Biodynamic Farming: “A rather magnificent cow-dung ice cream cone”

More ill-considered tosh from our national broadcaster. This time it’s biodynamic farming. Sitting out on the bonkers fringes of the organic farming movement squats another of Rudolph Steiner’s bastard offspring birthed at a lecture series in 1924. [Follow the link and see what passes for research in some areas of social science. You can tell it’s ‘science’ cos it’s got numbers and some Σ symbols. Maths-tastic!] Among its principles are planting schemes based on astrology and the use of potions diluted away to near-homeopathic levels before application to the fields.

I suppose it is conceivable that planting according to the phase of the Moon might have an affect on crops. There are broad patterns in the weather that are seasonal and the phases of the Moon are a proxy for some of these, but once we start citing Venus, Saturn and zodiacal signs the connections are getting more tenuous and the woo is getting stronger.

Date: 15 February 2013 Biodynamic: Moon in Aries: This is a Fire sign. This is a good time to sow Fruiting plants like Broad Beans, Cucumber, but it would not be a good time to sow Leaf plants like Cabbages, Celeriac

Note the mention of one of the traditional four Humors. Here’s some more.

… we start by looking at the four elements that nature so graciously provides us with – earth, air, fire and water.

OK, got that?

Then lets [sic] match each element to a part of a given plant – earth to root, air to flower, fire to fruit and seed and water to leaf.

Ooh, let us do that.

Now let’s match each of those parts of the plant along with their element to the twelve signs of the zodiac. Then we can see that as the moon moves through each of the twelve on its 27 and a bit day journey around the earth every month it will influence those parts of the plant relating to the zodiacal sign e.g. Pisces=water/leaf, Capricorn=earth/root.

Listen, if you want to plant at the right time buy a calendar and watch the weather forecast.

The preparations that are applied to the fields are more reminiscent of the works of JK Rowling than the products of a rational agricultural science. The archetype is probably “horn manure” and it is made by filling a cow’s horn with manure and burying it over winter. It has to be a cow’s horn not a bull’s horn, and a lactating cow’s horn at that. Our Potions lesson continues with instructions on how to use this marvellous stuff.

The method of stirring is important. Stir the water vigorously until a deep crater is formed in the rotating liquid. Then reverse the direction of stirring to create a seething chaotic turbulence before gradually forming a crater in the other direction. Once this is achieved the direction of stirring should again be reversed. This rhythmic process should be continued for an hour. After one full hour the liquid is allowed to settle before being poured into a backpack or machine sprayer

This is then sprayed in tiny quantities onto the ground.

This all sounds cuckoo, but there are farms out there doing this stuff and BBC’s Countryfile went to visit one. The reporter was Julia Bradbury and I have recorded the audio from the broadcast so you can enjoy it in its entirety and also verify that the quotations that follow are exact transcriptions. I am not making this stuff up.

So, how did this incisive investigative report turn out?

[At 20 mins and 50s in]


Here’s the audio track on its own:

Countryfile 10th Feb 2013 Biodynamic Farming

In the following quotations, Julia Bradbury is denoted JB and the farmer, let’s just called him the Farming Wizard, is FW.

JB: Here it’s all about biodynamic a type of spiritual farming that works in harmony with the Earth.

Biodynamic farmers don’t use artificial fertilisers instead they make their own concoctions mixed using natural substances to their own recipe. Intriguing.

We can express that mathematically. It is utter Tosh for all values of Intriguing.

Intriguing ≡  Tosh

JB: Biodynamic farm. Explain the concept.

FW: The concept of a biodynamic farm is that one is not just working with the everyday physical substance but also the forces working in nature. That sounds a bit cuckoo perhaps, but if you think of…um,,,a compass and why it points North. You know if you start looking inside that needle to understand it, you’re never going to understand it. It’s only when you realise that there’s a magnetic field around the whole Earth that you can understand why it points North. And to understand a plant or an animal you can’t just look inside that with a microscope either, you have to take into account that there’s a whole cosmos out there with a Sun and a Moon and a planets and the stars and the zodiac.

It does sound cuckoo. There’s a good reason for that. You will see that the bollocks du jour of his description is forces and fields. With the woosters sometimes it’s energy and sometimes it’s quantum. It doesn’t really matter. These terms mean nothing. They are the basis for no predictions about the behaviour of the system. They do not cause us to take any specific action having invoked them. They are basically placeholders in the narrative. You can insert whatever you like in their place and the story is not materially altered. The use of these terms resembles Hitchcock’s MacGuffin, the essential motivator of the plot but whose actual identity is utterly arbitrary and irrelevant.

JB: So, you’re working very closely with Mother Nature and you believe strongly in the forces of Mother Nature?

I also believe strongly in the forces of Mother Nature. Gravity seems to be holding me down in my chair quite nicely thanks, Julia.

FW: We do, yes, And that those forces are in our food if it’s good food and that they’re not if it’s done the wrong way.

Ooh, a testable hypothesis that would lead to predictions. I’ll bet Julia picks up on this…

JB: And how much of this stuff [cow droppings] do you need?


FW: For this farm? About two buckets…That’s compared to trailer-loads! 

Wow! Those quantities are tiny. I’ll bet that leads to an interesting follow-up question.

JB [muffled]: Ah, that’s not bad! 

Slippery-fingers JB drops the ball again.

JB: This spiritual science might sound a bit New Age but it all began in 1924 when farmers asked philosopher Rudolph Steiner to find out if chemical fertilisers were adversely affecting their soil conditions and the health of their livestock. He thought they were. That meant no to chemicals and yes to biodynamic farming, which is where the cow dung comes back in again.

Julia seems to think that it can’t be New Age because it started in 1924 with our friend Rudolph Steiner. That shouldn’t be a “but”, Julia, it sounds New Age because Steiner was there at its inception and the sticky fingers of his esoteric forebears are all over it.

FW: The fact that it’s in the earth over winter means it had those forces, I was telling you about, from the cosmos and everything, which go into the Earth and are concentrated here in these horns in the manure which will make this manure a very special substance.

JB: The horns have to stay in the ground for 6 months for the cosmic magic to happen.

That ball of manure is going into this bucket of water. That’s not a lot.

Note the phrase “cosmic magic”. I’ll come back to this in a minute. Keep going for now…

FW: It’s not a lot because it’s not just the substance that we’re dealing with it’s the forces in the substance.

We’re going to stir this for an hour. There’s a specific way that we do it. What you have to do is get a vortex in there. It starts getting a kind of order in there and when you’ve got a lovely vortex like that, you change the direction. And there you can see it creates a kind of confusion in there, which will get all the oxygen in. Also I think it somehow imprints the memory into the water of the substance, so that, when you spray it over the fields…um…it’s effective.

I told you I wasn’t making this stuff up. Here he is following the potions recipe to the letter. Snape would be so proud of him.

JB: There’ll be some people watching at home and they’re gonna say, “He’s just a bit bonkers.”

This chimes with Julia’s description of the process as “cosmic magic” and is an important point that we do not see addressed properly in sceptical commentary. I’ll call it Trivial Scepticism. We mock the laughable, but we also address the deeper arguments. Trivial sceptics gently pull the leg of the wooster as a substitute for exploring the deeper implications. This gentle leg-pulling is readily shrugged off by the woo as being no more than harmless banter and actually feeds their self-definition as eccentric outsiders. Eccentrically outside the mainstream, they think themselves, but holders of mystical truths. Trivial scepticism is almost as corrosive as the impact of shruggism in popular discourse over pseudoscientific claims.

Have you very had that experience in conversation where someone agrees with what you are saying just too easily and expresses sympathy and understanding of your point of view when you have barely started explaining it to them? [Maybe just me, then. I’ll get me coat] Their over-ready agreement with you is really just a means of curtailing a conversation in which they have little interest, so they can move on to other things but without having actually broken the social glue that was binding you together in discussion. Trivial scepticism has the same effect. The trivial sceptic laughs off these issues while carefully avoiding anything that might become confrontational with their conversational partner, but also and more importantly, anything that might confront their own opinions more starkly. On a social level this is all understandable and explicable. We don’t want every conversation in our lives to turn into a fight to the death over some philosophical point, but I think the invasion of fringe views into mainstream public discourse has been aided by the combination of Trivial Scepticism and Shruggism and this Countryfile programme was an excellent exemplar of the former.

And so to the end of the item;

FW: Maybe. I’m not going to try to argue with everybody. One has to do what sees works and what one feels is right.

No, no, no, Farming Wizard. I am staggered to think that you practice agriculture. We built the foundations of much of our knowledge of statistics and trial design in agricultural research precisely because it poses the kinds of questions that need to be answered by objective controlled data in which bias and confounding variables have been eliminated. I wear my favourite red hat because it “feels right”. I like to eat food and take medicines that have been produced by systems that work right. That rumbling sound that you hear is R.A. Fisher rotating so fast in his grave that he resembles the vortex of a well-strirred horn manure preparation.

