Paul is composting like there’s no tomorrow! And doing leaf mould. At present it’s just about getting the heaps together. We’re using Mausdorfer to each layer for now, when the heaps are big enough we’ll put the preps in and leave them to cook until March/April.
Again, we’re a bit behind – due to my shoulder op, Paul’s got to do all the other work until Midwinter as I’m not even allowed to push a mop around the kitchen floor. However, we’ll get there and we know we can rely on the preps to speed the compost along.
With leaf mould, if you run the lawnmower over them, chop them up and, at the same time, add a bit of grass in with them, the leaves go a hell of a lot faster. If you then add cow-pat-pit or Mausdorfer, then the compost preps, the whole thing can be ready by next autumn which is pretty good for leaves. As we’re putting both starters and preps on the leaf mould this year we wonder if it might even be ready before then – we’ll keep you posted here.
I’m a bit stymied on this work this year because of the shoulder operation. It was very successful but it means I can’t do any heavy gardening – like turning over the veg beds – until February. I’ll just have to manage! It will mean the beds will have to be done all of a rush in the late winter though.
I managed to get some winter crops sown before I went into hospital and am allowed to do light weeding so I can keep the beds clean, no competition for my precious veg. the chinese greens are doing well, wonderful, tough plants they are that get going and keep going very well. The perpetual spinach will be sine too and the overwintering sprouting, broccoli, caulis et al are doing OK. The swedes and parsnips are amazing size already. As we’ve had a couple of frosts now they’re all very good to eat – winter stews are being added to the cookathons!
I didn’t get much winter salad into the poly tunnel before I went into hospital so I hope to get some going indoors and then gradually put it out for the spring. It’s far too cold to germinate out there now! As we’ve got leaf days in the NPT on Thu/Fri I hope to use them to sow some winter salad. I’ve been collecting old plastic boxes that the supermarket veg comes in for planting tubs, they’re very good and often already have holes in them, all I need now is something to stand them in to catch the water … a good hunt round the kitchen and scullery should find me something.
I also use the cardboard inners from toilet rolls as root-trainers – they come with the loo-roll and will decompose in the soil when the plants are transplanted so there’s no need to disturb the roots. Or to spend pounds on posh plastic (which won’t decompose and cost loads in energy to produce as well!) root-trainers from magazines and garden centres. I’m afraid I don’t subscribe to the spendaholic method of getting us out of recession!
I intend to sow some very early tomatoes, peas, beans – as I didn’t get the outside ones in the ground before hospital either! – for cropping in the polytunnel and greenhouse early next year. Not having had a greenhouse before I’ve not been able to do this for a long while, this year will be a bit of an experiment to see how it goes – have high hopes.
Gardening with the Moon and Stars still involves all the ordinary work J.
This month I’m catching up with the soft fruit. We needed new strawberry plants so I decided to go for a new breed – Albion ever-bearer – rather than just taking runners from the old plants as I have been doing. The originals came from a friend, and to him from his Dad, and so on down the historical line. They’re good strawberries, and I still have them in a side bed, but they’re the old style that just fruit Albion and have the fruit for 3+ months every year.
The plug plants have just arrived and been stored in a bucket of earth through the cold weather we’ve just had here. It’s still cold but the sun’s come out so I’ll be out there doing over the strawberry beds preparing to plant up the plugs over the next couple of days – making the best of the weather.
As part of this I’ll be giving the beds a dollop of prep 500, horn manure, along with compost, some well-rotted cow manure, rock dust and wood ash. There’s not a root day between now and the weekend but we begin the Northern Planting Time (NPT) today which means the Earth is again drawing energy down into the soil for the roots. Doing 500 in the afternoon, in the NPT even if not a root day means I get 2 out of 3 right and will help the beds and the plants along.
Today is a flower day, as is tomorrow, then it’s leaf until Saturday when It’s fruit from the afternoon on, and through Sunday. I won’t be planting up the strawberries until the weekend as I want to do them on a fruit day to enhance conditions for the new plug plants, give them the best chance of doing well. But I can certainly get their bed ready for them.
