Research Project Arising From Practice
I have documented the progress of the stirring area here – Building A Preparation Stirring Area. I have been researching and constructing the stirring area in tandem.
(1.1) From this research project I want to understand the impact that a stirring area will have on the valley.
(1.2) I have decided to research and develop a biodynamic stirring area in the valley. I became increasingly interested in the idea of a stirring area dedicated to the stirring of the biodynamic preparation following the weekend seminar on the preparations held at Ruskin Mill. It reinforced the importance of giving back energy to the garden, as we exploit the soil and forces when cultivating. The preparations are one of the ways we can revitalise our soils and gardens.
(1.3) Initially, my project idea was to create an area on the valley bank with a dual purpose for the biodynamic stirrings, and also a place where students and staff could unwind. However, through discussions with staff, I quickly realised that students and staff already have many designed areas in the valley in which to unwind, and creating a new area may encourage students to abscond from their sessions. Furthermore, it became clear that a biodynamic stirring area should be in full view from the public footpath, and easily assessable for stirrings. Mattias recommended an area in the valley for my project, I agreed that this would be a great location.
I then simplified my original proposal to designing and constructing an area solely for the purpose of stirring and storage of the biodynamic preparations. Through the biodynamic preparations and the increased likelihood of using them consistently in the valley with a dedicated area, I believe that this project will be of great benefit, and aligned with the seven fields of practice.
- Genius Loci: I will spend some time observing the area before starting my project. I am taking down a pre-existing structure, and compost furnace. I intend to incorporate many of the materials back into the project.
- Practical Skills: My project will involve excavating into the clay bank, removing materials away, and constructing a stone wall and foundation. A host of practical skills will be involved to actualise this project.
- Biodynamic Ecology: Biodynamic preparations are central to biodynamic agriculture. By creating a designated area for the stirring of the preparations, it’s likely that the frequency of spraying them in the valley will increase.
- Therapeutic Education: Students will be involved during the construction of the stirring area. I hope my finished stirring area will be beautiful. If so it may rejuvenate more neglected parts of the valley, thus creating a more therapeutic environment where students are working.
- Holistic Support and Care: The biodynamic preparation provide holistic support for the land and plants. In turn, the nutritional dense vegetables grown in the valley will contribute to the well-being of the staff and students.
- Holistic Medicine: The biodynamic preparations that will be stirred together by practitioners in the valley, are holistic medicines for the soil, and the plants.
- Transformative Leadership: I will have to hold myself accountable for designing and creating this preparation stirring area. I will need to manage my time and solve problems that will arise throughout the project.
(2.1) The project proposal was accepted. So I have moved onto the research stage. Firstly, I need to formulate a worthy question as a starting point for my research, such as:
What is the importance of choosing a location solely for the purposes of the stirring and storage of the biodynamic preparations within the landscape of the Ruskin Mill Valley?
How can a preparation stirring area be built to ensure that it is used frequently, and is continually maintained for years to come?
Which building materials should be used or avoided when building a biodynamic preparation stirring area?
How will the besom be held into the stirring barrel?
How to construct a suitable pit for the cowpat preparation?
All of the questions above are very important for my project, to justify the project, and to ensure that it will fulfil its purpose as a stirring area over many years.
(2.2) To conduct my research I have many resources available. Firstly, many colleagues have extensive knowledge in the field of biodynamics and have built their own preparation areas in the past. I also have books including the Agriculture Course, where Rudolf Steiner first outlined the preparations, and where he also comments on the effects that the stirrings have on people, and comments on which materials should be used and avoided. I also have access to many biodynamic books such as ‘The Biodynamic Spray and Compost Preparations, Directions for Use, Wistinghausen’
I plan to create a questionnaire that I can send out to biodynamic practitioners across the Ruskin Mill Trust, to learn about their own stirring areas.
How does a dedicated preparation stirring area benefit the Ruskin Mill Valley? How important is the design and construction to ensure that it fulfils its purpose for many years?