JB: Whether or not you think this is nuts, this farm has been biodynamically run for that last 40 years and it doesn’t appear to be doing too badly on it. 

More Trivial Scepticism, but it’s always good to end on a fallacy. The farm has been biodynamically run for that last 40 years and doesn’t appear to be doing too badly on it does not lead to the conclusion that biodynamics works. Nice false syllogism, Julia, regardless of whether the farm’s appearance to you, a journalist, says anything at all about how well it is actually doing.

Was this really the way the BBC should have tackled this issue? A more incisive investigation would have challenged the claims of biodynamics. Countryfile has tackled contentious issues in quite an interesting and mature manner in the past. But biodynamics got the light-touch, human interest approach. Why could that be?

On a completely separate tack, we have been told that a certain Charles Windsor, biodynamic farmer and friend to the sugar-pill community, has been given the editorial reins of the programme for an edition to be shown in March. Horn manure and brown-nosing? A most attractive combination. I, for one, am looking forward to the programme with great interest.

139 Comments on Biodynamic Farming: “A rather magnificent cow-dung ice cream cone”

  1. This videos of “horn filling” are even better, they are using a sausage making machine for it (and I really really hope that they keep the machine only for filling horns!)
    In case you are wondering where it is from, they are in the very north of Italy, whey they speak German, that explains why the notes under the videos are in Italian, but the audio is a German dialect (irrelevant info, I know 😉 )

  2. I like the coining of Trivial Scepticism and Shruggism.

    Following on from Andy’s earlier post (related posts, above) there is a useful piece by historian Peter Staudenmaier concerning the history of the biodynamic agriculture movement:

    Perhaps someone else would like to reply to the inevitable comment by anthroposophist Sune Nordwall, who is not very keen on Peter Staudenmaier. To contact the latter:

  3. What a wet blanket you are, Simon… and wasting hours venting your spleen on anyone who isn’t “scientific”. Even if some of Steiner’s ideas can’t be proved and sound fanciful, at the very least their value is that they psychologically and (naughty word coming up) spiritually engage farmers or gardeners in their work. The enthusiasm and passion (sorry, two more naughty words!) these engender enhance the more conventional organic practices that are employed. If you want “scientific” farming, buy a slab of lot-fed beef from a cow that’s had a ghastly life on a bit of dirt with ten thousand others, or a chook that’s been kept awake all its life in flourescent lit hellholes, unable to move more than a few inches. Give me the sugar-pill of biodynamic food, created with (last two naughty words) love and care any day before that poison.

    • Shall I assume you have the word “Steiner” on Google Alerts, because here you are again with nothing much to say except, “Leave dear Uncle Rudolph alone, he’s fair dinkum”? But here you are the fair-mined observer from Aus with no axe to grind, not even a little gnomish one.

      I also note your careful use of the phrases “can’t be proved” and “sound fanciful”, where “are utter nonsense” and “made up” would fit so much better. I can engage with my garden without having to stir a bucket of water for an hour.

      Do you have gnomes in a biodynamic garden? I suppose you must.

      P.S. I think you have confused quiet mockery with spleen venting.

    • False dichotomy Dave. Farming that respects evidence and reason does not have to provide animals with a ‘ghastly life’. Quite the opposite in fact.

      It is a tactic of the world of ‘alternatives’ to put their fanciful ideas forward as the default answer to the worst problems in mainstream life. Biodynamics is the answer to intensive and soulless farming. Homeopathy is the answer to industrialised medicine. Not so. Each of these has to stand on its merits. And they fail at the first analysis. Hence the goal of those pushing their ‘alternatives’ is to prevent analysis and attack those who engage in criticism.

      • You are putting the dichotomy forward, Andy , not I. You and Simon are the ones who seemingly can’t tolerate different beliefs than your own. Why should you assume that I disagree that “evidence and reason does not have to provide animals with a ‘ghastly life’? I have nothing against evidence and reason, and when people harness them to produce better food in a sustainable way, I will and do support them. Like Simon and most self-appointed ‘sceptics’, you assume more than you see or hear, and you cherry-pick the points you want to argue about. Why don’t you address the main points that I am making, that the processes and rituals of biodynamic farming may produce good results because they engender enthusiasm, passion, love and care among those who use them? If you don’t engender those qualities somehow, I think you will get a poor result. If you can engender them with evidence and reason, that’s great, too … although I think it’s pretty arrogant of people to assume that biodynamic farmers or gardeners don’t value evidence or reason too.

        • Dave. You said, “. If you want “scientific” farming, buy a slab of lot-fed beef from a cow that’s had a ghastly life on a bit of dirt ”

          Science is application of evidence and reason to better understand the world.

          If you have evidence that the application of Steiner’s occult rituals actually improve yield, welfare of animals, or any other important metric (other than the farmer’s sense of self-importance), then please present it.

          So, put your money where your mouth is, and let’s start critically appraising the evidence.

          If there is any.

          • Andy, Simon: I know you will revel in my confession, but I’m not particularly interested in any attempts to “scientifically prove” the advantages of biodynamic farming. I actually do put my money where my mouth is on a regular basis! The “evidence” for me that biodynamic farming works is that the biodynamic yoghurt and milk I buy taste much better than the other yoghurt and milk I buy. I also know the biodynamic fruit and veggies I buy have been grown without artificial chemicals or pesticides, and that the soil in which they are grown has not been depleted but enriched. This enhances my enjoyment of the food still further. I believe from personal observation that the farmers and gardeners responsible for the produce have grown it with love and care and a sense of respect for nature and its rhythms and mysteries. These are of course very subjective perceptions, but as I stated in my first comment, I’m not looking at the issue from a “scientific perspective”. I don’t need one in this matter. Can I conclusively prove that Steiner’s odd rituals actually make better food? Of course not.
            I can, however, make some claim to objectivity. I place similar value on the food I grow myself (organically, not biodynamically, btw), but I can tell the difference between the good food I have grown and the mediocre. I think most people who enjoy biodynamic produce keep buying it because they can discern that it is usually of a very high quality. If it weren’t they would stop buying it. The essential point I am making, which both of you pointedly overlook,is not that the so-called occult practices of biodynamic farming “work”, but that the care that may be enhanced by such rituals produces good food.
            Unfortunately, most food is being produced mechanistically, in order to create as much of it as cheaply as possible. This is where I see science most keenly applied to agriculture and horticulture. The “green revolution” and genetic modification of plants are two of the best modern examples. One could argue about their pros and cons for a lifetime, but I think the most pertinent issue is that the mechanisation of food production has dehumanised the most human of activities and profoundly alienated us from the soil that sustains us. I’d love to hear some examples of how evidence and reason has been applied in a positive way.

          • “If you have evidence that the application of Steiner’s occult rituals actually improve yield, welfare of animals,… “

            They probably don’t. There’s a biodynamic farm near here (in West Australia) and they refuse to give their animals necessary pharmaceuticals until they’ve tried everything else and things look dire. I translate that as “we let them suffer quite a bit before we let science enter the equation.”

        • Dave

          The dichotomy was implicit in your first post even if you were unaware of it.

          the processes and rituals of biodynamic farming may produce good results because they engender enthusiasm, passion, love and care among those who use them

          I cannot prove the opposite. It is, however, self-evident that the belief system carries a load of irrational baggage.

          I think it’s pretty arrogant of people to assume that biodynamic farmers or gardeners don’t value evidence or reason too

          I shall be generous and make an assumption of my own, that you neither looked at the YouTube nor listened to the audio track so you would not have heard the farmer brushing off any exploration of evidence or reason. You obviously could not see the rev counter on RA Fisher’s grave. Mine is sat next to bullshitmeter and my ironymeter. It works just fine even though it suffers shrapnel impact for the regular explosions of its two neighbours. If I can do no more than prompt you to explore the history of agricultural field trials using Fisher’s Wikipedia page as a starting point, then I shall be happy.

          I would, by the way, be interested for you to cite a specific example of Andy or me cherry-picking on this page. If it helps, remember that cherry-picking is not the same as either highlighting good bits or citing examples that illustrate a general pattern.

    • No Dave, Steiner engages fully with only white people in his horrible ‘spiritual’ hierarchy. And it’s absolutely untrue that humane and kind animal husbandry and scientific rigour are mutually exclusive; you are making purposeful categorical errors that give irrational credence to Anthroposophical values and suggest that science is automatically unkind and/or unethical.

    • Dave,

      you say, “least their value is that they psychologically and (naughty word coming up) spiritually engage farmers or gardeners in their work.”

      Is this the spiritual engagement you support?

      “Peoples and races are after all, merely different developmental stages in our evolution toward a pure humanity. The more perfectly that individual members of that race or people express the pure, ideal human type – the more they have worked their way through from the physical and mortal to the super sensible and immortal realm – the “higher” this race or nation is.” – ‘How to Know Higher Worlds’, by Rudolf Steiner, 2008 edition.

      or perhaps:

      “The French are committing the terrible brutality of moving black people to Europe, but it works, in an even worse way, back on France. It has an enormous effect on the blood and the race and contributes considerably toward French decadence. The French as a race are reverting.” – Steiner 1923

      As one of the yellow people I am unable to have a thinking life and am intellectually, creatively and spiritually inferior (according to Steiner) so I expect you won’t even bother to mount a thoughtful defence; why should you waste your time on such inferior beings? If you think Anthroposophy has ‘spiritual’ value either you have not read Steiner’s ‘spiritual’ opinions and thus can not really believe them or you are a racist like Steiner. Please let me know which camp you fall in with.

