Subtle Energies


Lawrence F. London, Jr. - Venaura Farm - Chapel Hill, NC, USA
mailto:london@sunSITE.unc.edu  http://sunSITE.unc.edu/InterGarden
mailto:llondon@nuteknet.com  http:nuteknet.com/london  Venaura Farm
Title: Subtle Energies
                     Subtle Energies in a Montana Greenhouse

                                by Woody Wodraska
                      Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center (1)

             In some 20 years as a gardener I have worked in greenhouses 
        in Pennsylvania, Florida, Oregon, Illinois, Minnesota--but never 
        have I seen plants flourish in a Spring greenhouse as they did  
        in the B Bar Ranch greenhouse in Montana this year.  At 6,800 
        feet elevation and 45 degrees North latitude, Winter temperatures

        linger.  The gardener can scarcely step a digging fork into the 
        soil until late April.  The greenhouse becomes a place of refuge 
        and the embodiment of his/her burgeoning dreams of growth.  This 
        greenhouse--a leaky, cobbled-together, 75 by 18 foot double-layer

        polyfilm hoop house with a propane heater--was my warm place of 
        retreat after a long, brutal Montana Winter.  

             The term "Subtle Energies" in the title of this piece refers

        to three major things:

             * The Biodynamic preparations, herbal compounds 
        traditionally used by Biodynamic farmers and gardeners on soil, 
        compost, and plants as I did also in the B Bar greenhouse, and 
        again as seed soaks--not quite a customary application, but  one 
        that deserves much more attention;

             * The Flowforms (2)--sculptural waterforms whose vortices  
        potentized all of the preparations applied in the greenhouse;  
        their overall contribution to the ambiance of the place was 

             * Agnihotra (3).  Here you may have to stretch yourself a 
        little bit.  Agnihotra  is an ancient  Ayurvedic sunrise and 
        sunset  ritual,  a healing, purifying ceremony, both for those 
        who perform it and for the local and Planetary atmosphere.

                            Why No Controlled Study?

             I have what I hope is a healthy skepticism about the 
        scientific method and the way it is conducted in the real world. 
        I was trained as a scientist--in psychology, not agriculture--and

        early on saw that such an experimental mindset  wasn't my forte. 

        If someone else wishes to validate these greenhouse energies in a

        proper scientific manner, I'd welcome his or her efforts.  But 
        the methods of science seem to me to be an exceedingly coarse net

        to catch the elusive fish of truth. 

             More important, though, is this point.  If I, as a Bio-
        Dynamic practitioner with a market to serve, a job to do, believe

        in my best judgment that a particular practice will result in 
        better yield, or healthier crops, or enhanced soil life--if my 
        intuition, experience, and judgment tells me something is worth a

        try...why wouldn't I go for it?  Shall I  hold all other variables 
        steady and change just this one thing, or shall I  go 
        the whole hog?   If I have a problem in garden or greenhouse, or 
        if I want the best quality, the most healthful produce, why 
        wouldn't I throw everything I've got at it, everything I think or
		 know will help?

             These three strategies--the Biodynamic  seed soaks, the 
        Flowforms, Agnihotra--all became available to me as greenhouse 
        enhancements during the past Winter and early Spring and there 
        wasn't any question I was going to use them all.  As a Biodynamic
		 gardener I practice what is to me more of an art than a science. 

                            The Biodynamic Seed Soaks

             I am grateful every time I delve into the bright yellow 
        binder  that holds all my back  issues of Applied Biodynamics, 
        from the Josephine Porter Institute (4).  Hugh Courtney not only 
        writes wonderfully well, but he also has  a fine sense for  
        publishing  just what the practitioner needs to know to stay on 
        the cutting edge of Biodynamic practice.   In the Spring, 1994 
        issue of Applied Biodynamics, Issue No.7, Hugh  has a brief piece
		 on "Seed Soaks with the Biodynamic Preparations," with a table 
        suggesting #507 for maize, #505 for lettuce, and so on.  
        Germination rate, fruit set, and root development are said to be 
        enhanced by the practice.  In his laconic way, Hugh suggests at 
        the end, "Much more experimentation seems desirable in this area 
        of seed soaks,"  and leaves it to the rest of us, as he often 
        does, to pick up on the significance of all this. 

             This Spring I decided to take Hugh up on his challenge, and 
        virtually every seed we sowed in  that Montana greenhouse was 
        soaked in the appropriate preparation before it went in a bed or 

             Germination rate and seedling vigor were both  remarkable, 
        far beyond anything in my experience.  Photos taken at 13 days 
        after sowing prove the point.

