I’ve been interested in food production for maximum health for many years and since 2001 have been growing herbs for medicine and practising as a medical herbalist. I came across Biodynamics in 1994 reading the book ‘Secrets of the Soil’ by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. The Biodynamic method of treating the soil and plants originated from a series of lectures on Agriculture given by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 to farmers who were worried about the loss of soil fertility and the decreasing viability of their seeds. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, scientist and clairvoyant and so Biodynamic Agriculture comes with a spiritual dimension, it includes influences from the cosmos and goes beyond what can be perceived with the senses.

At first I thought ‘who in their right mind would accept Rudolf Steiner’s advice and do as he suggested since it is so strange and time consuming’ and then I decided that it must be worth the effort if people actually bother to do it and the only way to find out if it really works is by experience. It is interesting to note that biodynamic agriculture is very popular in Australia where growing conditions can be challenging.

Since deciding to garden biodynamically, my life has been lived in moon-time, or that’s how it feels. Apart from using the Biodynamic sprays on the land and the herb preparations in the compost, I use Maria Thun’s planting and sowing calendar to grow and harvest medicinal herbs from my garden and from the fields and forest around. Maria Thun lives in Germany and has done extensive and meticulous trials over 56 years, her calendar has been published since 1963. Through her trials she has found that the moon exerts a huge effect on plant growth, so also do the planets, and the constellations of the zodiac, and I have found that a herb harvested at the perfect time on the perfect day according to Maria Thun’s calendar makes the best tincture in the world (this is assessed purely by taste). Of course it is not possible to achieve this every year because of the weather and other commitments.

The moon ascends and descends over twenty-seven and a half days (so is ascending for about 14 days and descending for about 14 days); this is different from its waxing and waning aspect. When ascending the moon exerts a pull on water, as shown by ocean tides, similarly sap in plants and trees rises more strongly into its branches and so is a good time to harvest the aerial herb as all the goodness will be there (not a good time to prune for the health of the plant). When the moon is descending the sap movement is slower, plants take root more easily and so this is a good time to harvest roots for medicine, root vegetable to eat or store, to plant out seedlings/mature plants, and to prune.

Sowing seed can be done either when the moon is ascending or descending as the seeds will need time to germinate and grow and so it is different from planting a live plant or seedling.

The moon’s position in relation to the constellations of the zodiac has various influences. For instance Pisces, Cancer and Scorpio have water-leaf qualities; Aries, Leo and Sagittarius warmth-fruit qualities; Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn earth-root qualities and Gemini, Libra and Aquarius light-flower qualities. Maria Thun conveniently lists all these in her yearly calendars along with days when it is best to do nothing due to an unfavourable aspect caused by an eclipse, nodal points of the moon or planets or other aspects with a negative influence. Her calendar can be obtained from Floris Books, 15 Harrison Gardens, Edinburgh EH11 1SH for £6.99. Do not be deceived by other moon-planting guides this is the one to have.

Last year I harvested elderflowers twice, first on a flower day and then later on a fruit day, after pressing out the tinctures I did a blind test on myself to see if I could tell which was which and found it was easily possible to tell, since one tasted quite fruity and the other much lighter and more airy.

The Biodynamic Preparations to be used on the land are as follows:

Horn Manure Preparation – known as the 500
This is made from well-formed cow manure (preferably from a herd of cows managed on biodynamic land), which is pressed into a cow horn (not the horn of a bull, they are different), and buried in the earth at the autumn equinox and left over the winter. When dug up in the Spring the manure looks and smells like compost and is beautifully friable to touch. A small amount is added to a barrel (I use a dustbin) of lukewarm rainwater and stirred for one hour. The stirring starts off slowly in one direction and gets faster until a deep vortex is formed in the centre of the water, then the stirring changes direction creating initial chaos in the water and continuing until another deep vortex is formed. This stirring continues one way and the other for an hour, you would think it would be unbelievably boring but my experience is that the hour goes incredibly quickly and you feel quite powerful and witchlike as if you are drawing in the planetary forces from the sky. It is best done on a fine day, warming the water at lunchtime and stirring from 2-3pm and then spraying the 500 immediately afterwards over the land and herb plants. I use a knapsack sprayer with a coarse droplet nozzle (the sprayer has never been used for anything else), but it is fine to use a large paintbrush (also not used for anything else) dipped in a bucket full of the stirred 500 and flicked out to send a spray of droplets onto the area being treated. Preparation 500 is normally sprayed onto the land in the Spring and Autumn during soil cultivations prior to sowing or on soil where plants are to be transplanted. There should be moisture present in the soil, it is not a good idea to spray when the soil is hot and parched, nor when it is windy. The effect of the 500 enlivens the soil, it improves humus formation, helps increase earthworm populations, stimulates microbiological activity in the soil, helps to regulate lime-nitrogen content of the soil and helps in the release of trace elements: this enhances root activity and development in the plant and also growth upward from the ground.

