By Sandra Frain
Why Should we garden Biodynamically with Children?
Sharing gardens and all of nature is an opportunity for we teachers to inspire and support the healthful relationship that our children deserve to be the vital ‘Stewards of the Earth’ with us.
It is a birthright to connect with what all the cultures in the world refer to as ‘Mother Earth’. We adults have a responsibility to mediate between the children we care for and the natural world. We are the ‘midwives, the concierges, the catalysts’ for cultivating children to be caring gardeners in our shared world.
As healthy energy between adult and child flows both ways, we are constantly introduced to the wonders of nature when we allow the children of all ages to lead us through their acute senses.
From you I receive. To you I give.
Together we share. By this we live.
Biodynamic Agriculture, first described by Rudolf Steiner in 1924, is as its name suggests, a form of caring for the land and its inhabitants that is conscious of LIFE (Bio) and MOTION (Dynamic). Rudolf Steiner told Farmers, Teachers and Doctors that Planet Earth needed more than a practice of ‘Sustainable’ living.
For its very survival, Planet Earth and all its components and inhabitants need human beings to participate in actively healing the earth. Helping Planet Earth helps us human beings too.
In my 25 years of studying and teaching Biodynamic Agriculture I have witnessed that healing for myself and that of the people of all ages thus engaged. When we practice observing the land’s inhabitants, and we create healthful responses to support our observations, we (including you) too are a part of the Biodynamic Agriculture movement.
What is Biodynamic Agriculture?
In Biodynamic Agriculture, medicines for the strengthening and balancing of the soil, plants and atmosphere are known as Preparations. These ‘Preparations’ are made from substances that are specifically prepared according to scientific indications given by Rudolf Steiner.
Dr. Steiner was schooled and inspired by indigenous wisdom and other living sciences including Spiritual Science. He encouraged others to be thus dedicated to proven sources and to become innovative through personal inspiration too. *
The use of these Biodynamic Preparations in agricultural endeavours distinguishes Biodynamic Agriculture from all other forms of agriculture such as Regenerative, Permaculture and Organic. Biodynamic Agriculture was the forerunner of the current forms of Agriculture that do not use chemicals for extinguishing unwanted life forms.
Some examples of the value of using Biodynamic Preparations for farm/garden health and productivity include increased soil microbial activity and decreased water necessity. The animals and plants that have the aid of Biodynamics are more resilient to challenges.
How do we garden Biodynamically with children?
‘Goethean Science’ or ‘Phenomenological Ecological Literacy’ answers this question. In many Steiner Waldorf Schools, Early Childhood Teachers are encouraged to consider the elements of water, earth, air, and fire in their educational programs. Conscious observation informs us that each of these elements mirrors the other elements in similarity and polarity. Identifying archetypal forms as they are expressed in nature is exciting for us all! Spirals, vortices, amphoras, parabolas, bubbles, Water and sand feathers stars, feathers: these are all embodied in the forms that we see in expressions of water, earth, air, and fire as they interact with each other.
Consider the profound forms of cyclones, galaxies, streams, ‘fiddlehead’ fern fronds, snails, eggs, grain seeds, tomato flowers, rose flowers and leaves. How did they come to be so?
Children want to learn of water, fire, air. They want to learn and celebrate the unseen. When children dig a hole and pour water into it they are the creators of the puddles. They may hide their feet or boots in it! What other treasures might be in a self-dug hole with water? Children from early life marvel at forms too. My 10-month-old granddaughter likes to be in the bathtub as it’s filling with water. She watches the water gush out of the tap in its quintessential spiral form. As I stir the water and it laps around her, she babbles with glee. She pulls away and goes toward the moving water repetitively.
I was in my 40s when I was told of this phenomenon: of water moving in spiral forms. I am not aware of it having been drawn to my attention previously. How can it be that after forty years of witnessing moving water from a watering can, a hose, a tap, a pipe, the rain, a waterfall, I had not identified the ‘archetypal’ spiral? Every raindrop comes down to earth in a spiral form. Together the raindrops form an elegant, elongated spiral. Isn’t this marvellous?
‘Water droplets, water droplets, drip drop from the sky
Swirling twirling swirling twirling, down to our dear earth.
Water droplets water droplets drip drop from the sky
Swirling twirling swirling twirling Join our river wide’. (Pentatonic)
Even rainwater ‘running down’ a street on a rainy day moves in planes and vortices. By using a stick or our arm, to stir in a bucket of water or a bathtub, we create planes that form a spiral that eventuate into a vortex.
