Burying Cow Horns, Chicken Trucks and Channeling New Life Forces With the Moon and Stars

Let me just get this out of the way first.  Mysticism…it’s not for me.  I believe in science through and through.  That’s my training, I’m sticking with it.

Over the past week here in Oregon I have had to make decisions about the future of my vineyard, including what type of farming practices I want to utilize.  There are several options; certified organic, certified biodynamic or certified sustainable or plain old conventional methods.

The big Hoo-Haw right now in the wine industry, which I view as interesting but more of a marketing scheme, is biodynamics.  You will see it on wine bottles and in literature, it’s everywhere.  This new level of caring for vineyards, has been around for a while, but is currently surging in popularity as organic cuisine and “living green” becomes more and more popular.

Here’s the problem, while biodynamic viticulture has some interesting and favorable sustainable farming practices, it also employs various astrological principles within its methodology. 

I just can’t go there. 

I don’t even read my horoscope, why would I look to the phases of the moon to determine when to fertilize my vineyard and process wine in the winery?

Many biodynamic wine producers as opposed to the many “biodynamic-like” producers out there rack (separating wine from its sediment) and bottle their wines according to the phases of the moon and tracks of the stars across the galaxy.  They believe that racking a wine during the full moon will make it less clear in appearance as opposed to racking the wine during the time of the new moon. 


If anyone can show me some supporting scientific data that actual celestial forces were imparted to the wine during that process, I would love to see it.  I really would.

Another very common practice of biodynamic viticulture has to do with filling a cow’s horn with ground up quartz and soil from the farm and burying it in the spring.  You then dig up the horn in the fall, stir the contents with water  and spray it on the vineyard’s canopy.  This is supposed to enhance light metabolism. 

Wha?  I don’t know, I just don’t.  Maybe I need to write out the balanced chemical equation on this one.

If this is going to the “end of what you think” then yes that’s what it must be. 

Because those are just a few of the things required to be a true biodynamic producer.

I just haven’t seen any studies with scientific proof that biodynamics has any efficacy or superiority over say a certified organic vineyard.  I believe that any time you are paying attention to something, in such great detail, those “things” will turn out better. 

Biodynamic producers are also supposed to keep a herd of cattle in a portable 10,000 square foot pen.

Once the cattle graze and poop (for about two days), you move them to another location so the flys can come and lay eggs on the poop.

Now, before the fly larvae metamorphose you call the mobile-chicken-truck-guy and he brings over a load of hens to “have at” the poop that’s now chock full of unborn flys.

The hens peck and scratch while eating away at the larvae and unknowingly aerate the poop to make into fertilizer.  Kind of brilliant don’t you think?

However, I can barely get three square meals on the table along with everything else I have to do. 

If had to make sure a herd of cattle was to be relocated so a chicken guy could bring birds over to eat unborn flys out of my cows poop in a timely matter, I would seriously fail.  I know I would.

So as brilliant as the idea of biodynamics is with all of its holistic and renewable soil practices, I am unable to hear the words harvest and moon in the same sentence without getting a little shaky. 

Science on the brain doesn’t let me go there, I’m not sure if it ever will.  I really don’t need the hopes of cosmic influence to get me to pay attention in the vineyard or winery.

So what do I believe in?

I believe in organic farming sans the mysticism with increased effort and attention to detail.

I believe the vineyard is a whole system with cause and effect relationships.

I believe in trying to implement practices that reduce reliance on chemicals however this becomes difficult when disease pressure is elevated due to a wet and rainy climate.

I believe in maintaining biological diversity and ecosystem stability.

I believe in being a steward to the land, accepting that my time farming it is only minimal compared to those who will farm it after me.

And mostly, I believe in creating the highest level of fruit production available within my means, accepting quality over quantity in all situations.

That’s my soapbox and I’m standing on it.

Post a Comment


  1. Harry 1

    Why would the moon have such a great effect upon the sea, with huge differences in tides, and not have an effect on wine, or grapes and how things grow? It’s not all old-wive’s tales

  2. You know, maybe this is where the term nincom-POOP comes from….Cathy, Amen, and again I say AMEN ! Some of the advice is just a matter of practicality. Like chickens scratching and pooping and areating,a good tiller will do the job too!But really, others are just plain superstition and when you start down that particular road who knows where you’ll end up.

