Book Reviews

Grasp the Nettle

by Rosemary Tayler

Grasp the Nettle: Making Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Work by Peter Proctor with Gillian Cole is a Random House New Zealand book first published in 1997. The revised edition, put out in 2004, has had six reprints since then, testifying to its continued popularity and usefulness. This book's comprehensive instructions as well as its easy-to-read style enables the reader to feel confident and self-assured when undertaking any and all of the described biodynamic procedures. 

Chapter 1 presents the reader with a deeper understanding of the geometric configuration of the spiral and its expression in nature. Also, it explains what happens in a vortex.  Chapter 2 is an alchemical introduction to the four elements as reflected in the basic components of plants. Proctor clearly captures the essence of these forms and their correlations with the various ethers. Chapter 3 offers a description of the basic principles of soil science and explains how biodynamic preparations affect soil quality. Chapter 4 goes into detail on how to make and use Horn Manure (BD500) while Chapter 5 elaborates on how to make Horn Silica (BD501).

Chapter 6 begins with a practical step-by-step procedure for making compost and ends with a similar description on how to make Barrel Compost, also called Cowpat Pit (CPP). Again the details are stellar. Chapter 7 presents a brief introduction on how to make the compost preparations as well as fermented horsetail (BD508). 

From there Proctor discusses the pratical steps one can take when converting from a conventional to a biodynamic farm, orchard or vineyard. He goes on to elaborate on how to establish a commercial and/or a home vegetable operation. Details include such topics as soil fertility management, crop rotation compost application and use of the various biodynamic preparations. 

In Chapter 11, Proctor delves into Rudolf Steiner's understanding on the contribution calcium and silica make to the soil environemnt and how to enhance these mineral energies can be balanced on a biodynamic farm. Chapter 12 focuses on the value of practical observation by way of using one's senses of smell, taste, touch and sight. Chapter 13 offers a range of stories about biodynamic farmers working on a dairy farm, in a mixed crop setting, in an orchard and on a market garden farm. 

Chapter 14 takes the reader back in time to the early days of making biodynamic preparations at universities and colleges in India. Included are research results on soya bean trials. Chapter 15 looks at the status of  biodynamic agriculture in several European countries as well as a brief overview of what has occurred in North and South  America and Australia. 

While these last two chapters are somewhat dated, it is nevertheless clear that the overall intention Proctor held was that this book would convince the reader on the need to convert conventional farms not only to an organic system but also to one that incorporates a biodynamic protocol. His practical advice and comprehensive instructions make such a transition very doable.

While the passing of Peter Proctor in June of 2018 has left a gap in the biodynamic circle, his wisdom and practical knowledge live on through this book. 

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Sacred Stewardship

Book Review by Rosemary Tayler

Published in 2007, the 155-page book, Sacred Stewardship: Regaining our spiritual partnership with the food we eat, by Charles Hubbard and Malki'el McCamis, presents a balanced approach to biodynamic farming. Threaded throughout the text are not only spiritual principles and values but also practical steps to enhance the seen and unseen forces that can improve food vitality.

The eight chapters, or sections, as they are called in this book, are preceded by a list of stewardship elements covered in each section. For example, the section on Food Vitality, which gives an in depth discussion on biodynamics and vibrational food, covers the following elements:

  • Awareness that all things have life force;
  • Our very survival depends upon our recognition of the interconnectedness of all living things;
  • We are spiritual beings first;
  • Vitality is a vibration that can be grown to create spiritual food;
  • Life force is transferable at the cellular level;
  • Everyone can participate in and experience the privilege of creating sacred stewardship.

In section 2, Hubbard shares his account of how he began his career as a conventional farmer, then moved into organics, and finally ended up applying biodynamic principles and practices to his farming methods. I found this protracted timeline particularly valuable given that many of us are often caught up in the minutia of present time circumstances. Hubbard's reflections on the longer-term process of change was especially insightful. In my opinion, his story allows the reader to appreciate how he or she can slowly but surely incorporate some of the many teachings detailed in this book.

Hubbard admits that his efforts to transition to a biodynamic farm were gradual as no one living nearby held that knowledge. Gradually he set up what he calls a “living classroom,” and over time teachers showed up and shared their wisdom. To quote the author:

“It is extradorinary how often a teacher appears just as you are ready to move on your journey to horizons: new thoughts, new ways of doing things, new parameters. This is the joy if it. There are no single answers. Each day can be an experience.”

