Conventional agriculture uses artificial water soluble fertilisers to feed plants through the soil water. Organic/Biodynamic agriculture use composts, manures (though never direct on food crops) and green manures with the addition of non-water soluble fertilisers when necessary, and aims to feed plants naturally through the soil humus. In addition, Biodynamic agriculture uses the Biodynamic preparations, which powerfully develop microbial activity, root growth, and humus production in the soil, and one of which enhances light metabolism in the leaves. The experience of thousands of growers using the Australian Demeter Biodynamic method (worldwide) has been that they require far lower fertiliser inputs than equivalent conventional or organic farmers. Indeed there have been cases where no fertilizer inputs have been used on BD farms for decades, while production continues at high levels. Why is this so?
The plant stands in the midst of Cosmos and Earth in the most complex and refined system of interrelationships imaginable. In Nature, this most highly organised system has obviously enabled plants to thrive, since time immemorial, without any human intervention at all.
When humanity was at the hunter-gatherer stage, we simply harvested the bounty that Nature provided. When, later (particularly led by the great inspirer, Zarathustra), we began cultivating plants and herding animals, the development towards settled societies and the growth of great civilizations became possible. As farmers, we still essentially supported and worked with the natural system of plant growth.
The most basic of farming systems, slash and burn, relied on Nature to progressively rebuild humus levels in soils as they reverted to a natural state after one season’s or one year’s cultivation had depleted the soil humus. Floodplain farming relied on the annual deposition of humus-rich silt by flooding rivers. As populations grew, more sophisticated farming systems were developed. It took some time for the level of sophistication to develop, and where soils were pushed too hard, and humus levels declined, problems occurred. Where soils became too depleted, deserts encroached and civilizations fell.
The culmination of agricultural development before the artificial fertiliser age was the most careful, intelligent peasant farming of Europe. All wastes were recycled and returned to the land, either fully composted or spread on melting snows to be incorporated into soil humus before crops were sown. Highly sophisticated rotational systems were developed to ensure that soils were maintained in a humus rich, fertile state. Ploughing was done with meticulous care and sensitivity, to preserve and improve the vitally important soil structure. From the many monastery records available, we can see that productivity was high and that pests and diseases were of minor significance.
With the development of science, understanding of how and why things worked became more and more important. In the late 18th century, German agronomist Albrecht Thaer (1752-1828), advanced the idea that soil fertility was based on the level of soil humus, and that humus constituted plant food. He regarded humus as a biological-functional performance of the earth that should be viewed holistically. He believed that inorganic salts were unnecessary for plant nutrition.
In the 1840s, Justus von Liebig showed that, in fact plants could only absorb nutrients in a water soluble state. This discovery led to the development of water soluble (“artificial”) fertilizers, and the hasty and ill-considered disregarding of humus as a critical factor in plant nutrition. In fact, von Liebig realized this mistake late in life and wrote of the critical importance of humus. However, neither scientists, excited by the newly discovered facts of plant nutrition, nor those involved in the fast developing artificial fertilizer industry, paused to consider Liebig’s later realizations.
At first, soluble phosphates applied to soils seemed to produce dramatic results. Crop yields increased. As the years passed, the early growth boost from soluble phosphates declined, while problems with pests, diseases, animal health and seed vitality increased. Phosphate application rates had to be progressively increased to get the same response from plants. Soluble forms of nitrogen were developed and later, potassium, and progressively more trace elements were added to the repertoire to keep crop yields up. Humus levels, meanwhile, progressively declined.
Agricultural scientists repeatedly claim that organic crops have serious problems with pests and diseases, but the reverse is actually true. It is the artificially fertilized crops that are attacked by all manner of pests and diseases, and have to be sprayed with insecticides and fungicides to survive. It is common knowledge amongst Biodynamic growers (and many organic growers), that their crops are not generally troubled by pests and diseases and do not require protection. It is also common knowledge that animals on Biodynamic farms are healthier and more fertile. Consumers and retailers know that food produced on Biodynamic farms (and good organic farms) has a much longer shelf life than that from conventional farms. Should this not make agricultural scientists rethink their whole system, and question whether perhaps it has some major flaw?
