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September 16, 2010

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If I was an idle kid growing up on a farm, I'd sure be excited when "manure stirring day" came around. Second best only to Christmas morning. I doubt if Steiner ever even did this himself.

The more one reads about this philosophy, it becomes clear how truly ridiculous it really is.

Sorry to tell you folks but this is the nonsense you're paying for...

In the breathless scramble to define the New, the Pure, the Holy, the Mystical, and the Good/Better/Best Viticultural practices (via Biodynamics and even Organics) people are losing sight of what is actually the most important and profound truth for the success of our winemaking: LOCALITY.

Even the Biodynamic preparations aren't rooted in locality. There are about 1.3 billion cattle on Earth, but relatively few (almost none) on Long Island. The plant genus Equisetum/horsetail is nearly ubiquitous (downright cosmopolitan) on every continent except Antarctica -- hardly a "local" plant preparation for Long Island. And ironically, if eaten in large quantities, the foliage of Equisetum/horsetail is actually poisonous to cows and horses.

It seems there is a hyped-up fascination with this struggle to impose a set of double bounded generic farm-practice ideologies that were developed in another part of the world to suit different growing conditions and are administered 3-digit codes by faceless, non-local, quasi-governmental regulatory bodies....

...When, in fact, the most authentic and effective Viticulture is not one that has been superimposed on Long Island from a far away or cosmic place, but rather one which is comprised of an array of our very own Long Island-specific best practices -- practices which have been finely tuned in this place, on these vines, with our own hands, under these weather conditions, and immersed in our biotic and abiotic systems, over the course of the past 30 years.

I'll take 30-year local best practices any day over cow horns and horse tails (got plenty of those back in South Dakota).

Trent:
In the Q&A sessions after Steiner's lectures, some of the anthroposophists in the audience raised the same concerns about the toxicity of dandelion and yarrow to cattle. Steiner insisted that no animal would eat something that was harmful to it.

While many practitioners buy from the Josephine Porter Institute, the idea is that they be self-sufficient eventually, producing all the preparations in-house.

For the sake of argument, though, are there any sulfur mines or refineries on Long Island?

Tom:

No grape grower is suggesting they use locally produced sulfur.

If there is an oil refinery on Long Island, elemental sulfur is produced as part of the scrubbing process. However, in most cases, it is removed from the refinery as molten sulfur and transported to major production facilities (Georgia Gulf Sulfur)

http://georgiagulfsulfur.com

where it is solidified and milled for use as various elemental sulfur products.

There are no operating sulfur mines in the US, and none in the world that are economically important.

Viturally all elemental sulfur comes from oil and gas refining.

There is no argument.

Most things used in creating and operating a vineyard come from the modern industrial systems of the world. Tractors, trucks, ATVs, fuel, posts, wire, wire crimping materials and tools, staples, clips, netting, fencing, irrigation tubing and supplies, mowers, flail choppers, pumps, discs, sprayers, pesticides (USDA NOP allowable or not), mineral fertilizers (USDA allowable or not), silicon dioxide, cow horns, wood and steel for farm buildings, copper for electicity, solar panels, wind turbines......all of it, even the vines themselves.

The idea that a vineyard can become even remotely a "closed system" is not realistic.

Whether the flowers or plants for a couple of BD preparations are grown on the vineyard property or not is of little import when compared to the vast off-farm inputs brought in from outside. Except for the satisfaction it gives the grower.

A vineyard is an "open system" that uses a wide array of products of the modern world.

Larry:

The bit about sulfur was more of a rhetorical question, the point of which you explained quite well.

In light of this, it would be tough to use the argument that the preparations come from afar *against* biodynamic practices per se. It would be, if biodynamic certification bodies did not put such an emphasis on the self-sufficiency of the farm, which in the case of grapes (as you point out), is wholly unreasonable.

