Celebrating the Nature of Biodynamics

Rudolf Steiner

World Biodynamic Day is celebrated every year during the Pentecost weekend, i. e. today.

Winemaking at Vineyard Son Alegre is not just a matter of following organic standards within what is called Natural Farming or agriculture of non-intervention with no ploughing or turning of the soil, with no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost, with no weeding by tillage or herbicides and with no dependency on chemical pesticides.

We also follow a number of biodynamic principles as propagated by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian-born spiritualist, lecturer and spiritual teacher. He founded the Anthrophosphical Society, the first Waldorf School, Anthroposphic Medicine, Eurythmy and many more things. Biodynamic agriculture encompasses soil fertility, plant growth and livestock husbandry as ecologically interrelated tasks.

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Steiner had been asked to hold a course on agriculture and he gave a lecture series at Koberwitz Palace, Koberwitz, Silesia (now Kobierzyce, Poland), on Whitsun in June of 1924. In the course of ten days he held a total of 8 lectures entitled ‘Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture’ which were part of ‘The Agriculture Course’, introducing a totally new and unconventional way to farm. Steiner himself wrote on the aims of the lectures: “As lecture-content I placed the being of the products which are delivered by agriculture and the conditions under which these products come about. These discussions aimed to reach those practical considerations that can spiritually illuminate the decisive questions. This is then added to the practical insights and what is gained from the scientific researches of today.”

The lecture series presented a complete reversal of the mechanical-materialistic causal analysis of matter in farming by suggesting a holistic land management approach to agriculture.

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Allow us to quote some of Steiner’s thoughts from the Koberwitz lecture series:

“Two things we must observe in the plant life. The first thing is that the entire plant-world, and every single species, is able to maintain itself – that is to say, it evolves the power of reproduction. The plant is able to bring forth its kind, and so on. That is the one thing. The other is, that as a creature of a comparatively lower kingdom of Nature, the plant can serve as nourishment for those of the higher kingdoms.” (Lecture 1)

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“Altogether, we should be clear that the whole domain of Agriculture – including what is beneath the surface of the Earth – represents an individuality, a living organism, living even in time. The life of the Earth is especially strong during the winter season, whereas in summer-time it tends in a certain sense to die.” (Lecture 2)

“The Spiritual here must always have physical carriers. Then the materialists come, and take only the physical carrier into account, forgetting the Spiritual that it carries. And they are always in the right – for the first thing that meets us is the physical carrier. They only leave out of account that it is the Spiritual which must have a physical carrier everywhere.” (Lecture 3)

R Steiner blackboard

“It is simply untrue that the life ceases with the contours – with the outer periphery of the plant. The actual life is continued, especially from the roots of the plant, into the surrounding soil. For many plants there is absolutely no hard and fast line between the life within the plant and the life of the surrounding soil in which it is living.” (Lecture 4)

“Nevertheless, by prolonged tillage we can gradually impoverish the soil. We are, of course, constantly impoverishing it, and that is why we have to manure it. But the compensation through the manure may presently become inadequate – and this is happening today on many farms. Then we are ruthlessly exploiting the earth; we let it become permanently impoverished. We must then provide for the true Nature-process to take place once more in the right way.” (Lecture 5)

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“So you must learn to see into the workings of Nature in all her different domains. Then you will really take the processes of growth in hand. (We shall afterwards see the same for animal growth – animal normalities and abnormalities). To get the growth-processes in hand – that is the really important thing. To experiment at random on these matters, as is done today, is no real science. The mere jotting-down of isolated notes and facts – that is no science. Real science only arises when you begin to control the working forces. But the living plants and animals – even the parasites in the plants – can never be understood by themselves.” (Lecture 6)

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“Organically speaking, the plant is in all respects an inverse of the animal – a true inverse. The excretion of air and warmth has for the plant the same importance as the consumption of food for the animal. In the same sense in which the animal lives by absorption of food, the plant lives by excretion of air and warmth. This, I would say, is the virginal quality of the plant. By nature, it does not want to consume things greedily for itself, but, on the contrary, it gives away what the animal takes from the world, and lives thereby. Thus the plant gives, and lives by giving.” (Lecture 7)

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“The plant, as we saw, has a physical body and an ether-body, while up above it is hovered-around, more or less, by a kind of astral cloud. The plant itself does not reach up to the astral, but the astral – so to speak – hovers around it. Wherever it enters into definite connection with the astral (as happens in the fruit-formation), something available as foodstuff is produced – that is to say, something which will support the astral in the animal and human body.” (Lecture 8)

R Steiner_Luft Wasser Feuer

Steiner’s ideas are embracing the holistic view of interconnectedness and make for interesting reading and learning. Should you want to know more, you can read the 8 lectures, one by one, on-line. The lecture series is also available as a book under the title ‘Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture’ in either the printed or the digital version.


