Biodynamic Gardening

Learn how biodynamic gardening (or permaculture, or French intensive gardening) can help you harvest the highest possible yield in the smallest possible space.


| January/February 1980



061 biodynamic garden - full view

Biodynamic gardening make it possible to grow a lot of food in very little space.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Whether the problem is feeding a hungry world or simply increasing the productivity of a small backyard garden, the solution might well be biodynamic gardening.

Back in 1966 Alan Chadwick — an English actor, painter, pianist, and master horticulturist — was offered a chance to demonstrate the techniques of biodynamic (aka French intensive) gardening on a barren four-acre clay hillside at the University of California's Santa Cruz campus. Chadwick tackled the little "desert" (land that was so inhospitable that few weeds even grew there) with hand tools, a love for the garden that he knew the plot could become, and incredible energy. Before long the once dead-looking slope was a veritable paradise of vegetables and flowers, and a beacon that attracted students and followers.

Since then, biodynamic gardening (often referred to as permaculture or "the method") has slowly gained a reputation among organic gardeners in North America, largely through the efforts of Chadwick and John Jeavons (of Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula in Stanford, California). It was Jeavons who eventually took the technique — which Chadwick had synthesized from the intensive gardening practiced in turn-of-the-century France and the biodynamic theories developed by Rudolf Steiner in early 20th century Austria — and subjected it to careful modification and testing. He was always striving to produce the optimum yield from the smallest possible space.

And John's harvests have been little short of amazing! His per-acre "method" crop production has, for example, climbed to between four and six times that of the average U.S. yield (while, in rare cases, the biodynamic gardens have produced as much as 31 times the national crop average for a given amount of space!). In fact, Jeavons has gone so far as to estimate that it would be possible for an urban, suburban, or rural gardener to net as much as $10,000 a year from the produce that he or she could grow on a scant 1/10 acre!

Furthermore, as if such incredible results weren't enough to recommend this revolutionary gardening technique, the biodynamic system uses no polluting fuel, no toxic pesticides, and no highly processed chemical fertilizers. In fact, the technique actually improves the quality of the soil with each crop that's grown! And it does so while using only 1/100 as much energy and 1/8 as much water as does commercial agriculture.

How Is Biodynamic Gardening Done?

All the different facets of the permaculture method serve to allow the gardener to produce as many healthy plants as possible on a given piece of land. The raised beds that are characteristic of such gardens, for instance, serve several purposes. First, since the growing areas are wider than are "normal" garden rows (approximately five feet ... in order to allow the gardener to reach plants in the middle without stepping on, and compacting, the soil in the bed), less space must be wasted on walkways. The rectangular beds are raised from four to 10inches above the original ground level, too, and their edges are angled down at a 45* slope ... effectively providing more (curved) surface area than if the same piece of ground were left flat.

douglas.olcott
10/1/2017 11:38:36 PM

I have bought a farm in Round Valley, Mendocino, where Alan developed one of his first gardens and sent many of his students, and will be doing no-till planting of certain non-hybrid grains in consultation with members of the Ukiah Grain Cooperative. I am a descendent of some of the earliest English farmers in this country but had to wait until I could retire from my engineering work in "Silicon Valley" to start this. My cousins are doing biodynamic farming in the Ukiah Valley and I am a Stanford graduate and so hope to get advice also from the Ecology Action group.


carlomendoza
12/27/2013 12:03:47 PM

An earlier comment (by Marianne Lund_2) perpetuates the unnecessary schism between followers of Alan Chadwick, who developed the Biodynamic French Intensive system of gardening, and anthroposophical biodynamics, developed by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and others. The following link has an interesting discussion on the matter by Andrew Lorand, Ph.D. http://alan-chadwick.org/html%20pages/forum.html It's time to move beyond petty claims and devisive rhetoric concerning the differences between Pfeiffer and Chadwick. -- Carlo


marianne lund_2
2/3/2010 3:06:52 PM

Dear Mother Earth, I have learned a lot from you all over the years, and really appreciate the publications you put out. I do have one small request: If you are going to use the term BioDynamic, please contextualize it with Rudolph Steiner's work. BioDynamic is a very important method for planting, working with the stellar energies, and special micro-organisms that bring the earth to life rather than deplete it. References include: Gardening for Life: the Biodynamic way, by Matia Thun: Grasping the Nettle by Peter Proctor and Gilian Cole, The Biodynamic way by Maria Thun. Other references should include The Josephine Porter Institute, and Rudolph Steiner's works on Agriculture and Farming, by Steiner Press. Thank you for your attention to this important detail. Warmly, Marianne Lund


jerry_38
4/19/2009 10:14:56 AM

you entered your comment almost a year ago John, but if you pull up the Image Gallery in the article the bed preparation is given there.


john reeves
7/4/2008 8:08:30 AM

Is the section on "Preparing a Double-dug Bed" available? I don't have access to it on this page.






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