Category Archives: Gardening with the Moon

A Column by Elen Sentier

“Planting with the Moon” is quite well known but, in biodynamics, we use more than the phases of the moon.

Biodynamics is using a set of eight preparations (the BD preps) made from vegetable/herbal, animal and mineral compounds to enhance the soil and the plants.

Gardening with the Moon – The Preparations

The Preparations …

  • The Preps are the corner-stone of biodynamics. Using the eight preparations is what biodynamics is about. They’re what Steiner originally gave at the 1924 lectures at Count Keiserling’s home and without them you’re not doing biodynamics.
  • It’s actually getting the preps on the ground, on the plants and in the compost heap that does the magic.

When added to good organic practice, the preparations increase soil and plant health and vitality, enhance colour, form, fragrance and flavour as well as helping plants resist pests and diseases.

We use the preps in conjunction with the Star Calendar, although this came later. The Star Calendar gives us the Moon-times, the best times to actually use the preparations. Although you can apply the preps any time their effectiveness definitely goes up an order of magnitude if you use them at the appropriate time. In cahoots with the Moon.

When Steiner gave the lectures he said he had given “the letters of the alphabet” and now it was up to those who came after him to make words, sentences, paragraphs, whole books even, out of the basic alphabet he had given. Maria Thun did just this, took Steiner’s ideas and work and built on them.

So, like all good science – all good magic too – nothing is set in stone but all is open to the powers of evolution, of growth. The Earth herself grows and learns and enlarges her consciousness as we learn and enlarge ours. We are part of her, she is made up of us. Knowing and understanding this is what wholeness and integration is about. You can take this idea of the oneness of all Life at any level you like, it works perfectly well at a materialistic level, just as it does at spiritual ones. The Gaia Principle works this way although Lovelock says he felt no need for spirituality in his life.

But the preparations are powerful stuff, even if nobody really knows yet why they work … you only have to use them for a little while to see for yourself how effective they are. There’s nothing like experience to convince you of something :-).

My first experience …

My own first experience of using prep 500 – horn manure – was of this ilk. My husband, Paul, went along to Steiner House in London to see what it was all about just after Yule one year long ago. They did a stirring of the 500 and he came home with a jam jar of dirty-looking brown liquid and a large wallpaper brush, trotted out into the garden and began flicking the stuff all over the shop. “Men!” I thought, “ah well, he’s not doing any harm.” He hadn’t told me anything about it or I might have recognized some of the ideas from what my dad and uncle used to do.

Me with Goldy & Star

The previous autumn I’d dug up the small patch of lawn in our little London terrace house garden. Being a plants-woman I’d no place for grass in such a small space. I’d stacked the grass, turf side down, under some black membrane to make topsoil for the following spring. Being in London meant we were on good old clay with only about four inches of topsoil before you hit the pan. Paul did another stirring at home the following month and I joined in this time.

Come the end of February I got out there with a fork to see how things were going and begin making the new flower beds. I stuck the fork in the ground, expecting to have to heave up heavy clay and it slid in, a whole spit’s depth. I forked it up and imagine my surprise when I found I now had a whole spit [a spit is the depth of the tines on your fork] of good soil where last November I’d only had London clay. All we had done to it was put the prep 500 on it a couple of times, nothing else, and we hadn’t had a hard winter so it wasn’t frost doing any of the work. It seemed the prep had somehow transmuted heavy clay into good topsoil. Wow! I was converted completely. However it did it the stuff was magic, we were definitely using it.

I later found this is one of the basic things using the prep can do. We’ve demonstrated it again here at Archenland where we were originally on heavy stagnoglay – anaerobic clay, not easy stuff to get in good nick. Getting the preps on the ground is what does the work. Doing it in time and tune with the Moon makes it really spin.

The picture is of our London garden – I don’t seem to have many of those easily to hand, will try to look out some more as it was very lovely, if tiny :-).

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Gardening with the Moon – Spray & Compost Preps

Biodynamics is easy … I want to say this right from the beginning. It does not mean you have to spend many hours making strange brews or spend loads of money. All the preparations, ready to stir, and the star calendar are available from your local BD association.

