Tag Archives: Gardening with the Moon

GWM August 2011

It’s still very dry. The farmers around here are using sprinklers. Yes, I know the weather forecast whinges on about the “awful rain”, not proper summer weather – where do most people think food comes from? What do they think their bodies and food is mostly made of/ do they not realise that we are 70% water? Probably not … no wonder the Earth is in such a mess if we know absolutely nothing about our own makeup!

We need the rain. Climate change has made huge differences to how crops grow, how our garden crops grow, the flowers we can grow, everything. Shropshire – north of me here in Hereford – now has a commercial olive orchard! Yikes! Do you realise what this means for the previously indigenous plants? Most people have been on holiday to France and Greece and Spain nowadays, places where olives are indigenous as they are not here in Britain. What sort of climates do those places have? Hot and dry. That’s why you go there on holiday, to bake your skin into cancer. Now think of all the British plants … apples for instance such as Hereford is famous for. They need rain to be good. Climate change has changed all that. You don’t think we can change it back, do you? We’ve had that, messed it up, it will only get worse. We now have to learn how to live with what we’ve done.

Biodynamics does help. No, it does not cure global warming! However, along with good organic practice, it does help the soil and the plants to adapt to global warming. Some of our native plants – and all the insects and animals that depend on them – will disappear; go extinct because of what we’ve done. Really makes you feel good, that thought, doesn’t it? But more will survive, changed but alive, with the aid of biodynamics. Our garden here at Archenland is a proof of that.

As I said at the beginning, the farmers around here are using sprinklers to keep their crops growing. My watering regime is not as intense as theirs although I grow most of my own vegetables. Vegetables, food crops, need a lot of water; a) it’s the major part of their make-up; b) they need it because we take them out of the ground, grow most of them as annual plants, so they draw up the food and moisture from the soil but do not die and do not put it back in the soil at the end of the season because we eat them!

You know that I use the biodynamic preps. These help to reduce the need for watering. The main one that does this is Prep 500, Horn Manure. By aiding the soil fauna and flora it helps the soil adapt to hold more moisture. I help it further by composting every darn thing I can and adding this back to the soil. As I said, vegetable and crop growing takes food and water from the soil which harvesting the crops does not give back. So one of the major parts of our gardening work here is to make compost; another is to find, collect and compost organic cow, horse, chicken and pig manure. We are pretty fortunate, able to get the stuff. The farmers need it too, for the same reasons we do, so we cannot take too much; fortunately there are several farms and horse-keepers we can ask for the stuff.

Composted weeds and kitchen waste + composted animal manure are a great help to the soil, and the roots of the plants. They provide nutrients (food) and help with water retention; they also help the mycorrhiza to grow and function well. These incredible fungi help the sugar and water exchange of all plants. For instance, in soils with a basic pH plant roots on their own may be incapable of taking up phosphate ions that are demineralized. The mycelium of the mycorrhizal fungus can access these phosphorus sources and make them available to the plants they colonize. Both Prep 500 and the compost preps aid the growth and colonisation of the mycorrhiza in your garden with; they in their turn help plants cope and adapt to the unsuitable conditions we have created with global warming.

You can use the compost preps very easily by using the Mausdorfer preparation; see my previous article on composting with Cool Heaps – the little and often method most gardeners have to use. This is much easier than working with the 6 preparations individually; to do that you need a really big heap of compost that’s ready all at the same time – we gardeners rarely have that! You can use the Mausdorfer in your Bokashi and your wormery too as I say in the article.

Using Prep 500 directly onto your soil, preferably about once every couple of months between September and the end of March for the northern hemisphere – the other way around for the southern hemisphere, i.e. from March to the end of September – will enable your soil and all the soil-life to adapt and work with the new climate conditions.

Using biodynamically prepared compost will do the same.

Doing both will make a difference. Like me, you won’t need to water so much in order to keep the plants growing and producing food for you; and producing beauty; and the nectar and seeds that feed the insects and birds and so maintain the cycles of life.

We’ve been working the land here since June 2000. At first the soil was in poor condition; we worked hard, lots of compost, lots of manure, lots of spraying with Prep 500. The land improved dramatically, our farming and gardening neighbours noticed; some even asked what we were doing and began doing it themselves. It’s got better each year … as the global warming effects have increased. I’m hoping that the watering regime will get even less; it certainly has gone down over the years although this early summer was very bad indeed with no rain for months just at the time the plants need it to put on growth.