      • Playing the race card on this one is more than a bit of a stretch, Nick … unless you think discrimination between food grown in different ways is a form of racism? No I don’t regard any races as inferior or superior, and neither do I regard Steiner as a superior spiritual being whose opinions about everything must be suitably deferred to. I was simply referring to the fact that biodynamic practices may create a ritual that enable a sense of reverence and respect for the land and the soil, regardless of whether they “work” in any other sense.

        • Why on earth would stuffing cow horns full of manure and burying them, or using astrology, be necessary or helpful in enabling a “sense of reverence and respect for the land” as opposed to reducing people’s ability to think clearly about anything, encouraging them to reject science, and brainwashing them so that they are susceptible to manipulation and exploitation by cults- because that is what BD is all about really. In my experience people who choose to garden for their own pleasure or even as a career do not need hocus-pocus or any other hogwash like this to instill “reverence” or anysuch for the land- they already have a love of the outdoors and plants which are fascinating enough in themselves. Your repeating of this bogus attempt to justify the practices of a cult is patronising bullshit. It goes back to the same point I already made- totally devaluing the care and attention gardeners and farmers will give to their work without this pathetic mumbo-jumbo.

          • “Patronising bullshit”, “hogwash”, “pathetic mumbo-jumbo”: Sorry, Graham, I don’t enter into discussions at the lower level. Take your aggression out on someone else.

        • Dave,
          you think a non-white person complaining about a cult that specifically claims that non-white people are inferior is ‘playing the race card’? At which point do think it would be legitimate to complain?

          • Nice try, Nick, but, as you know, I said “playing the race card on this one”. That means I think relating what I have said about biodynamic gardening to Steiner’s views on race is not relevant. To me, it’s like saying we shouldn’t listen to someone’s music because they of the racist views they expressed. Racist beliefs have been common throughout history among people of all races, and happily they have been subject to appropriate scrutiny at a global level in our time. That doesn’t mean we should now discard and dismiss all the ideas of someone simply because they expressed racist views.

  4. Dave’s post gets me thinking. The term “Tone Troll” recently appeared in posts at Quackometer.

    I find a different but related behaviour in the opponents of scepticism that sits in a similar territory and I have been struggling to characterise it accurately. There was the annoying kid at school who would do something rude and unpleasant then bleat about how you shouldn’t be nasty to them in response because they didn’t really mean it. From an adult perspective one would have sympathy with their confused reactions and inability to play nicely with others. SCAMsters often behave similarly when challenged. They say things that are offensive to the rational mind, but when you call them out on their assertions they react with indignation that anyone could be so mean to them, after all they’re cuddly and fluffy and why should anyone be tough on them. Having been playing this game for a while now, it has been most enlightening to see how quickly the fluffy bunny mask gets dropped once the counter-arguments and criticisms do not just disappear.

    • You call that ‘thinking’? No, Simon, you may not assume that I “have the word “Steiner” on Google Alerts”. I get notifications on articles from your blog from Google, after having been steered in the direction of one of your posts by an acquaintance. I find it strange the way people get so upset about so-called trolls, until I remember the power of groupthink. If you are so interested in the facts, why are you so obviously irritated when someone wants to put another point of view? Or did you just set up your blog for like-minded people to pat you on the back? Why do you refuse to respond to my arguments except with more so-called “gentle mockery”? Try playing the ball, not the man.

      • Dave

        If you’re going to nest comments as replies then it would be handy if they appeared in the relevant place.

        The Google Alert thing was a bit of joke intended to get the post started and make a comment on the way that some posters here pop up like whack-a-moles to comment out of the blue on specific topics then disappear again. Unless you tell me otherwise, if you put Steiner into Google Alerts, I expect you’d be inundated with other Steiner-related items and this site would be lost in the noise. I hope that explains the situation adequately and, fair enough, you follow this site specifically and choose to respond when Steiner gets mentioned. Good on you and long may you remain.

        You misunderstand the motives of sceptics who post here if you think we want an echo chamber. I think I am speaking accurately for the various posters whom I also know in the real world that what really makes our day is having people turn up here to express opposing views. However, that is seriously tempered by the fact that they never pursue rational and disciplined discussion to its logical conclusions. So, please stick around rather than following that other well-trodden path.

        Why do you refuse to respond to my arguments except with more so-called “gentle mockery”? Try playing the ball, not the man.

        Your arguments have been responded to. The ball has been played, but one problem is that you have no evidence to sustain such arguments as you have presented and it’s hard to do much when you provide very thin material with which to work.

        Why do I (try) to play it for laughs? Because angry rants are no fun at all. I try to hang serious points on my efforts at humour. If you don’t ‘get’ my sense of humour then there is a big interweb out there where you might find things that do make you laugh. This still makes me laugh. .

        • Simon, I wasn’t asking why you “play it for laughs”. I asked why you had resorted to mockery (which I personally find supercilious and condescending rather than humorous) rather than address my arguments. Up until that point in the discussion (2.03 am) you had not done so. Why you think I would want to stick around after you respond to my arguments with cheap ridicule (“Do you have gnomes in a biodynamic garden? I suppose you must.”) intrigues me, when it would seem you intent was just the opposite.

  5. Good post, I hadnt been able to view the Countryfile clip from Ireland so good to get to see it. I want to pick you up on one thing Simon:

    “I suppose it is conceivable that planting according to the phase of the Moon might have an affect on crops. There are broad patterns in the weather that are seasonal and the phases of the Moon are a proxy for some of these”

    The moon’s brightness does I understand have a measurable effect on chloroplast activity- but only in a clear sky. Apart from that local weather effects are bound to completely override any possible broad weather patters affected by the moon. Remember, Steiner said that different phases of the moon affect different plants or parts of plants in different ways- “leaf days” “root days” “flower days”- whatever effects the moon might have -which are infinitesimally small compared to the sun’s effects and day length etc- the moon certainly cannot differentiate between leafs and flowers, or affect them based on when the seeds were sown.

    Apart from that the discussion seems to revolve around Dave’s point that “the processes and rituals of biodynamic farming may produce good results because they engender enthusiasm, passion, love and care among those who use them? ”

    Dave, they dont produce good results. Any good results that can be shown on organic farms are a result of good farming, which has to happen regardless of all the woo- otherwise, if you are not a good farmer you will not get good results. My anecdotal observations of people using BD magic is that their results are variable in any case. The magic rituals are no guarantee of success.
    As a gardener and horticulture teacher it more than annoys me that people’s “enthusiasm, passion, love and care” is suggested to come from Steiner’s retarded rituals: my experience, most people who have any interest at all in gardening will enjoy it anyway. Gardening, especially with a few friends or colleagues, is very enjoyable, plants are endlessly fascinating, it is nice to grow and eat food you produce yourself. BD proponents like Dave are just stealing the benefits of normal activities and claiming them for themselves. This is how cults work- and with BD and Steiner, cult is the operative word and the one missing from Countryfile.
    The enjoyment of gardening is however tempered by dependency: I think it is no accident that Steiner’s ideas emerged at the onset of scientific farming that freed humanity for the first time from the drudgery and uncertainty of marginal food production. Far from being a reaction against industrial farming, luxuries like BD practices are a product of its success. You only get “joy and passion” in farming once your belly is full and you are not living the life of the subsistence peasant. So BD actually depends completely on the hard-won successes of the very scientific practices it decries. It is parasitical in this sense, and offers nothing at all of its on by way of either yields, quality or fun.
    Farms like the one featured are “not doing too badly” on BD because BD is just an elitist marketing device, a sort of “Organics plus”. It is 100% spin- or should I say “stir”- cashing in on the hard work of the likes of Fisher. I find it nauseating to be told that we need BD to find joy and passion and in gardening/farming, it is an insult to the vast majority of hard working farmers and scientists who work hard every day to put food on the table.

    • Graham

      Thanks for your comments. If you re-read what you have written and insert some (or all) modalities of alternative medicine where you have written BD and medicine or health where you have written farming and food the points would remain valid. I think you are right, SCAM and BD are just parasitic on the larger body, dependent for their existence on the evil industrial system that they seek to usurp.

      In the same way as for SCAM, the role of ritual presents risks, because it can become the focus of the activity. When things go wrong you need to do the ritual better rather than recognising that the ritual is a useless distraction.

      Before someone like Dave pipes up and says, “You can’t show this is a problem, give me evidence” it bears pointing out that identifying risks depends on logical analysis of the situation. Measuring the amount of harm is a different and harder task. No, we do not have quantifiable evidence for harm from BD but that does not excuse its foolishness.

