BD 500, strange as it sounds, is made from cow manure which has been stuffed into the horn of a female cow in the autumn and buried in the soil, pointed end downwards, over the winter to mature and ferment. During this time it is transformed from sticky fresh manure to a rich, dark, crumbly substance. Mixed with water, the preparation is spread in the early spring (when the soil is waking up) and the late autumn (when the soil is going to sleep). No one really understands why it works, it is a mystery- although biodynamic wine has a reputation for being delicious (it is!) and much less likely to give you a hangover.
Do you need to use biodynamic preparations to grow no dig? Your garden will grow beautifully, abundantly and healthily without it. I don’t use it in my own garden, but enjoy the tradition of the twice yearly potion stirring and spreading at Homeacres.
In September 2015, Charles and I attended a workshop preparing the cow horns at Ryton in Coventry.
The smelly fresh manure is stuffed in the horn, pushed down with a stick then more manure is added, pushed down again and so on …
until the horn is completely full.
The horns are a by product of meat and dairy farming. Due to British regulations, they have to be imported – UK cow horns are destroyed. Of course BD 500 like most biodynamic preparations are not suitable for vegans. Some research is going into vegan alternatives which do not rely on animals. My preference would be for something you can make yourself from items found in your location.
Wednesday afternoon was dampish and grey and, although a few weeks later than we’d normally mix, it felt perfect for spreading the cow horn potion (in the spring, we would choose a bright, early morning). We don’t use any fancy equipment: a large blue recycled barrel, a stick from the hedgerow and to spread it, buckets and decorators brushes. Also the preparation, which Charles buys from the Biodynamic Association.
We sprinkle the preparation into the water and stir for an hour, alternating between clockwise and anticlockwise motions, creating vortices. It is great fun, I love the sound of the spinning water – we take turns to stir as it can hurt your muscles a bit. Although the fermented manure in the preparation contains millions and millions of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi etc – the liquid we make is not a nutrient feed. It is more about creating water imbued with energy!
After an hour, the preparation has been dispersed through the liquid and it is ready to spread. With buckets of potion and brushes, we walked the entirety of Charles garden, spreading the potion in sweeping movements so that the droplets covered as much of the land as possible. I wonder what the neighbours think..!
We cover everything: the beds, the compost, grass, hedges and the wild edges. In previous years we have stirred the potion with volunteers and course attendees. It is fun to do it as a communal activity and it connects us with all areas of the garden, including those which are mostly overlooked, providing an opportunity to think about how the garden is as a whole. We have no idea of course what difference it would make to the garden if we didn’t do this, if any, but I think we would the ritual of doing it.
I am sure that this could be done with anything you felt was suitable – perhaps a homemade herbal solution or a compost tea or just plain water – stirred with good thoughts about the plants and the soil. Victor Schauberger told the story of a farmer he met who grew extraordinary crops using unusual techniques learned from his grandfather, who had learned it from his grandfather and so on, deep into the past. He came across him singing into a barrel of water whilst stirring and sprinkling in some clay from his land. You can read it here, in this extract from Jane Cobbald’s book about Schauberger.