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)

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“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)

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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.

 

In Aqua Veritas

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Today, March 22nd, we celebrate World Water Day.

World Water Day has been observed on this day since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22nd as ‘World Day for Water’.

This day focuses on advocating the sustainable management of freshwater resources and also pays attention to the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in developing countries.

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Water and water management play an integral part of any agricultural activity, especially so in the case of a farm managed on organic and biodynamic terms of natural farming as at Vineyard Son Alegre in the municipality of Santanyí in the southeast of the island of Mallorca. At Son Alegre, we cultivate vines, olive trees, carob trees and Xeixa, an ancient species of wheat (Triticum aestivum) indigenous to Mallorca, which used to be grown all over the island hundreds of years ago but sadly has virtually disappeared and is only slowly being reintroduced now by us and a few like-minded young farmers.

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During the first three months of this year, we had plenty of rainfall here on our finca with almost 250 litres of rain on our land, plenty for us and our needs but not half as much as in other parts of the island where massive downpours were said to have fallen. That’s almost half the amount in less than three months of what we had last year over the span of 12 months.

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During the twelve months of 2017, we measured a total of 460 l of rainfall per square metre on our land. With an extension of 512,500 m2 (51 hectares), we would have benefitted from about 235,000,000 litres of rain. A large portion of that water, roughly one third, is absorbed by our plants and vegetation, as well as consumed by our animals, by insects, birds, ants and other creepy crawlers. An estimated further one third of all that rainwater evaporates in wind and sunshine. The remaining one third filters down into our subterranean groundwater aquifers which we can then access whenever our vines need irrigation during the high temperatures of summer. We resort to irrigation very little; last year we supplied water to our vines on only four occasions with an amount of roughly 200 to 250 l per plant in total, using some 3,500,000 l in total.

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An old proverb says In vino veritas, a Latin phrase meaning ‘In wine there is truth’. We would rather claim In aqua veritas.

At Son Alegre, we are passionate about Nature. Our wines reflect that passion.

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At Vineyard Son Alegre, we follow an organic and biodynamic approach of agriculture. We believe that natural processes and interactions are not only necessary, but are quite indispensable in the growing of quality grapes and, in the end, outstanding wine. We believe it is best to leave nature undisturbed to the largest possible extent. That is why we have not ploughed our land for over ten years because we do not want to harm the microbiology of our soil. We do believe that a more diverse soil microbiome will, in general, result in fewer plant diseases, in a higher yield and in a better crop of grapes. For us, a passionate approach to an organic, ecologic, biologic and biodynamic agriculture is the only conscientious way to make wine.

Ramon lo Foll white

This wine is composed of grapes of the Chardonnay, Giró Ros and Malvasia varieties. It matured for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 3 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in March 2017. The alcohol content is 12.5% vol.

Pep Costa white

This mono-varietal wine is made 100% of the autochthonous Mallorcan grape Giró Ros. It matured for 10 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 10 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in June 2016. The alcohol content is 11.8% vol.

Foner rosé

This wine is a coupage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes. It matured for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 3 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in March 2017. The alcohol content is 13.5% vol.

Calonge 1715 red

This wine of the 2015 harvest is composed from grapes of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot varieties. It matured for 15 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 6 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in January 2017. The alcohol content is 14.5% vol.

All our organic wines are grown in harmony with nature and made with loving care.

Allow Us To Present Our New Sileo Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Over the last fifteen years or so, there has been quite a renaissance of quality virgin olive oils here in Mallorca. It is really quite remarkable. In the Nineties, Mallorcan olive oils were few and far between. Now, however, we are spoilt for choice of Mallorcan virgin olive oil from Sóller, Caimari, Manacor and Santanyí, to name but a few of the main olive growing regions. The Consell Regulador de la Denominació d’Origen Oli de Mallorca applies strict measures of quality control and today endorses a sizeable number of olive oils with a Denominació d’Origen certificate.