      Also, before anyone says I automatically equate BD with the wider organic movement, I do not. I have no pre-formed conclusions about organic versus other agricultural systems. The over-arching principles are for agriculture to be sustainable and sufficiently productive. I’d want evidence on a case by case basis that a given form of agriculture can satisfy those requirements. I risk moving outside my area of confident knowledge, but I’d be interested to see a side-by-side comparison of the productivity/impact ratios of ‘industrial’ vegetarian protein staples versus ‘organic’ beef. I suspect we’d find that organic beef is a lifestyle affectation not a model for feeding 9 billion people, but I’d love to be shown otherwise.

      • “organic beef is a lifestyle affectation not a model for feeding 9 billion people..” – i think you are probably right. The links between organics and BD are very strong however- in Ireland most organic horticulture courses are run by biodynamic proponents; the SA promotes BD, many of the ideologies are the same.

        My opinion is, people without much experience of what farming and growing food really entails are very easily mislead into thinking that a feel-good thing like BD (stuffing cow’s horns?! weird how people get their kicks..) is actually responsible for the food that is produced; if on the other hand they are not skilled gardeners and the BD magic doesnt help, this is easily rationalised away.

        We are lucky enough, thanks to science, to live in a society of food abundance, so rarely have to feel the effects of our failures in our belly- we just pop down to the local supermarket and stock up. This is often conveniently not counted. I know one organic small-holder who grows organic potatoes to sell at premium price, but buys cheap (and perfectly good) spuds from Lidl to feed his Wwoof-ers (volunteers). It is really just a less extreme version of the breatharian who claims not to need to eat anything but turns out to have a fridge full of sausages.

      • I think that just like with AltMed the harm comes from the lost opportunity to get the full benefit of doing it as well as it can be done (without exhausting the soil carbon of course).

        Our eldest is a sommelier and is entranced by biodynamic wine. She gets very defensive and does not want to hear when I try to point out the problems with the philosophy and the Steiner origins. We visited a biodynamic vineyard in Central Otago, NZ with her and because a professional was with us we got a tour by the assistant wine maker instead of just a tasting. It was interesting, he addressed the biodynamic thing then dismissed it as unimportant. What is important to him is knowing when the pick the grapes, not how to grow them. It was fascinating and if you ever see a Central Otago Chenin Blanc in the future (you won’t at the moment) grab it with both hands.

        I suspect biodynamic farming ‘works’ with grapes because they famously thrive best in the worst soils and do NOT like being even lightly fertilised by normal standards. Biodynamic, being the homeopathy of farming therefore offers few chances for interventionist vineyard managers to do ‘too much’ to the vines.

        I’ll finish by recommending a wine you might be able to buy: Quartz Reef bubbly, Majestic stocks it occasionally we were informed. Not biodynamic but they still do the yeast removal, recharching and recorking bit by hand. We watched them doing it. No idea if it makes a difference or just provides needed jobs in Cromwell, but the fizz is very good nevertheless.

        • Muscle Guy, there’s a great (but now inactive) blog all about the claims of BD vineyards over at:
          The writer, Stu Smith, has grown vines for decades and has looked at this issue in huge detail. Hid conclusion is very similar to Graham’s in that all the claims made by BD are either false or can be explained by non-BD plain old science.

    • Graham, if you read what I actually say instead of making erroneous conclusions, I’m not saying that the rituals produce good results, I’m saying that the attitude of the farmer plays a role in the quality of what he produces.

      • If you blow off the rituals then you are left with sustainable agriculture w/o the biodynamics mojo. In the US the best examples of sustainable ag are the Amish who expect their families for generations untold to farm their land.

        A farmer cannot sell poor quality produce indefinitely since agriculture is very competitive, so his attitude is forced by the marketplace, not magical beliefs.

        Biodynamics is such a thin veneer on sustainable ag, yet it claims all the benefits of the underlying operation. All Steiner did was add some woo to practices that have been in place for millennia. Cult practices always worry me because when things are going all wrong (droughts, etc.), someone always wants to up the ante by getting weird and adding sacrifices to unnamed deities.

        Organic farmers have enough problems with Big Farma without looking stupid with upside down gnomes and whatnot.

      • “I’m not saying that the rituals produce good results, I’m saying that the attitude of the farmer plays a role in the quality of what he produces.”

        I’m very glad this is what Dave is saying – because if he were claiming Biodynamics produces good results, he would be wrong. Biodynamic farming typically produces very LOW yields… that’s the opposite of what farmers want. Does the food taste better? Well, no… it really doesn’t taste any better than “organic” and non-organic vegetables grown elsewhere. Other than being slightly “stunted”, biodynamic vegetables appear to be no different than other vegetables. So, why would farmers go to all this extra effort for less yield and no difference in taste? Why do people go to the effort of getting dressed up every Sunday and going pray? It’s the same thing… it’s a religious exercise, nothing more.

      • ” I’m not saying that the rituals produce good results, I’m saying that the attitude of the farmer plays a role in the quality of what he produces.” So that’s very interesting- you dont think BD works in other words. So why do it? I had in fact answered your point about passion and joy into gardening- obviously no-one needs rituals of any kind to enjoy farming or gardening, and Im sure most farmers are committed to dong the best they can and producing the best produce.
        You say above that people wouldn’t buy BD produce unless they thought it was good, which may be true to a point, but noone has produced any evidence that BD farmers have a “better” attitude to their work than anyone else, nor that such an attitude would lead to “better” quality produce. Most people who by BD produce dont know what it is or anything about Steiner- they are seduced by the marketing, the “reputation for quality” which for those who can afford thre status it brings makes it worth the “premium price”, which is all it is: expensive organic produce with woo.
        But when you have people like yourself defending this marketing deception, but encouraging perhaps the more innocent and easily mislead- young volunteers in Camphill Communities perhaps- to accept these rituals as being actually useful, what you have is a cult, and that can be very dangerous.

        It seems obvious to me and from the BD gardeners and farmers I have met that they do indeed believe the rituals work, that Steiner was a genius etc.. Otherwise they wouldnt use them. This is corroborated by this article of yours:
        – “”… the more I apply it and just suspend my disbeliefs …” says the gardener.

        But you seem to imply that it is good they continue to use these methods even though you know they dont do anything. This would seem to be a bit deceptive. Surely it would be far better to do things that do work, to spend ones time using scientific approaches that have verifiable results. Otherwise

  6. Good post Simon. I read it with interest having raised the subject of astrologiculture in the weeks discussion with Colin.

    I loved the quote that “it’s not just the substance that we’re dealing with it’s the forces in the substance”. You would think that someone, possibly another German, maybe a physicist working in a patent office (just as an example) might be able to express this algebraically. Does the Nuclear Inspectorate know about the potential dangers here?

    I was struck by the specifics of the preparation: “stir this for an hour/There’s a specific way that we do it/get a vortex in there/It starts getting a kind of order/imprints the memory into the water of the substance”. I cannot help thinking that that reminds me of something. No, it’s gone. What on (in) earth was it now. It was on the tip of my tongue.

    As I was with that bit about needing two bucketloads rather than two trailerloads. I vaguely remember something LCN wrote about dilution.

    Colin is into conspiracy bleedover. This is quackery bleedover. Or possibly bleedin overquackery.

    If it works it is probably because vortexing seems to get more oxygen into the water, which is obviously just what water needs.

    That it works is irrefutable because when “you spray it over the fields…um…it’s effective”. What more evidence could anyone need.

    • There is “compost tea” made from compost. Manure is not a good source of aerobic bacteria, but compost is. Basically warm water is well oxygenated and stirred for a couple of days and the “tea” drenched on the soil of sprayed on plants. The idea is for the “good” bacteria, fungi, etc. to out compete the “bad” ones. It is a wonderful alternative to pesticides, but was not invented as a part of biodynamics. Knowingly spraying anaerobic bacteria from manure on crops scares me to death. I would never buy that.

      • As a townie who gets agitated when the concrete runs out i do not know the difference between manure and compost. I happily look out over the countryside but never enter it as it appears to consist mostly of dung, animals trying to kill each other and machinery designed to traumatically dismember your body.

        There is a character in Zola’s La Terre called Madam Poo Poo. She is an old widow who empties the contents of her chamberpot over her vegetables which she then sells at market. The locals publicly deplore this disgusting habit but secretly buy her veg as it tastes good.

        Maybe she vortexed her potty.

        • At you will see that manure is in fact used in compost in some cases as the source of nitrogen needed for the decomposition. For organic farming, city leaves are ground up and composted. Grass is avoided because of probable contamination by herbicides and/or chemical fertilizers. Horse manure is avoided because of broad leaf herbicides in hay that would kill beds of greens a farmer is trying to grow. Swine manure is avoided because of high copper levels. If the inputs to the animals are certified organic, the manure is highly prized. Grass fed beef manure is usually retained on the fields where the cattle grazed.

          • I always use cow manure in my (not biodynamic) compost, produced by Central Australia’s grass-fed rangeland cows. Most gardeners here don’t use horse manure because it is notorious for carrying harmful nematodes .