             Fruit set and plant longevity?  I am writing in mid-
        September.  Yesterday I called Mark Waite, the apprentice I left 
        behind in Montana, and asked him how the 65 tomato plants we 
        tended there in the greenhouse were doing.  He told me he was 
        picking 20 pounds of tomatoes a day for the kitchen.  The last 
        two weeks of July they'd started to come on ripe.  The first two 
        weeks of August he was harvesting 10-15 pounds a day, and a solid
		15 pounds a day during the last two weeks.  In September, no 
        question about it, 20 pounds a day.  I know from experience that 
        as the light begins to fail after Michaelmas (the Autumnal 
        Equinox), there will be a drop-off in yield, say an average of 10
		pounds a day for the month of October.  Around Halloween it's all
		over with the B Bar greenhouse.  Guests are gone and heating the 
        place would become prohibitively expensive.  But July-October 
        tomato poundage for 65 plants: is in the neighborhood of 1,300 
        pounds--20 pounds per plant.  And these are heirloom varieties, 
		not chosen for high yield, but rather for taste, color, and seed 

        There were similar results with many other vegetable 
        varieties at the B Bar this Summer:

          Bushel after bushel of  pole beans from a dozen plants;
          An elephant-head amaranth with a seedhead as big as a 
          Cucumber plants that continued bearing fruit for three full 


             My article on Flowforms in the greenhouse appeared in 
        Biodynamics #206, July-August, 1996.  In Biodynamics #207 Anne 
        Mendenhall responded with a piece, "Flowforms Revisited," 
        accompanied by a study conducted by Freya Schikorr, comparing 
        hand stirring, machine stirring, and Flowform potentizing of the 
        preparations.  While Anne seems somewhat wary of the Flowforms, 
        regarding their vortex as "no more than a whisper of itself," I 
        am more enthusiastic about their use and the Schikorr study would
        seem to support this.  Yield from plants treated with Flowform-
        potentized preparations were significantly greater than control 
        yields or machine-stirred yields.  Only hand stirring surpassed 
        the Flowform results, and only just barely. A whisper 
        communicates quite as well as a shout, it seems, and the vortical
 		form itself may be the crucial factor, not its depth and vigor.

         Yield, of course is easily measured and talked about.  What 
 		is not so easily defined and communicated is the remarkable 
        enhancement the Flowforms afford in the greenhouse environment-
        -the sound of flowing water, the visual attractiveness of the 
        sculptural forms themselves, the lovely sight of the swirling, 
        pulsating flow, the negative ions generated wherever water is in 
        action.  Here too, there are subtle energetics involved.  In the 
        last week of March I sowed a few Kwintus pole beans on the 
        centerline of the greenhouse, one going just next to the Flowform
		 cascade.  The plant that arose from that seed was for the 
        remainder of the season remarkably healthier and fuller than the 
        others, with greater fruit set and and overall yield.  I have  
        photos of two Soro red cabbage seedlings, one potted and residing
		 next to the Flowforms, one placed perhaps 30 feet away  The 
        seedlings kept pace with each other metamorphically--i.e., the 
        number of leaves on each was the same at 4, 7, and 10 weeks, but 
        the Flowform plant always had about one-third more leaf area.  
        When I wanted to hurry plants along in their development, for 
        special purposes--potted miniature sunflowers for guest cabin 
        porches, potted basil for the kitchen windowsill--I crowded them 
        around the Flowforms for speedy and healthy growth.  This 
		strategy worked every time.

                                  Agnihotra (3)

             We cannot fathom what ancient cultures may have known.  
        Certainly it is not too much of a "stretch" to believe  that much
		important knowledge may have been lost over the millennia, 
        particularly perhaps in the past couple of hundred years as 
        materialism became the reigning paradigm. How did the Egyptians 
        and the Maya work with stone with such precision?  Did Methuselah
		really live for 969 years--how?  Were Native Americans and other 
        indigenous people able to commune with plants (and the Devas?) in
		order to learn their uses for healing?

             Agnihotra  comes to us from the Vedas, the ancientmost body 
        of knowledge known to mankind.     It's not difficult for me to 
        believe that the ancients--closer to the land, the seasons, and 
        the sources; undistracted by technology's blandishments, may have
		had holistic understandings about Nature that are denied to 
        contemporary scientific method.