The preparations are used in two ways …

  • spray preparations that are used directly on the soil and plants
  • compost preparations that (as their name suggests) work in the compost heap.

Both the spray preps are made using a cow’s horns as the container and are sometimes known as the “horn preps”. The compost preps are made in all sorts of things and are more complex to make. How is dealt with in the “Making the Preparations” chapter but, as I said above, you don’t need to do this unless you wish to. All the preps are available for sale, cheaply, through your national biodynamic association.

What you have to do is turn them into a form that the soil and plants can use and that’s what we’re going to do in this chapter. For both horn preparations, horn manure (500) and horn silica (501), you do this by stirring a very small portion of either in a bucket of water for an hour.

A handful of horn manure

You need only a very small amount of either prep. For the horn manure, a piece about the length of your first thumb-joint stirred into an ordinary household-size plastic bucket half full of water will do the whole of the average town garden. For horn silica, a quarter of a teaspoon in half a bucket of water will be quite enough for most people’s veg and flowers. It really is a case of less-is-more.

The preparations are not fertilisers to be sprayed onto the ground in great quantities. As you’ll see, you actually flick droplets onto the soil with a large wallpaper brush or spray plants with a fine sprayer. Using the brush may make you feel a bit silly at first, especially if your neighbours see you, but you really won’t care once you’re munching those delicious raspberries or vegetables, or enjoying the beautiful, healthy flowers.

The next blog will be about how to actually prepare and use prep 500 – the horn manure.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Gardening with the Moon – Moon as Lens

“Planting by the Moon” is quite well known but, in biodynamics, we use more than the phases of the moon. Biodynamics is using a set of eight preparations (the BD preps) made from vegetable/herbal, animal and mineral compounds to enhance the soil and the plants.

Biodyamics is about working in harmony with nature rather than trying to force nature to conform to some human idea. It’s about learning more of how she works – after all she’s been at it a lot longer than there’s been humans around. The Agricultural Revolution took place in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East about 10,000 years ago, spread outwards from there into Europe. Mid/South Americas dawn of agriculture probably about 5,000 years ago. China/Japan are thought to be the earliest known agriculturalists at 19,000 years ago (approx). This is a mere spit in the ocean to the length of time the Earth has existed.

Moon as Lens

In BD is that we see the moon as a lens, focusing the energies of each of the twelve constellations onto the Earth each month as she passes in front of them each month.

Using the moon as a lens this way, to focus the energy of each constellation she passes in front of during her 28 day period, is why we call it a “Star Calendar” … because it’s about focusing the energy of the stars.

Without the star calendar we wouldn’t know when to apply the preparations.

The star calendar can appear confusing at first. And some biodynamic practitioners can get so wordy about astrological thingamajigs that it can boil one’s brain. You really don’t need to boil your brain to do biodynamics, it isn’t that hard and Steiner certainly never intended it to be! However, there are a few things to get your head around first so we’ll try to go slowly through them and make things as obvious as possible. You probably have some idea already as we’ve been talking about parts of the plant and what you want to enhance.

You use the star calendar to help with …

  • applying the preparations
  • sowing – all seeds you start in pots, and/or soak in water as well as those you sow directly into the ground
  • planting – including planting out annual and herbaceous plants either bought in from garden centres or grown on by you from seed or plugs; planting shrubs and trees from a nursery or plant centre; and planting out your vegetables after germinating them in pots
  • cultivation – weeding, thinning, pruning, feeding, etc
  • harvest – cutting flowers, picking fruit and vegetables

As I said, the Biodynamic Star Calendar works with more than just the Moon but it is the Moon that focuses the energy. This is because she travels around the Earth once every 28-29 days and, in so doing, she passes in front of each of the constellations – see the diagram above.

As she passes in front of each constellation, the moon focuses the energy from the stars in that constellation onto the Earth. This gives the days when best to work with each part of the plant as each constellation carries the energy relevant to that part …

















In the star calendar each day has the moon in front of one of these constellations and so is called a Root, Leaf, Flower or Fruit day.