Horn Silica Preparation – known as the 501
Silica (quartz) is ground down to a rough powder and packed into a cow horn, which is buried in the earth for the summer months. It is used as a foliar spray to enhance light and warmth forces, as silica has an affinity with the sun and light. It is used only after the 500 has been applied, and it will encourage the plant’s development towards the flowering process. 1 ml in 10-15 litres of rainwater is enough to spray an acre. This should be stirred in the same way as the 500 for an hour and applied with a fine mist nozzle early in the morning (6am), preferably on a sunny day. The best time to spray is when the part of the plant which is to be harvested is beginning to develop.

Compost Preparations 502 – 507
It is not possible to make these for oneself, for example cow intestines are used to prepare 503 and are difficult to obtain due to strict abattoir regulations. Even cow horns are difficult to obtain these days. It is best to order all the preparations from the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, see below for details.

502 Yarrow flowers, Achillea millefolium. Every herbalist knows how useful this plant is and it is said to have a beneficial effect on its surroundings when growing wild. It has a regulating effect on the soil, enhancing the activity of potassium, sulphur, nitrogen and trace elements.

503 Chamomile flowers, Matricaria recutita. Regulates the rotting process in the compost heap. Also directs the calcium processes.

504 Stinging Nettle aerial herb, Urtica dioica. Rudolf Steiner speaks of the stinging nettle as ‘irreplaceable’ and says it ‘makes the soil intelligent’. It is of course iron-rich and carries the radiating forces of potash, calcium and sulphur. It stabilizes nitrogen and prevents it escaping from the compost heap.

505 Oak bark, Quercus robur. Calcium-rich, it checks over-lush vegetative growth that can occur in wet conditions and helps deter fungal diseases.

506 Dandelion flowers, Taraxacum officinale. The dandelion also has a reputation for having a beneficial effect on its environment. It facilitates an interaction between silica and potash.

507 Valerian flowers, Valeriana officinalis. Stimulates the phosphorus process in the compost heap.

Each of the compost preparations brings a vital function to the compost heap, which is later reflected in the quality of plant growth, the health and lack of disease and longer storage/shelf life with improved flavour and higher nutritional value. It is usual to put the Stinging Nettle preparation 504 in the middle of the heap, make a hole with a stick and roll the preparation down adding some compost to fill the hole again. Do the same with the others 502, 503, 505 and 506 equally spaced out around the 504. Preparation 507 comes in liquid form and is mixed into 3 litres of warmed water and stirred (as described before) for 10 minutes and then sprinkled over the entire heap.

508 Horsetail aerial herb, Equisetum arvense. This is used to combat fungal diseases. Boil 100g of dried herb in 5-10 litres water, simmer for about 30 minutes and allow to stand for 24 hours. Strain and add more water 1:5 – 1:10. Stir (clockwise then anti-clockwise, creating a vortex as described before) for 10-15 minutes and spray on upper and lower surfaces of the plants needing treatment. Repeat spraying at 10-14 day intervals increasing the amount of water added each time. It is possible to spray prophylactically in the autumn until November and again in the Spring from February onwards.

Barrel Preparation
This was developed by Maria Thun and I tried it out a couple of years ago and I’m still using the resulting, lovely compost it produces. You need to dig a hole somewhere that doesn’t get waterlogged when it rains. The hole should be approximately two foot square and one foot deep. If using a barrel, remove the ends and fit into the hole, if not just line the sides of the hole with pieces of wood. If the barrel container projects above the hole, earth up the sides in a slope around it. I just used wood around the sides and filled the hole with cow dung from a Biodynamic herd of cows, mixed with 100g ground dry eggshells (we keep hens so this was easy) and 500g basalt meal. This is then mixed with a spade for an hour, the compost preparations are then added and the Valerian 507 stirred and sprayed over the top (5 drops of Valerian preparation in a litre of water is enough, stirred for about 15 minutes). The pit (or barrel) is then covered with a wooden lid. After 4 weeks the contents need to be turned and moved around for an hour and more preparations added. Leave covered for a further 2 weeks or so and then the resulting compost should be ready. You can then use a small amount as a Biodynamic spray but I have just used it sparingly as compost and it is wonderful stuff. Well worth the effort.

All the Biodynamic preparations can be obtained from the BDAA office, Painswick Inn Project, Gloucester Street, Stroud, Glos. GL5 1QG. Telephone: 0845 345 8474.  http://www.biodynamic.org.uk.

Sally Viney, Dip. Phyt. Medical Herbalist,
Harbridge Herbal Clinic
North End Farmhouse, Harbridge, Ringwood, Hants. BH24 3PT
Telephone: 01425 652233