• Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Although this magazine is young, we who put it together each season are beginning to notice a thread running through it: that of the old. In many of the stories that have appeared in our first three issues, there are references to our Vermont farmer ancestors and to the various agricultural pursuits and culinary experiments they engaged in. To be honest, this wasn’t planned.

    Continue Reading

  • Biodynamics and Me

    Biodynamics and Me

    I have never thought of myself as a “spiritual” person. Although I have much admiration for the values and ethical traditions associated with the secular Judaism I was raised in, I have tended to eschew the organized aspect of religion. My secular upbringing did not prevent me, however, from noticing that the world around me was spectacularly complex and beautiful. The littlest things (a spider’s web!) inspired my utmost appreciation and respect. Later, I channeled this appreciation in the direction of science, trying to understand life processes through the study of biology and botany, microbiology and biochemistry.

    Continue Reading

  • Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve probably seen one of those lists that explain all the great reasons to buy local food. I’ve seen them so many times I can recite the reasons by heart: local food tastes better, it keeps family farmers in business, it’s better for the environment. But here’s an item I’ve never seen on one of those lists: local food costs less. That’s because many people—myself included—assume that buying local food means spending more money per item. We believe there must be a higher cost to something that represents an investment in our health, the environment and the local economy.

    Continue Reading

  • A Community Buys a Farm

    A Community Buys a Farm

    Robin McDermott is gazing towards the Mad River across a field dusted with early November snow. The frozen grass crunches beneath our feet as we walk past an old milking barn, standing huge and empty now for 40 years. Several acres of good agricultural soil, once carefully maintained, now lie fallow. “We need more farmers here,” McDermott says simply. As a founding member of the Mad River Localvores, she should know.

    Continue Reading

  • Pete's Good Eaters

    Pete's Good Eaters

    In the garage-sized farm stand where summer customers palmed pudgy tomatoes and grabbed up bunches of basil, the red manure spreader was parked for the winter. It was mid-November, and the plumes of celosias and sprawling nasturtiums that had been growing on the farm stand’s eye-catching “living roof” were a black, tangled thatch. But despite these concessions to the season at Peter Johnson’s farm in Craftsbury Village, there was lettuce growing in the greenhouse, workers making sauerkraut in the barn, and purple sacks on a cart, waiting to be picked up by local CSA members on their commute home.

    Continue Reading

  • Beyond Maple Syrup

    Beyond Maple Syrup

    On Sunday mornings during my childhood in Burlington, my father would make heaping stacks of pancakes on the wood stove. My sister and I eagerly awaited the moment when we would pour dark amber maple syrup on our plates to make our doughy boats float in a pool of sweetness. As a child, I took for granted that maple syrup, that quintessential Vermont ingredient, was an important part of the culture in my state. But today, a shift in ecological conditions thought to be triggered by global warming is pressuring ecosystems to move northward. If the southerly range of sugar maples migrates northward into Canada, a vital part of Vermont’s culture and economy will relocate with these valuable trees.

    Continue Reading

  • Three Square—Winter 2008

    Three Square—Winter 2008

    Growing up in Vermont, I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura day lilies. When I returned recently, to live here full-time, I began to notice how often the conversation in Vermont turns to food. What’s for dinner? For the next few issues of Local Banquet, I’ll visit a variety of people at home, peer into their iceboxes, and find out what they’re eating and why. And because these can often be personal subjects, I’ve omitted last names.

    Mike likes to eat everything. “Meats, potatoes, vegetables. I like all vegetables. Me, I’m not a fussy eater.”

    Continue Reading

  • Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Before I moved here, I always thought of Vermont as Holstein cows dotting a green rolling hillside, dairy barn in the middle ground. Say the word “Vermont” and I could smell maple syrup. Before I ever set foot in the Green Mountains, I associated them with food. Good food. And now, as I prepare to leave Vermont, my home for the past three and a half years, it is food I will miss.