    Of course, you could do all this in our area, one of the New Age Meccas of the world….just think of all the good ideas and harebrained schemes you could incorporate. So, do you have your water-witcher lined up yet to show you where to dig your well ? KathyB.

  3. Deeba 3

    YAY…I’m with you singing the same song! Here’s to logical & rational thinking. Prove it to me scientifically; give me logic & I’ll think about it. All the hoo-haa about the moon & harvest, the chicken & the poop…absolute nincom-poop. How sweet that is KathyB!!

  4. Debbie 4

    I dunno. I’ve had some amazing biodynamic wine from Chile. But now wondering what it’s sun sign is and then there is the whole rising sign matter too.

    Will say though having worked in hospitals for 10 years now I can ALWAYS tell when it’s a full moon so Farmer’s Almanac might be right about planting to what the moon is doing.

    On a more serious note, I personally am trying my best to eat/drink organic as much as I can. Tired of all those nasty chemicals sneaking their way into my body and over time possibly doing harm to my cells. All one has to do is looking at how the population is getting to much antibiotics and now bugs are getting more and more resistant. Yikes, now I’m climbing up on a soapbox!

  5. Kim 5

    Cathy, seeing that my major was in Biology and I was the oddball who loved Chemistry just because it’s Chemistry-I am with you on this. Don’t read my horoscope either and though spirituality & religon are of most importance in my life- mysticism is not. Finally you made the right choice as you really do need to keep your kids fed with 3 square meals instead of moving cows and chickens around your vineyard.

  6. Ann 6

    Hoo boy… this is exactly the context I imagined for that wonderful quote about going “to the end of what you think.” So many short thinkers out there…

  7. Dee 7

    Hmm… I’m not a believer, but I don’t disbelieve either. Anyway, I Googled this up.

    According to http://www.gardeningbythemoon.com:
    “The lunar phase controls the amount of moisture in the soil. This moisture is at its peak at the time of the new and the full moon. The tides are highest at this time, when sun and moon are lined up with earth. Just as the moon pulls the tides in the oceans, it also pulls upon the subtle bodies of water, causing moisture to rise in the earth, which encourages germination and growth. Tests have proven that seeds will absorb the most water at the time of the full moon.”

  8. Katie 8

    How bizarre. That kind of turns me off biodynamic wine… I don’t particularly care if my wine is organic, I mean it’s a fermented and processed product, it’s not really straight from the earth like a head of lettuce. I do think sustainable farming practices just make good sense though. I think. I don’t actually know what I’m talking about.

  9. cassie 9

    ROFL! I don’t care if my wine is organic or not. I just want it to taste good.

  10. Bunny 10

    This sounds like a method of farming that would have been practiced like in the old days or something when superstition was big, not now with all the scientific data that’s available. If it was me I would find an organic method I like and spend alot of time praying . But that’s just me.! LOL!!

  11. I am in total awe of you. You have such a vast knowledge of farming, the land and several different ways of doing things. I would cry if I had to know all this.

    I have to agree with Cassie…I don’t care if the wine is organic or not. As long as it’s good that is all that matters.

  12. While I can see how the phases of the moon might affect some things and even extend over into growing of grapes, etc., I think these folks have carried things a little far. It makes me wonder what else they’re growing besides grapes–and if they aren’t perhaps partaking a bit too much of it.
    I think you’ve made the right choice, and now that I know what biodynamics is, I’d say I’d be *less* inclined to buy wine with that label. Organic is good though. I like organic. Excuse me, I have to go move the dog pen and bring in some chickens now.

  13. Suzette 13

    I applaud your level head. You gotta do what you gotta do. Don’t let other people’s beliefs pressure you into going against your own.

    Somehow, I don’t think this is going to be a problem. :)

    BTW – thanks for the first laugh of the morning when I read this:

    “If had to make sure a herd of cattle was to be relocated so a chicken guy could bring birds over to eat unborn flys out of my cows poop in a timely matter, I would seriously fail. I know I would.”

    Love it!

