Biodynamic farming and a documentary film

D. Bates Squash Garden in August

D. Bates Squash Garden in August

by Catherine Haug, Aug 9, 2014

We are all aware of farming/gardening organically, and many of us practice this for the health of our families and of the planet. But did you know that there’s an even more earth-friendly method to farm than ‘Organic?’ I first became aware of this when I discovered the milk from Lifeline Dairy in Victor. At that time, the dairy was in the process of becoming truly biodynamic, a goal which they reached several years ago.

But just what is ‘biodynamic’ and how does it differ from organic? It originated in Germany by Dr. Rudolph Steiner, and basically means that everything needed to grow food – both plant and livestock – must originate on the farm, and every waste is reused, including animal urine and feces. In my opinion, it is a food production method to which we should all aspire.

The film: One Man, One Cow, One Planet follows two biodynamic farmers in India – Peter Proctor and Sarvdaman Patel – “who have taken up the biodynamic banner and over 15 years have helped spread this method across India.”(1) You can view this film for free through Aug 15, 2014 on Mercola’s website (1), or view a 9 minute trailer on YouTube: (2). Learn more about the film on the (3).

However, this is not the only farming method in that country – GMOs also have a stranglehold on many farmers.

Biodynamics vs Chemical Farming

GMO farmers are not allowed to collect and use the seeds for the next crop; instead they must buy seeds for every crop. They also must buy the chemicals that go along with GMOs. After just a few crop cycles, they realize this method is not as productive as their traditional methods, but they are so in debt to the GMO industry that they cannot pull out. To escape this oppressive cycle, over 250,000 have taken their own lives.

Biodynamic farmers reuse everything on their farms, including seeds from year to year. It is a method that proves to be far more productive than GMO farming. Many of the principles can be applied in your home gardens, but to be truly biodynamic, you must also raise livestock.

Here are a few biodynamic concepts you can apply, even if you don’t get fully into biodynamics:

  • No-till, which preserves and strengthens the mycorrhizal (fungal) culture in the soil;
  • Wood chips used as ground cover to optimize soil microbiology and retain moisture;
  • Avoid use of herbicide and pesticide chemicals;
  • If you have livestock – including chickens – reuse their waste in your garden

See also Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Association (4) for more.

Benefits of wood in food production

The use of wood in gardening and landscaping is also a permaculture principle, called hugelkultur. In this method, wood in the form of logs and small pieces are laid down and then covered with soil. They slowly decompose and increase the fertility of the soil while supporting the growth of vital mycorrhizae.

But using wood chips as a ground cover in your garden also provides many benefits, including:

  • Reduction in weeds (and easier weeding);
  • Retaining moisture;
  • Increasing fertility;
  • Being an earthworm magnate;
  • Providing an insulation blanket that moderates temperatures in both summer and winter; and Normalizing the soil (making soil testing unnecessary).

Using wood chips in your garden

Mercola advises (1):

  • Once you lay the chips down though and your soil is established with the earthworms, you can go for many years without having to put them in again.
  • Ideally, it is best to use hardwoods like oak. When they have fresh leaves on them, the leaves are loaded with phosphorus and nitrogen and balance the carbon in the wood. Ideally, it is best to spread them shortly after the wood is cut to avoid wood dust. If you are using older chips, please wear a mask so you don’t inhale the woodchip dust.
  • Put at least four inches of chips down if you are planting a vegetable garden. If you are preparing your soil for next year, you can go much deeper as much of it will decompose over the winter. You just need to make sure you only have four inches when you put your plants in otherwise the chips will cover the plants.
  • Never plant in woodchips. You only plant in the luscious and magnificent soil it creates immediately below the wood chips.
  • never bury the woodchips, which would violate no till principles and consume massive amounts of nitrogen to digest the chips.
  • You can go to 16 to 24 inches if you are laying the chips around your trees. It is not necessary to keep the chips away from the tree as they will be just fine. Just make sure the chips are below the first set of branches.

How to get started: Plan ahead and prepare your soil for the winter

If you already have a garden, lay down the chips on top of the soil. Next spring, remember not to plant in the wood chips but rather in the soil beneath them.

If you don’t have a garden, you can prepare a section of lawn – don’t till in the grass, but rather cover it with cardboard (avoid cardboard with shiny ink printing). Then cover the cardboard with the wood chips. The lawn underneath the cardboard  and chips will die because of lack of sunshine and air, forming excellent compost.

Where to get wood chips?

Here in the Flathead, you can purchase them at Hoopers and other gardening stores, but perhaps the easiest method – and least expensive – is to contact a tree-cutting service, and ask them to deliver the chips to your yard – many will do so for free (but it is advisable to tip them about $20). We have many such services here in the Flathead.


  1. Mercola:
  2. YouTube:
  4. Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Association (


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