What a powerful sight this is: ‘physics in a bucket’: a line (our arm or a stick), within a circumference (of a bucket) moving the liquid around and around until the planes join into a vortex that funnels into the bottom of the bucket creating a point within the periphery. As all the water in the bucket is moving some people exclaim: ‘AM I stirring the water or is the water stirring me’? When we take the stick or our arm out of the bucket and gaze into the middle of the vortex it slowly loses its tight form and slowly other forms emerge: a two-loop infinity sign; a three-looped triangle; a four and then five-petalled flower, and finally the complex tightly formed multi ‘loop-cm-point’ ‘rose flower’ form. At this time the planes have relaxed from the tightest form of the vortex to the most relaxed form of the rose flower before they loosen all together to meld into a glossy surface without form.
Observers of all ages marvel at this sacred geometry and take it deeply into themselves. We lose ourselves in this mindlessness with the concentration of our actions and the tangible results. We are calmed and excited at the same time: bliss.
When the water is then stirred in the opposite direction a ‘chaos’ ensues, and the previous form is lost in the bubbles and rush of all planes upon each other. How exciting! Perhaps another child or two join in to make many vortices, and then reverse direction. Now there is chaos in the water and now more stirring until there is form: mesmerizing.
By having command of moving this substance of water into a vortex (or vortices) that results in all water on the sides of the bucket moving too, and then chaos resulting when the water is stirred in the opposite direction (moving the other way), another form has emerged!
This is now the archetype of all creation: a particular form becomes a chaos through process until another form emerges. All of life mirrors this creation form as moments are expressed in all of life’s elements that are birthed and dissolved and birthed again.
In Biodynamics and in homeopathy this process as described above is called ‘activating’ or ‘dynamizing’ the water. Technically, the planes, vortices and bubbles all serve to enliven the water. We can see this as we stand on a bridge and watch the water of a stream or river flow beneath us. We are witnessing the water cleansing itself, enlivening itself through this archetypal motion.
We adults must hold this consciousness, these ‘ah- ha’ moments and marvel inwardly and outwardly at its scientific wisdom of life that we are fortunate to witness. These are opportunities for losing our sense of time and our self-consciousness. We can develop long attention spans through such activities. This activity can be done indoors or outdoors. It is a playful, inspiring, therapeutic, and environmentally useful task to assist in the good energy we can create.
As the actions also calm our energies and energize our life forces simultaneously, it is a valuable ‘all-rounder’ activity at any time of the day and season of the year!
A few times a year, in our gardens (Glenaeon Rudolf kindergarten group stir horn Steiner School in manure on a rainy day Sydney Australia) we add to the water Biodynamic Preparations for fertilising the soil or the atmosphere. Horn manure (also known as ‘500’) or horn silica (also known as ‘501’) are the most common ones.
After we have all had a turn of dynamizing the water as described above for the duration of an hour (or so), we distribute the ‘medicine’ in smaller buckets or bowls and using our hand (or conifer branch) we broadcast the healing medicine down on to the earth or up into the atmosphere accordingly.
This activity of distributing the dynamized Biodynamic Preparation itself is mystical. As the children dip their hand into their buckets and flick the water droplets directionally, they feel the gesture of
‘blessing’: a gifting from themselves outwardly toward whatever and wherever their medicinal water droplets will land. Scientifically, the forces of the substance in the preparations acts homoeopathically. The water being sprinkled in this broadcasting style acts as a ‘carrier’, a medium for the substance to be taken up by the microbes in the soil or the minerals in leaves.
Healing, healing water.
For our happy gardens
Healing, healing has begun.
Soon our gardens will sparkle on.
Who Benefits from the Balancing of Biodynamic Agriculture?
These activities are therapeutic for us all. We express our focused individuality while endeavouring meaningful activity as a community. How fascinating it is to observe that each person, young and old, stirs the water and flicks it out uniquely. The use of a stick for stirring or a brush for flicking allows the activity to be accessible to individuals who are uncomfortable about enveloping their arms in water. As we apply these ‘preparations’ to balance what ails the land and atmosphere we are balancing ourselves. People speak of a sense of well-being after participating in such ‘biodynamic’ activities. There is a sense of achievement when possible sensorial challenges are overcome. In this era when so much tactile opportunity has been removed for reasons of industry or phobias, gardening Biodynamically offers healthful solutions.
