New Research Methods
Dr. Uli Johannes König
Already while the Agriculture Course was taking place in Koberwitz Rudolf Steiner encouraged farmers to test out his indications and use them to carry out practical research. An Experimental circle was founded during the Koberwitz conference to facilitate the exchange and sharing of experiences.
The themes touched on by Rudolf Steiner were either extremely complex (eg. the individualisation of the farm organism), or related to a field of study lying between what is physically measurable and the more hidden etheric-spiritual processes (eg. the preparations or controlling weeds and pests using the ashing technique). How such research was to be undertaken was never explicitly described. We can take from the Agriculture Course however that the ideal would be for the biodynamic farmer to become a meditant, a spiritual researcher. This was as can be imagined, a lot to ask of farmers even at that time. On the other hand Steiner warned against shouting from the roof tops about experiences gained in this way. The results gained should be understandable to everyone (in tables and charts). Looking back over the development of this alternative scientific approach, several distinct phases and approaches can be discerned.
During the first decade (the so-called pioneer phase) individual personalities developed their own very distinct methods, often without any opportunity of coming into dialogue with colleagues. This meant that many of the often remakable methods and results that were developed and collected, were frequently so poorly documented that they are of little value today. This phase came to an end in the 1970s.
A second phase occupied itself with scientific research into the methods and special questions arising out of biodynamic agriculture. It started during the 1960s and continues to this day.
A third phase may be characterised as that in which researchers follow their own journeys and then together with colleagues, reflect on and share what they have learnt on their spiritual path, in an increasingly open and transparent way. This phase began relatively unnoticed during the 1970s and came to wider prominence during the 1990s.
Picture building methods
The so-called picture building methods (copper chloride crystallisation, rising pictures or Steigbilder and drop pictures) were developed during the 1920s in response to a question posed by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1920), as to how living forces could be made visible. The common feature in all these methods is that a reagent (salt, water) is prepared as a medium through which the living formative forces present in a test subject can reveal themselves pictorially. With some skill and experience these pictures can then be interpreted.
In contrast to traditional analysis this approach seeks to allow the object itself to speak. Instead of breaking it down to its smallest constituents, it is explored as a whole within its surroundings. The phenomena alone are considered without drawing on analytical causal explanations. This kind of observation can be applied to single plants (in plant breeding for example) or to a whole farm.
Meditative-Spiritual Research or Using the Human Being as Reagent
Up until the 1980s it was customary in the anthroposophical movement to write nothing down on this subject. If however one takes the opportunity to read the biography of one or the other biodynamic pioneer, it soon becomes clear that there was after all quite a lot of activity in this field.
Over the last ten years this situation has changed radically. There are now a whole series of intiatives, many within the biodynamic movement, that seek answers to their questions by direct super-sensible observation. In connection with this we see another characteristic quality of our time. Many people are interested in and also have the capacitiy to make their own spiritual experiences. The more people can train these abilities in themselves, the more will they be able to test the truth of experiences made by others. The capacity for supersensible perception thus encourages a critical testing of statements made by others on the basis of one’s own abilities. The gap between the researcher who gains knowledge and the user of this knowledge starts to close. The farmer, and everyone in his own situation, can as a meditant, deepen his own powers of judgement.
Research using the methods of natural science
The organisations which stood for biodynamic agriculture in the respective countries in the second half of 20th century took it on as an important task to get biodynamics established and ‘proved’ scientifically. Several research institutes came about, e.g. in Darmstadt/Germany, the Research Institute for biodynamic Research in 1950, in Ja?rna/Sweden the Institute of the Nordic Research Circle in 1956, in Switzerland FiBL in 1973, in Holland the Louis-Bolk Institute in 1976, in USA the Michael Fields Agricultural Research Institute in 1984. However, people also worked together with university authorities. Thus from 1973 at the University of Giessen with Eduard von Boguslawski (1905-1999) the first doctoral theses on biodynamic themes were written. The DOK trial in Switzerland has gained up an outstanding position, a trial which was kicked off by a political initiative and by state experimental bodies in collaboration with FiBL as a long-term trial; since 1977 it has been comparing three methods of cultivation, dynamic, organic and conventional (DOK) with one another.
Scientific research trials
The hallmarks of biodynamic agriculture are the biodynamic preparations and taking the constellations of the planets into account. Both measures can be clearly defined as variables for research trials. Research into biodynamic cultivation at universities has concentrated therefore very clearly on the application of biodynamic preparations and comparative system trials, conventional, organic and biodynamic.
In the early investigations by ABELE (1973, 1987), SPIESS (1978), KOTSCHI (1980) the testing was mainly to find out whether the biodynamic preparations significantly change the development of the plants. Essentially, the aims formulated by Rudolf Steiner (1924/1979) with the development of the biodynamic preparations were observed:
1. Harmonisation and Normalisation of Plant growth
Plant reactions to the application of preparations occurred principally under suboptimal growth and storage conditions. This appeared in the trials portrayed with yields (SPIESS 1978) and with the firmness of the cereal stalks (JOST & JOST 1983)
2. Fostering Plant Health
The outbreak of cucumber mildew was clearly reduced with the application of horn silica in comparison to the control (SCHNEIDER-MUELLER 1991). The number of bacteria germs, the decomposition and the rotting of carrots in storage was reduced with the field spray preparations (SAMARAS 1978).
3. Improvement of the nutritional Quality
The nitrate content of carrots and spinach was lowered with the biodynamic preparations in comparison to the control. With the increase in storage time for the spinach the nitrate content did not increase and the vitamin C content decreased only minimally in comparison to the control without preparation treatment (EL SAIDI 1982).
4. Enlivening of the Fertilisers and the Soil
In both the long-term fertilisation trials a higher level of microbiological activity of the soil emerged in the biodynamic variant compared to the organic variant (BACHINGER 1992, MAEDER et al. 2002).
In more recent investigations experimental questions about understanding and further developing the application of the preparations are more strongly to the fore.
Getting to the bottom of and establishing the basis for biodynamics was and is of great significance for its being accepted by society and for its ability to hold a dialogue in the modern knowledge-based society. It serves to accompany farming practice and the further development of the approach. Besides in a lot of countries farmers organised in regional groups and friends with various professional backgrounds have always seen themselves as a research community and have worked practically and through their thinking on the further development of the biodynamic impulse. In some regions, as for instance in North Germany, this kind of work has been very much emphasised and highly advanced learning communities, from the organisational side and from the subject matter, have come into being.