Trent brings up a point that I believe is at the crux of this whole series. Our own best practices in have been developed by experimentation and verification, using the scientific method. At its core, biodynamic agriculture comes from the ideas of one man who, while he did have experience with the "peasant wisdom" of agriculture, was not a farmer.

However, as scientists, we cannot write off hypotheses without testing them, regarldless of their proposed mechanisms. That's what I'm writing about. I'm not here to convince people to change over to BD or rescind their belief in the system. I just want people to examine things critically using the scientific method.

I'm not sure exactly how we got off on this line of discussion after a post that seems to indicate that a BD prep -- silica -- very well may be more beneficial than conventional options. The post also describes the mechanism through with it may work.

I'm a skeptic when it comes to many of the "mythical" sides of BioD, but let's not ignore the reality that Tom has uncovered and take this comment thread in an unnecessary direction.

Tom:

You are right. Trent's focus on local best practices is the crux of the matter. Not local materials.

Lenn:

It is not more "beneficial" than other options. It may, in fact, have a slightly benefical impact, but it will not replace the basic effective fungicides used to prevent Powdery and Downy Mildew or it already would have.

However, it is also true that crystalline silicon dioxide (ground quartz) is a Class 1 (IARC) human carcinogen. Something one wouldn't want to inhale, even at very low concentrations. Many workers producing powdered silicon dioxide, working with it, or jackhammering away at it get silicosis and eventually lung cancer.

http://www.workershealth.com.au/pdfs/060silicosis.pdf

Low level, regular exposure is all that is necessary. Damage is irreversible.

Just a consideration.

And thanks for the continuing good work exploring this from a scientific basis. It is much needed.

I didnt say silica was more beneficial than conventional fungicide. In fact, in the study I cited, silicate didnt do as well as sulfur and in a year with very high disease pressure was not very effective.
Indeed, silica and fungicides seem to protect plants by entirely different mechanisms, so there is nothing to preclude using them together.

Yes. That's right.

Lenn - with regard to the limited success of silica in the overall philosophy of Steiner - I suppose if you throw enough stuff against the wall, some of it will eventually stick.

Larry brings up the most important point - silica is basically as dangerous to work with as asbestos, once again showing where this ideology just totally goes off the rails.

"more beneficial" clearly does not appear in the post, but "preparations 501 and 508 could indeed be providing some measure of fungus control in the vineyard, but it probably has nothing to do with crystals refracting sunlight or dynamization imbuing these mixtures with cosmic forces." does...that is what surprised me, frankly.

I stand corrected -- and I didn't know that silica was dangerous at any level. I'm largely learning about this as the series continues.

I just think it's better if our discussions here in comments are more tightly related to the content of the posts -- fair? :)

If silica preparations are at least somewhat effective, but dangerous.

How much more effective are the 'conventional' options, and how dangerous are they?

Maybe this series needs to include a bit more about the efficacy/danger of BioD vs. conventional. It's only one part of the story to focus solely on the BioD stuff.

Silica dust is indeed carcinogenic, for the same reasons that asbestos is. The dust is the right shape and size to get into the deep lungs and irritate cells, causing all kinds of problems.

However, the silica present in horsetail, which is found primarily as silicic acid or amorphous hydrated silica, is likely not as bad.

The silica used in the cited study was potassium silicate (amorphous), which poses little inhalation hazard due to the different structural nature of the chemical (at least compared to crystalline silica).

It would be interesting to take some 501 from the Josephine Porter Institute and analyze it to determine if it still mostly crystalline or if any microbial action has converted any of it into the less-dangerous (and more bioactive) silicate.

Well... interesting to me, anyway.

It is difficult for an agnostic to participate in a discussion of religion with believers.

So at the risk of steering this conversation in a different and perhaps irrelevant direction here are some interesting facts about viticulture:

1. In the "old days" mildew did not exist outside of America. It was introduced, accidentally, into Europe and since then treating vines had become necessary. Up until then vines (vitis vinifera) were happy to be left alone.

