Invasives! Natives! No, wait, biodynamics

Just had to get your attention there.  We’ve had a great discussion over native and nonnative plants over the last few weeks.  I’m going to completely switch gears and move on to another topic  – biodynamics.

If you’re not familiar with this term, let me refer you to my online column here.  Biodynamics is a set of agricultural practices based on a belief system, not science, but is an increasingly popular approach, especially in the wine industry.  (You can read a discussion of biodynamics in the vineyard in The Skeptical Inquirer here.  This article is engaging as well as accurate – my column is pretty dry by comparison.)

Biodynamics is steeped in mysticism and includes special preparations that are used to treat soils and plants.  Preparation 500, for example, is created by mixing water with manure that has been packed into a cow’s horn and buried for a set amount of time.  Other preparations are more gruesome, requiring a stag’s bladder or cow’s intestine.  A whole certification process has emerged in support of these practices.

While it may be easy to dismiss these practices, it turns out that biodynamic farms or vineyards are generally healthier than conventional systems.  Does this prove a mystical force at work?  Not at all.  Biodynamic systems are also organic – using all of those good practices (low or no till, reduced pesticides, reduced fertilizers, polyculture, etc.) that have been demonstrated to be effective over decades of research.  When comparisons are made between biodynamic and conventional systems, the impact of organic practices are hidden.

The few scientific studies that have compared biodynamic to organic systems – in other words, specifically testing the effectiveness of special preparations – have found no repeatable, significant differences.

Why do I even care about this?  Well, it’s because it’s pseudoscience.  It’s a practice that takes on the mantle of science, but doesn’t stand up to repeated scienific testing.  Belief systems can’t be tested – even the inventor of biodynamics asserted that his methods were “true and correct unto themselves” and didn’t need to be tested.

Apparently simply being organic isn’t sexy enough anymore.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

6 thoughts on “Invasives! Natives! No, wait, biodynamics”

  1. “I’m…too sexy for my corrhizae…” LOL! Pseudo science is a pet hate of mine too, Linda. When systems of belief such as biodynamics are touted as scientific, it lowers the veracity of proper scientific research, is some of the public’s eyes at least. It amazes me that in an age where we’ve grown our collective scientific knowledge to encompass so many fields, people are still intent on believing anything. I’ve met many a person who doesn’t believe in God due a ‘no tangible proof’ type reasoning, but at the same time swears by biodynamics. Go figure.

  2. I am bothered by pseudoscience. Lots of the biodynamic practices are, frankly, ludicrous. Some of them are weird, vaguely plausible, but
    untested by science–I consider the jury to be out until there is a study.

    But as I understand it, a number of people who aren’t into the pseudoscience have gone for the biodynamic certification because there is a growing feeling that the organic certification is too lenient along some dimensions and too onerous along other dimensions. If I were at the grocery store picking between something with the biodynamic label and a factory farm organic, I think I’d wink and buy the biodynamic.

  3. It doesn’t really pretend to be a science does it? What Steiner was trying to do by intuitively ‘inventing’ these practices was to put the ritual and magic back into farming that would inspire the kind of dedication and love of soil from NEW farmers that was being destroyed by the Scientific farming revolution in his time. Yes some farmers and scientists have caught up in the last 100 years (isn’t science slow) but give him credit. If you have ever been on a Biodynamic farm just close your eyes and feel or look and listen or meet the farmer and his/ her kids. Its a kind of magic isn’t it?

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