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Currently, there are 69 Virgin Olive Oils labelled with the ‘d’O‘ seal, the Oli de Mallorca Denomination of Origin. This certificate was created in 2002 in accordance with European Union regulations, confirming that the thus marked and sealed oil is an agricultural product originating from a clearly defined location whose quality and characteristics are principally due to the geographical environment in which it is produced by natural factors and human activity.

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Of the 69 Mallorcan Virgin Olive Oils, only seven are grown and produced under 100 % organic conditions as controlled and certified by the CBPAE (Consell Balear de la Producció Agrària Ecològica), without the use of any pesticides, insecticides, chemical substances or inorganic fertilisers. Sileo oli d’oliva verge extra from Son Alegre is one of these few Mallorcan quality olive oils and it is 100 % organic. Try some if you can. You will like it.

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ArbequinaEmpeltre, Picual and Hojiblanca are the principal olive varieties on this island. Our olives are of the Arbequina variety. We harvest them by hand in late October when the olives on the tree are three different colours, green, purple and black. The three colours signify that not all of the olives are fully ripened – if they were, they would all be black. We have decided to let some olives not quite ripen. That way we can ensure a superior quality of olive oil combined with a better taste. If we were to wait any longer, chances would be that the olive fruit would be attacked by the Olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae), a serious pest in the cultivation of olives, and that would of course alter the taste of our oil dramatically, unless we were to spray against the little insect. We will never spray, and hardly ever with with copper, which we are allowed as an organic producer. We are committed to Nature and to the wondrous ecosystem on our land that we have allowed to develop over the last ten or fifteen years. We have not plowed our olive orchard once in the last twelve years; in fact we do not even enter our orchard all year long other than at harvest time, simply to leave the trees, their natural environment and our biological ecosystem as well as the prevailing biodiversity completely undisturbed.

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Every year, our olives are the first ones to be pressed at our Tafona (oil mill) in Sóller, the Cooperativa Agrícola de Sant Bartomeu de Sóller. The oil mill is famed for their gentle handling of olives and renowned for their output of oil of the best quality. We are proud to collaborate with them year after year and we are grateful for the liquid gold that they gently press hydraulically from our olives, store for us during the two or three months of the settling process and the bottling of Sileo Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the end of their labour. Before bottling, our olive oil is tested by an ENAC-laboratory (Entidad Nacional de Acreditación). Our 2016-17 Sileo virgin olive oil extra was measured with a degree of acidity of 0.6%.

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Here is a photo showing the production of olive oil in Mallorca in times gone by, courtesy of Oli Monnàber Vell in Campanet (photographer unknown).  Muchas gracias.

All photos of today’s entry were taken, as always, by John Hinde, with the exception of the historic photo (above). Thank you, John.

The Soil Has the Last Word

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Son Alegre‘s Miquel Manresa was recently asked to give an interview by the new magazine ConCiencia, published in Palma on a monthly basis and now only in its second month. The interview was published in the issue of December 2016 under the heading ‘La tierra tiene la última palabra‘ (The soil has the last word). We at Son Alegre are very happy about this published feature and would like to give you the opportunity to see and read it for yourself.

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For those of our friends who might struggle a bit with the Spanish language, here is a brief translation of the interview:

THE EARTH HAS THE LAST WORD

Vineyard Son Alegre

The owner of Son Alegre, Miquel Manresa, proudly shows us his vineyard, a perfect example of how Nature looks after herself.

Our walk begins by listening to the “sound of the earth”. This man is in love with his work and his vineyard; he lets us participate in his dialogue. He speaks with each stone, with each branch, and each animal or insect, thanking them for their contribution and collaboration so that this land enables the fruit produce to give us the best 100% ecological wine.

The land is doing the cultivating process all on its own. There is no need for us humans to do what roots, worms and microorganisms can do best. In addition, the act of ploughing the soil alters the natural environment and promotes the growth of weeds. Miquel tells us with absolute conviction that only through respect and love of Nature we can find the balance and harmony we have lost and which we do need so much.

