on biodynamics and humus, microorganisms

Biomes are defined as “the world’s major communities, classified according to the predominant vegetation and characterized by adaptations of organisms to that particular environment” (Campbell).

The following text excerpted from:


Gardening in Santa Fe since 1981, I have come to know her soils rather well. Over the years, we have responded in a thoughtful manner, which has proven to be mutually beneficial. Given the changing weather patterns of our planet, inclusive of the Southwest, harvesting and organizing water, land contouring, cultivating and restoring the soil, while balancing its alkalinity, are all essential to ensure renewing, sustained vitality and beautiful, healthy results. It is also wise to group plants compatible in cultural and moisture needs. An appropriate layer of mulch buffers temperature extremes and retains moisture and soil coolness.

Integral to biodynamic practices is the building of a soil/plant partnership that is self-regulating — i.e plant growth in direct proportion to vitality in the soil to actively decompose organic materials. So the intention in our cultivating practices is aimed toward improving the receptive capacity of our soil — its inner liveliness. This process is enhanced by the quality of balanced life force found in biodynamic compost. Reference to these life forces is reflected in the name, originating from the Greek, as bio-life and dynamis-energy. This agricultural and gardening practice was derived from a series of lectures that Rudolf Steiner presented to gardeners, farmers, and veterinarians in June 1924 in Koberwitz, Silesia, which is now part of Poland.

Biodynamic compost is built in layers, utilizing dry-green matter, manures, garden soil or similar, water, and six compost preparations inserted into the body of the pile.

These preparations are specially made plant-derived substances which radiate energies through the pile and which organize and balance aerobic fermentation in the breakdown process. They serve as catalysts, directing the decomposition and buildup of materials in the pile while bringing about a speedy and even breakdown. In other words, they lead the fermentation in an optimizing direction. Steiner designated yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, valerian, dandelion, and oak bark, as those members of the plant kingdom which hold particular element(s) in the best possible form and/or ratio for use by the soil. These preparations facilitate transference of cosmic forces into an organic connection.

Maggie Lee gardenWith this method, the organic matter is more thoroughly digested, thereby influencing the formation of stabilized humus, which is the capacity of organic matter in ripened compost to store nutrients and moisture. Humus is the breakdown and transformation of raw organic matter into simpler compounds and, through proper combination of soil bacteria, it re-assembles compounds to become complex lasting substance.

In the garden we can discover “a tablespoon of good topsoil will have billions of microorganisms, all in varying states of growth, death and reproduction. Humus is, more or less, the persistent residue of this biological activity. Although a tiny fraction of soil by weight, the presence, condition and activity of this humus is very effective in enlivening, stimulating and re-awakening the life forces in the Earth, soil and plants” (Mason Vollmer, 2005 Stella Natura Biodynamic Calendar). James Lovelock, in his recent book on Gaia reminds: “[I]t is the ‘underworld of Nature’ . . . for the most part, these denizens of the soil, the micro-organisms, the fungi, worms, slime molds and the trees — that keep Gaia going.”


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