      • I think you may be referring to Aerated Compost Teas which have become all the rage amongst some BD practitioners, and others who are innocently lead to believe that this confers some kind of credibility on BD, a justification for Steiner’s nonsense.
        There isnt really any evidence that aerating “teas” and spraying it on the land or on plants does anything very much: the claims made for them are certainly extravagant, but it is always tempting to market the next miracle method for hugely improving yields, disease resistance etc.. I wouldnt waste time with them- there are many other tried and tested ways to improve soil quality and fertility. I wrote about this here some time ago:

    • “I was struck by the specifics of the preparation: “stir this for an hour/There’s a specific way that we do it/get a vortex in there/It starts getting a kind of order/imprints the memory into the water of the substance”.”

      As a somewhat comical side note, I actually sat through a video demonstration of a guy stirring one of these preparations for an hour… demonstrating how to produce the correct vortex… first going in one direction, then in the other. Unfortunately, as it turns out, he had put the wrong preparation in the mix… but the guy in the video didn’t seem to notice. (I’m guessing it wouldn’t have mattered much in the results anyway).

  7. If all Dave Richards is saying is “that the attitude of the farmer plays a role in the quality of what he produces”, then that’s difficult to argue with. I’m not sure anyone would contest that what a farmer thinks affects what they produce. However, I think he’s saying much more than that, like which attitudes affect the quality of which products.

    I should say that I for one don’t understand this non-sequitur that happy, healthy animals produce greater tasting produce. I’m just not sure why nature would arrange itself to force a relationhship between the mental state of animals, and the taste of its flesh and byproducts to predators? Foie-gras is a delicacy, but comes from some of the most distressed and diseased animals on the planet. Personally I’d rather have inferior quality food if it came from happier, less-distressed animals, and don’t need one to follow the other…

    • “I think he’s saying much more than that, like which attitudes affect the quality of which products.” Think whatever you like. That’s not what I’m saying. For people who claim to be into empirical deduction, I see a lot of baseless assumptions being made on this blog. Good night!

      • ““I think he’s saying much more than that, like which attitudes affect the quality of which products.” Think whatever you like. That’s not what I’m saying.”

        My apologies then Dave. I thought you were expressing a view about the sort of farming attitudes that can impact on product quality. I thought you were saying that biodynamics might be representative of an attitude that can enhance farmers’ enthusiasm for their craft and animal welfare, with pay-offs in product quality, and that scientific approaches can engender a poisonous disregard for animal welfare and product quality. From looking back over your posts, it really looks like that; which makes me think you’re using language in a different way that I’m used to, or you’re in the business of denying you’ve said what you’ve said?

        • (Sigh.) I’m saying that attitude can affect the quality of what is produced, if it determines how well the farmer or gardener does his job. If all the people who work together in mass-production farming approach their work with love and care, that could affect the quality of what they produce too. Get it?

          • No, you are clearly trying to make out that BD has something to offer that normal farmers do not have: something extra that just normal approach to work and farming needs or can benefit from. It does not have any such quality. Its purpose is to promote a mystical cult.

          • Well, so you say, Graham. I can’t argue with someone who appears incapable of understanding subtleties, which makes me wonder why I alighted on this discussion in the first place when there are so many with that affliction.

          • But the claim by BD practitioners is also that the practices do actually work, that they improve the produce in some way, that is what they believe and that is how it is marketed. This does tie in with Nick’s point about race because although I do not think generally that the average BD practitioner has any explicit concept of racial supremacy, there is no question that the mystical belief is to do with purity: purity of the soil, purity of the food…. purity of those who eat the food, and by extension of the Race. This is how these ideas play out in practice. This idea of purity is just as strong in much of the organic movement also- it fosters elitism, which is a characteristic of the whole environmental movement IMO.

          • Why “by extension the race”, unless you are assuming that only people of one race eat biodynamic food? Interesting ideas, but you need to do a lot more work on them.

          • In your earlier comment you said… “…at the very least their [Steiner’s ideas] value is that they […] engage farmers or gardeners in their work. The enthusiasm and passion […] these engender enhance the more conventional organic practices that are employed.”

            That reads as a statement of fact – in short “BD enhances farming practices”. But do you have data that demonstrate this? Is BD produce always better? Can it possibly be worse than non-BD produce?

            If it’s not guaranteed to deliver better outcomes, or even materially affect outcomes, what is it for? What’s to defend other than the right to religious freedom?

          • Thanks Dave.

            “If all the people who work together in mass-production farming approach their work with love and care, that could affect the quality of what they produce too. Get it?”

            Yes, I get that entirely, but it does read as quite a climb down from the powerful false dichotomy you set up earlier. No amount of “all I was saying” will conceal that you have very clearly said quite a lot:

            “Even if some of Steiner’s ideas can’t be proved and sound fanciful, at the very least their value is that they psychologically and (naughty word coming up) spiritually engage farmers or gardeners in their work. The enthusiasm and passion (sorry, two more naughty words!) these engender enhance the more conventional organic practices that are employed. If you want “scientific” farming, buy a slab of lot-fed beef from a cow that’s had a ghastly life on a bit of dirt with ten thousand others, or a chook that’s been kept awake all its life in flourescent lit hellholes, unable to move more than a few inches. Give me the sugar-pill of biodynamic food, created with (last two naughty words) love and care any day before that poison.”

            But actually, I still don’t entirely agree. I can see why farmers’ concern and passion for product quality has a direct relationship with product quality, but I (genuinely) still need convincing of this implicit assumption that happy, healthy lovingly nurtured and organically-reared animals result in better product ‘quality’. Like I said earlier: I’m just not sure why nature would arrange itself to force a relationhship between the mental state of animals, and the taste of its flesh and byproducts to predators? Foie-gras is considered a delicacy, but comes from some of the most distressed and diseased animals on the planet. (Do you think biodymanic foie-gras would be of better ‘quality’ – I personally doubt it?). Personally I’d rather have inferior quality food if it came from happier, less-distressed animals, and don’t need one to follow the other…

          • I had retired from this discussion, because I don’t have time, but since you are so polite, I would just like to clarify, as I have mentioned elsewhere, that these are my opinions, not facts. You may of course be right in your opinions.
            The welfare of animals is probably the major concern for me in my decisions as a carnivore consumer, and I don’t eat foie-gras, for example. Our household has a low income, but we pay more for food that we are led to believe has been raised and slaughtered humanely. Nevertheless my impression has been the free-range chooks, and wild game meat we eat is “better” in a number of ways. I think impressions are actually outside the are of proof.
            As for “quite a climb down” … of course, I disagree. Yes, I concede that “If all the people who work together in mass-production farming approach their work with love and care, that could affect the quality of what they produce too.” The operative word is “if”, and I think the likelihood of such an event is extremely low.

          • Thanks Dave (have ‘replied’ to your earlier post, as the facility seems to be missing from these later ones?).

            I too used to think that organic, ethically-farmed produce was of better ‘quality’, but then came to the realisation that this was probably some sort of placebo, to do with me feeling better about what I was eating (I have no idea what dog tastes like, but am fairly confident I’d find it nauseating). Now I’m less focussed on quality, and more focussed on ethics (and am therefore of course a failed vegetarian), and have cut the organic aspect adrift as an automatic indicator of anything safe or ethical. So with you, I (very easily) avoid foie-gras, and also ritually slaughtered meats, factory poultry, barn-reared veal, at risk fish species etc. etc.; and along the way, am probably missing out on some ‘quality’ gastronomical delights, given that ethics and quality are two separate concepts.

            Not sure if there’s anything of interest in there…

          • Thanks Adzcliff. I don’t think that organic automatically means better-tasting. Obviously there are many factors involved and it would probably be impossible to isolate or identify them all. Over the years I believe I have detected a loss of flavour in many kinds of non-organically grown fruit, such as mangoes and rockmelon, which have tended to become either blander or much sweeter with less actual flavour. This applies less to vegetables. I also believe I have observed a difference in the taste of chicken. Battery chickens taste quite bland to me on the rare occasions I encounter them. We get two types of free range chook; one of them tastes marginally better, and the other significantly better. But I concede that these are all subjective impressions. It would be interesting to run a very big taste-testing study to see if people can identify a difference when they don’t know where the food is coming from. Maybe it’s already been done. But as regards fruit and vegetables my preference for organic is primarily because I believe organic growing is more sustainable.

          • I’m much more prepared to believe that small scale producers with low food-miles can produce more tasty products. The modern supermarket strawberry is a shiny red bullet that tastes, approximately, of shiny red bullet. But being BD or ‘organic’ is probably an irrelevance

            The problem is that in industrial food production, optimisation for disease-resistance and reliability in storage and transit comes at the cost of optimisation for other features such as taste. We don’t need trials for that, it is a self-evident truth.