There are several calendars people tend to use in the UK. My own preference is for Maria Thun’s as I find it the easiest to use, her approach is entirely practical and based on over fifty years of scientific observation.

Maria Thun is one of the people who does the astronomy for the Star Calendar. She began building the calendar in the 1950s by carrying out experiments to attempt to establish a connection between the growth of plants and the movements of the stars. Her first experiment was to sow a plot of radishes every day for an entire growing season and observe the performance of each sowing. She discovered four very noticeable differences in the plots. Some produced larger roots, others larger leaves, others again produced more flowers and the fourth group went more quickly to seed. This was the beginning of the Star Calendar. She has subsequently done, and continues to do, a massive amount of scientific research into biodynamic growing and updates the calendar each year with her latest findings.

The biodynamic associations in other countries all produce their own calendars which give the times as they are in those places. This makes them easier to use that translating GMT into your local time.

There are many moon rhythms, something like over a hundred, it’s a very complicated pattern that hasn’t been anything like fully explored as yet. There is so much we can find out over the coming years.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Gardening with the Moon: North & South – Hemispheres

As above so below is a watch-phrase for all esotericists … it works for biodynamic gardeners too … well sort of !!!

In the first article I talked about the rising and falling arcs of the Moon. These are the arcs she makes as she travels across the sky each night, for the first half of the month her arc rises higher and higher each night, for the second half it goes lower and lower. I said it’s a journey like that of the sun but where the sun takes the whole year to do its stuff the Moon only needs 28 days (a moon-th, month).

And … when it’s winter here in Britain it’s summer down there in Australia.

What’s down for me here is up for them there J. And that applies to the Moon’s rising and falling arcs too. So my sowing and planting time is Australia’s time to harvest and work with the parts of the plant above the ground.

  • This means that the sowing/planting times reverse depending on which hemisphere you’re in.

Through this period – 13 to 24 June – in the NORTHERN hemisphere – that’s all of us above the Equator, in Europe, Asia and North America – the Moon will be descending through the constellations of …

`abcde … that’s Twins, Crab, Lion, Virgin, Scales and Scorpion.

Each day, for us, the Moon’s arc gets lower and lower in the sky. This descending arc is when plants take root more easily, seeds spring to life better, transplanting plants, trees and shrubs is easier on the plants.

For you guys in the SOUTHERN hemisphere – that’s everyone below the equator, in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, South America and parts of South-East Asia – the Moon is still going to be in front of the same constellations I said above, but will actually be making a rising arc. So you will all be doing your stuff with the parts of the plant above the ground while I’m working on the root and soil stuff.

This reversal means it’s really sensible to get a Star Calendar that refers to the hemisphere (at least) where you live. It’s far less confusing until you get the principles under your belt and into your auto-pilot.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Gardening with the Moon: Moon Cycles

No, really, the title’s not a new form of green transport J, it’s part of the basic way biodynamics works, and it helps to explain why this column with is fortnightly (bi-monthly). I work with the cycles of the Moon.

Biodynamics – apart from being a very long word – is about juicing-up your already good organic practice with the help of 8 animal/vegetable/mineral preparations.

To use these most effectively it’s best to work with the cycles of the Earth, Moon and the 12 constellations that circle us and have been used since humans first saw them in the sky. The old stone circles of Britain were partly used as agricultural calendars, showing the seasons by means of alignments between the stone and the stars, including the Sun which is also a star, and the Moon which reflects sunlight onto the Earth during the hours of darkness. We no longer have to know how to work the old stone circles to get our calendars straight as we have paper books and even on-line star calendars to help us. The first to produce a modern star calendar, from her own experiential research, was Maria Thun. I still find her calendar the best and easiest to use but all the biodynamic associations around the world produce calendars done to fit the time zone they are in – I’ve put up a list of web sites in References.

