This week we applied biodynamic Prep 500 to all our beds. Prep 500 is composed of fresh cow manure that has been stuffed inside cow horns and buried for the six months between the spring and fall equinoxes. This picture, courtesy of Chez Pim, shows our cow horns freshly filled with manure last year and awaiting burial. While underground, it is infused with the energy of the earth, and decomposes into a rich, completely non-smelly elixir. The small photo is of the manure after it's been buried for six months. Isn't it beautiful? It is then ready to be mixed and applied.
Prep 500, also also called "horn manure," is a soil enlivener. In biodynamics, we recognize that soil health is key to plant growth. But Prep 500 is not like worm castings or manure or compost, which are all typically applied by the shovel-full. We use only a small amount, some would say a homeopathic amount. We begin with about three or four ounces of this manure-based substance, and mix it up into several gallons of water. We are making a medicine for the soil, so to speak, and every aspect of it needs to be a pure as possible.
We begin with well water – more pure than our city water. We bring the water to a warm temperature by heating over a natural fire. The ‘natural’ part of the fire – that it’s heat be based on a flame – is important for esoteric reasons which I cannot fully explain, though I get the essential reasoning. We’re not bombarding this water with electricity or microwaves, we’re heating it naturally. Once the water is warm, we take the prep in our hand; plunge it into the water, and begin to swirl it around, releasing it. Then we begin what is perhaps the most important part of the procedure: aerating it. It's important to stir it in a certain fashion, to create vortexes that force the water high up onto the sides of the container. A deep, conical depression is in the middle of our swirling. This is a vortex. Once we have a good vortex, we sustain it for a few moments, then violently interrupt it with our stirring implement, creating a bit of chaos as we begin to create a vortex in another direction. This process of vortexing – interruption – vortexing is repeated for one hour. Focus is maintained on the preparation, since we are making medicine for our soil.
As I directed Christopher through his first stirring, I told him how
important it was during the hour to be quiet, focus on the vortex, and
treat the stirring as a meditation. He later wrote down his impressions:
"I had time during the hour of vortexing to
ponder what it is we were doing, and why it should work. And I recalled
the perfect beauty of the
horn manure. How it exemplified what we look for in a high
quality soil or soil amendment, being moist, colloidal, and structured.
And I thought of the vortexing procedure
which is what plants are doing with respect to bringing the earth into
and the light into earth, as biodynamics recognizes. And it occurred to
me that perhaps this preparation provides to
the soil a template or vibrational exemplar toward which to aspire, and
spreading it lightly around we are providing the soil with a goal worth
towards." Great meditation, Chris!
Now at the end of the stirring, it is dusk, and we are ready to apply it to our soils. We do this with brushes, which we dip into the finished prep and flick droplets onto our planting beds. This is a seemingly tiny amount, don't you think? But we are talking here about a powerful substance, used in homeopathic quantities, that we trust will bring about subtle but significant improvements in our soil.
Horn manure prep is but one of the "elixirs" prescribed by Rudolph Steiner, the father of biodynamic agriculture. His theories of natural growing preceded the modern organic movement. Organic gardening overlaps many of Steiner's tenets. Some call his ideas "voo-doo." Some dismiss them out of hand. The proof, to me, is in the growing. And the healthiest gardens I've ever seen have been biodynamic ones. So we'll continue our black magic here and thumb our nose at the skeptics.