How Plants Grow in a Natural System
As Alex Podolinsky puts it “Plants are children of the sun, scientifically speaking, and not of earth.” It is the sun that sustains all life on earth, through the sun-inspired photosynthesis of plants. The soluble nutrient theory of plant feeding ignores the role of humus and the sun’s role in directing plant nutrient uptake from humus.
No-one disputes the fact that plant roots can only absorb nutrients in solution, but the overall picture of plant feeding is very different depending whether the source of the nutrients is water soluble fertilizers or water soluble nutrients contained in colloidal humus
In a natural system, the teeming life of the soil works to convert organic matter into colloidal humus. Any minerals in soluble form are also incorporated in colloidal humus. Organic matter consists of dead roots, leaves and other plant material, manures, and the dead bodies of soil fauna and flora. Colloidal humus (a colloid is between a suspension and a solution. Other colloids include butter and jelly) holds minerals in a soluble form, but will not allow them to leach out. It can hold up to 75% of its own volume as water, and dries out very slowly. Plant roots can access the soluble nutrients held within the humus colloid, and in fact can take in the colloidal humus completely.
The plant has no warmth mechanism as have animals, and is entirely dependent on the sun’s warmth to tell it when to feed. When sun warmth indicates, fine hair feeder roots take in nutrients from colloidal humus in the soil. Plants need to take in water to replace that lost in transpiration from the leaves. The water is taken in mostly by larger, thicker roots, and the water taken in is relatively free of dissolved minerals (because no soluble fertilizers have been applied, and because the teeming soil life works constantly to build organic matter and any soluble minerals into colloidal humus). Thus nutrient uptake matches the sun warmth directive, and a healthy nutritious plant results. The plant is, in general, not attractive to insects, and is resistant to disease. This is the result when plants are fed from soil humus according to Nature’s design.
By contrast, when water soluble fertilizers are applied, the minerals dissolve in and spread throughout the soil water. The plant is forced to take up nutrients when it takes up water, no matter whether sun warmth is present or not. The plant thus takes in more minerals than it needs metabolically. Cells become overfull with mineral salts. The plant tries to take in more water to dilute these minerals but only succeeds in making matters worse. Plant cells become distended with too much water and salts. Water movement in the plant is hampered, and the photosynthetic shutter cells on the leaf stomata cannot open and shut freely, resulting in lowered photosynthetic activity. An altogether un-natural plant. These plants have poor nutritional quality, poor flavour, are more attractive to insects, more susceptible to disease, and rot more quickly after harvest.
A myriad of living organisms work together in the soil to break down organic matter and transform it into stable colloidal humus, the ideal plant food. Other organisms work together with plants to fix atmospheric nitrogen and to assist plant roots in finding and absorbing nutrients. The primary function of soil life is to assist plants to feed naturally, as directed by the sun. It is awe-inspiring to consider the immensely intelligent organization of Nature. Without this teeming, well organised and coordinated soil life, nature would simply cease to function.
Soil Animals – soil animals range from the tiny microfauna, such as protozoa, through the mesofauna such as mites, collembola (springtails) and nematodes, to the macrofauna such as ants, earthworms, beetles and termites. Soil animals break down or shred organic matter, increasing its surface area, allowing micro-organisms to work on it more effectively. They help aerate the soil and assist in the formation of soil aggregates. Their excreta contribute to soil fertility.