As we go into the NPT today I can do the work in the right season. What I’m aiming for here is to get as many things on the side of the new plants as possible so I’m going to
Plant them on their own day, fruit day
In the afternoon
In the Northern Planting Time
o The last two are both when the Earth is pulling energy down into the soil which will help the roots establish well – vital for you plants being transplanted
I’m very much looking forward to eating the strawberries next year! Planting them now, in November, in the late autumn/early winter means they have six months to establish themselves and get to good fruiting size for next summer. You can plant strawberries, all soft fruit, in the spring but don’t expect much of a harvest from them in their first year if you do, they haven’t had time to get going. Planting now gives a better harvest next summer.
On 29th September Paul and Jennie did the annual making of Prep 500 for all of us. I wasn’t there, I was walking on Exmoor with the 3rd year Rainbow Warrior students on their final workshop – I missed a great day but we all had a wonderful time on the moor too.
Prep 500 is cow manure which has been buried in a cow’s horn from autumn to spring equinox. As I said in a previous blog the cow’s four stomachs are magical … like the four processes of alchemy. These processes are …
albedo, whitening: purification, burnout of impurity; the moon, female
citrinitas, yellowing: spiritualization, enlightenment; the sun, male
rubedo, reddening: unification of man with God, unification of the limited with the unlimited
Although one cannot say this is exactly what happens inside a cow there are similarities that are worth taking into account in thinking about gardening and farming in a far wider sense than just growing food and flowers. Steiner certainly thought so.
The way I work with it is shamanic, through the way of the goddess, Mother Earth, the Lady of the Land.
This picture is like the ancient many-breasted Diana of Epheseus. For me, this is a form of the goddess, of the Lady Sovereignty … however you don’t have to believe this to do biodynamics J. I like this picture as amongst other things it shows the for kingdoms of mineral, vegetable, animal and human in the form of the goddess’ dress. These four kingdoms are the four elements, and also the four processes of alchemy.
Gradually all things break down to soil, to the mineral kingdom … in gardening we call it composting. This is a return to the mineral kingdom, it is dissolution.
Vegetation grows out of the soil, is fed and watered by the soil, made of the reformed atoms of the soil. It is very much affected by the moon – as we know in biodynamics. It is a form of purification.
Animals feed on vegetation, so do we humans. We live because of the minerals breaking down into its component atoms, being eaten by animals and ourselves, and by eating the animals who have further processed the vegetables for us, made them easier for us to digest. Enlightenment and spiritualisation.
And then, after that, we come to the what happens when all these things come together … the unification of the limited with the unlimited, the unification of man with God.
Another way of doing the four processes of alchemy.
This picture shows the Lord and Lady of the alchemical wedding, the sun and the moon and the stars … the things that drive the processes of biodynamics although we don’t really know how they do this. 80-plus years of work and research show that they do, even the American Department of Agriculture has investigated it and said it found changes, differences, between biodynamic compost and the ordinary stuff.
The lord and lady hold two branches that form a horizontal cross that mark the four elements – earth, water, air and fire. These elements correspond to the four parts of a plant – roots, leaves, flowers and fruit.
All of these sets of fours correspond …
So … Paul and Jennie made prep 500, stuffing fresh cow-pats into cow horns. They buried them in the pit, the good earth, the soil that is the skin of Mother Earth. Lying there the horns will be acted upon by the four elements – the earth, the rain, the air and the fire of the sun. The pull of the moon works on them too, and the stars, the constellations that the moon focuses every month. Over the dark time of the year, from autumn to spring, the horns lie in the womb of the Mother and gestate. Come the spring they birth into the new year to give up their magic substance, prep 500, that will help the soil to exchange their goodness with the plants.
Come the spring, we’ll dig them up and use that goodness on the land.
behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
Latest tweet: Back home again and feeling OK … so far
Pests and diseases, the little darlings, are major bug-bears of gardeners. Slugs, snails and rabbits that munch cheerfully through your salads before you get the chance; aphids that cause havoc with the roses and honeysuckle; blackfly murdering your beans; leatherjackets wrecking the lawn; mice eating the pea seeds and all the other critters that want your plants. Then there are all the diseases the plants can get. Gardening can be a nightmare!