            The problem is that “organic” is often confounded by these other variables. The problem is that non-industrial food production brought us the living standards of the Middle Ages. I’d love every cow to be regularly cuddled and for each soft flavourful strawberry to be cosseted by a buxom and pretty country maiden as it is gently delivered to my plate, but I think costs might rise and the other 7-billion people on the planet might get hungrier.

          • Cheers Dave.

            Just an interesting anecdote, but British celebrity chef Rick Stein conducted that very blind chicken-tasting test on himself and other diners, and I recall the results pointed slightly away from organic (with he himself embarrassingly choosing a miserable barn-reared chicken). As for the organic method being more sustainable, I’m increasingly learning that may well be a romantic ideal due to the sheer amount of land and atmosphere than needs turning over to greenhouse gas producing manure machines (i.e. cattle). Matt Ridley goes into this at length in the Rational Optimist if you’re interested.


          • So, a chook fed on organic grains, or what? I was referring to free-range chickens, not “organic” chickens. I think the term “organic chicken” could cover a wide variety of sins! I’d like to see the test conducted on free-range chickens fed on a broad diet with no added hormones.
            I think it’s quite feasible that we could see a move among urban dwellers to more intense and better organised gardens in cities. This is what we’re seeing here in Alice Springs, and I note that in depressed Detroit a lot of people have been turning vacant areas into gardens and selling their food in growers’ markets. Permaculture may be an effective way of increasing yields as an alternative to industrialised farming. No need for the buxom maidens or cuddled cows in Simon’s odd fantasy, just ordinary people rethinking what constitutes a good use of time and space! (Incidentally, strawberries are among the most sprayed of any fruit. In my opinion that’s the best reason to prefer them organic).
            I’d be surprised to hear Matt Ridley still discouraging organic farming on the basis of its contribution to global warming, given his widely expressed views on that subject in recent times. Apart from that, if there is a problem with cattle producing methane, then I would have though the far bigger problem is the world’s growing demand for beef. Do cattle in feed lots produce less methane than grass-fed cows?

          • Yeah sorry, I think it was a budget factory chicken, ‘organic’ chicken and a free-range, but I recognise none of those terms are necessarily mutually exclusive. Sorry I can’t remember more, it may well be Googleable (and I may well be wrong).


          • Yep, it looks like I misremembered it quite considerably. Just come across a discussion forum with this:

            “…rick stein did a programme over christmas he blind tested turkeys

            he did get a shock as all his testers preferred his supermarket turkey better than his free to roam the estate turkey” As did he.

  8. Science cannot “prove.”
    There is no such thing as “scientifically prove.”
    Science is a process that can only *disprove.*
    That is an important distinction, and one of its great strengths.

    • Sarpi, prove and disprove require the same process so I can’t agree; further, I would say that ‘prove’ is itself a shorthand for ‘a model so accurate that the model is as good a representation of reality one is likely to be able to construct’. The point about woo being that the models fall down at the first fence of evidence as well as subsequent fences of theories being accurate and able to be reasonably predictive and repeatable.

  9. I don’t want to stray too far off topic, but I wanted to mention that my former father-in-law was the acclaimed biodynamic composter – Peter Dukich. Boy, did he love making compost. Forget tea, he would pop a lump of compost directly into his mouth. He loved it so much, in the end, he started hoarding it – filling the trailer he was living in with coffee cans full of compost. He left instructions that he was to be buried in a compost heap… I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen – but ya gotta love the devotion.

  10. Wow, there’s a lot of long words and strong opinions on this blog – but that’s what makes it a good blog ! In a way, even if you think the type of farming described is pie in the sky stuff, it’s kind of refreshing when compared to the processed food arrangements where we are now finding we have no clue what’s really in our food and it may have come from any country via a number of other countries. Suppose, as against that, that we could be starving altogether if we rely on biodynamic farming !

    • I find nothing ‘refreshing’ about a system based on racist woo; opinions are strong because Anthroposophy is so vile. But we would not be starving necessarily if we relied on ‘biodynamic’ farming because it’s only ordinary farming (which works)plus racist woo (which does not work but not cause normal farming to stop working). However, we might not all be able to survive on the productivity of farming as it is if populations stay as high as they are or grow further.

    • Good point, Katherine. When I bought produce from the biodynamic garden at the local Steiner School, I knew exactly where it was coming from and how it was grown. I took part in the odd compost-making workshop, even the odd stir. Apart from the fact that the quality was well above any of the sometimes-weeks-old produce from unknown sources available in the supermarket, I had the comfort of knowing that no pesticides or artificial fertilisers had been used. I can assure you there was no racist woo involved at any point.

      • When I bought produce from the biodynamic garden at the local Steiner School, I knew exactly where it was coming from and how it was grown.

        Yes, but not because it was BD. Of course you know more about locally-grown produce that the stuff you find at major supermarkets. I know where the fruit and veggies in my back yard come from, and what’s been sprayed on them (nothing) and what they were grown in (mostly worthless and barely fortified sand). And of course my own veggies are ultra-fresh. But they aren’t BD.

        I don’t need my food to have been blessed by any religious rituals in order for it to taste better.

          • You are really losing me Dave. On one hand you appear to be defending the religious rituals of biodynamics as producing better food but on the other you apparently don’t think it makes any difference at all. I’ll be gracious and assume I have entirely misunderstood your contributions here.

        • In response to your recent reply (March 10), which has no button, I can’t see what’s difficult to follow here Andy. Nowhere in anything I have said have I inferred that I “need my food to be blessed by any religious rituals in order for it to taste better.” That’s what “neither do I” clearly applies to. Perhaps you need to read everything I have said.
          To make it clearer for you, I am saying that rituals of any kind (religious, atheist or whatever) might have the effect of focussing the mind of the farmer or gardener on their work and this produce better results.
          So if for example a group of atheists spent some time before they started work in ritualised affirmation of the importance of creating good food in a sustainable manner, this might also end up in providing “better” food, as well as food that tastes better.

          • Ah, so does it concern you at all that it’s a lot of nonsense and that people are being duped into believing there’s some sort of scientific basis to it (you have to stir it – alternately and with a deep vortex and much turbulence – for one hour!)?

  11. Dave

    I can see where you are coming from but I think you are falling prey to some misconceptions.

    Firstly I think you are a victim of the DIM fallacy (not abuse as I am guilty of it mysefl). This is an offshoot of DIY and means Did It Myself. This is a common delusion among men. Anything you do yourself always seems to be better, whether you make it, grow it, cook it, paint it, screw it to the wall or whatever (I raise my hands to all of these().

    We always think we can do better than anyone else (and indeed sometimes can) and tend to be inordinately proud of the products of our labour.

    It is only when someone else objectively evaluates these products that an element of doubt sets in. This lasagne is rubbish (yeah, maybe, but it aint got horse in it), those shelves dont look straight, what are all those lumps in the wallpaper etc etc.

    The stufff you grow always tastes better than the stuff you buy (or so I am led to believe. I have necrotic “Black Fingers” and spell doom for all vegetable matter). I think this is merely because it is fresh and has not had time to denature in any way. You appear to concur with this.

    To add to these you also seem to display a form of confirmation bias. “You know where it was coming from and how it was grown”; “The sometimes weeks old produce from the supermarkets”; “I had the comfort of knowing . . . “. Its an old saying, but valid nonetheless, that the easiest person in the world to fool is yourself. Helping to stir the cow poo pie is hardly likely to have made the products taste better is it?

    Objectivity can be a useful ally.

    • Actually if you took the trouble to read my post carefully, John, you will find the following sentence : “I can, however, make some claim to objectivity. I place similar value on the food I grow myself (organically, not biodynamically, btw), but I can tell the difference between the good food I have grown and the mediocre. ” To enlarge on this, I do feel happier knowing the processes my own food has undergone, but I can also very easily tell when my food tastes inferior, isn’t as big, as crisp or as juicy as food that I have bought from whatever source, organic, biodynamic or whatever! So from my point of view, at my age, and with long experience trying to grow food in the harsh conditions and poor soils of Central Australia, I have long eschewed the notion that ‘the stuff you grow always tastes better than the stuff you buy”. The same applies to the Steiner school’s biodynamic garden. Most of their produce has been tip-top, but they have had the odd failure.

      Having established that, there’s nothing there “to add to these”, with your second bit that I “seem to display a form of confirmation bias.” Confirming what? I’m not confirming anything except the facts themselves: that the produce I am eating was grown locally and recently without pesticides or artificial fertilisers. You selectively and patronisingly note that I have helped to stir the cow poo pie, but that’s actually irrelevant to my appreciation of the fact that the gardeners at the school make excellent compost using techniques practiced by good gardeners everywhere. I do know that good compost usually makes for good soil and good fruit and veggies. Perhaps you are suggesting that is self-delusion as well?

      BTW, at no point have I said that I “believe” in any of the more arcane practices of biodynamic gardening!

      • Dave

        Hopefully I can speak for myself.

        However, I think the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry Simon referred you to states my case as well as I can.

        My posting merely listed some of the phrases you used. I did not cherry pick them or paraphrase them in any way. They seem to fit the definition of CB very well indeed.