If you are just beginning with biodynamics it’s OK to start with Prep 500 right now. I know I said between March and September, and it’s only August, but if you’re beginning you just get on with it. The land will thank you so go for it so don’t get hung up in rules and regulations! You have to adapt your thinking too as well as your gardening techniques, rules and regs are guidelines not set in stone; the sun will still rise tomorrow even if you go against perceived wisdom! Your garden is your best adviser along with your own instincts. We’re not much encouraged to use our instincts nowadays, it doesn’t make money for the experts if we don’t rely on what they say, buy their books and their expensive products! You do know the definition of an expert ??? An “ex” is a has-been, a “spurt” is a drip under pressure … says it all really!

Do go for it, get spraying with the 500, get some Mausdorfer (or cow-pat-pit) and get it onto your land, into your compost heap. Don’t chuck all that good compostable material and remember that newspapers and egg-boxes and such are vital to the heap too – see this composting article for some easy good advice, and keep adding Mausdorfer or cow-pat-pit to it. Get as much of your waste stuff in heaps to go back and feed yourself, rather than ruin the Earth further by going into land-fill.

We really can help the Earth cope with the damage we’ve done 🙂

GWM – Old Midsummer’s Day

Old Midsummer Day today, a potent magical day, often associated with Fairies. There are stories that farmers would leave gates open so fairies could traverse their routes across the fields. It is also the Feast of St John the Baptist – the solar flowers of St John’s wort would be worn in garlands- don’t lose your head!

My friend Caroline Wise wrote this; I’d forgotten about the farmers leaving gates open for the Faer Folk to walk their lands. Next year I’ll make sure I do that for my garden.

Arthur Rackham

In biodynamics people talk about elements and elementals but how many are brave enough to actually accept, or admit openly, that the Gnomes, Ondines, Sylphs and Salamanders they talk about are real, not archetypes to be talked about or some other thing that puts a distance between themselves and reality? The thesaurus gives the following for the word archetype … models, epitomes, prototypes, originals, prime, example. Most people only feel comfortable with the first of these words – models – and use it in terms of an idea, concept of the elementals, not that they are real beings. When Jung brought the word into the general vocabulary, through his main themes, he was certainly not meaning anything so narrow. He was taking archetypes as being the essences, the personifications and embodiments of Spirit … which is what the elementals that we work with in biodynamics are.

John Anster Fitzgerald

We may well see them as Arthur Rackham style figures. Don’t mock that nor think they are only for children and romantics. Rackham, like his contemporaries John Anster Fitzgerald, Richard Dadd and others painted from life, they saw what they painted. Seeing the elementals as fairy folk should not denigrate them for us, nor make working biodynamically something to be ashamed of or hide from our friends. Our ancestors saw them, even going back only as far as the 1950s and 60s when my farming and gardening uncles introduced me to them. Awenyddion, British shamans such as my hard-working uncles and father were, have never been gab-mouthed about the things they see and do but they were always willing to talk to you if you really seemed interested and unlikely to mock or act superior.

Richard Dadd

It makes a difference to your life and the life of your garden if you are willing to open up enough to accept the elementals as real. I’ve met many folk who say, after a little time in my garden and maybe a cup of tea, “I wish I could see them …” It often sounds wistful and is usually in a semi-whisper. I do my best to assure them they can, if they really wish to.

That’s the thing. You have to really wish to and make sure the elementals know that you do. Then you have to learn to see. It’s unlikely the Faer Folk will put on a full Hollywood production! You have to be aware, to notice little things. It may be that you keep getting flickers of light at the corner of your eye, noticing things flashing past nut unable to keep up with them to see them. Often the elementals appear to be very fast to our untutored eye, we have to get out eye in. Part of learning to do this is not to write off flashes and flickers and unexplained things in the manner we’ve mostly been taught to do in modern society. You have to cut that mode of thinking and allow that there might be something unexplained happening, something the TV programmes can’t account for. Yes, there really is life beyond the stuff we’re given on the TV! What was it Hamlet said?

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

“as a stranger” … mmm! Yes, to us at first, the elements are strangers; we’ve not met them before, we have all the usually prickly, not-quite-sure feeling we get when we meet someone new that we can’t instantly fathom.

The Celtic tradition, indeed the tradition of most shamanic peoples, was that the stranger was always the guest, always welcomed, invited in, given food and shelter and warmth. That applied to all, including the Faer Folk. In those times the enemy was far more likely to be someone you knew rather than the stranger. That’s actually still true today; e.g. incest is far more likely to be committed by a family member than an outsider; however we now prefer to think of the stranger as being the enemy and this carries over to anything unknown including elementals.

To see the elementals you need to turn this habit of thought around; to follow Hamlet’s advice and give the stranger welcome. There are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our everyday philosophies. Allow yourself to see the flashes, query them gently, ponder on them, notice when, where and how they happen; make correlations in your own mind. Gradually there will be enough in your mind-cauldron to spark understanding and recognition. It’s not a kids’ instant gratification thing; it takes time and patience and work on your part but the result is so worthwhile.

