Tag Archives: Prpearations

Prep 500 – alchemical magic

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 …

  • nigredo (-putrefactio), blackening (-putrefaction): corruption, dissolution
  • 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 …

Nigredo Albedo Citrinato Rubado
Earth Water Air Fire
Roots Leaves Flowers Fruit
Abomasum Omasum Rumen Reticulum

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.

Elen Sentier

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Pests & Diseases

Slug !!!

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.

cabbage white butterfly

Pests

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.

cabbage white caterpillars

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.

Cute ... until he eats your veg !!!

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.

Rats

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.

writer artist gardener shaman
Wye’s Woman Rainbow Warrior
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Autumn Veg Planting

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.

Making Prep 500 – Horn Manure

Shetland cow, just after she had calved, 2010

About Cows …

This is cow manure which has been buried in a cow’s horn from autumn to spring equinox.

All of nature, including us humans, are energy-consuming beings. When food is digested it gets broken down into its component parts. As it passes through the digestive tract it gets processed by the juices of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach and small and large intestines. All of these body-parts are able to absorb nutrient from the food as it goes through the process which turns the food back into energy again – as it was originally, in the form of sunlight – so our body-cells can use it. Neither we nor any animal actually uses the food, solid matter that we eat. We use the energy our digestive systems are able to obtain from it. This energy is measured in calories, the calorie is a measure of energy, we use and consuming energy.

Cows produce the very best manure, partly because of their size and diet as well as their temperament. They also have some forty to forty-five meters of digestive tract … that’s an awful lot! … which handles the near continuous eating that cows, kept properly, are built to do. But the most important fact about them – in terms of prep 500 – is their four stomachs.

All ruminant animals – cows, goats, sheep, deer – have very long digestive tracts and four stomachs. The word ruminant is about chewing the cud, likely you’ll have noticed how cows and sheep will stand or lie chewing quietly in the field, this is chewing the cud and a vital part of the huge digestive process these animals use. All ruminants are also cloven hoofed and naturally have horns. Modern insurance practices and rules try to insist that farmers cut the horns off their cattle or disbud them when they are new-born calves. Biodynamics does not go along with this and all biodynamic cows have their horns.

The cow's 4 stomanchs

Cows don’t naturally have three meals a day – they eat all the time, slowly walking across their pasture, biting off grass and herbs and chewing the cud. Unfortunately, because of economics, greed and the massive demand for milk, cows on industrial farms are fed about three times a day so their digestive tract doesn’t work as nature intended. The physical and emotional strain of being forced to eat when the human says so, being treated as a unit of production, despite the fact that your body was built for continuous input must be pretty bad for cows that live in deep litter for most of their lives, as many do on industrial farms. This stress has knock-on effects on the milk they produce and our health if we drink it and is likely a contributory cause of the massive dairy allergies current at the moment. Ditto butter and cheese produced from the milk too.

Naturally, on biodynamic and organic farms, the cows have food available to them all the time, in fields as much as possible and with continuously filled hay/straw racks when they are in deep litter, so their guts work as they are supposed to. As a consequence they produce superb manure for us to use in the garden and on the farm. And to make Prep 500 with.

Making Prep 500

You need …

Cows’ horns – you’ll need at least three or four. If you’re going to do it why not get several and share the results with friends and your local garden club and/or biodynamic group? You’ll need 1-2 horns per person depending on the size of their land, we use 4+ horns per year here on our ¼ acre. You can buy horns from your local biodynamic association – see contacts.

Cow pats – freshly gathered from the field a day or so before you want to fill the horns. Make sure you have permission from the farmer to be on her/his land! Get cow pats that are stiff rather than sloppy in constituency. It helps if the farmer has been feeding hay for a week or two before you collect the dung.

NB – When you dig them up, the contents of the horns should be dark brown with no smell of manure, only the pleasant scent of humus. If the contents is wet, green or smelling of manure, the horns are not ready. The most likely cause is that the cow pats were too wet. You can leave them in the pit for a few more weeks to mature.

  • A Pit – to bury the horns in – see below.
  • Rubber gloves
  • Old tea spoon with long handle
  • Piece of bent coat-hanger
  • A table to work on and maybe chairs
The Pit

The pit should be between 30-50cm deep and about half a meter wide to accommodate the horns.

  • NB – ensure your pit gets a good dollop of sunlight each day, as well as some shade and that the rain can get to it as well. It needs the four elements – earth, air, fire (sunlight) and water to process properly. This is important for both 500 and 501 preparations.

Find a place that will never be disturbed as you will be using the pit year-in, year-out for both your spray preparations. It can be decorative and doesn’t have to look like a bit of old field but make sure the elements can get to it. It should be infested with tree or shrub roots – and digging around the roots twice a year won’t do any good to the trees either. It shouldn’t be near a wall, road or ditch. If the soil is clayey, wet or impermeable it’s a good idea to dig a drain for the pit.

