I think understanding Biodynamics is most easily done by breaking it down into two basic parts: doing things at the right time, and feeding the
land, (thus feeding the plant, and by extension the grapes). Too much time is focused on what on the surface seems to be hocus-pocus elements, and the language of the process, rather than the reasons behind them, and I think that just confuses the how people perceive Biodynamics.
The first part is doing things at the right time. With biodynamics, the right time is determined by the moon. The moon exhibits tremendous forces on the earth, pulling and pushing our vast oceans (weighing 1.5 quintillion pounds) several feet in one direction or the other, every twenty four hours and fifty three minutes. Tides rise in rivers and lakes just as rhythmically.
Humans have been aware of moon phase harvesting since ancient times. As recently as 100 years ago, farmers understood the relationship that nature, their farms and their plants had with the moon. “What they didn’t have in education, they made up for in observation. says biodynamic farmer Dave Bos. “Today, we tend to discount what we observe. A lot of vineyard managers write work orders from their desks,” says Bos. “They don’t even go into the vineyard to see it what it looks like. I learn a lot more from walking the vineyard and observing.”
There is strong evidence that produce that is picked on the correct moon cycle will have a longer shelf life. Fruits and vegetables that are meant to be stored, like apples, cabbages, potatoes and onions are better picked during the waning moon, when water content is decreased. Conversely, fruits and vegetables that are to be eaten right away are best picked during a waxing moon. Tomatoes are best harvested during a full moon when the plant will naturally have a higher water content. None of this dictates that you need to pick at night – in case it needs to be said.
The route of the moon around the earth is egg-shaped, meaning at the two opposite points of the egg, the moon is farther away and has less pull than when it is in its closest proximity to earth. From down here on the ground, we are of course most aware of when the moon is ascending and when it is descending. The gross effect of the ascending and descending is the moon pushes for two weeks, then it pulls for two weeks. In the vineyard, this information can lead to timing when certain vine maintenance is performed, and the end results can save the farmer significant head aches.
For example: If you prune your vine on a descending moon, this will cause a later bud break. Pruning in Napa traditionally happens in February. An excellent description of pruning can be read here. However, if the vineyardist prunes late, and during a descending moon, bud break will be delayed, (hopefully) until after the frosts. Frost, of course, can decimate a vineyard’s potential crop in a single morning, so every day counts. Conversely, if you prune during an ascending moon, bud break will happen 3 (or more) days earlier. Those 3+ days of delayed bud break, coupled with up to two week delay in pruning can make a world of difference in crop set.
Planting is best done during the descending moon, because the descending moon has downward pressure, and it really positively effects the root system of the plant. Conversely, it is said the ascending moon positively effects the plant above ground – the moon is pulling during this cycle.
But those who study the moon have identified 3 major moon rhythms and 13 minor rhythms -many are so subtle, that Dave says he can’t observe some of them. The most obvious rhythm is the full moon. Dave says the full moon amplifies every thing in the vineyard. He says it turns up the volume. The ground is wetter during a full moon, even though there hasn’t been any rain. The new moon is the opposite of the full moon. It is a quite time, with more a neutral effect.
Further, Biodynamics indentifies four types of “days”, they name them: Fruit, Flower, Leaf and Root “days”. These “days” last two and half days each, so any given day can be split between say, a leaf day and a flower day. To know what kind of day it it, and what time it will change, you need to consult a Biodynamic Calendar. Biodynamic farmers use the knowledge to determine when to pick and when to plant various fruits and vegetables.
From Maria Thun’s Biodynamic calander that is available on Amazon.com
Leaf plants on Leaf days
The cabbage family, lettuce, spinach, lambs lettuce, endive, parsley, leafy herbs and fodder plants are categorized as leaf plants. Leaf days are suitable for sowing and tending these plants but not for harvesting and storage. For this … Fruit and Flower days are recommended. Leaf days occur, (among other times) on the full moon, and during this time their is more water in the air, in the ground, and in the plants. -this sentence is not from Thun.
Flower plants on Flower days
These days are favorable for sowing and tending all kinds of flower plants but also for cultivating and spraying 501 (a Biodynamic preparation) on oil-bearing plants such as linseed, rape, sunflower, etc…
Fruit plants on Fruit days
Plants which are cultivated for their fruit or seed belong to this category, including beans, peas, lentils, soya, maize, tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, courgettes, but also cereals for summer and winter crops…Fruit plants are best harvested in Fruit days. They store well and their seeds provide good plants for next year. When storing fruit, also remember to choose the time of the ascending moon.” (Maria & Matthias Thun, The North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar).
First as a distributor rep, and then as a retail wine buyer, I noticed that wine tastes different on different days. Early on, I associated this solely with the fact that wine does not taste good on hot days. Then an old industry salt, Don Beatty, told me it was barometric pressure that effects how a wine tastes. At that time I was tasting roughly six wines a day. Ok, I could buy that… maybe. Still, some days, regardless of the moderate weather, my palate would just be seem off. Later, I was buying wine and tasting seventy wines a day, or more. I was my palate was super-tuned, and I was really confused by the fact that some days wine really just didn’t taste right. It wasn’t until talking to Jared Wolff from Palm Bay Imports, perhaps one of the straight-out most intelligent and knowledgeable guys in the wine biz, told me about root days being bad days to taste wine. Finally, this was something that made sense. It all has to do with the phases of the moon.
Fruit Days: Wine tastes its best on fruit days
Flower Days: are neutral in the taste of wine and not effect the wine negatively
Leaf Days: Leaf days are neutral-negative days for tasting wine. Not the best.
Root Days: Wine will generally not taste good on root days
Maria Thun has written a book (that I admit I haven’t yet purchased) on the subject, called When Wines Taste Best: A Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers. It’s on my to-do list.
Next up: Biodynamics: Treat the Soil, Not the Symptom.
- A change in plans: Biodynamic farm tour (cyclingandrecyclingblog.wordpress.com)
- Biodynamic (wineliferadio.com)