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Biodynamics

Fermented Horsetail Tea (BD508) Equisetum arvense

by Hugh Courtney, 2019 Celstial Planting Calendar

Take one unit of shredded horsetail herb. One unit is less than 1.5 ounces by weight or 8 to 10 ounces by volume depending on how finely it is shredded. 

In one gallon of water, bring the shredded horsetail to a boil and simmer for one full hour. Use a stainless steel or porcelain pot, not an aluminum one. Allow the tea to cool and transfer both the liquid and the cooked herb to a crock or other storage container.  Cover with a loose fitting lid.

Store this mixture in a cool place, for example, a root cellar or a basement, and allow it to ferment for 10 to 14 days. A characteristic smell will develop. Then strain the herb particles out, transfer the tea into a glass jug, and store it in the cool, dark place until it is to be used. 

This fermented tea can be stored for six or more months without losing its effectiveness. If desired, the strained horsetail material can be used to make the next batch thereby helping to speed up the fermentation process. 


Hugh Courtney - Writer, Mentor, Teacher, Researcher 

In addition to contributing articles, Hugh Courtney has taken on the advisory role of forecasting favourable and unfavorable times for this calendar. He has devoted more than 40 years to perfecting the art of making biodynamic preparations. Taking a cue from his own mentor, Josephine Porter, who declared, “These preparations are no secret, I will teach anyone who wants to learn how to make them,” he has mentored hundreds of people on the finer points of making quality preparations. 

Ever concerned about keeping this special art form alive into the future, in 2009, Hugh founded Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC to provide quality preparations for discerning practitioners. www.earthlegacyagriculture.com

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How to Make a Biodynamic Tree Paste

by Hugh J. Courtney, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

Tree paste is an excellent way to fertilize a tree and help it deal with disease.  It can be applied any time of the year but one preferred time is late in the fall or in late winter.  Here is a simplified version with proportions calculated to make enough paste to apply to several trees. 

Suggested equipment and materials

• Power drill with ½ inch mixing chuck
• 5 or 6 gallon (19 or 23 litre) bucket
• 5 pounds (2.25 kilograms) Bentonite clay
• 2 to 2.5 gallons (7.5 to 9.5 litres) water (see below)
• ½ gallon (2 litres) fermented Equisetum tea (BD508)
• 2 units ELA (Earth Legacy Agriculture) Field Activator

Preparing the water

Water from a well should be exposed to the sun and starlight for at least 24 hours prior to use. If the water is chlorinated, 48 hours of exposure is recommended. Fresh, not stagnant, pond water is acceptable. Recently collected rainwater is preferred but be aware of its acidic properties. The ideal container for exposing water to sunlight is a copper kettle or a ceramic crock.  A stainless steel container can also be used.  A plastic bucket is a last resort, but never use an aluminum container.

Tree Paste Instructions

Place two gallons of de-chlorintated water in a five- or six-gallon plastic bucket. Slowly add the clay while stirring contents using the power drill mixer. Mix the water thoroughly with the clay (20 minutes). Hand mixing requires several hours.  When half of the clay has been added, slowly add the ELA Field Activator and the fermented Equisetum tea and continue to stir.

Add the remaining clay until the mixture is thick and pastelike. Let it sit for a few hours. Stir again slightly to see if additional water is needed. If the material is to be applied in a spray form, dilute to the desired consistency suitable for your spray equipment—possibly twice as much water as originally called for. Three units each of Biodynamic Compound (BC) Preparation and Horn Manure (BD500) may be substituted for the two units of the Field Activator. 

Prior to applying tree paste, remove as much loose bark as possible using a wire brush, putty knife or other scraping tool. Use an extra-large brush to apply the paste to the tree trunk and larger lower limbs.  Heavy duty rubber gloves may also be used.

Binding agents sometimes used

• Castor oil: ¼ cup or less, also used as a healing agent
• Linseed oil: ¼ cup or less 

Some recipes add Horn Silica (BD501) preparation, powdered stinging nettle, liquid seaweed, whey, diatomaceous earth, lime, as well as other helpful ingredients. For further reading on tree care and how to apply tree paste, see Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s "The Biodynamic Treatment of Fruit Trees, Berries and Shrubs".


Hugh Courtney - Writer, Mentor, Teacher, Researcher 

In addition to contributing articles, Hugh Courtney has taken on the advisory role of forecasting favourable and unfavorable times for this calendar. He has devoted more than 40 years to perfecting the art of making biodynamic preparations. Taking a cue from his own mentor, Josephine Porter, who declared, “These preparations are no secret, I will teach anyone who wants to learn how to make them,” he has mentored hundreds of people on the finer points of making quality preparations. 

Ever concerned about keeping this special art form alive into the future, in 2009, Hugh founded Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC to provide quality preparations for discerning practitioners. www.earthlegacyagriculture.com

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Importance of Trees and Forests

by Hugh Courtney, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

When do trees become a wood or woods and ultimately a forest?  To answer this question, we can use a dictionary, in this case, The Random House Dictionary.  