Try it. Then next summer, next midsummer day when the sun begins to move on again from the solstice standstill, next 24th of June, you too can leave your garden gates open and ask the elementals to walk your land with blessings.

GWM – Burgeoning garden

Yesterday I had my first strawberries! They were delicious although they’d only had one 501 spraying. We worked hard on remaking the beds, dug the soil right out and added a lot more composted cow manure as well as rock dust. I also added quite a bit of the soil I made from the lawn edgings; that had all been done with 500 several times over the winter while it was standing in its tump. The work was all well worth it for that totally orgasmic taste of the first fruits yesterday, no sugar, no cream, just strawberry.

It’s looking like a good year for them anyway. All the little wild ones are doing a treat in the bed down the side of the lawn; they’re all over the path in the veg garden on the other side too! Massive weeding required … sigh! And the semi wild jobs that seeded themselves under the sleeper at the top of the polytunnel bed are fruiting well too. I don’t know what they are but they’re bigger than the wild ones but not the same as the cultivated ones (Albion) that I have in the beds-proper. I’ll have to get up and do some 501 spraying on them on the 16th, 17th and 18th – good fruit days in the southern planting time so just right.

I’ll have to do the gooseberries again too, they’re just about ready to harvest, I had a couple as I was passing the bush the other day. I’m just hoping they’ll last that long and I’m not sure they will so I’m going to get up tomorrow, Wed and Thu and do a 501 on them then. Yes, I know, it’s northern planting time but I’ll have two out of the three right … morning and fruit day … it’ll just be the planting time that’s out, and I feel very strongly that the gooseberries will be too far gone to pick if I leave them for another nine days. The mornings are gorgeous right now anyway, the birdsong begins from just before four o’clock, I’m awake enjoying it, so getting up to stir is an extra joy. There’s something about that stillness before dawn, the scent of the ground and the sweetness of the roses and the mock orange, a warm cup of tea between the fingers. Then the first trill, often the Robin, or else the blackbird or the thrush; then the stillness after while all the birds and creatures listen to the silence; then he trills again. By the third trill they all join in. It’s magnificent. Yes, I’ll be up to stir tomorrow.

I must go round the garden today to check who else needs a fruit spraying and mark them down for either tomorrow or next week. Or both … there was a big shout in my mind’s ear then, ‘Hey! Why not both?’ Well, if the garden says she needs it, I’m game, she knows better than me what she wants.

I’ve still got to mark out who needs what though. Some plants, like the tomatoes, haven’t quite set fruit yet so I shan’t do them. They’re not in the right state for it yet, you can feel it when you sense into the plants; to me they sort of wriggle and go ‘Noooo!’ at me. But the apples have set fruit and the damsons, and the hawthorn.

Elder flowers

The elder is just on the turn. I made elderflower cordial last week on the Flower days, 24-25-26 of May. It turned out very well indeed, I put down 10 bottles to store. There is more elder still coming in the garden, I might even make some more, everyone loves it and I’ve given a couple of bottles away already. There’ll be enough left to go to berries for the birds (and for me for the berry cordial), and the bees have been harvesting it like mad too.

Had a good Root conversation with a friend just recently; her Mum grows potatoes and one lot are going too much to leaf which means too much nitrogen amongst other things so the spuds are not putting their energy into making lots of new spuds but into looking gorgeous and green and blousy above the ground. She needs to turn that around. What I’ve done before is to use 501 on a Root day in the Afternoon. Yay, all upside-down to “what the books say” but think what you want to do. The energy is all going upwards and into the leaves; you want to draw it back down again into the roots. And it’s the plant-forming energy, the stuff that 501 works with, not the root-forming and soil-working energy that 500 works with.

I’ve done this before with other plants – getting foxgloves to flower a month late so they looked good at the RHS show in 2006 was the first big time we tried it. It worked a treat; we had a mass of foxgloves looking right at their best in early July, bang on time for the show. We did it again the following year with verbascums. The concept was that the plants would naturally put all their energy into their flowers for June, to line up with getting themselves pollinated by the bees and setting seed in good time for self-sowing in the autumn, lying up in the soil over the winter, then burgeoning forth in the spring with new plants. The 501 on root days in the afternoon asked them to put the energy back down into their roots, which also strengthened them for the hot baking weather we had in both the Julys. When it got near the time we wanted them to flower we gave them 501 on a flower day in both the southern and northern planting times. This sparked them into pushing the energy back upwards again and getting the flowers going. They did look a treat and got us a medal!

