What are the Differences between Bio-Intensive Agricultural and Biodynamic Agricultural Practices?



The above question has been asked of Charles because he has gardened and farmed both Bio-Intensively and Biodynamicly for over 20 years. In the above case, the author’s farm was certified biodynamic by the Demeter Association of the United States, a division of the International Demeter Certification Organization and Organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers Association (CCOF). Prior to this, the author gardened organically for over 20 years, employing the original organic method developed by Sir Howard of England and adopted by John Rodale in the United States. These organic practices have since been corrupted and diluted by both State & Federal CDFA & USDA governmental regulatory agencies.

From 1985 until 2000, Bio-Intensive practices were employed in his market gardens of the Certified Organic biodynamic farm in Compche, California. During that period, the author also served on the board of Directors of Ecology Action until 2004.


The criteria normally used to judge farming practices is to ask if the practice is sustainable & do the farming practices employ any method or material that would be detrimental to ones health by eating the food grown by these methods? Both the Bio-Intensive and Biodynamic and the older form of Organic practices (pre-USDA), complied with both of the above two criteria.

The oldest of the above practices is the Biodynamic method. It was synthesized by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 from ancient folk & peasant practices employed in the Orient and Persia over 6,000 years ago and more recently by Russian & European farms over the last 1,500 years. The Oriental farming practices have been proven to be sustainable for over 6,000 years. Bio-Intensive evolved from Alan Chadwick’s interpretations of R. Steiner’s biodynamic concepts.

Now to the differences between BI & BD practices

The BD practices have achieved their sustainability primarily by emphasizing Rudolf Steiner’s concept of the farm as a diversified, living, self-sufficient organism. Independent of the need for off farm inputs of material. e.g. (A farm; consisting of animals, gardens, orchards, pastures, woods, streams, & ponds).

In both BI & BD practices, on farm composting is employed to recycle and return crop waste to the soil to assure it retains its health and in turn grows healthy food. There is a major difference, however, between BI & BD methods of preparing compost and sustaining the health of the soil. BI limits its compost rules to what is called cool composting methods (140 F or below). BD composting temperature averages between 150-160 F and results in a quicker breakdown of carbonaceous material and containing a greater diversity of microorganisms. BI also does not employ animal or animal manure in its practices, primarily because it believes that animals are too wasteful of the acreage required in sustaining them. This means BI compost is made without the beneficial addition of a broad range of microorganisms from the manure, needed by nature to recycle the crop waste. Sir Howard, founder of the original organic farming practices state it simply: “Nature does not farm without animals”.

The BD farm utilizes animals in their farming practices to enhance the composting, and as a source of food for human consumption. We are not talking about confinement animal factories, but the humane raising of healthy animals fed their natural diet grown on the farm, not imported.

While BI recognizes somewhat the influences of the lunar cycle, they, however do not accept the role of other planetary and cosmic (star) influences on plant growth which occurs very subtly, through their electro-magnetic influences on the earth magnetic field, above ground as well as the surface and below ground. This is not some form of astrology, but based upon very thorough research by the BD Research facility in Damstadt, Germany by Maria Thun, an independent BD researcher; by L. Kolisho, another independent researcher; and by E. Pheiffer, an American (US) researcher; and by Prof. Calahan, PhD, Univ. of Florida; and Schwenk, an independent German Researcher on the qualities of water and force that influences their movement and quality. A local verification of the influences of the lunar cycle in water movement has been long known by the old Finnish logger who worked in the woods of Mendocino Co. They knew that you never sent luge down the river approaching and during full moon. If you did, they would move to the sides of the river. During the dark moon phase, the logs would move to the center of the river and flow easily to their destinations. This phenomena, verified by Schwenk, is that eddy currents along the shore rotate during full moon to cause the surface water to move toward the stream bank. During the dark moon, these same eddy currents reversed their direction of rotation, causing the surface water to move to the center of the stream. To this day, high quality wood is cut and tagged as to the moon phase it was cut under to verify its quality, cutting during new moon in winter has highest quality.

The greatest drawback to BI is that is only practical and economical for small backyard gardens and small acreage (1-2 acres) due to its use of the hand digging method and refusal to adopt small appropriate walk behind mechanized farm implements. This means that it will never have a significant impact on conventional industrial agriculture in developed nations such as the US.

BD on the other hand, employs small appropriate mechanical walk behind spading machine (for double digging), sickle bar cutter for hay and grain harvesting, small walk behind baling machine, and other low-technology, small size farm implements and is capable of reaching farm sizes of 5-250 acres. As a result of the above BI can only come close to the production capacity of BD if large pools of cheap farm labor are available and willing to work using the method of BI.

I hope the above brief discussion helps the reader understand the principal differences on these two sustainable farming practices.

Bio-Intensive Books

Copies of BI books may be obtained by calling Ecology Action garden supply catalog at Bountiful Gardens 707-459-6410 or by going to their website here

Biodynamic Books

Copies of the BD books may be obtained from the BD & Gardening Association by calling 1-888-516-7797 or by going to their website here

BD References:

BD Sowing & Planting Calendar, Maria Thun
The Biodynamic Year, Maria Thun
Agriculture of Tomorrow, L. Kolisko
Chromatography Applied to Quality Testing, E. Pheiffer
Tuning in on Nature, P. Callahan
Sensitive Chaos, T. Schwenk
Planetary Influences upon Plants, E. Kranich
Moon & Plant Capillary Dynamic Studies, A. Fyfe
Goethe’s Botanical Writing, JW Goethe
The Metamorphosis of Plant, JW Goethe

One Comment

thanks, charles, for your astute comparison. i always appreciate the knowledge you share.