Modern viticulture cannot exist without teatment for mildew and other fungi that have been disseminated all over the world and were not part of the original habitat of the vine.

2. By the way most vines that we think come from Europe did not actually originate there but were thought to have been brought there by the various civilizations that plowed the mediterranean, such as the etruscans, the phenicians ( my ancestors), and then the greeks and the romans. So for those who dream of growing a vine in its natural habitat they would have to go back to the eastern mediterranean and central asia.

3. As we know vitis vinifera can no longer grow by itself since the phylloxera was transferred to Europe in the 1860 from the US. And it is thanks to american rootstock that vitis vinifera can continue to be propagated in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

The vine itself, at least vitis vinifera, is not viable on its own anymore, but need to be grafted. Otherwise it will be killed by the phylloxera in a couple of years. If grafting was not something we grew up with, I bet people would go up in arms and compare it to genetic engineering. But no one says anything about grafting. Thankfully.

All the above taken together shows vitis vinifera to be an organism that is more a bionic creature of man as it could not exist on its own anymore, without grafting and all the treatment. At this point it is a little late to start looking for purity and natural whatevers when the poor creature is on life support for all its existence. And at the end isn't it the wine that we care about?

And when it comes to treating vines, I said on his forum in another thread, that all the labels that people like to use such as conventioanl, sustainable, organic or biodynamic or homeostatic or whatever, is nothing but inside baseball or marketing. The only relevant issue is how do we manage toxicity.

My goal is to use the most effective and the least toxic product that I can find. And it is for selfish reasons: I live on my farm, and I drink water from my well. The last thing I want to do is to poison myself, my workers, or neighbors. And I also want to hand the farm to my sons in as good if not better shape than when I got it. This works well for us. We make great wines and they sell well.

Now can someone explain to me what am I missing?

Tom I give you credit for attempting to frame out the BD philosophy through the lens of a scientific eye. The difficulty as you are well aware, is in the ability of science to prove or disprove a religious philosophy.
What you have done extremely well is to explain BD as a whole and expose many of its lesser-known and more outrageous characteristics. Steiner was adamant in his belief that in order to be successful, all of his recommendations and practices had to be carried out completely - one could not just pick and chose off of the BD menu.
BD on the surface remains unclear and regrettably unchallenged in the mainstream media. This leads a misinformed public into paying higher prices (via a first class marketing strategy posing as an authentic agriculture practice) and believing BD products to be better and safer with no evidence to back up the claims.

On the issue of locality - its not about whether or not we have cows or the proper herbs growing on Long Island to successfully produce our crops. The issue that Trent points out is that BD was not developed specifically for growing wine grapes nor any other single crop - its a philosophy that has nothing to do with "what" or "where." The BD dogma is not sensitive to local geography or local climatic conditions. Steiner believed his philosophy transcended time and place.
How could any local conditions possibly trump cosmic forces?

The fact that we are still having these discussions so many years after Steiner's death tells me a couple of things. First is that we need to do a better job explaining to our customers what we are really doing and discussing all that it takes to produce truly wonderful local wines. Second - that we as a society need to do a better job in teaching science education and critical thinking to our future generations.

"The fact that we are still having these discussions so many years after Steiner's death..."

Richard, isn't that something you can say about all religions???

Charles,

You've done it again. Thanks fro bringing history and other facts into the mix, because what you've posted is what is so often missed in any discussion of viticulture: for wine, the practice is almost a complete human construct and so it offers no particular basis to support various belief systems.

In one of my books I mention how wrong it is to refer to Vitis vinifera as European grapevines, as their origin is traced to Mesopotamia and into the Transcaucus area to Central Asia, but most people gloss over such important facts. Massive viticulture began in the area we'd view as Northern Syria, by the Phoenicians (and I'm glad that they are your ancestors; it gives me a better grasp of your grasp...). Viticulture had been around parts of the Mediterranean and the East for about 5,000 years before it became a European endeavor.

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