(3.1) A wooden barrel, spring water, and a broom are all you require for the stirring of the biodynamic preparations. The biodynamic preparations need to be used often, and practitioners must compromise if necessary, to get the preparations dispersed across the land. However, we must also strive towards the ideal when we can. I believe that a dedicated area for the biodynamic preparations stirrings is ideal for any biodynamic holding. Through my research, I want to discover the effects that a dedicated stirring area will have on the Ruskin Mill Valley. Additionally, I will research how the design, materials, and construction will influence the frequency of stirrings.
The preparations are homoeopathic treatments for the land. Through the use of these preparations, we are presenting vitality back into the land, vitality which we have exploited through cultivation. By using preparation such as 500 & 501, we are providing forces that will aid the health of the soil and the health the plants. By having a stirring area in the locally, it becomes more likely that we will practice these stirrings more often. In have decided to integrate a storage area as part of the stirring area, here the compost preparations will be stored. Along with a Cowpat pit, it makes the preparation area a very practical space for all of the preparations to be used in the valley.
Stirrings are significant moments for biodynamic practitioners. On one day in summer, it involves waking up at the crack of dawn, to stir preparation horn silica 501. Often this brings colleagues, and land workers together from different areas. I hope that the preparation stirring area will bring together people in the valley. For this reason, I want to integrate many areas of the valley into the preparation area. This could be reflected in the materials and elements that make up the stirring area.
- Pottery – Clay tiles indicating the spray and compost preps, to be attached to the stone wall
- Green Woodwork – The crafting of a small door for the storage area of the preps
- The Forge – The forging of a structure to hold the besom
Colleagues if they wish to join together in the valley to stir the preparations, feel very important. The preparations could be sprayed across the whole of the valley, where required. By having everyone together, there is a powerful intention that is made, and it offers a chance for staff to speak about the landscape and share in the practice.
(3.2) In Lecture Four of The Agriculture Course, Rudolf Steiner introduces biodynamic preparations. Which he had asked Pfeiffer to research two years prior to the lectures given in 1924. After Steiner has spoken about the cow manure, and horn silica preparations, he then speaks about the stirring process to enliven and vitalise the substance in water.
The stirring of the preparations in the barrels takes one hour. Steiner says “Think, how little work it involves! The burden of work will really not be very great.” He goes on to explain that farmers and “idle members of the farming household” will gather around and take pleasure in the stirrings.
Over the last two years, I have participated in 3 or 4 stirrings. We stir at sunrise with the silica preparations. We watch the sunrise, drink coffee, and are led into conversations that we wouldn’t normally have, due to the setting, and the rhythmic stirring.
Importantly, we become active participants. Connecting with the land in a way that feels significant. Steiner goes on to say “This personal relationship to the matter (and you can well develop it) is extraordinarily beneficial – at any rate for one who likes to see Nature as a whole and not only as in the Baedeker guide-books”.
It’s important that whoever is stirring is focused, and carries it out will passion and purpose. Pfeiffer writes “Anyone who is lazy and stirs for a shorter period or less energetically will have only himself to blame for any failure in the result. If the overseer does not do the stirring himself, he must, at any rate, supervise it and see that it is consciously carried out”.
I see the act of stirring as a communal activity for anyone who is involved with the farm organisms and wants to take part. By having a stirring area in the Valley, then members of staff that are interested in biodynamics can take part. Their relationship with the land may transform as a result.
A stirring area in the valley may bring colleagues together to perform the stirrings, but it will also increase the number of stirrings and preparations that we are putting onto the land. In February 2023, we conducted a stirring of cow horn manure as part of a staff training day. This occasion brought together staff from different areas of the college, with varying levels of interest in biodynamics. The stirring was really enjoyable, naturally, everyone stood around the barrel evenly spaced apart, and conversations flowed naturally. The hour seemed to pass quickly, and all the staff agreed that it was a very meditative process, and a rare opportunity to spend one hour of their working day in this manner.