We’ll see how it works with my friend’s Mum’s spuds. I’ll be up there (Scotland) in August and look forward to eating some of them.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

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GWM: Hard frosts & Spring

Lilac tree in May ... wait for it 🙂

More hard frost this morning, beautiful. We need to keep feeding the birds as they get into mating and laying. the Buzzards are out, calling high over the stubble fields, rousing the spirit with their eerie cry. Despite the frosts the leaf-buds have burst on the lilac tree! Spring is definitely here 🙂 I’m so looking forward to when the tree flowers … and scents up the whole garden.

I’ve managed to turn quite a bit of earth that needed it in the beds, so the frosts are working on that soil, it will be good and crumbly in another week or ten days. It’s just so good to have my hands in the soil again – tha bad back from over-gardening at the beginning of Feb was a “show stopper” for all the wrong reasons :-(. I’ve done a lot of weeding in the past few days and things are coming together, looking like a garden again.

I need to get black membrane on the veg beds to warm them up. these frosts aren’t helping that at all but the bright sun on the black with absorb the heat and transmit it into the soil. As lots of veg are growing away well in pots indoors I’ll need the beds in a couple of weeks. One polytunnel is up, over a bed, so that is warming up nicely inside. I must get the other one up soon …

Jo and Roy are coming to help get the greenhouse glazed at last. It’s taken a year! Various folk have said they’d help but it’s all been wishful thinking so far and so frustrating to have the frame of the damn thing but not be able to use it! they’re both such fun and so helpful. Jo’s a great garden designer and I hope to get over there in a couple of weeks to get some pix of her place over by Goodrich Castle. She’s done wonders with it and now the trees have gone in the whole shape of the place is coming together … watch this space …

Onward and upward, as they say, a gardener’s work is never done … but that’s at least half the fun :-).

GWM – Fire

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We had fire today … I burned the huge heap. It was marvellous, took just a couple of hours and left me with excellent wood ash for the garden. And a fire for the Triple Goddess, Brighid at her season of Imbolc.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

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Rose Hip update …

I’ve just got the mush into the muslin, draining overnight into the bucket, tomorrow I’ll make the juice into the jelly.

It’s now Apple, Rose Hip & Hawthorn jelly. I went out for a walk this afternoon, onto Honeymoor Common, and was greeted by more rose hips and lots and lots of haws – the hawthorn berries. The trees on the common are loaded with berries, dark tree-limbs jewelled with bright garnets that glow in the autumn sun. I couldn’t get all the way I wanted to, along the footpath across the common to come into the village behind the church, the stiles were too high, I would need to pull myself up onto them and having only one working arm doesn’t make this a good idea to try! So, I turned back and walked around the common past the smaller pool, then back to the big pool and to the lane home. It was a good walk.

Coming near to the big pool there was this exquisite hawthorn tree. She had lost all her leaves and stood at the edge of the water glowing with her garnets. She called to me. I asked again when I got to her – never take anything for granted. A robin – again, like yesterday – sang to me. I said that I would only take a few, what my big coat pocket could hold, and leave the rest for the critters and birds. Both tree and bird seemed satisfied and the slight pressure I’d felt, a sort of wariness, wanting me to have some of the fruit but hoping I wasn’t going to be greedy, slipped away. I took some fruit from all the branches I could reach, it quickly half-filled the pocket, weighing the coat down on the shoulder that side. Not my operated shoulder. When I’d finished I thanked the tree, and the land and the beasties and moorhens I could hear in the long grass and reeds, and went on homewards.

In the lane,m before I got our drive, the sun caught the fruit on a lovely apple tree. bright greens and reds, and the tree herself had a lovely shape. I stopped to admire. No-one had picked the fruit although it was well ripe and the tree stood right by the gate – but outside – of one of the houses in the lane. It called too. I looked at the fruit but I couldn’t take it, not without asking the people, but there were a lots of windfalls, many of them good, lying in the grass. I felt I could take those. Again, I asked the tree. “Please! Please!” she said. “I want my fruit eaten.” So I did, filling both the big pockets in my coat with the gorgeous apples. The scent was delicious.

So I got home with all the makings for the jelly, and all wild-harvested. The rose hips from yesterday are in my wild hedge although they get the biodynamic treatment. I love this, asking Mother Nature for food and being given it. It’s always worth watching the things that happen to you, the apparent “accidents” like me not being able to do the walk I had intended. If I had done I may well not have gone anywhere near the hawthorn tree, nor would the sun have necessarily been in the right place to show me the apple tree, and nor might I have been in the right frame of mind to see any of it either. I don’t subscribe to accidents and coincidences as many do. I try to always listen and hear and see the little gifts the Mother showers on me every day, and to return gifts of my own whenever I can. the little everyday magics are amazing :-).

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

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