  14. Your new adventure is SO exciting!! I think you’re right to stick with the scientific end of things. The other stuff sounds interesting–but I definitely question how much sense it makes. The “cow moving” spounds cool but like way too much work!!

  15. Welcome to Agriculture baby, and the ‘enlightened folk’ over there in Central/Western Oregon! I do love a great full moon and a full bodied wine… together, even!
    So, who is really making out on this deal? It sounds like the owners of the livestock and chickens are getting a great deal to come graze in the vineyards, for free, is it, or do you have to pay them? I mean, as you say, you don’t have the time to deal with them… And, those critters are a whole other complicated enterprise that will tie you down forever!!! Now, how about that chicken poop? Is someone gonna come collect it for fertilizer?
    Oh.. lets not forget a Nutrient Management plan for all that cow poop… Nitrogen load baby.. and the governmnent is gonna want to chat with you if any runoff is leaving your place – water quality issues…
    Oh boy!!!
    Just give me a nice bottle of vino… raised with sustainable practices…as best can be.. w/o the fluff..

  16. JulenaJo 16

    Well, one thing could be said about biodynamic farmers: they undoubtedly are willing to expend a great deal of care and effort in creating their product. That being said, I have no doubt it’s an excellent product. Whether the lunar phase and cow horn is of any benefit is beside the point. They are looking to go the extra mile and great for them! And for us! :)

  17. Sandie 17

    Three thoughts:

    (1) All things in moderation, including biodynamics and hip, new marketing strategies.

    (2) Not everything in this world can (yet) be explained by science, but they’re working on it (biodynamics included).

    (3) Yes, the moon controls the ocean tides, but strangely enough, it also seems to have contributed as to when I would go into labor with all of my pregnancies. Not even my doctor predicted that.

  18. i’m with you sister sledge…my pop-rocks-filled shofar tells me all signs point to me agreeing with you…xodeb

  19. I totally agree. I had no idea people even tried to do that. Maybe they should tie red strings around their wrists as well…where’s a snake oil salesmen when you need one?

  20. I know I would mix everything up and bury the chicken and try to get the horn to poop and have the cows scratching and it would all be a big mess. I was waiting for the druids to come bless the land, etc. I’m sure you’re going to have a marvelous winery, even without the mysticism.

  21. Teri 21

    As with anything, the further you delve into this, the more in depth things will get. I used drive past the vineyards in Santa Ynez because that’s where I used to live, but finally some friends took me on some tours. That’s when I found out more details about wine making that I had no idea about. Amazing.

    I have a feeling this is only the tip of the iceberg for you. But I too have hear scientific facts about the moon affecting the tide so maybe???? But as far as the cows horn… sounds weird and really high maintenance. Ick..

    It IS fun to read about the entire process vicariously though! Thanks for involving us all in it! Good luck and research lots! I believe in solid facts too!

  22. tj 22

    …Hello Cathy, have you ever read the Farmer’s Almanac? It is based on astrology and tells one when to plant potatoes and when to butcher according to the moon and such. It even goes as far as to tell you when to cut your hair, get teeth pulled, etc… I too don’t know what to believe except that my grandmother used to say that they would base their butchering time around the wax or wane of the moon due to the fact that the animal would bleed faster and better. She swore by it…

    …I think you do whatever works best for you, your family, finances and farm. I think everyone adopts different practices and methods according to their interests and also as to what may set their product apart from others on the market…

    …I’ve also read, but don’t know how true it is, that hospital emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals see an influx of violent crimes and a rise in violent behavior when the moon is full.

    …Whatever way you choose your passion for what you are doing will ultimately shine thru and that is what everyone will notice… ;o)


  23. Cathy, I have to tell you that a lot of people from Kentucky plant by the moon signs. There is validity in how the moon effects the earth and even our moods and personalities. And there has to be something to it if for thousands of years the moon phases have been practiced by different civilizations. I am sure however, that you will choose your own method and be so very successful with it and I will be saying I knew her when :o)

  24. Wow. The cows and chickens would definitely be in trouble on my watch.

    What a bunch of superstitious nonsense.

    Biology major here too. I say use your brains.

  25. Daisy 25

    I like every one of your beliefs. Nice soapbox.