    Continue Reading

  • The Underground Garden

    The Underground Garden

    My good friend Robert King, who lives on Putney Mountain, built a root cellar in the 1970s on the hillside just south of his home. Easy access came from the gravel road, where he could drive his truck right up to the root cellar. The site was protected from the north wind and snow drifts. The door opened to the east, not the south where it would have received too much sun. Robert used the Scott Nearing simple stone construction method. First, pour concrete footings and then, using movable wooden frames, fill them with cement and rocks and let them dry. Then move the frames above the first-poured section and start again. It’s simple and practical.

    Continue Reading

  • RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    Raw milk cheeses aren’t the only “live” foods getting attention in Vermont these days. In January, Rural Vermont, a non-profit working for economic justice for Vermont farmers, plans to introduce legislation in the Statehouse that would enable farmers to sell more than 24 quarts of raw milk a day.

    Continue Reading

  • Survival of the Rawest

    Survival of the Rawest

    Sometimes the food world offers bona fide drama made for “reality” TV. Survival of the Rawest is the working title for my imagined submission to the networks. This virtual “hit-show” is actually in production right now on small farms in the Northeast. And the subject is the clash of live foods with dead ones.

    Continue Reading

  • Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Beets are one of the mightiest of all vegetables. Steamed, roasted, pickled, or raw, beets add color, flavor, and nutrition to any meal.

    Continue Reading


Biodynamics and Me

phases of the moon

Written By

Tatiana Schreiber

Written on

December 01 , 2007

I have never thought of myself as a “spiritual” person. Although I have much admiration for the values and ethical traditions associated with the secular Judaism I was raised in, I have tended to eschew the organized aspect of religion. My secular upbringing did not prevent me, however, from noticing that the world around me was spectacularly complex and beautiful. The littlest things (a spider’s web!) inspired my utmost appreciation and respect. Later, I channeled this appreciation in the direction of science, trying to understand life processes through the study of biology and botany, microbiology and biochemistry.

As a gardener I’ve been guided largely by the understanding of nature that’s come to me through the science of ecology, since it has seemed sensible to me to try to recreate natural relationships in the ecosystem of the domesticated garden. But the scientific method has its limitations: it’s difficult for science to illuminate how different parts of life result from a myriad of intertwined causes, the effects of which are multi-faceted. In recent years, methods and techniques have been developed for examining multiple factors all at once and tracking “emergent properties” that could not have been predicted by looking at any of the factors separately. The most sophisticated scientific methods, however, are still limited by the design and accuracy of our tools of measurement.         

So it has also seemed important to me to turn as well to the knowledge that has been passed down from gardener to gardener across generations and cultures. One of the most common beliefs held by gardeners in many parts of the world is that lunar phases have an effect on plant development. The simplest form of this belief comes in the advice that one should plant and tend certain crops when the moon is waxing and other crops when the moon is waning. For years, I have tried to plant my root crops when the moon was waning; leaf crops when the moon was on the rise.                   

More complex ideas about how various forces of nature might affect plant growth have spawned an array of gardening techniques. Louise Riotte’s bookPlanetary Planting, which came out in 1975, is a guide to organic gardening based on lunar and planetary phases, influenced by the wisdom of Riotte’s father who grew grapes in the Rhine country of Germany. Riotte primarily bases her faith in lunar planting on the notion that the moon and planets influence the tides and the winds, which in turn affect plant growth. According to anthropologist Roberto González, some Zapotec farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico, recommend felling trees for construction or tools during the full-moon phase to harden the wood and prevent its infestation with termites.            

The biodynamic movement in agriculture, based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s and research by Maria Thun since the 1950s, focuses on the influences of the moon, sun, planets, and constellations on plant health, and is much richer than the concept of the waxing and waning of the moon. Biodynamics incorporates many additional beliefs about the influence of various life forces (referred to as “ethers”) which cannot necessarily be seen or measured but can be felt by those who are receptive. This is the aspect of biodynamics that is spiritually based, guided by the belief that the earth is a living being whose spirit can be understood if we pay the right kind of attention.      