How do we show respect and gratitude?
The very notion of respecting life in its many forms is embedded in the term ‘Biodynamic Agriculture’. We are not a ‘commodity-driven Agribusiness’ culture! We are encouraging and enabling biodiversi-ty with an attitude of ‘how can we as human beings make life better for what we can care for’?
Approaching our naturescapes with gratitude and wonder rather than ‘selective sympathetic judgment’ is an exciting challenge. Imagining weeds as plants that are gifting the soil with the minerals that the soil is lacking is immediately an improvement on the common attitude of weeds being ‘an invasive species to be condemned.’ Children LOVE harvesting weeds, putting them into a bucket, adding water and, later, being repulsed or stimulated by the natural smell of fermentation. They all enjoy watering the gardens with this homemade fertiliser that gifts the soil the minerals of the weeds, without abandoning the defined vegetable crops and flowers.
Talking or singing to the animals, the plants, the soil and telling them of our intentions as we have learned to do even with babies, includes the surroundings in our thought-scapes. It ensures that we will be ‘present’ and conscious in the pertinent task.
“May I pick your beautiful flower?” Speaking the wish ensures that we are not just grabbing what we want without considering that we are taking some-thing from a living being. We are effecting a change on that stem or bush! For children in the three-year-old age range whose limbic systems are involuntarily expressing themselves and who may be iimitating seeing adults weeding or pulling plants out, this is an especially necessary lesson of boundaries or manners in the garden.
We may stroke trees as we pass by, taking note of their state of health. We may sing to the garden and ask after its well-being?
What story, what story do you tell? What story do you tell? Children will answer: “Oh the bee in the flower said, ‘I like you’” or “Oh I am thirsty, and I need a drink of water”. Children very naturally engage in this respectful communication that implies a relationship.
Who is living right beside you,
right beside you, right beside you?
Who is living right beside you,
Purple cabbage is growing right beside me,
right beside me, right beside me,
Purple cabbage is growing right beside me
on this sunny Monday.
A way of expressing gratitude may be to put our hands together, upright, into the shape of a mountain. We are symbolizing the ‘amphora/parabola’ shape of grains and eggs. (This shape of elongation at one end and larger at the other end is the shape necessary for a constant movement of energy to flow in a spiralling format: up and down; back and forth, thus keeping the liquid enlivened (as we learned about earlier in the water movement ex-planation).
When we clap our hands together, we are giving applause to all the elements, seen and unseen, in the evolutionary sequence of spirit, animal, plant, and our foundational mineral base.
How do we achieve garden tasks with the children?
Tasks include: digging soil with the side benefit of discovering worms, insects, and other treasures and making homes for the animals; aerating soil with forks; watering the gardens sometimes with worm juice or weed fertiliser; raking leaves; grinding rocks and scattering resulting rock dust on garden beds; planting seeds, seedlings and saplings; collecting dying or dead plants for making
compost heaps; harvesting leaves, berries, flowers or weeds; creating fences with tree sticks and sometimes string; pruning bushes and trees; tree pasting; collecting tree mulch in wheelbarrows for delivery to appropriate garden beds; collecting fire ashes for sweetening garden bed soil; distributing café coffee grounds for nitrogen fertilising of soil.
Do you see how the star in the centre of the Nasturtium leaf could be like a middle eye above our two eyes?
I’m Nelly Nasturium. I’ve got a bright white star. Right in the middle of my forehead. So I can see far, so far, so I can see far.
There are so many forms of nature to enjoy: the beach, the grasslands, the heather covered hills, the mountains, the forests, the deserts. All of them valid in the ‘garden of the world’.
Happy Gardening everyone!
*Foot note: Anthroposophy means ‘The study of the Wisdom of Humans’. Biodynamic Agriculture’s methods of healing as Rudolf Steiner suggested/ prescribed, are a result of ‘Spiritual Science’: the science of working with the spiritual world as it is evident to us in our everyday workings.
Sandra Frain is a Biodynamic practitioner and primarily teaches Biodynamic Gardening to students of all ages through Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School and Sydney Rudolf Steiner College, Australia. Sandra is the Playgroup Leader of two of the six ‘Family Style’ Playgroups she manages at Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School. Sandra obtained her Masters in Steiner Education and Certification of Biodynamic Agriculture in Chestnut Ridge, New York.