Hailing Permaculture

Permaculture Son Alegre Santanyí Mallorca

We could tell you lots about Son Alegre wines, Mallorcan wines in general or our grape varieties and so forth but we prefer to direct you to the basics of wine making. Soil is the main ingredient for wine making, believe it or not. There would be no wine without the soil and there would be no wine of any quality if wine makers did not respect the soil, if we did not regard nature as a holistic organism, if farmers did not esteem the elements and if society did not adopt the philosophy of working with instead of against nature.

According to Bruce Charles “Bill” Mollison (born 1928 in Stanley, Tasmania):

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.

Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison, Tasmania, Australia: Tagari (1991)

Yesterday, May 3rd 2015, Vinya Son Alegre was invited to participate in an event celebrating the International Day of Permaculture at Caroline Sulzer’s Finca Som Terra near Cas Concos des Cavaller (Felanitx). We are glad we went and we are proud to be part of a movement of sustainable, regenerative and ecologic agriculture here in Mallorca.

Som Terra

Finca Som Terra and other Mallorcan setups, also related to Permaculture, such as Escola Kumar in Marratxí, Finca Son Barrina in Llubí and Ses Aigües in S’Horta, are doing a terrific job in trying to apply the methods of Permaculture to areas of daily living in a more sustainable, economic, ecologic and efficient manner. Check out Finca Som Terra on Facebook, PermaMed on the Internet or watch the following video clip on Vimeo.

Permaculture and organic agriculture ought not to be, however, celebrated only one day a year. Nature and our respect for it should be an ongoing concern, year in, year out.

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At Son Alegre we are trying to treat our soil in a responsible, sustainable way by doing very little. We do not plough our fields, we do not use commercial fertilizers, we do not spray any chemicals nor other, non-organic matter. In short, we simply allow nature to do its job, to fulfill its integrated and holistic task even if that may lead to smaller quantities and to a lower profit margin. Our respect for nature has so far given us good harvests. It may not always be perfect, but it is always in accordance with our sanity, health and peace of mind. And it is always in accordance with the way farming was done for thousands of years – sane, natural and humane.

Establishing a New Vineyard

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Just over three weeks ago, right before the February full moon, we planted our new vineyard at Camp d’en Ventura, just outside Calonge (Santanyí/Mallorca), at the foot of the sloping hills of the Serra de Llevant. During that phase of the moon, the gravitational pull is lessening whist the moonlight strengthens and there tends to be more moisture in the soil. As it happened, we had to abandon our planting task due to excessive rainfalls and were obliged to wait for three days before we could send the planting tractor in again to continue the planting operation of our new rootstock.

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Whilst in our vineyard at Son Alegre outside Santanyí we have Chardonnay and Malvasía white grapes as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot blue grapes, we opted to plant vines with different grape varieties at Camp d’en Ventura, such as Callet red grapes and Giró Ros white grapes. In total, we planted some 5,200 vines over a total expansion of 18,000 square metres. The newly planted grapes won’t mature until 2017/18 and wine from the bunches of grapes will not be ready until 2018 at the earliest. Patience is the key ingredient in wine making and haste is your enemy number one.

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The soil here at Camp d’en Ventura is of a similar character to the one in Son Alegre. It is of the Call Vermell composition, which is a fertile clay loam formation containing plenty of iron oxide and lime. Here too, the land is equally interspersed with plenty of stones and small rocks, characteristically preserving humidity a little bit longer than soil of a different makeup.

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As at Son Alegre, we shall continue to farm our land at Camp d’en Ventura true to organic and ecological methods as laid down by the CBPAE (Consell Balear Regulador de l’Agricltura Ecològica – Balearic Council of Organic Agricultural Production). That means, no chemicals, no pesticides, no herbicides; that also means that we don’t use commercial fertilizers be that chemical or organic. If everybody uses the same commercial fertilizers, people shouldn’t be surprised when a lot of wine tastes similar. You always get out of things what you first have put in, don’t you think?

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As always, we shall also adhere to the principles of biodynamics according to Rudolph Steiner even though we have not yet been granted the certificate of DEMETER (International Demeter Processing Standards). That implies no ploughing with heavy machinery, the use of biodynamic compost produced from the pulp of grapes and other plant and mineral components plus our own organic manure, principally from our own flock of sheep. And of course we follow the cycles of the moon, a practice which has been adhered to already by our great-grandparents all those years ago. We allow a ground cover of wild flowers and grasses all year round, inviting insects, beetles and birds to take habitat and thus work the land and nourish the soil for us. It’s a long way to Tipperary but the journey, as always, has to start with the first step.