  12. Hi Andy and Simon. An interesting article with an intriguing thread. Following up some of the blog’s links, I’m wondering how those researching into a natural scientific/chemical/input-output agriculture account for the differing forms and seasonality of plants. Any thoughts from your experience or reading?

  13. David

    Short answer, I don’t think I can answer your question except to say that agricultural science and the notion of controlled trials were developed around answering those questions. I don’t think that any sane agricultural scientist would spend time or money running a trial to find out whether homeopathically diluted manure helps crops and I can’t see any sane funding body giving them the money. The insane organisations behind these ideas are very good at doing trials that carefully evade the important questions but which make good newspaper headlines.

    Sorry not to be of more help.

  14. Thanks Simon.While I appreciate the burden of your response, I’m not sure whether/how controlled trials may be designed to approach such matters. Certainly, the logical connection between agricultural science and industrial chemistry has been applied to great effect, refined these days through using GPS. Reflecting upon insights of Goethean metamorphosis, I sometimes wonder whether diluted, as well as targeted soil treatments may be more cost effective as an alternative. While I suppose in an “ideal world” trials could explore a wide range of options, I suspect that conventional wiusdom and “the market” may be influential, at least in the short term.

    • So because you cannot imagine how you might address something scientifically it cannot be done? That is merely an argument from personal incredulity. I’m a Developmental Biologist not an AggriBoffin but I bet I could design some experiments to address those questions. But you will have to formulate them a bit more clearly first. Woolly questions are very hard to address. Give us a for instance.

  15. David

    I’m not sure what you are driving at and your invocation of “insights of Goethean metamorphosis” suggests to me that the pulling sensation in my plonker region is real rather than imaginary.

    Controlled trials are certainly suitable to these interventions if anyone wished to fill their time fruitlessly. All you do is create some plots, randomise your treatment allocations and wait for the Sun to shine and the rain to fall. Spring is coming. I look forward to hearing your results.

    • SImon

      There may well be some tension in your groinal area but not in the way you expect. I looked this up and found the following:

      It is ten minutes of your life you will never get back (but there again, what mumbo-jumbo isn’t). It seems to me that Goethe’s undoubted skills in fiction bled over into his attempts at science.

      I always love a good bleedover in quackery and conspiracy theories and lo and behold this nonsense seems to have been taken up enthusiastically by Steiner.

      Apparently the main advocate of this was . . . .

      “Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, who in the first few decades of the 20th century combined Goethe’s science with Rosicrucianism and Blavatskyian Theosophy.  Some of Steiner’s successors have further developed this stream of neo-Goethean thought, and today the Anthroposophical movement is the most active and creative exponent of Goethe’s science.  They even have a “Goetheanum” (designed by Steiner) in Switzerland”.

      ……. . . . . . . . I rest my case m’lud. If that is not batshit crazy then I am a Dutchman.


      Why not divvy up your back garden into Latin squares and try it? Let us know the results come harvest festival time.

      • My back garden is already divided up into squares, concrete ones. I lifted one of the pavers once thinking to sit the compost bin in contact with some soil*, there’s a concrete pad underneath the pavers.

        *For the worms you understand. Just a corner of it is in contact and it explodes with worms. I need it in case you are wondering for my wooden planter boxes which is the only way I can grow anything there (herbs and rhubarb by and large).

        • Muscleguy.

          Very good point above regarding incredulity.

          He asked a question and he was told that Latin Squares should help him.

          Is that true about vines only needing the sugar pill version of fertilising? Sounds likely to me as every vine I have ever seen seems to be planted in dry broken rocks, gravel and shingle. I expected them to be planted in rich, peaty, loamy soil.

          As an aside, I can’t help but think that if your garden wasn’t concreted over in the first place you might not need the compost bin nor the planter boxes. Still you could always break it up a bit and grow vines up the walls.

          • Grapevines in Tayside? I’m not sure global warming has advanced that much, even in the Sunniest City In Scotland. I managed to grow precisely two stunted basil plants last summer, despite starting them off under glass.

  16. As you say, that was 10 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

    I’d take it seriously the day after they report back from a conference on Goethean Science to which all delegates must travel by planes designed and built by Goethean aeronautical engineers.

  17. SImon

    You are very dismissive of Goethe’s science – especially with such a brief exposure to the great mans words.

    You should try to be nicer and more accepting of the different. And that applies to your host as well. Why cannot people who hold different views just agree to differ and get on with each other?

    Perhaps you are too embroiled in your mechanistic and reductionistic paradigms – Just like Newton (and what did he ever do for us, well OK maybe some stuff on light, gravity, motion and calculus – that sort of thing, but apart from that? Eh! Answer that Mr Vet.).

    It makes perfect sense to me. Goethe’s insistence that the scientist is not a passive observer of an external universe, but rather engaged in a reciprocal, participatory relationship with nature and hence is able to interact with the observed all seems so logical and intuitive.

    It explains perfectly what I have always known – that my collection of rocks, minerals and fossils love me every bit as much as I love them. It also seems to explain perfectly Mrs Fausts apparent love of precious stones.

    And what about cosmologists love for distant galaxies and black holes? How does your empiricism expalin that?

      • Thanks Simon.

        I am surprised the master of the logical fallacy got caught out. I never expected it and it was not my intention. I thought at the very least I might get done for tone trollery.

        I was wondering how to sensibly respond without sounding a twat. I had a few ingenious ways of including Poe and Law into a paragraph.

        I did make that the work of a complete feckin eejit (although there is probably one – or more – out there).

        Even if the inert little bastards don’t have a Goethian love for me I still have an unrequited love for my rocks.

        • Even if the inert little bastards don’t have a Goethian love for me I still have an unrequited love for my rocks.

          I’m sure those of us blessed with ‘other ways of knowing’ can assure you that your little petrous pals do still love you.

  18. You are very dismissive of Goethe’s science – especially with such a brief exposure to the great mans words.

    You are correct.

    Tell me how, exactly, Goethean science will help us check whether a fertiliser makes crops grow more abundantly.

  19. Hi Simon. Thanks for responding. A response to the above message:

    “Tell me how, exactly, Goethean science will help us check whether a fertiliser makes crops grow more abundantly.”

    I’m not an agricultural scientist. My interest is in the application of scientific method. Some thoughts.

    Would a check look at the development and growth of a plant? Would a check be improved by looking at a developed plant rather than a seed? Would a realistic check need to reflect the plant’s growth cycle?

    While I’m no expert, I reckon these (and potentially other) observations would be quite valuable. Presumably other forms of measurement would also be required. Would any check be possible without plant, measurement, observations or soil?

    • David

      My question was really quite simple. I’m not sure that your further questions shed any light in it. I think answering my question would be the better thing to do rather that posting more poorly formulated questions of your own.

      But, if you want here are concise answers to each of your questions. Look at say answer and each question and you will see we have not gained much by them. In turn, then,

      Yes. Maybe, you have not specified against what this improvement is being judged. Yes. No, no, yes.

  20. By the way, David. One sees a long history on forums of advocates of altie philosophies and viewpoints simply failing to stick to any coherent line of debate and argument. It is quite unrewarding to continue discussion with someone who heads off at random tangents with every successive post. So, just to be clear, while you are free to post anything you want to, with some semblance of the relevance to the topic, I shall not respond to further posts of yours unless they explicitly answer the question I asked about how “Goethean science” would help us answer simple questions about crop production.

  21. Hi Simon. Thanks for the interesting response. While I don’t think we have connected or met previously, I recognise your position as an earnest advocate. The post prompted me to engage with its author’s ideas. I find Goethe’s legacy interesting. The background of industrial chemistry is also quite fascinating.

    You wrote:

    It is quite unrewarding to continue discussion with someone who heads of at random tangents with every successive post.”

    From my readings of Richard Dawkins, I assume this view reflects a memetic view of thought as an evolutionary/random 3rd person entity.

    The turbulent course of this brief exchange has suggested to me that there is a considerable difference between the polarities of “skepticism” (assertive defence of the status quo) and “scepticism” (the determined pursuit of understanding through debate and questions).

    • David

      Perhaps you need to re-read my previous post.

      I only respond now to express puzzlement at your implication that the optional orthographies of the word scepticism imply differences of meaning. They don’t.

      • After some time, I re-read these exchanges.

        I only respond now to re-affirm that there is a significant difference in academic literature and contemporary usage between Skepticism and Scepticism.

        My apologies for the delay in responding. I disagree.

  22. You lot are still making me laugh!

    You eat horse MEAT and do not know or even care?

    you have been eating chip wood alias fibre alias cellulose?

    When you have eaten all the animals on earth that are left you are going to eat humans AREN’T you?


    • Yes, I have eaten horsemeat and known about it (foal in a red wine sauce in Ljubljana it was delish). Also venison (deer are just horses with legs on their heads).

      And yes, I have eaten of wood, what do you think cinnamon sticks are made of? Do you think that when you grind them to a powder the cellulose is transformed?

      Some people’s ignorance never fails to astound, and amuse me.

