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Meshing Permaculture with Biodynamics

by Linda Harvey, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

Permaculture and biodynamics are both forms of “conscious farming,” that is, farming that takes into account not only commodity production, but also consideration of the effects of production on the land, on renewable and non-renewable resources, on neighbourhoods and on social and cultural values. In other words, this is farming that puts all the variables into the equation, not just the ones that serve the bottom line.
Permaculture is more than a set of guidelines for this or that aspect of farming. It is a way of thinking that dovetails nicely with organic farming practices, including biodynamics. However, it can be adapted for pretty much anything: urban properties, business practices, even relationships. 

The ethical underpinnings of permaculture systems are: 

•  Care of the earth; 
•  Care of people; 
•  Sharing of the harvest. 

Superimposed on these values are 12 basic design principles to guide a person’s activity and thinking. The following is a brief explanation of each of these design principles. 

Observe and interact: Understand your ecosystem fully before you make changes to it and carefully observe how these changes affect the system. 

Catch and store energy: Energy is all around us in the form of sun, wind, and water. Harvest gently and use. 
Obtain a yield: Act with clear intentions and goals. Yield includes not only tangible commodities but also intangible ones, such as a sense of satisfaction and a quality of life.  

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: Not only from your neighbors and friends but also from the ecosystem.    

Use and value renewable resources and services: These are the core of your farm, garden or other activity.   
Produce no waste: This principle seems difficult to implement. Some waste is probably inevitable, but a well-planned ecosystem will minimize this. Waste isn’t waste if a use can be found for it—for example, animal manure added to a compost pile is transformed into organic soil nutrients. 

Design from patterns to details: The larger picture needs to be laid out before attending to details.
Integrate rather than segregate: Design your system so that the parts can interact in productive ways. Examples include keyline water management, use of animals in pasture management and companion planting. 

Use small and slow solutions: Rather than launch into a  huge project, make smaller interventions and note the results. 

Use and value diversity: Diversity here means not only diversity of species on your land, but also diversity of projects and systems. For example, if there are several different means for generating electricity, then there is a better chance of coping successfully if there is a loss of any one of them. 

Use edges and value the marginal: An example is the space where two types of habitat merge and support an incredibly diverse collection of organisms that live in either or both habitats. This principle can be applied in designing gardens and orchards. 

Creatively use and respond to change: Change happens, even forests change. Herb and berry patches come and go. This change is normal. Then there are changes in the larger sense—new subdivisions, new regulations about wetlands, even climate change. It is important to observe, accept feedback and react. 

These permaculture design principles are applied to all aspects of land use management, including the construction of buildings, land use planning, water management, soil maintenance, and livestock and crop management. A seasoned permaculture practitioner is expected to have at least some expertise in each of these areas. Some techniques for implementing these 12 principles include the following.

Social permaculture. Permaculture includes consideration of the local community structure, personal interactions and the interface with the larger world. Social permaculture is considered a particularly important component because, if humans are not working in harmony with each other, or are not happy, they tend to leave and the project is likely to fall apart. Many promising enterprises have failed for this reason. 

Observation. The emphasis on observation, taking it slow, and being sensitive to the systems and creatures the farmer is working with, are closely compatible with the biodynamic approach. In my biodynamics course, we were taught about “Goethean observation,” a very stripped down, phenomenological approach in which observations are made without attempting to interpret or judge. While not identical to the permaculture observational style, both procedures lead to practical, reality-based information and insight.

Efficient design / Zone Concept.  In permaculture design, one of the more efficient ways of arranging things on a farm is to place the things done most often or looked after most diligently within the immediate vicinity of the house. This area might contain a kitchen garden, maybe one or more relaxation areas, a heat-lamp facility for baby chicks, a sprout-germinating spot—things that take a lot of fussing.

Keyhole gardening. The keyhole bed is an important element of intensively gardened spaces, especially those close to the house. A short central path surrounded by several beds (a keyhole) forms a unit. Several such units radiating from a center or along a path allow for maximum access with minimum trampling. They also provide lots of edges for diversity and can be oriented towards the Sun to trap heat and light, or downhill to drain cold air and avoid frost traps.

Polyculture. Polycultures are communities of plants which support each other and are encouraged to grow in a configuration where each thrives and where all ecological niches are filled. In this way, they are relatively maintenance free and can be highly productive. Polycultures around fruit trees are common. There might be an understory of berry bushes, a taller and a shorter herb layer, ground cover and a root community, such as bulbs. 

In summary, permaculture is more than a set of guidelines for efficiently conducting agricultural activities. It also recognizes the importance of human and social factors. These techniques can certainly enrich a biodynamic farming or gardening experience. Both approaches have much to offer each other. 


Linda Harvey, is a retired medical doctor, moved to a small farm in eastern Ontario with her husband John. For the past five years, they have used biodynamic and permaculture practices on their farm, gardens and woodlot.

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What is Non-GMO Mean?

Non-GMO means non-genetically modified organisms. GMOs (genetically modified organisms), are novel organisms created in a laboratory using genetic modification/engineering techniques. Scientists and consumer and environmental groups have cited many health and environmental risks with foods containing GMOs.

As a result of the risks, many people in the United States and around the world are demanding “non-GMO” foods. We have created an ebook offering our top 13 tips for buying organic food to help keep your family safe and healthy. Download it for free HERE.

What are Genetically Modified Foods

In genetic modification (or engineering) of food plants, scientists remove one or more genes from the DNA of another organism, such as a bacterium, virus, animal, or plant and “recombine” them into the DNA of the plant they want to alter. By adding these new genes, genetic engineers hope the plant will express the traits associated with the genes. For example, genetic engineers have transferred genes from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt into the DNA of corn. Bt genes express a protein that kills insects, and transferring the genes allows the corn to produce its own pesticide.

Genetic modification/engineering is a potentially dangerous technology

One of the main problems with genetic engineering is that the process of inserting genes into the DNA of a food plant is random; scientists have no idea where the genes go. This can disrupt the functioning of other genes and create novel proteins that have never been in the food supply and could create toxins and allergens in foods.

Genetic modification is a radical technology

Supporters of genetic modification say that the technology is simply an extension of traditional plant breeding. The reality is that genetic engineering is radically different. Traditional plant breeders work with plants of the same or related species to create new plant varieties. Genetic engineers break down nature’s genetic barriers by allowing transfers of genes from bacteria, viruses, and even animals—with unforeseen consequences.

Genetic modification is based on an obsolete scientific theory

Genetic modification is based on a theory called the Central Dogma, which asserts that one gene will express one protein. However, scientists working with the United States National Human Genome Research Institute discovered that this wasn’t true, that genes operate in a complex network in ways that are not fully understood. This finding undermines the entire basis for genetic engineering.

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What does “organic” mean?

What does “organic” mean? 

Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. 

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

**Note that Canadian organic standards follow the USDA model.

Here are a number of organic certification labels that you may recognize:

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