A tree is “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk ordinarily growing to a considerable height and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.”

The definition of woods or wood is described as “a large and thick collection of growing trees, a grove or forest.” 

When we examine the word forest, it is defined as, “a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush.” 
When we try to sort out the difference between forest, grove and woods, we understand that all these terms refer to an area covered with trees.

These definitions do not take us to a real understanding but lead us in circular directions. It’s no wonder that such sayings as “I can’t see the forest for the trees,” and, “I can’t see the trees for the forest” continue to permeate our way of speaking. 

To remedy this lack of understanding, it may be useful to look at trees from a spiritual perspective rather than merely from a physical aspect. For that spiritual view, let us turn to Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course, most specifically, the Adams translation. Steiner’s insights on the role of trees in nature are both numerous and eye opening. Before detailing some of those insights, it is helpful to review some of the terms he uses.

He describes nature as consisting of four basic kingdoms, each of which adds a particular physical quality and/or spiritual aspect. The Mineral Kingdom presents only the realm of physical substance here on Earth. The Plant Kingdom adds the quality of livingness or life, or to use Steiner’s term, the plant possesses an etheric body as well as a physical body. When we look at the Animal Kingdom, in addition to a physical and a life body, a soul or an astral body is included which brings forward the qualities of movement and feeling. The fourth kingdom of Nature, the Human Kingdom, adds a spiritual or ego body to the other three bodies. It is this body which allows us to express a unique individuality or personality here on Earth.

This view conflicts with the Darwinian concept of the human being as a mere higher animal.  Steiner’s view raises humans to a level of spiritual importance in the universe. Perhaps, also, that view repositions Planet Earth from a mere speck in a vast cosmos to a unique experiment of an entire hierarchy of spiritual beings.   
With this brief introduction to Steiner’s vocabulary, let us return to his description of the importance of trees in Nature. We are given a special glimpse into the nature of trees in his seventh lecture of the Agriculture Course delivered on June 15, 1924.  Steiner reminds us to view the subject from a macrocosmic perspective rather than a microcosmic one, and in particular, that we understand that within Nature everything is connected with everything else.

To help us better understand the unique expression of trees, Steiner asks us to grasp that the buds, leaves, flowers and fruit on a tree exist with a root as well. He suggests that plants growing out of the soil essentially share a common root below the soil. In the tree, which he tells us to view as though it were earth heaped up, the root zone for what grows out of the tree is actually the cambium layer. The cambium layer is analogous to the common root zone shared by herbaceous plants underneath the soil.


Steiner goes on to describe trees—particularly fruit and deciduous trees—as “gatherers of astral substance.” That astral substance expresses itself specifically through the world of insects in the form of beings, such as butterflies, bees, other flying insects and birds. Steiner then embarks on a wide-ranging description of the myriad interconnections within nature that would not happen if there were no trees. The amazing spiritual insights he provides puts trees in a category by themselves, to the extent that trees can almost be seen as a separate kingdom of nature, residing somewhere between the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom. 
Indeed, if we look to the Chinese system of elements, we find five elements labeled as Fire, Earth, Water, Metal and Wood. This is in contrast to the system we are accustomed to in the western world with the four elements, namely Fire, Earth, Air and Water.  

Through the unique function of the cambium layer within trees, Steiner goes on to say, “a relative poverty of ether is engendered in the tree, [which] makes the earthly soil rather more dead in the environment of the tree.” Without the rich astrality in the tree tops, the insect world would not exist. Without the poverty of ether in the vicinity of tree roots, the larval stage of the insect world would not exist. Ultimately the earthworm is able to regulate the vitality in the Earth. Without trees and the refined etheric body within the cambium layer, no birds, butterflies, insects and earthworms would be present. He states that “the regulation of woods and forests is an essential part of agriculture.”

At a certain point, Steiner indicates that “a regular division of labor between the bird world and the butterfly world” has come about in that the world of herbaceous plants and shrubs is served by “the butterfly world and the whole realm of trees is served by the bird world.”  

From a somewhat distinct perspective, I also need to quote from Karsten Massei’s book, School of Elemental Beings, on page 36, where he explains the role of trees in relation to the elemental beings, “The trees are extremely important for the beings of the elemental world. Elemental meetings take place under the vaulted and peaceful roof of the trees, during which they receive instructions from higher beings. Trees also stand between the other world and this one. This is connected with the substance of wood. The living wood is the substantial foundation for the other world and this world meeting in the trees. The fact that trees stand at this threshold of worlds is also the reason that very specific elemental beings are born in the trees.”    


Hugh Courtney - Writer, Mentor, Teacher, Researcher 

In addition to contributing articles, Hugh Courtney has taken on the advisory role of forecasting favourable and unfavorable times for this calendar. He has devoted more than 40 years to perfecting the art of making biodynamic preparations. Taking a cue from his own mentor, Josephine Porter, who declared, “These preparations are no secret, I will teach anyone who wants to learn how to make them,” he has mentored hundreds of people on the finer points of making quality preparations. 