Miquel continues to tell us that the vineyard is cultivated according to the principles of Fukuoka [1] which implies a “total respect for Nature and the environment”.

The particular weather conditions of our land give our wine the unique and special qualities it has. The cold air coming from the sea is reacting with the warmer air which has been heated by its contact with the warm earth and this encounter generates a fresh air stream during the hot summer afternoons.

We tend to believe that it is the grape which gives the wine its flavour, when it really is the land on which the grapes are cultivated which creates its particular taste. This is due to the typology of the soil, providing some elementary nutrients to the vines and also partly due to the microclimate of the area.

At Son Alegre we grow vines on 15 hectares at two different locations, one on the edge of Santanyí, in the area between Son Danus and Ses Angoixes, and the other one in the neighbouring area of Can Taconer in Calonge.

For us, growing the grapes is an opportunity to live out our fascination for the wonderful complexity of the natural environment. We use the classical methods of practice in viticulture and oenology. The grape harvest is done only by hand and in crates, the pressing is done the traditional way, the fermentations are facilitated with indigenous natural yeasts and the barrels used for the ageing of the wine are made of French oak.

At Son Alegre, a very important tool for our work is the lunar calendar. By observing the phases of the moon, the way our ancestors always have done it, we know the most propitious time for the pruning of our fruit, the grafting of plum on to almond branches, the planting of new trees, the planting of cereals, the harvesting of our grapes, the mating of pigs, sheep or horses, or even the cutting of our hair.

He speaks very animatedly, explaining all the intricacies of the finca, that we find it slightly difficult to follow and, more so, transcribe so much information in a single interview.

Nature creates and gives peace, supports us and helps us to find a balanced state of equilibrium, just what is needed so badly in our times. Here, the conversation focuses on education and the importance of keeping children in permanent contact with a natural and healthy environment. *

* ConCiencia and MundoFeliz propose to our readers to use this special set-up to hold workshops for schoolchildren, to give the young ones an opportunity to connect with the land.

We could spend hours and hours talking to a person who conveys so much ancestral wisdom, learned through the work which he carries out day by day in his vineyard, being continually connected with Nature which he loves and so deeply respects.

Miquel, it would be an honour for us to have you at some of our conferences and events. You will always have a special space in our magazine. And of course, we will taste your wines!

To which he responds, with his usual relaxedness, being as calm and cheerful as is his land, that he will gladly share his knowledge with us, our readers and friends.

See you soon, Miquel.

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[1] The Principles of Fukuoka:

Do not plough or turn the soil: In this way the structure and composition of the soil is maintained with its optimal conditions of humidity and micronutrients.

Do not use chemical fertilizers or prepared compost: Through the interaction of the different botanical, animalistic and mineral elements of the soil, the fertility of the cultivated soil is regenerated as in any non-domesticated ecosystem.

Do not use herbicides or weed killers: These destroy the nutrients and microorganisms of the soil, and are only justified in monocultures. Instead, Fukuoka proposes an interaction of plants to enrich and control the biodiversity of the soil.

Do not use chemical pesticides: These also kill the natural richness of the soil. The presence of insects in farming can be healthy.

Do not prune: Allow the plant growth to follow its natural course.

Use clay seed balls.

These fundamental working principles are based on a philosophy of Do- Nothing (Wu Wei), or more accurately, of not intervening or forcing things.

Fukuoka reached a degree of comprehension of the microsystems of the soil and devised a system of farming that desists from unnecessary tillage and unnecessary endeavours of traditional agriculture. His method, which he sometimes called Natural Agriculture Mahāyāna, is based on starting to give and to then receive in a natural way, rather than be demanding on the soil until it is exhausted.

