the stars passes across the sky. Each day and night the sun, moon and all the stars make this journey. Less immediately apparent are the movements in the reverse direction - of the wandering stars, the planets and the moon. Moving across the sky at different rates, they create a wonderfully complex network of relationships with one another, with the earth and against the background of the fixed stars in the zodiac. How their movements influence life on the earth forms the basis for the well-known "Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar" produced by Maria Thun.

It is with the ever-changing position of the moon as it moves form west to east through each constellation of the zodiac in turn that this calendar is primarily concerned. During the course of four weeks the moon will have passed through all twelve constellations. This cycle or rhythm of the moon is not to be confused with the more well known waxing and waning cycle which has to do with the relationship of the moon to the sun.

Research undertaken by Maria Thun over several decades shows how the moon's position in the zodiac can effect plant growth. The unique formative influences pouring down on the earth from the twelve constellations are strengthened each in turn as the moon passes before.
As recognised in the wisdom of astrology, the constellations are linked to the four elements - earth, water, air and fire, which in turn have a connection to the four parts of the plant - root, leaf, flower and fruit. By growing aware of the moon's position, the gardener can choose to plant carrots on a root day i.e. when the moon stands before an earth constellation, or cabbages on a leaf day.

The enhancement possible through working with awareness for stellar influences is especially important when seeking to improve on and develop seed varieties.

Diversity of growing conditions

Plants grown under different soil and climatic conditions will follow different growth patterns and the qualities in the crop will vary correspondingly.

Consider how different it must be for say a beetroot growing on an island buffeted by the salt spray and winds of the ocean as compared with one growing in a lush and protected walled garden in Southern England; or again of potatoes growing on the flood plains of the river Severn compared to those growing on thin soils in the bracing climate of a Scottish hillside.

Biodynamic plant breeders make use of these differences in soil and climate to stretch, broaden and increase the vigour of these varieties. It is a complex and demanding field of work requiring close attention to the smaliest detail while being aware of the widest connections and influences at work on the earth as a whole.

Rigorous scientific enquiry and an ability to distinguish essential from the non-essential is crucial while at the same time an art of observation must be learnt, born of daily and yearly husbandry practice. Only the farmer will know whether the crop of wheat is healthy and where it can be improved. A trained eye is then needed to see which ears of com hold the best potential and to know which grains shall be kept for future use.

In days gone by seed growing was an integral part of the farming year, it also formed a focus for rural community life. Today this has gone and it is our task once again to bring the seeds of our food plants to the forefront of our consciousness. The production of biodynamic seeds is clearly a responsibility of biodynamic farmers everywhere. They cannot carry it alone however.

Wherever seeds are grown, opportunities exist for the involvement of a wider community and for their help with the work of selection, weeding, harvesting and cleaning. Unlike the produce which is grown to be consumed, seeds are there to enable the farm to exist on into the future.

The Biodynamic Agricultural Association is promoting the development of biodynamic seeds as one of its core tasks and has recently set up a seed fund. More information on this and other aspects of biodynamic agriculture is available from:

The Biodynamic Agricultural Association,
Painswick Inn Project, Gloucester Street, Stroud, Glos, GL5 10G