    As for the moon and chickens, well, it sounds like it would work, as do a lot of farming practices. And some excellent points have been made here about the moon’s effect on water and germination, etc. It still sounds like voo doo, but maybe a little voo doo in the world isn’t bad… within reason ;)

  26. I know I am risking sounding nuts writing this, but here goes.
    We work cattle by the signs. I thought it was crazy, too, and made fun of my husband for it. But then I started tracking the numbers of cattle that either died or we had to doctor multiple times and it just showed overwhelmingly that the cattle got sicker if we worked them in the feminine signs. They bleed more.
    Like you, I was a total skeptic. And perhaps it’s just a coincidence. But, it really seems to work.

  27. Anna 27


  28. ALF 28

    I’m with you. I am happy to let other people believe whatever they want but not all of it is for me.

  29. Personally, I don’t see anything “mystical” about the moon phases. It’s more science than religion, depending on how you use the information. My grandparents (on both sides) were several generation farmers and swore by the Farmer’s Almanac and the moon phases. They were down to earth people who didn’t believe in astrology.

    One *could* take all the moon-stuff to a mysticism level, but there’s a difference between worshipping something and using it’s scientific properties to your advantage. ;)

    All of this being said, I’m sure you’ll succeed at this whole thing regardless of what you end up calling it in the end. :)

  30. That should read, “ITS scientific properties…” Poor little apostrophe…being forced to sit there incorrectly, for all to see.

    (Sorry, I can’t not correct my own grammar. It’s a disease.)

    Carry on…

  31. this is all so exciting planning for your vineyard. i don’t drink wine or other alcohol but i love vineyards for some reason. also one of my favorite movies is a good year with Russell Crow. its hard to know where the bs starts on some of the psuedo science crap. Where although some things have a sprinkle of truth the tangents are way too off to base anything on. Follow your gut!!

  32. follow your gut? whoops you are logical… go with the rational thinking trend you are currently engaged in does that make sense??

  33. Neen 33

    You’re Kidding. You’re KIDDING. Really? Bio-dynamics sounds so nice and green and modern, probably thanks to some PR-minded folks. Astrology?!?!? Wow. Cow horn? It sounds like practices that Italian wine makers would have done in the 1500s. I mean, I know any sort of farming is part luck, depending on the wiles of mother nature, but wow.

  34. Marjie 34

    Moons, quartz and flies on poop. Sounds like the ’60s song about the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Follow your scientific principals and beliefs. You can’t be happy if you adopt someone else’s unproven practices as your own, when they conflict with all that has worked in your life’s experiences. Logic rules in my world, too!

  35. melissa 35

    You just made my head spin!

  36. Cass 36

    My father is a farmer and I’m hoping I can quote you of this line:
    I believe in creating the highest level of fruit production available within my means, accepting quality over quantity in all situations.

    Because that would be perfection on his office wall.

  37. Laura 37

    Cathy I am SO GLAD you wrote about this because I was at my farmers’ market and the farmer at one of my favorite stands was talking about why you shouldn’t pick the plants under a full moon and whatnot (or something like that–I was too busy trying not too fall over) and now I guess I have a word for how they farm (in addition to organic)! Their produce is great but yeah as I walked away “WAAAA—-CKY” was going through my mind.

    I gotta admit their haricots vertes are to die for–but maybe that is because they are the only ones planting them? ;) (Instead of regular green beans).

  38. Seems like a pretty sturdy soapbox to me. The imagine of moving a flock of chickens in and out to work the poop from a herd of cows is just weird.

  39. dawn 39

    I have no idea what the hell you were talking about. LOL
    All I know about wine is I love french champange, which won’t help you and I know that you are a very wise woman. So, with the latter said I’m sure you’re going to make the best choice for growing your grapes.

  40. Yes, but if you’ll dance around that soapbox three times during the next blue moon before standing on it, your vineyard could take care of itself. I think the pool cleans itself too, not as sure on that aspect of it. You may just want to stick to your idea.