Throughout this book, the authors bring a deep sense of respect for not only the economic and political aspects of agriculture and how they can be improved, but they also provide a road map to energy awareness and the shift of perspective that is needed by us all to better value the more spiritual aspects of gardening and farming.

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Thinking Like a Plant

Book Review by Rosemary Tayler

Have you ever taken the time to notice how the leaves on a plant change shape from one leaf to the next as they appear on the stem and then transform higher up the stock into a flower and then later into fruit?

Craig Holdrege, Director of The Nature Institute, in Ghent, New York, in his book, Thinking Like a Plant, shares decades of plant observations and reveals profound insights and wisdom gained from this meticulous research. His depth of perception and eloquent presentation enables the reader to grasp a purposeful appreciation of nature as well as a more dynamic and enlivened relation to the “outside” world.

Published in 2013, this 200-page document is based not only on Holdrege's many years of observational research in nature and his teachings at adult educational workshops. His writing style is one that does not leave the reader confused and overwhelmed with boring scientific detail and useless jargon. Instead, he presents his information in a mindful and appealing manner complete with philosophical teachings from such renowned thinkers as Aristotle, Kant, Steiner, Thoreau, Leopold and Goethe. Blending practical down-to-earth seeing with perceptive, timeless wisdom, Holdrege keeps our attention and involvement throughout. His excellent drawings and photographs make it easy to become armchair naturalists and then want to seek out our own unique relationships with plants growing nearby.

The book has six chapters, each revealing a unique aspect on his theme of plant life and what Holdrege calls “living thinking.” Chapter 1 looks at “object thinking” and how this conventional approach tends to be analytical, shallow and manipulative. He introduces us to seeing “the way things are,” which allows for a more freeing approach and more unity rather than separation. Chapters 2 examines the growth and development of plants. We learn how the plant exists in a continual flow of expansion and contraction, a rhythm that we as humans can emulate. Chapter 3 explores how the plant teaches us about organic transformation as its life history unfolds. Chapter 4 focuses on how a plant's development depends on its relation to its environment. The reader learns how to see the environment through the lens of the plant. Milkweed is portrayed in all its glory and life sustaining attributes in Chapter 5. Holdrege presents a fascinating account of how this plant plays such a valued role in its environment with respect to the hundreds of species of insects it nurtures and protects. The final chapter is a summary of what the author set out to accomplish and how other adult educators can learn from his experiences.

As each of us works through our own transformational shifts in both thinking and being, this book reveals the essential qualities of life that enable us to stay conscious and connected to the natural world.  

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Goethe on Science, a Book Review

by Rosemary Tayler

In my opinion, Jeremy Naydler has done a fantastic job compiling this well-organized, timeless classic of scientific writings by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832). At the outset, Naydler sets his intention by dedicating this book “to all those who love nature and are seeking to deepen their awareness of the natural world.”

Each of the 10 chapters carries a theme. For example, Chapter 2 is titled “Observation of Nature is Limitless.” The dozen or more selected readings for each chapter are excerpts from a wide range of Goethe's writings, including his poetry, his books, and his letters to colleagues and dear friends. Each of the readings themselves are short enough to be easily assimilated and yet deep enough to be contemplated for their profound wisdom and truth.

Naydler introduces the chapter themes with insightful comments and context. Hearing this echo, so to speak, as well as Goethe's original voice, makes for a deeper, more meaningful understanding of each of the passages.

In Chapter 4, Naydler explores qualitative and quantitative aspects of scientific knowledge. Goethe strongly upholds that the non-mathematical aspects of nature, namely its qualitative values, have priority over its quantitative or mathematical calculations. This holistic approach to science is often overlooked or ignored. Goethe reminds us that the path to working with nature requires that we “must use all [our] powers of love, respect and reverence to find [our] way into Nature and the sacred life of Nature irrespective of what mathematics does.”

What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that each chapter is self-contained. When I first picked it up off my shelf, I started reading the chapters at the back and eagerly moved toward the front.

After reading and even re-reading this anthology, I now understand how Rudolf Steiner like so many others, shared and continue to share a deep appreciation for Goethe and his critical thinking.
Goethe on Science: An Anthology of Goethe's Scientific Writings Selected by Jeremy Naydler. Floris Books (2009)

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