While I am naturally skeptical of many of the techniques used in biodynamic farming, I’m unwilling to discount them completely because I am convinced that science will never be able to fully explain the forces of nature; the best we can do is continually attempt to come closer to a good approximation of how things work. So, in the last two years, I’ve ramped up my efforts to garden according to the biodynamic calendar. Luckily for me, the vast array of ideas about how the cosmos affects plants has been distilled for novices into a calendar published by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association. The Stella Natura calendar organizes the days of the year according to phases of the moon, the ascending and descending arc of the moon, and the passage of the planets through the constellations of the zodiac. Articles accompanying the calendar pages explain the astronomy involved, as well as the values and beliefs guiding biodynamic practice and their relationship to other agricultural frames of reference such as organic agriculture and permaculture.

If one follows the calendar, one plants on the appropriate dates and times of day depending on whether the part of the plant you are most concerned with is the root, flower, leaf, or fruit. Planetary forces are thought to influence not only when you should plant or transplant your crop, but when you should harvest and cultivate, and the best time to pick vegetables for storage. Some times are “grayed out” on the calendar, indicating that you really shouldn’t do anything in the garden during such times because conditions are unfavorable. What this means, practically speaking, is that each day one must determine what activities are appropriate when, and act accordingly. So if it’s a “root day” I might plant or cultivate my carrots, but only until 4 p.m., when the gray period starts.  If it’s a flower or a fruit day, I might transplant eggplants, since I want to favor production of the fruit. If a fruit day doesn’t work, a flower day is the next best thing, since good pollination of the flowers leads to better fruit production.         

For me, following the biodynamic calendar has been something of a challenge. There are root days when it’s raining, muddy, and miserable: not ideal for planting carrots! There are grey areas that occur just when I finally have time in my day to get to my gardening activities amidst my other work and responsibilities. More challenging still is the conflict I’ve felt when the perfect flower day arrives at the right time for starting the winter squash, but it’s also the day a friend I haven’t seen in much too long calls to suggest we go for a hike. Or when I’m needed out of town to assist a family member who is ill. At these moments, I am torn between the importance of tending to my human relationships and those I’ve cultivated with the plants in the garden and the land as a whole.          

The editors of the Stella Natura calendar counsel that the calendar is not meant to be a set of dogmatic rules. Gardeners must consider the weather, of course: it may be too wet one spring to get all the tomato transplanting done during the fruit days in early June. And I suspect that it’s better for my plants if I work with them while my mind is clear, not while I’m feeling conflicted about what I could be doing instead.         

Still, following the calendar has provided a certain relief and relaxation to my gardening life. When I wake up on a leaf day, I know what tasks I should do and what I can let go of for the moment. This provides an orderliness to my life that sometimes seems elusive, especially in early spring when everything seems to need doing at once. The calendar guides me: Friday afternoon, sow the tomato seeds; Sunday, transplant the broccoli. During a gray time I can breathe, and take a moment to appreciate the vibrancy of life in the garden.          

As far as results go, it’s really too soon to say. I know that my garlic didn’t do as well as I’d hoped this past summer: the bulbs were unaccountably small. When I checked, I found that I’d planted them the previous fall during a “flower” time. Not good. If the forces of nature favored flowering, that could inhibit bulb formation. This past fall I made sure to plant my garlic during a root or a leaf time. (Garlic bulbs are actually specialized leaves, but the calendar suggests they do best on root days. I decided to hedge my bets and try both leaf and root days.)         

I can’t really explain why it feels better to me to follow the prescriptions of this calendar than to ignore them, but now that I’ve tried it, it’s hard to imagine going back to gardening without these guidelines. Of course I’ll continue to study science-based recommendations about what kinds of nutrients my plants need to grow well and what conditions favor or inhibit the spread of disease. But at the same time, I’ll seek to absorb whatever wisdom comes my way about the subtle forces that may nurture life in the garden, forces that resist being measured in the lab but that can be sensed when my gaze is seized by the beauty of a purple eggplant, its glossy skin gleaming in the dappled light of the late-summer garden.

For more information about the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association and the Stella Natura calendar, go to biodynamics.com

About the Author

Tatiana Schreiber

Tatiana Schreiber

Tatiana Schreiber grows and sells heirloom and unusual varieties of eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as medicinal and culinary herbs, at her farmstead, Sowing Peace Farm, in Westminster West. She also teaches ecological agriculture and other topics at local colleges.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

What we do

A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


Sign up for quarterly notifications and issue highlights.
Please wait