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We are looking forward to 2018 and we don’t mind having to be patient a bit until then.

To Plough Or Not To Plough, That Is The Question

Son Alegre unploughed

When we first started our new vineyard we decided that we wanted to do things the right way. We had seen all around us how this island had changed over the last twenty or thirty years. How it was being treated as if there was no tomorrow and as if growth was the only option. Over the last 100 years or more, man has demanded more and more from our soil. We could not understand why everybody was participating in a race for more; more produce, more tourists, more income, more roads, more flights and more congestion. More of everything even though that would result in more stress and, ultimately, in a depletion of this island’s resources, whilst severely effecting the well-being of our children and of our grandchildren. This attitude might possibly endanger the future and the survival of Mallorca, this small paradise in the Mediterranean Sea.

We wanted to do our work in a responsible way and in a manner of sustainability. We wanted to stop depleting our resources, diminishing our natural assets and forever taking from our land. Instead, we wanted to start giving back to this island what it needed: health, dignity, repose and harmony. We decided that we would aim for an ecological balance on our land of give and take by aiming to keep our CO2 emissions as low as possible. We wanted to work the land as it had been a long time ago when our forefathers were in touch with nature and the elements and were respectful and grateful to the land that had nourished them and their ancestors. Our aim was to do things the organic way, even a bio-dynamic way which is an on-going opportunity to accommodate our fascination with the wonderful complexity of the natural world.


The land at Son Alegre had been ill-treated for so long. Years and years of ploughing with heavy tractors had effectively compacted the soil to a composition almost as hard as concrete. It was time to give the soil a bit of a rest.

Our land is composed of the Call Vermell soil, typical for many parts of Southeast Mallorca, a clay loam formation containing a high level of iron oxide and lime. This soil is interspersed with plenty of stones, characteristically preserving humidity a little bit longer than soil of a different makeup.

We started planting trees. First an olive grove (Olea europaea) and then an orchard of Algarrobos (Ceratonia siliqua, Carob trees). Since day one of our venture, we decided not to use any commercial fertilizers, be they chemical or natural, and we also decided not to plough the land. For us, to plough or not to plough was never the question. We knew that below the surface there was an active organism of life and natural nutrients that wanted to be left alone to be able to do their job; ants, worms, insects, amoebozoans and other little creatures, fungi and mycorrhiza. We knew that every time we upturned the soil by passing the plough over it, we would destroy and demolish the invisible structure that lay beneath the surface, a structure that we would need in order to nourish our land and our plants.

natural carob field

We started to plant our first vines. For one last time we had to use ploughing tractors to create the trenches where we would plant the rootstocks. After this, there would be no more ploughing. Yes, there are disadvantages to this way of gentle agriculture, drawbacks which would effect the soil. There is no doubt that ploughing aerates the land. If the soil is not aerated it might at times be deficient in water which would mean that we would have to irrigate the land whenever necessary. Luckily, Son Alegre has its own historic water source and the water is brought up by the use of solar panels, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

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The benefits of not ploughing the land are manifold. We neither disturb nor destroy the delicate composure of the living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) below the surface of our land. We do not diminish the nutrients which are being produced by the ecological partnership of ants, earthworms, minerals, nitrates, phosphates, fungi and mycorrhiza. Vegetative growth is stimulated and with it chlorophyll, in turn producing photosynthesis and thus, absorbing CO2. The policy of gentle intervention creates environmental peace and an equilibrium that attracts wildlife such as birds, insects, bees, butterflies and a multitude of creepy crawlers which in fact all help us decompose, nourish, fertilize and, of course, pollinate our vines and other plants. When we allow all living beings to exist underground in tranquility and balance they inadvertently help us and our work. Thus an environment is created which acts as a means of biological pest control, promoting biodiversity and generally benefitting the ecosystem and the biosphere in general.

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During the winter months, we also bring our sheep to graze the land between the rows of vines, helping to keep the ground cover at bay. At the same time the ruminants fertilize the land with their faeces, adding manure, essential elements and humus to the soil.

The more we honour the holistic interaction of our vine plants with the native flora, often mistakenly called weeds, and the influence of native insects, bugs and other tiny creatures, the more thriving and healthy our grapes will grow. In short, we simply allow nature to do its integrated and holistic task even if it may lead to smaller quantities of produce and a lower profit margin.

Our respect for Nature has so far given us good harvests. It may not always be perfect, but it is always in accordance with our sanity, health and peace of mind. We want our soil to remain of good use for future generations. We aim to give back to Nature what Nature has given us, forever more.

Nature is always the best.

Son Alegre sheep