Biodynamics does not eradicate pests, this is quite contrary to its ethos, but it does help you put the garden into balance with itself, and its surroundings. Being in balance really makes a huge difference to how pests and diseases work (or don’t!) in your garden.
Pests and weeds come when things are out of balance, when you have row upon row of lettuces just asking for slugs to come and make a feast, with nothing to get in their way. The darn lettuces seem to actually be singing siren songs to the slugs! And in a sense they are. Nature abhors a vacuum. And she abhors gluts too. This doesn’t mean you must grow fewer lettuces but it does mean it’s worth doing what you can to help maintain the balance. Gardens are not natural places, they are made by human beings – as is most of our countryside in the populated world. Therefore we are a part of the system we have made, so we need to work with it to help it work well. Biodynamics helps us do just that.
The spray preparations – the 500 horn manure and the 501 horn silica – help the soil and the plants reach their optimum potential. This happens, even if we don’t really know why. We don’t know why electricity works, but we’re quite content to trust the light switch will work whenever we want, we may even get quite cross when it doesn’t. With a little practice we can become equally blasé about biodynamics and with equal justification. We know how to make electricity work even if we don’t know why it does it. We can learn how to make biodynamics work as we have learned how to make electricity work and, again, without needing to know why it does it. And it does work. A part of its work is to help the garden grow into balance with itself, and stay in balance, so the pests and diseases don’t trouble us. It’s been working well for me since the early 1990s.
So … the first thing to do, to deal with pests and diseases, is to get your garden working well, in balance, by using the spray and compost preparations.
Pests are just about anything the gardener has a problem with, animals, insects, birds, butterflies, other people, children. Usually it is anything that wants to eat or otherwise damage the plants the gardener has carefully tended and grown whether ornamental or vegetable. Coddling moths, slugs and snails, leatherjackets, pigeons after the peas, blackbirds after the raspberries or pulling up the newly planted bulbs or onions, blackfly on the beans, whitefly in the greenhouse, rabbits in the salad, squirrels in the trees, caterpillars eating the cabbages.
Many of these can be dealt with most effectively by prevention, barriers, stopping the critters getting at the pants in the first place. Netting, fine meshes, fruit/vegetable cages, grease barriers, all these are far more effective than poisons. Even the humble slug/snail pub does a very effective job and, if you go in for nematodes you’ll find you also need them to deal with the already grown adults the nematodes won’t get to.
Sometimes things can get serious very quickly, as with aphids, so that you have to use soft soap to kill them or the plants will die, you can’t wait for the more usual organic methods to work. Biodynamics doesn’t deny you this ability, nobody wants your plants to die.
However, thinking ahead really does help. I get my slug pubs going as soon as I start to work outside, I don’t wait for the baby slugs to get to adult size … and begin breeding to produce even more of the little darlings to eat my hostas and brassicas. All the brassicas live inside mesh tunnels to make it impossible for the butterflies to get to the leaves to lay their eggs so, with a reasonable amount of care, no caterpillars get to them. I do plant lots of nasturtiums which the caterpillars like even better, and leave a couple of cabbages outside the net so they have something to eat and we do have more butterflies next year. It’s all a question of balance, of give and take. I want to take from the land in the form of beauty – i.e., hostas, dahlias, etc – so I give back to the land and her creatures with some plants for them to feed on. Usually this works out, unless the weather is very bad with lots of summer rain to encourage the slugs, or some other factor comes into play. I win some, I lose some. In the long term both Nature and myself get what we need.
One creature that can really be a problem is the rat. Wherever you are on planet Earth you are never more than a couple of meters away from a rat. Rats and people have been close neighbours quite possibly as long as there have been humans … the rats, of course, are a far older species than we, goodness what they cuddled up to before we came along. Modern human living suites rats to a T, they really thrive on our wasteful culture. And we are generally terrified of them … a problem we’ve brought on ourselves.