      Anything else you want to accuse me of?

  23. ACF. One warning. There will be no repeats.

    Say something relevant to this topic that either presents evidence or constitutes a piece of rational argument or your posts in this blog will go to the Trash bin.

    You seem to have plenty of time to say things. Say something useful.


  24. “i have indeed been following the discussion.

    Johann: “Like any sceptic I merely wanted to review the evidence behind your conjecture.

    As this is seemingly not availble/non existent I must conclude that it is false.”

    No “reply button” for Johann’s post, but I won’t be paranoid in imagining you’re giving him the last word on this subject. Johann, you (probably deliberately) miss my point: no-one is giving me the benefit of their evidence of this particular issue; they are simply referring me to a “higher authority”. Why should I invest any more of my precious time providing evidence when no-one else is?

  25. No “reply button” for Johann’s post, but I won’t be paranoid in imagining you’re giving him the last word on this subject.

    No, not paranoid, simply being so unobservant as to not realise that the nesting levels for replies are finite.

  26. Because we’ve run out of nesting levels, I’m restarting at the current bottom of the page.

    That doesn’t mean we should now discard and dismiss all the ideas of someone simply because they expressed racist views.


    You seem reluctant to engage with the point that has been made, which is that notions of “purity” pervade anthroposophical thought. You seem to think that we can cut across a line at some (unspecified) point and ignore everything on one side of that line. What is being to suggested to you is that you can’t do this. Depending on notions of “purity” is ineluctably connected to the anthroposophical views on race across the whole spectrum of its interventions in the real world.

    I think your only defence is that some twerp who buries a cow’s horn full of manure to make homeopathic medicine for mud just because he read in a book that it worked is not racist because he has no notion of the philosophical background to the ritual.

    This is what we find all the time when we debate with SCAMsters. A worried Mum who gives her child some homeopathic Arnica because the label misled her into thinking it would help heal a bump on the knee is in no sense engaging with the nonsense of homeopathy as a whole. They appear initially to be honestly ignorant of the wall-to-wall foolishness that is homeopathy. But the funny thing is that people who claim to be such casual users turn up on internet forums and as soon as their actions are questioned, time and again, they reveal themselves as Tru Bleevers who cannot bear to have this part of their worldview challenged, because, actually, the purchase of those pills was not quite so casual. Instead it was an expression of a lifestyle and wider opinions about how the world works.

    Ironically, the defence of honest ignorance falls away from these self-described ordinary users by simple virtue of them engaging in a conversation and having the counter-arguments laid out for them. People like that cease to be ordinary users after about the second or third exchange of posts.

    In my job, I frequently come across people who have given homeopathic pills to their pets. Sometimes I ignore it, other times I quietly suggest that it is unlikely they work. What is interesting is that these users uniformly do not wish to engage with the possibility that they have been fooling themselves because they ‘know’ it works. The appeal to a special way of knowing is also present in the ideas behind BD. You only have to read what the poster calling himself David Clarke has written in this very thread. He is full of opinions about “Goethean science” but admits he knows nothing about how to actually test whether an intervention works and disappears rather than engage with any kind of disciplined discussion of the subject.

    You came here expressing a simple user’s belief in Steiner schools and BD farming, but here you still are sticking up for it like a Tru Bleever. You know the wider facts about anthroposophy but insist that we can cherry-pick certain bits while we ignore the over-arching scheme that ties those cherry-picked parts into a coherent and unpalatable whole.

    • The funny thing is Simon is you’re quite wrong. I’m not a “true bleever” in any conventional sense at all. I’m that terribly unfashionable thing called an agnostic. I’ve always been a fan of Hamlet, and I rather like his saying: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.” You haven’t produced the slightest bit of evidence for these claims about my beliefs and personality, but I can see you need certainties in your life, so if it suits you to put me into a slot, so be it. I’ve got a lot of work to do now, and no more time to spend on this discussion. It was interesting to dally here for a couple of weeks; sorry you didn’t make any headway, but you don’t seem terribly interested in making converts anyway. The last word is all yours!

  27. David

    Only you know what you believe. I simply note that you stick up for Steiner and BD “like a Tru Bleever”. The evidence is in your posts here.

    Appealing to that quote from Shakespeare does not rescue every form of nonsense from the waste bin.

    I have invited you to show how you can cherry-pick good parts out of something with an over-arching philosophical scheme that is variously racist, irrational and wrong. You have chosen not to. Fair enough. That’s your choice.



    (Swans – March 11, 2013) Magical thinking has a long history of involvement with the global organic agriculture movement, and one of the most influential proponents of such connections was the white supremacist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). (1) As the founder of a spiritual movement known as Anthroposophy, Steiner was a true believer in miracles, and the year before he died he presented a series of lectures to farmers in Europe that expounded the principles of what would come to be known as the biodynamic cultivation. These ideas, like Anthroposophy did not die with Steiner, and would prove to play an important role in catalyzing the growth of the budding organic movement, a history that is briefly explored in Philip Conford’s book The Origins of the Organic Movement (Floris Books, 2001). Using this book as a launching point, this article endeavors to explore the manner by which organic activists have had the misfortune to be inspired by Steiner’s eco-mystical biodynamics.

  29. Very interesting and amusing discussion.The real issue in farming though is not whether BD is science or magic based, or whether organic farming is sustainable but rather the ability of farming systems to provide sufficient food for a growing world population, 85% of which is likely to be living in urban areas, and thus far removed from contact with the soil, within the next 50 years.

  30. Your write-up features proven beneficial to us.

    It’s extremely useful and you’re simply obviously really well-informed of this type. You have exposed my own eyes in order to various opinion of this specific topic using intriguing and reliable written content.

  31. Hi Leigh Edwards,

    I reckon the distribution of food may be another major concern. In part, I reckon this could be a pragmatic matter of logistics and supply chains.

    Hi Simon,

    “Only you know what you believe”


  32. Stop acting it and pretending you really believe like biodynamics isn’t pretty much bang on when it comes to the true energies which affect the cycles of life down here. You’ve got a fucking cheek calling something like that ‘quack’. People like you are the reason this planet is so backwards in its social evolution, not that we have any hope of properly going into space with dipshits like you ruining science. Though I bet your kind think you are well-leet yeah, and you like have access to the dark side of the moonbase, and here you are claiming others are being unrealistic…

    You are a waste of space and resources & your blabbing does nothing but clogg up servers and network devices with lies and junk, and take up space in datacenters that would be best used for clever things.

    • Clara, given that I have returned to this topic to respond to Adrian’s reasonably presented ideas, I will only say that, at a meta-level, your post speaks very eloquently for the quality of your thinking.

  33. I love the article. I only came upon it because I saw an avertisement that claimed their machine (I assume) “converts Biodynamic preparations into standing waveforms, taking it from teh realm of mysticism, and into quantum physics.” I was looking for the company (ag physics) online to find this ad, and write a short commentary about it. I read biodynamic magazines, because I do believe that biodynamic food tastes better, and stays “fresh” longer (here is a replicatable experiment: buy some raspberries that are as similar as you can buy them, as far as place of production and any other varable you can adjust for. Get some that are organic, some that are biodynamic, and some that are conventional. Leave them in your fridge for a week. See which ones have the most mould. I have noticed that Bd ones go bad more slowly.) I am frequently dismayed, therefore, by the “science” behind biodynamics. Some of it is as thorough and rigorous as my experiment mentioned above. Most of it has absolutely no controls, and the number of variables NOT controlled for tends to be massive. One example, a farmer didn’t get his capsicums from saved seed started early enough, so he brought some capsicum plants, already in punnets, and planted these to have a head start, while waiting for his direct seeded ones to grow. The direct seeded ones outperformed the bought in ones, therey “proving” that seed saved from biodynamics was more vigorous.

    • Thanks for the comment, Adrian.

      Of, course BD foods could be superior in various ways that have nothing to do with the nonsensical mysticism. Your raspberry experiment, for instance would need to be repeated with specific part/s of the BD process isolated e.g. with or without the magic cow’s horn bring buried. Otherwise your result, even if reproducible, may only reflect varietal differences between raspberries from different sources or reflect variations in storage and transport. In every other form of New Age tomfoolery if you take out the supposedly magical snd highly important bit then it makes no difference.

      • Maintaining the cold-chain is very important in the shelf-life of fruit, as is the ripeness of the fruit when picked. Those variables must be the same when comparing the shelf-life of produce. You can’t compare supermarket products if they have not had the identical treatment from the farm.

        I personally believe that Pseudoscience (of which biodynamic farming is a prime example) is a threat to agriculture. It is a complete waste of resources, time and effort. Farmers waste time and money on dilute extracts that do nothing, instead of adding amendment that actually can improve soil quality, sustainability and plant yields. Please do yourself a favour and read the works of Dr Doug Edmeades
        and and Prof Linda Chalker-Scott.

        Pseudoscientists advocate the use of these methods because it makes you FEEL good about yourself being in-tune with nature. Is this a good enough reason to waste resources, waste the potential of land to produce and waste money?

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