  41. Linda 41

    You are such a hoot. I get a kick out of reading your entries. I’m not so sure that the phases of the moon are really meant to be related to astrology as much as it has to do with the pull the moon has on the earth. I don’t know the science of it exactly but you do realize that the phases of the moon affect the earth, the tides etc. that having been said, I tend to agree with your viewpoint. You need to start out somewhere and if you don’t have all the funds in the world but you’re attempting to be a responsible steward of God’s green earth without having to go through all that rigmarole of cow herd shifting and chicken mucking thru the poop to aerate and fertilize you go do what you gotta do! I wish you all the best of luck and look forward to seeing (and sampling)your product in the not too distant future.

  42. Dragon 42

    I’m with you on this one. Go with what you can prove.

  43. Your posts are entertaining and full of things to think about. I’m with you as far as doing what’s practical. But moon signs? In these parts you just naturally follow them. I know doctors and nurses who can swear by the full emergency rooms on full moon nights too.

    I plant by the signs as much as I can and have reaped wonderful harvests when I follow them. I can’t do it completely because we work and have to plant and harvest by our available time.

    As for the Harvest Moon–that has nothing to do with signs but everything to do with a time of year–September’s full moon is the Harvest Moon, a time when people might work long hours to get their crops in because they worked in the moon’s light to get things finished. The Harvest Moon (named such in Native American lore) is the full moon that occurs closest to the Autumn Equinox (Sept 21 or 22, depending on your source).

    Of course, I speak as an Appalachian Summer Solstice baby…

  44. Cathy,
    I’m with you on this. Although working in an e.r. – the crazies really DID come out more during a full moon.
    Maybe they were having some of those bio-dynamic grapes beforehand :)

  45. Well zowie, the moon does affect the Earth but not in an astrological mystical weird way. The chicken poop thing is a bit much. I do not like to use poison in my yard but sometimes we have to. The Lord gives, the sun, the rain, and the fruit of the vine. He makes a lot of references to vines, grapes, and farming; abiding in Him like the branches on the vines. You will not only grow a vineyard but you yourself will grow, learn, and deepen.
    I am glad you don’t find the mystical approach attractive. Is chicken poop mystical or just stinky?

  46. Oh My Lord. I am seriously laughing my ass off over here and my husband thinks I am nuts.

  47. dennisw 47

    Here is your proof that bio-dynamics is the way to go. Acres USA is a great organic outlet and has other bio-dynamic books. Go organic now but buy this book so you go can bio-dynamic later. Good luck

    link to acresusa.com

  48. Hmm. A lot to think about. Here’s the thing. A lot of … methods … that sound crazy/superstitious now, are actually centuries old and were based on knowledge gleaned from experience. You know, the whole pagan, in tune with the earth thing.

    Just the fact that they’ve given it a name like “biodynamics” makes me think it’s the latest version of trying to get on the “green” band wagon. It kills me that “organic farming” and “recycling” don’t seem to be lifestyle changes so much as a fad – because fads come and go.

  49. Most folks don’t realize that organic grape growing allows for the use of the following:
    commercial yeast
    excessive watering
    oak dust and oak chips
    And organic allows for the addition of acid and color to your wines…
    All of which are NOT allowed in biodynamics…
    If you use pesticides (no matter if they are organic or not) you are killing both predacious (good) and the bad insects. BioD makes you treat your vineyard as its own ecosystem. MUCH more difficult than sustainable (no legal definition) or minimal organic farming. Too many people miss the requirements of biodiversity (plants, animals, insects, cover crops, olive trees, etc.) (NOT required in Organic) and get hung up on the idea that calcium (cowhorn) helps decompose compost and attracts microbial activity in your soils (science yikes!)
    OK, we’re also waiting to see a winemaker take the gravitational effects of the moon OUT of winemaking…
    Yes, brix levels go down (slightly) during high tide and we’ve proven it. We’re also using science after-the-fact to analyze soils and vines for back-up support for this natural way of farming.
    go to http://www.demeterbta.com for more de-mystifying (pun intended) information go see a BioD vineyard and then make up your mind…

  50. I’m aware of some of the differences between biodynamic and organic farming on a more broad sense — but it’s fascinating to read about this in conjunction with vineyards.

    I have to say that this is a far more complicated situation than it first appears.

  51. Kate 51

    Because of your melodic nature,
    the moonlight never misses an appointment.