Earthworms – are among the most important of the soil animals. French scientist and ecologist André Voisin referred to earthworms as the “foundation of all civilization”. They eat dead roots, leaves and other organic matter, together with large amounts of soil, fungi and bacteria as they tunnel. Their tunnelling aerates and mixes the soil, and greatly increases its overall volume and water holding capacity. Earthworms can reduce small stones (up to 1.25mm) to paste, and break up clods. Their worm casts are pure colloidal humus, and contain five times the nitrogen, seven times the phosphorus and eleven times the potassium of the surrounding soil. Wormcasts are almost neutral in pH. Worm tunnels are lined with humus rich substances, and plant roots can use them to delve deeper in the soil absorbing the humus lining as they go. When a root dies (as for example when pasture is grazed down in a rotational system), a worm will eat it and re-establish the tunnel, or build a new tunnel where the root was.
Soil Fungi – are very effective at breaking down dead cell walls, cellulose and lignin. They are very active in the early stages of organic matter breakdown, as seen in the healthy white fungal activity in the early breakdown stages in a compost heap (as distinguished from the white material associated with overheating and “burning” of compost). Once the early stages of organic matter breakdown are completed by the fungi, bacteria become predominant.
Mycorrhizal fungi are specialized fungi that form mutually beneficial associations with plant roots. There are four main types of mycorrhizal fungi. The most common type is the vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae or VAM. They can form beneficial associations with most plants. The mycorrhizal fungi penetrate plant roots, and extend very fine hyphae out into the soil. They receive nutrients such as carbohydrates from the plant roots, and bring nutrients from the soil to the plant roots. They help form soil aggregates, help the plant resist drought and are very effective at finding phosphorus and many trace elements in deficient soils. They also help the plant resist soil-borne pathogens.
Soil Bacteria – single celled organisms which can reproduce and proliferate extremely quickly when conditions are right. Most soil bacteria live close to plant roots. Most beneficial bacteria are aerobic, meaning that they require oxygen. Anaerobic bacteria do not require oxygen, and tend to cause putrefaction of organic matter rather than its healthy breakdown to humus.
Of the many, many classes of bacteria in soils, some of the most important are: actinobacteria, which play a crucial role in the transforming of organic matter into humus, and give healthy soil its earthy aroma; independent nitrogen fixing bacteria, which convert ammonium (from decomposing proteins) into nitrates which are incorporated in the soil humus; azobacter, free living bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms usable by plants; and rhizobia, a group of bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with the roots of leguminous plants and take nitrogen from the air, converting it (using an enzyme called nitrogenase), into a form of nitrogen usable by plants. They are called nitrogen fixers. Depending on the type of plant, the rhizobia bacteria enter the plant root either directly through the root surface, or by the fine root hairs curling around the bacteria to help them enter. Once inside, they multiply, as do the root hair cells. Nodules are formed. Within the nodules, nitrogenase is protected from oxygen (which hampers its activity) by another enzyme, leghaemoblobin, which takes the oxygen away to respiratory sites. It is leghaemoglobin that gives the inside of the nodules their characteristic pink colouring.
Soil enzymes (and co-enzymes) play a very important, and as yet only partly understood role in the functioning of the soil/plant ecosystem. They are synthesized by plants, animals, mould, fungi, yeasts and bacteria, and are in a never-ending cycle, being constantly synthesized, concentrated, de-activated and decomposed. They are involved in many biochemical processes and play a key role in the breakdown of organic material and its conversion to colloidal humus, the cycling of nutrients, and the building of soil structure. Some enzymes active in the soil ecosystem include amylase, arylsulphatases, ß-glucosidase, cellulase, chitinase, dehydrogenase, phosphatase, protease and urease. There are many more, and many more are still to be discovered.
It is becoming increasingly clear (though not yet accepted by many mainstream scientists) that, in a living biological system, elements can transmute into other elements. This is the inescapable conclusion of much meticulous research and many observations that are inconsistent with the generally accepted view that an element is a substance that cannot be broken down by chemical means.
Research that supports this idea includes: in 1799, Vauquelin found that a hen excreted 5 times more lime than it ingested; in 1822, Prout discovered that limestone in an incubating chicken egg increases overall; in 1831, Choubard found that germinated seeds contained minerals that were not present originally in the seeds; in 1844, Vogel found that, after germination, watercress contained more sulphur than was in the seeds.