Method

Stuff the horns with the cow pat making sure it fills up all the way down. This is where the teaspoon and bent coat-hanger come in, poking the stuff with an old spoon or bent wire helps move it down and takes out air bubbles that stop it filling the horn.

When all the horns are full bury them in the pit and leave them there over the winter.

You put the horns into the pit open-end down and points up to stop water draining into them and wrecking the preparation. Then you refill in around and between the horns with good topsoil.

Make sure it’s marked in some way or you may forget where it is and spend ages come next spring hunting for it. A good idea is to mark the extent of the pit with flat tiles around the edge, sunk into the grass so that you can mow over them. It also looks good and makes a feature of the place. Our pit is in the middle of a circular lawn in the little grove.

A hornfull of Prep 500

The finished product

You leave the horns in the pit until after the spring equinox, or even longer depending on the weather. Good spring sunshine is necessary for the final weeks.

Remove the horns from the pit and refill it, or cover it if you are going to make prep 501 within a few days. Stack the horns outside under shelter and leave for two or three days to dry out. Then remove the preparation by knocking the horns gently together, open end down, over a bucket. The contents should fall out but a bent coat-hanger will get bits out of the corners.

Store the preparation in glass jam jars with lids loosely screwed on so a little air can get in, or you can put several layers of muslin over the top held on with an elastic band, like homemade jam. Or you can spend lots of money on the special earthenware pots most BD associations sell. The latter are very nice but glass jars work perfectly well and come for free with the jam in our house.

You need sphagnum moss to surround the jars and a box to put them in. The jars should be completely surrounded in the sphagnum moss to retain the atmosphere they need, and the lids should be only loosely screwed on so air and moisture can get into the jars.

A wooden box is probably the most convenient, it will be solid and cool and dark as required. Some people, who make a lot of preparations, build an outdoor box against the wall of a shed or garage out of concrete blocks, with a waterproof lid. This is fine, it fulfils all the criteria of dark, solid, safe, frost-free and retaining moisture. If you’re into DIY it’s a good idea.

writer artist gardener shaman
Wye’s Woman Rainbow Warrior
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Making the Preparations

Paul (hubby) in our horn pit

Let me reiterate straight away that you don’t need to make any of the preps yourself unless you want to. You can buy them already to stir or put into your heap from your local/national biodynamic association – see References at the bottom of the front page of this column.

However, you may decide you want to make the preps for yourself, or at least some of them. It’s good fun, especially if there’s a group of you, like the garden club, and gives an enormous feeling of satisfaction when you use your very own preparations on your land.

The two horn preps – 500, horn manure, and 501, horn silica – are possible for anyone so inclined, even in a small town garden.

I think it’s important that people can know, if they want to, how all the preps are made. It’s not “black magic” even if the methods are unusual. I don’t propose to attempt much on why you do it this way, or why it works. It’s as difficult to explain as why (not how) electricity works but we know that it does, we see it every day. Similarly, I see biodynamics working every day without needing to know why. There are many things we do without knowing all the whys and wherefores. We know they work, that they do what we want, and biodynamics is (at the moment) like that, although I suspect there will come a time when we are able to explain some of the whys. Evolution works like that, often from the experiential to the theoretical … not the other way about!

Cruelty …

And let me also say that no animals are ever slaughtered just to make the preparations. All the animal components come from animals that are being slaughtered for food in any case. In biodynamics we try to use as much as possible of every beast killed – waste is inimical to BD and is considered cruel as well.

Making the Spray Preps

If you live in a town and have gardening neighbours, or are a member of a garden club or allotment group, why not get together a group of interested people and make the spray preparations as a group? It’s like doing neighbourhood composting or sharing gardens – things lots of people are going for now. And working in a group is good fun as well as sharing the work.

You’ll need 1-2 horns per person and just the one pit between you all. The picture is of my husband, Paul, in our horn pit, getting it ready for the 500 horns to go in. We have quite a bit pit and do a lot of horns as we give some into the “pool” for others to use who can’t make the preps themselves. You don’t necessarily need to have such a large pit, it depends how many of you there are, how much land and so how many horns. Our pit can take 40+ horns, far more than most people want but would be very useful for a garden or allotment club.

Because a lot of people already do this it’s possible for us all to buy the preps rather than having to make them. Folk like us make some extra and the biodynamic association sells it on for cost only – no profit involved here, just goodwill and sharing.

  • You can buy horns – again costs only, no profit – from your local biodynamic association:  see References.

I’ll be writing about how to make Prep 500, horn manure, in the next post.

writer artist gardener shaman
Wye’s Woman Rainbow Warrior
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