    There is no mistake so great
    as that of being always right.

    Help! I am being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery.

    These are actual fortunes from cookies. It is my gift to you. Enjoy.

    ~ PS — I knew you wouldn’t want me to send your horoscope for today.

  52. Biodynamics – I haven’t heard anything that goofy since my days as a cashier at a whole foods co-op. Yeah – use your brain and your soul in equal measures… but when in doubt use your brain!

  53. Having worked for a Napa Valley winery for 22 years, I can honestly say winemaking and grapegrowing are both art and science. Most winemakers and viticulturists are very attuned to responsible, sustainable farming since both recognize that the final product is completely dependent on superior quality fruit. That said,the bio-dynamic believers are still in the minority. Some of the practices just aren’t reasonable. And gosh, isn’t a baby fly a maggot? Guess the chickens don’t mind. Personally, I think you’ll get some fine Oregon Pinot Noir without the cow horns.

  54. I kinda like the stuff out there that people theorize about and I can not wrap my head around. Helps keep me grounded.

    Biodynamic, organic, whatever…you’ve got lots of FUN, exciting and labor intensive work ahead of you. BEST OF LUCK, and remember I’m there for you when you need me!!

  55. Misty 55

    I am with you 100% on this! Very well put!

  56. Elle 56

    Are you serious? Now, if you had to plan something around the tides, then by all means, go with the moon for your schedule. But for farming? I dunno. I think I like your methods better.

  57. Wow – who knew all that was out there. I am not sure I would be more likely to purchase a wine if I knew that it had been produced in accord with the phases of the moon, or not. I am a bit mystical, and like the idea, but really – don’t we mostly care what it tastes like?

    Love your blog!


  58. magpie 58

    i like your soapbox.

  59. I am going to a wine auction in Chicago in 3 weeks (harvest permitting) to try to bid on some Domaine Romanee Conti (DRC). Crazy that they are the very highest regarded Pinot Noir producer in the world and priced accordingly and oops, you guessed it, BIODYNAMIC. OK, they are new in trying that grape in that area. I believe that Pinot only goes back 1900 or so years in that neck of the woods…
    You may argue that chicken poop doesn’t help a few vine rows over and to my knowledge the only reason you would have chickens is for nitrogen (science yikes) and chickens eat weed seeds, and the eggs are awesome but to me the real logic is that you are not disturbing or hurting the natural ecosystem, something that organic does not require nor control nor monitor…
    So, if it is hogwash then don’t buy any Opus One, Benziger, Joseph Phelps, Araujo, Ehlers, DRC, Frogs Leap, Robert Sinskey or any of the other hundreds of prestigious wineries that farm this way (and don’t use it for marketing reasons). That will drive down the prices and make these world class wines more affordable!

  60. Liz C. 60

    I’ve gone by The Farmer’s Almanac for years for my garden and they go by the phases of the moon and have since the days of Benjamin Franklin. There’s got to be something to that, you know? During full moons more babies are born, more deaths occur, and people suddenly become maniacs behind the wheel of a car that are otherwise meek and mild. The tide rolls in and things change. I can’t help but think it’s something beyond my comprehension, yet I’m in tune enough to understand that there is some kind of force capable of influencing some things that happen in the world. For me, there’s too much documentation to not believe it has some level of control, on a biological level at any rate. But, I’m not into all the mystical hocus-pocus. I do believe anything that has to do with water can and will be influenced strongly by the phases of the moon. We are made up of 75% water in our systems, yes?

    On the other hand, I’m not sure the other process sounds at all great. I’m all for the tried and true… with a mindful eye on the moon. A compromise of sorts.

  61. You nailed it on the head!
    “…I’m not sure the other process sounds at all great.”

    That information from the start is down-right wrong OR was wrongfully interpeted by someone and then given to someone else to blog about…

    Go see a Biodynamic farm or vineyard and judge for yourself, not from a single opinion (mine or otherwise).

  62. Though most people seem to be dismissing you logic as myth, remember that most myths are based on truths, and many truths are based on myth.

  63. Every one remembers that humen’s life is expensive, however different people need money for different issues and not every man gets enough money. Thus to get some loan or collateral loan would be a correct solution.


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