So … Maria Thun does the astronomy and puts together the Star Calendar. What for? So that we can use those 8 preparations in time and tune with the Earth, the solar system and the Constellations. The light-energy of constellations is reflected and amplified to the Earth by  the Moon. She acts as a lens, focusing the star-energy onto the Earth for the 2-4 days she is in front of that constellation – between the Earth and the constellation.

The Moon’s Arcs

The Moon rises higher and higher in the sky each day for the first approx 14 days of her cycle, rising from her nadir to her zenith. She then takes the next 14 days to rises lower and lower in the sky each day, going from her zenith to her nadir.

  • It’s the Moon’s rising and falling arcs that make a big difference to the plants not how much of her we can see from the Earth at any point in the month.
    • As the arcs get higher so she draws the energy upwards, out of the Earth, pulling the growing juices up through the soil, leaves, flowers and fruits. You can see this from the way the sap rises at this time of the month. Our ancestors knew it, we still have the phrase “the sap is rising” meaning the upper part of the plant fills with sap and vitality. They called it “moon riding high” in the old almanacs.
    • As the arcs get lower so the Moon draws the energy down through the plant and into the soil. You can tell this from the way the sap doesn’t rise so well but plants take root readily and settle well into the ground so it’s good for sowing, plating and transplanting. Our ancestors called it “moon riding low” in the old almanacs.

Think of it like the sun. At midwinter the sun crawls up over the horizon, eventually, at a late dawn, travels in a very low arc from south-east to sink again at an early sunset in the south-west. It doesn’t make it all the way from due east to due west, which is part of why the days are so short. And the sun doesn’t rise very high in the sky even at midday, that’s why we have that beautiful, low, slanting winter light, so much less strong than it is in summer.

From midsummer to midwinter the sun’s arc gets lower and lower in the sky so, at midday in midsummer it’s way up there right overhead, but at midwinter it’s hardly halfway up the sky. From midwinter to midsummer the sun’s arc goes up and up.

The moon does the same sort of journey as the sun but, instead of taking 6 months, she does it in 2 weeks. After all, she does have a lot less far to go, around the Earth, than the Earth does around the sun J.

I expect you’re beginning to guess that as the Moon draws the energy down into the soil it’s a good time to sow seeds, plant and transplant, cultivate the parts of the plant below the soil, like the roots. And as she draws the energy upwards it’s a god to time to work on the parts of the plant above the soil, like the leaves, flowers and fruits. Yup … that’s the beginnings of it. Maria Thun thought about this and tried it out in experiments, she began working on it in the 1950s so she’s got half a century of experience to draw on. She’s still working on it all now, along with her son, and refining her ideas.

Basically, these fortnightly rising and falling arcs give us our planting times, the basis within which we apply the preparations and do our gardening work – as far as possible. The darn things aren’t written in stone, the sun won’t fall out of the sky if you can’t manage it some of the time. I’ll be giving hints and tips how to work it when life doesn’t follow the plot, how to do your best in spit of everything J.

This column will follow the planting times, the Moon’s cycle of rising and falling arcs, so I’ll be writing at or just before the beginning of each planting cycle.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Alchemical Gardening

One of this month’s themes is gardening … it’s nearly the end of the month but I’m getting there with it :-).

For me, this month has very much been about alchemy. I’ve got a workshop coming up at the middle of June on the alchemical wedding so it’s not really surprising Otherworld is whispering in my ear, nudging me, pointing things out. Now they’ve suggested a whole load of alchemical stuff on gardening.

Some of you already know I garden biodynamically but … that’s one helluva long word with a fog-index of at least 9000 J, so what the hell does it mean? And what on earth has it got to do with alchemy?

Hmm! Well I managed to get in the Lowerworld (hell) and the Middleworld (earth) there, now I’ve got to get Upperworld in … and I can feel a lot of hot breath on the back of my neck as various of the Celtic Powers lean over my shoulder to see what I’m writing and make I sure I get it right. All very well, but I do wish they’d give me a bit of space!

Alchemical gardening … biodynamics … yes, same sort of thing different names.