Ever concerned about keeping this special art form alive into the future, in 2009, Hugh founded Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC to provide quality preparations for discerning practitioners. www.earthlegacyagriculture.com

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Meshing Permaculture with Biodynamics

by Linda Harvey, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

Permaculture and biodynamics are both forms of “conscious farming,” that is, farming that takes into account not only commodity production, but also consideration of the effects of production on the land, on renewable and non-renewable resources, on neighbourhoods and on social and cultural values. In other words, this is farming that puts all the variables into the equation, not just the ones that serve the bottom line.
Permaculture is more than a set of guidelines for this or that aspect of farming. It is a way of thinking that dovetails nicely with organic farming practices, including biodynamics. However, it can be adapted for pretty much anything: urban properties, business practices, even relationships. 

The ethical underpinnings of permaculture systems are: 

•  Care of the earth; 
•  Care of people; 
•  Sharing of the harvest. 

Superimposed on these values are 12 basic design principles to guide a person’s activity and thinking. The following is a brief explanation of each of these design principles. 

Observe and interact: Understand your ecosystem fully before you make changes to it and carefully observe how these changes affect the system. 

Catch and store energy: Energy is all around us in the form of sun, wind, and water. Harvest gently and use. 
Obtain a yield: Act with clear intentions and goals. Yield includes not only tangible commodities but also intangible ones, such as a sense of satisfaction and a quality of life.  

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: Not only from your neighbors and friends but also from the ecosystem.    

Use and value renewable resources and services: These are the core of your farm, garden or other activity.   
Produce no waste: This principle seems difficult to implement. Some waste is probably inevitable, but a well-planned ecosystem will minimize this. Waste isn’t waste if a use can be found for it—for example, animal manure added to a compost pile is transformed into organic soil nutrients. 

Design from patterns to details: The larger picture needs to be laid out before attending to details.
Integrate rather than segregate: Design your system so that the parts can interact in productive ways. Examples include keyline water management, use of animals in pasture management and companion planting. 

Use small and slow solutions: Rather than launch into a  huge project, make smaller interventions and note the results. 

Use and value diversity: Diversity here means not only diversity of species on your land, but also diversity of projects and systems. For example, if there are several different means for generating electricity, then there is a better chance of coping successfully if there is a loss of any one of them. 

Use edges and value the marginal: An example is the space where two types of habitat merge and support an incredibly diverse collection of organisms that live in either or both habitats. This principle can be applied in designing gardens and orchards. 

Creatively use and respond to change: Change happens, even forests change. Herb and berry patches come and go. This change is normal. Then there are changes in the larger sense—new subdivisions, new regulations about wetlands, even climate change. It is important to observe, accept feedback and react. 

These permaculture design principles are applied to all aspects of land use management, including the construction of buildings, land use planning, water management, soil maintenance, and livestock and crop management. A seasoned permaculture practitioner is expected to have at least some expertise in each of these areas. Some techniques for implementing these 12 principles include the following.

Social permaculture. Permaculture includes consideration of the local community structure, personal interactions and the interface with the larger world. Social permaculture is considered a particularly important component because, if humans are not working in harmony with each other, or are not happy, they tend to leave and the project is likely to fall apart. Many promising enterprises have failed for this reason. 

Observation. The emphasis on observation, taking it slow, and being sensitive to the systems and creatures the farmer is working with, are closely compatible with the biodynamic approach. In my biodynamics course, we were taught about “Goethean observation,” a very stripped down, phenomenological approach in which observations are made without attempting to interpret or judge. While not identical to the permaculture observational style, both procedures lead to practical, reality-based information and insight.

Efficient design / Zone Concept.  In permaculture design, one of the more efficient ways of arranging things on a farm is to place the things done most often or looked after most diligently within the immediate vicinity of the house. This area might contain a kitchen garden, maybe one or more relaxation areas, a heat-lamp facility for baby chicks, a sprout-germinating spot—things that take a lot of fussing.

Keyhole gardening. The keyhole bed is an important element of intensively gardened spaces, especially those close to the house. A short central path surrounded by several beds (a keyhole) forms a unit. Several such units radiating from a center or along a path allow for maximum access with minimum trampling. They also provide lots of edges for diversity and can be oriented towards the Sun to trap heat and light, or downhill to drain cold air and avoid frost traps.

Polyculture. Polycultures are communities of plants which support each other and are encouraged to grow in a configuration where each thrives and where all ecological niches are filled. In this way, they are relatively maintenance free and can be highly productive. Polycultures around fruit trees are common. There might be an understory of berry bushes, a taller and a shorter herb layer, ground cover and a root community, such as bulbs. 

In summary, permaculture is more than a set of guidelines for efficiently conducting agricultural activities. It also recognizes the importance of human and social factors. These techniques can certainly enrich a biodynamic farming or gardening experience. Both approaches have much to offer each other. 


Linda Harvey, is a retired medical doctor, moved to a small farm in eastern Ontario with her husband John. For the past five years, they have used biodynamic and permaculture practices on their farm, gardens and woodlot.

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