Winter in a Mallorcan Vineyard

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When driving through certain parts of Mallorca in November and December, one will pass by many a vineyard in a state of colourful display – yellows, oranges and reds. These vineyards were full of activity during the months of August and September when the grape harvest was taking place. Now at the beginning of winter, the vine fields appear quiet and sturdy, tranquil, and often quite dead and without any active life whatsoever.

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But invisible to us, there is more activity than meets our eyes. Yes, the Vitis vinifera vine plant has slowed down its business of fruit production but now it is producing a substantial amount of Ethylene (H2C=CH2), an organic compound which is needed for the process of abscission (the shedding of its leaves). At the same time, the vine plant is also producing Abscisic acid (ABA), a plant hormone which is needed to enter into the dormant state – the period of hibernation – during the winter months. ABA prevents cells from dividing and suspends growth.

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The vine plant is very intelligent in as much as it knows exactly how to regulate its metabolism, its energy consumption and its growth. By stalling growth during the winter a lot of energy is saved. This process is similar to an animal’s hibernation. Most animals who hibernate store food as fat and then use it to run their essential systems during the winter, rather than grow any more. Likewise, the vine’s metabolism slows down during dormancy, and this is partly why cell growth is impeded. Since the plant has to conserve the energy it has stored, it is best if it uses the energy up slowly and only for essential functions.

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We at Son Alegre think it is best not to interfere in this energetic process of shedding and absorption. In fact, we interfere in our vineyard as little as possible throughout the year. We have our unsung hero helpers such as ants and worms, ladybirds and bees, spiders and snails, who help us day in, day out, with the aeration of our soil and the distribution of plant nutrition, macronutrients, micronutrients and moisture. Without these helpers we simply couldn’t do our business; without them there would be no Son Alegre wine.

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Let’s not forget what Nature does, every second of the day, all year round. Thank you.

And let’s not forget to say Thank you to John Hinde, the photographer of the photos of today’s blog entry and, in fact, of most of the photos published on this blog throughout the year.

Thank you, John. Thank you Nature. Muchas gracias.

Harvesting Olives at Son Alegre

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This week and last we started this year’s olive harvest at Son Alegre. Our one thousand plus olive trees of the Arbequina variety are doing very nicely, thank you very much. We planted the trees in 2004 and they have not been sprayed with pesticides, insecticides or herbicides for almost ten years now. Neither have we treated our land or our trees with growth enhancing substances such as fertilisers, be they of synthetic or organic nature. Although we would be allowed to use some organic pest repellents we abstain from such interference because we do not want to disturb the biodiversity of our olive grove that we have so carefully encouraged and maintained over the years. Using organic insect-repellent sprays such as Kaolin, a silicate clay mineral, would undoubtedly give us a higher yield when it comes to harvesting the olives but the downside would be a product of a lesser quality and this is not what Son Alegre stands for.

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We are very particular about collecting our olives just before they all reach complete maturity with the presence of three colour olives on each tree – green, purple and black. This way we are assured a maximum quality of our SILEO Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If we waited any longer we might well achieve a higher yield but would receive an oil of a lesser quality.

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For maximum freshness we always take our olives to the oil mill on the same day of the harvest. In fact, every year our olives are the first ones of the new season to be pressed at the oil mill. As always, we collaborate with the Cooperativa Agrícola de Sant Bartomeu in Sóller, famed for their gentle handling of the olives and renowned for their output of oil of the best quality.

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This year, Mallorcan olive production in general has suffered a downturn in quantities due to the climatic conditions on the island throughout the year and the absence of any significant rainfall. At Son Alegre, our harvest was down by about one third compared to the previous year. This week and last, we harvested a total of 2,896 kilogrammes of olives, giving us a total of 404 litres of olive oil with an acidity level of only 0.5%. This will give us no more than 800 bottles of Sileo Extra Virgin Olive Oil of 500 ml each. The oil is now in the oil press in a state of non-intervention and repose before the bottling process takes place, probably in January 2017.

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Bon profit.