Biodynamics is the oldest organised form of organic gardening. It was concern about the worrying trends developing in agriculture that led farmers to ask Rudolf Steiner to give his ‘Agriculture Lectures” in 1924, on which the biodynamic agricultural movement is founded. The farmers’ concerns were …

  • increasing mechanisation of agriculture
  • a sense that nature is becoming degraded and losing its vitality
  • pollution of the environment
  • signs of illness in trees and
  • violent changes in the weather

It seems nothing is new.

The farmers’ concerns resulted in the series of eight lectures that Steiner gave at the house of his friend Count Keiserling. The lectures began a movement which now spans the world. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Europe, Ireland, the UK and the USA all have very strong biodynamic movements and I’ve even had enquiries from Japan. It seems Poland has now chosen to make its government-supported agriculture biodynamic. Biodynamics wine-making is all the rage and experts like Oz Clarke say biodynamic wine is the best wine they have ever tasted.

Biodynamics can appear very strange to outsiders – full of practices that almost sound like black magic, eg putting oak bark into a horse’s skull, in running water, for a year to make one of the preparations, or cow dung into a cow’s horn and burying from autumn to spring … and then seeing how the dung is completely different. Umm! Those could almost be shamanic practices 🙂 … and maybe they are.

But my goodness! The difference they make to the garden is phenomenal. I’ve been working this way for the best part of 20 years now and attest to its efficacy.

It’s true that we may not be able to explain everything about it as fully as we can, say, bread-making or steel production but … have you ever tried to say “why” (not how) electricity works? And physics comes up with wonderful apparent paradoxes like “is light waves or particles?” We seem quite able to cope with not having a complete knowledge of these things in science. Perhaps experiencing the pleasures of biodynamics, seeing the beautiful plants, eating the good food, drinking the excellent wine, will help us overcome our doubts and fears of this well established form of growing.

And alchemy? There’s lots of things we do in biodynamic gardening that have alchemical connections, perhaps one of the most obvious is the Cow.

Apart from being the totem of the goddess Brighid – Lady of the three faces, Smith, Healer and Poet – the cow is found throughout the world as a sacred beast. Cattle have been “wealth” in so many societies, including Celtic ones. The cow is a mother-figure in many traditions. But cows are also very special and have a particular alchemical property … they have 4 stomachs, 4 chambers, 4 vessels, through which matter passes as they process it to gain energy for themselves and to give goodness to the Earth.

Ruminants' Stomachs

All ruminants have 4 stomachs – that’s animals like sheep, goats, deer and cows. The word ruminant means

any even-toed, hoofed mammal of the suborder Ruminantia, being comprised of cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing quadrupeds, and including, besides domestic cattle, bison, buffalo, deer, antelopes, giraffes, camels.

The ruminant digestive system is fascinating – as I said, it’s comprised of 4 stomachs. If you’d like to become a “ruminant anorak” follow the link, it’s technical and interesting, if mind boggling! A less mind-blowing version can be found at Wiki, with a good diagram of the stomachs.

These 4 stomachs are like the 4 processes of alchemy – as Rudolf Steiner also said – the Nigredo, followed by the Albedo, followed by the Citrinato and culminating in the Rubado. Steiner said that the four stomachs did the four alchemical process to the food as the cow processes it through her body … resulting in the alchemical gold of her dung which we can compost and use on our land.

I find making these links fascinating … but I also garden very practically, to put food into my and my husband’s bellies. So, while my mind may be luxuriating in staggering cosmic connections my hands are deep in the earth, the soil, getting grubby and doing the business J.

I’ll talk some more about biodynamics, alchemical gardening, gardening by the moon as some folk call it in a little while … when I’ve finished weeding the bed I’m on at present, in between diving indoors to do a blog !!!

And I’m just on the final edit of a “how-to” book on biodynamics for gardeners and people who don’t know much about it. I hope to have it in the shops for Midsummer, so not long now.

And … Scarlett has been suggesting to various people about having a daily column. I just might do one on gardening by the moon, to help people get to grips with it. It is magic, it is alchemy, and it is easy … anyone can do it, and it doesn’t cost the earth nor take up all your time either :-).

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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