The best way to tell if you have a rat problem is if you see them … if you do there are too many, they are getting hungry and much braver in consequence, so coming out when people are around and not running away. The milder winters we’ve had for some time now mean they don’t die off in the cold so there are more of them to start over again each spring. That happens with slugs and snails too, by the way … the milder climate means they live longer!
Whatever, rats are a problem, they do need to be kept under control and out of the compost heap. If you begin to see rats then you need to take steps to cull them, or have someone do this for you. The farmers’ stores have poisons that will do this or you can contact your local authority to sort them out for you.
NB – if you put poison down make quite sure it can’t be eaten by other creatures you don’t want to cull … like your cat or dog!
And – keep a very close eye on your own pets. Modern rat poisons work more slowly than the old ones and tend to make the animal drowsy, watch your pets, they might eat a rat that’s been poisoned, or even a mouse that’s take some of the poison. If you suspect this take your pet to the vet immediately and ask for tests. Vitamin K can counteract the poison and save your pet’s life but you must act quickly.
And – over the past few years many people have seen rats climbing onto bird tables and eating the seed and nuts. Some of the bird foods are rich in vitamin K, with the consequent result that the rats who eat it develop a resistance to the poison! Ho hum! We do make rods for our own backs so long as we look only to cure an effect rather than seeking the cause.
A biodynamic way of dealing with rats is to make a pepper – see the next section on Peppers – but handling rats is dangerous, even when they’re dead, because of the diseases you can unfortunately catch from them. We have used a rat-pepper and it does work, however it takes much longer than using poison so I don’t work that way if the problem is big, if we have an explosion in the rat population.
Rats in Compost Bins
Keeping rats out of the compost heap is best done by putting a layer of mesh – plasterer’s mesh, as it’s called in the UK – underneath the bins. This is sufficiently narrow so that even baby rats can’t get through, but the worms and bugs that do so much good in your heap can.
Go to a builders’ yard and ask for plasterers’ mesh.
Buy enough to go under your bin(s).
Lay it on the ground where the bin is going to be.
You may need to stake the mesh down into the ground or weight it down with bricks.
Put the bin(s) back on top of the mesh and continue making compost as normal.
We always do this with all our bins, whether or not we see any rats. We know they’re there and that they will go into the bins if they can so we use prevention, in the form of the mesh.
Like many gardeners, I always plant some vegetables in the autumn for overwintering. The space is available again and crops have time to get going before winter sets in. It means I get significantly earlier crops of delicious veg than spring sown alternatives so the season is extended. I sow Garlic, Onions, Broad Beans and Douce Provence peas for over wintering.
For Garlic I use Red Sicilian, a red hardneck variety also known as Nubian Red, it’s deliciously warm and spicy. I’m also having a go with Provence Wight. I’m told it’s a vigorous, white softneck garlic that produces really large, ‘sweet’ bulbs, supposed to be perfect for adding some Mediterranean flavour.
I always plant the biodynamic Radar onion sets and find they give me superb, large, Spanish-size onions early in the year, very sweet and very welcome. I also plant the Japanese onion, Senshu Yellow as seed and find they do me very well too. Both mean that I’m harvesting onions weeks earlier than spring planted sets, and overwintering gives them a strong root growth to build on. Even through last winter’s weeks of snow I still got a good crop, I did cover them and gave them extra Prep 500 to help their roots.
For the Broad Beans I sow Aquadulce and am always pleased with the result. Fresh Broad Beans in may is such a delight. I usually sow them in late October or early November and cover with fleece to protect from cold and beasties who want to dig things up !!!
Douce Provence peas are very good and come both early and late. I have the very last crop maturing in the garden now for harvest in a couple of weeks. I keep them protected as we do have frosts now. The overwintering ones need to get established before the weather gets too wintery.
Before any of this planting I feed and turn the soil, get it aerated and the weeds out. I feed with our own BD compost and manure, sometimes with a liquid manure feed instead of the solid as the ground already has masses of fibre. And then it gets a spraying of Prep 500. This year that will be on 26-27 October, on the cusp between southern and northern planting times but still perfectly effective.