             Agnihotra involves preparing a small fire of dry cow dung 
        and ghee in a small, inverted  copper pyramid.  At the exact 
        moment of sunrise and sunset, a simple mantra is chanted and a 
        few grains of rice are placed into the fire.  The practitioner 
        sits quietly until the fire dies out, meditating, witnessing, and
		honoring the coming and going of the sun.

             I had been aware of this practice since reading Secrets of 
        the Soil  (5) some years ago, but had never seen it practiced 
        until early this year.  I immediately began daily practice of 
        Agnihotra in the greenhouse at the ranch in April, coincident 
        with the onrush of seed sowing, and there is no doubt in my mind 
        that some of the spectacular growth of plants there can be 
        attributed to Agnihotra.  One quite specific instance of this 
        comes to mind.  Toward the middle of May I had about three dozen 
        broccoli seedlings in 4-inch pots, ready to go into beds, but the
        only space available for them was in the unheated "back" portion 
        of the greenhouse.  (It's a measure of the harshness of the 
        Montana Spring that I wasn't even considering transplanting Cole 
        crops outdoors in May.)   I crossed my fingers and put the plants
        in the ground.  That night we had a hard frost with temperature 
        about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  Those broccoli plants were 
        prostrated by that frost, laid out flat on the ground when I 
        inspected them in the morning; they hadn't recovered even a 
        little in the warmth of the noonday sun.  Recalling that 
        Agnihotra ash is said to have healing qualities,  during the 
        afternoon I placed a couple of pinches of ash around each plant's
        stem and gently worked it into the soil.  Within a week the 
        results of this treatment were clear: 80 to 90 percent of those 
        plants were building new leaves and by harvest time each of these
        was producing usable heads.  Now I have seen many times before in
        my gardening career Cole crops affected by late frosts in the 
        Spring, sometime completely destroyed.  But never have I seen 
        plants this badly damaged recover so nearly completely.

             Since then I have used the ash from the dung-and-ghee fire 
        to good--if not quite so spectacular--effect  in greenhouse, 
        garden, and landscape plantings.  The Agnihotra effect is said in
        the literature to be one of counteracting atmospheric pollution-
        -and where on the planet is any farmer or gardener working in a 
        pollution-free place?


             It would be easy, even reasonable, for Biodynamic 
        traditionalists reading this to dismiss some of my observations 
        as the fuzzy fantasies of an  unreconstructed Hippie, forgetting 
        perhaps that Rudolf Steiner's indications for agriculture 72 
        years ago must have seemed equally off-the-wall...stag bladders 
        and skulls, skinning field mice  when Venus is in Scorpio--humph!

             I don't do the ain't-it-awful scene.  I won't tell you what 
        dire straits  we are in--war, corruption, pollution, topsoil 
        loss, the family farm virtually vanished.  What I will suggest is
        that agriculture is going to have to be a whole lot more 
        sustainable and interesting if we are going to attract the next 
        generation of young people into the field--the generation that is
        going to turn ain't-it-awful into isn't-it-marvelous!

             I have five internship slots open at Tree of Life 
        Rejuvenation Center for the coming year.(6)  We have a year-round
        gardening season and the opportunity to feed people --60 to 80 
        guests and staff by 1998--with life-giving, spirit-enhancing 
        Biodynamic food.  I plan to run that program in the most 
        interesting and inspiring way I can, for the good of the people, 
        the land, and the Planet.


        (1)  P O Box 32, 771 Harshaw Road, Patagonia, AZ 85624  (520) 
        394-2319  e-mail:

        (2)  Waterforms, Inc. Route 177, P O Box 930, Blue Hill, ME 04614
        (207) 374-2384
               The Flowforms pictured are the Bristlecone cascade.
               Woody Wodraska, Flowforms in the Greenhouse--A Preliminary

               Biodynamics    Number 206, July/August 1996, Bio-Dynamic 
        Farming and           
               Gardening Association, Inc.

        (3)  Literature from The Copper Works, Rt. 8  Box 365, Madison, 
        VA  22727 (540)
               5463;  Vasant V. Paranjpe, Homa Therapy, Fivefold Path, 
        Inc., RFD #1, Box 121-C
               Madison, VA 22727

        (4)  The Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Bio-Dynamics, 
        Inc. P O Box 133, Wool-
               wine, VA  24185  (540) 930-2463

        (5)  Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, Secrets of the Soil: 
        New Age Solutions for           
               Restoring our Planet,  Harper & Row, New York, 1989.

        (6)  Bio-Dynamic Gardening in a Permaculture Context: Information

        on Internships, 
                               available from (1) above.