In 1879, Albrect von Herzeele published the results of many experiments which strongly supported the idea that elements can change from one into another.
How is this possible? Conventional understanding is that elements can combine in chemical reactions to form molecules, and that molecules can break down into individual elements, but that elements themselves cannot normally change.
A chemical element is a pure substance composed of one type of atom. Elements are distinguished from one another by the number of protons (positively charged particles) in the atomic nucleus. The lightest element, Hydrogen, has one proton in its nucleus, giving it an atomic number of 1. Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element, with 92 protons and therefore the atomic number 92. Biological transmutation occurs when an element merges with another element, combining their protons in a single new nucleus thus becoming a third element, or conversely, when an element breaks down into two new elements with separate nuclei.
It is accepted by mainstream science that in certain circumstances elements can change: when a cosmic ray neutron (electrically neutral particle) hits a nitrogen atom (7 protons), it breaks down into carbon (6 protons) and hydrogen (1 proton). Isotopes (variations in the number of neutrons in an atomic nucleus) are involved but we won’t go into that here.
The element uranium breaks down (very slowly) in nature in the following sequence (again involving isotopes): uranium to thorium to protactinium to uranium (different isotope) to radium to radon to polonium to lead to bismuth, and, after fluctuating between various isotopes of lead, bismuth and polonium, eventually decays into a stable form of lead.
Professor Louis Kervran (University of Paris) began publishing the results of his experiments on what he called biological transmutations in 1959. He found that the most important and abundant biological transmutations occur amongst the first twenty elements of the periodic table and to a lesser extent with the next ten. Many transmutations have been established. Although the exact mechanism of biological transmutation is still to be discovered, Prof. Kervran suggested that enzymes are probably integral to the process. Scientists who have confirmed some of his findings include: Prof. Dr. Hisatoki Komaki, Japan, Prof. Baranger (France), and J.E. Zundel (Switzerland).
Leaving aside the issue of different isotopes, and expressing the atomic number only, some of the biological transmutations that have been discovered (many of which are reversible) include:
11Na + 8 O = 19K
12Mg + 8 O = 20Ca
11Na + 1H = 12Mg
12Mg + 3Li = 15P
15P = 6C + 9F
26Fe – 1H = 25Mn
19K + 1H = 20Ca
14Si + 6C = 20Ca
11Na = 3Li + 8 O
17Cl – 8 O = 9F
8 O + 8 O = 16S
7N + 12Mg = 19K
This is only a sample of the many reactions which have been shown to occur. The implications for farming, diet and medicine are intriguing. Instead of trying to replace elements that appear to be lacking we might be better to consider biological transmutations carefully. For instance it may well be (there is some evidence) that calcium deficiency in humans could be better treated with magnesium or organic silica (both of which can biologically transmute into calcium), than with calcium supplements. In agriculture, potassium can be formed from transmuted calcium (in combination with hydrogen), and so on.
The very idea of “soil analysis” is called into question, when dealing with the biologically active soils found on Biodynamic and organic farms and gardens. Where soil life is abundant, there are many active cycles occurring. Nature is constantly trying to achieve balance, to redress imbalance, so that healthy plant growth can continue. A soil test is a snapshot in time. One hour after the “snapshot”, the situation may have changed considerably. In 2004, the Australian Soil and Plant Testing Council sent standardised soil samples to 18 laboratories across the country. The results for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium varied so dramatically that laboratory standards were called into question, even though the same testing methodology was used. Could it be that, once the samples were divided up, variations in temperature, elevation, pressure, microbial and fungal content, or other factors, could have caused the wide divergence via biological transmutation?
It would appear to be much more sensible for a farmer to look at the whole living system on his/her farm to assess the needs of the plants, including how well or poorly things are growing, the predominance of particular weed species, the health status of animals etc., than relying on an unscientific and inaccurate soil test.
By John Bradshaw
Thank you John for permission to reprint.
© Biodynamic Growing magazine, June 2010