Over the last two years, we haven’t disseminated enough of the biodynamic preparations across the valley. Even though it is a fundamental aspect of biodynamic agriculture. With the dedicated stirring area, it is hoped that this will increase.
|500 Cow Horn Manure
|Fresh cow manure, and cow horns
|Enhances the life of the soil
|501 Cow Horn Silica
|Clear quartz (Silicon dioxide) triturated into a fine powder
|Increases plant immunity, crystallising effect which helps to ripen and protect seed
|Flowers of Yarrow (Achilea millefolium)
|Helps the soil draw in substances, support structure, heals wounds.
|Added to Compost
|Flowers of Camomile (Matricaria chamomila)
|Helps to stabilise plant nutrients and invigorate plant growth, and calm the chaos within the compost.
|Added to Compost
|504 Stinging Nettle
|Whole Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
|Develops sensitivity in the soil, and helps to stabilise nitrogen
|Added to Compost
|505 Oak Bark
|Oak Bark (Quercus robur)
|Helps increase a plant’s resistance to disease, increases flocculation so the compost doesn’t become anaerobic.
|Added to Compost
|Flowers of Dandelion (Taraxacum offcinale)
|Activities light influences in the soul
|Added to Compost
|Flowers of Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
|Protection, temperature regualtion
|Sprayed over Compost
|Flowers of Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
|Prevents fungal diseases, and balances the water elements
There are various studies looking at the efficacy of biodynamic preparations.
From a biodynamic perspective, a scientific study looking into the efficacy of the biodynamic preparations may be seen as reductionist, as the study designs cannot give a complete holistic understanding. Still, biodynamic researchers are keen to show the effects of biodynamic preparations through classical analytical methods.
Reviewing the studies
In 2019 researchers conducted a review of 86 peer-reviewed publications on biodynamic food and farming between 2006 and 2017 (Brock, 2019). 15 of the 86 peer-reviewed publications looked at the biodynamic preparations. In the review conclusion, they said “The biodynamic preparations create measurable effects on food chemical composition and food quality. Further, biodynamic management as a whole, and the application of biodynamic preparations in particular, causes a differentiation between biodynamic and non-biodynamic vineyards.”.
The review outlines numerous examples of studies where the biodynamic preparations were able to increase yields. In 2012, in Udaipur, India they studied how applying 500 & 501 would affect the growth of Cumin seeds, which is an important crop they export around the world. They found the biodynamic preparations to increase the yield by 30%. (Sharma, 2012)
There was three-year study in Lithuania, looking at the effects of the two field sprays on the biological properties of the soil and the properties of the potatoes. The soil was tested for phosphorus, available potassium, ammonia nitrogen, nitrogen, and mineral nitrogen. While the potato samples were tested for polyphenols, anthocyanin (a group of anti-oxidants), and antiradical activity. After 14 days, the soil that was treated with cow horn manure 500 was found to be highest in phosphorus, available potassium, nitrogen and mineral nitrogen. Following treatment with cow horn silica 501, the tuber varieties of Blue Congo and Red Emmalie were higher in phenolic compounds, 20.1% and 5.4%, respectively (Vaitkevičienė, 2019)
There are many more studies showing similar statistically significant results following the application of the biodynamic preparations. We could then say that by implementing a dedicated biodynamic stirring area in the valley, we would then apply more preparations on the land and the crops, in order to grow foods higher in beneficial compounds, that are good for our health.
Data Collection Method
(3.3) I sent out a short questionnaire to biodynamic practitioners across the trust that I have met during the biodynamic courses. I wanted to learn about the stirring areas at their respective provision. I made the questionnaire, short and simple, to ensure that I would get an ample amount of responses, but left space for those that wanted to share more. I received 10 responses to the questionnaire. I have embedded the questionnaire below:
From the results, I could see that the Ruskin Mill provisions on average apply cow horn manure 3.6 times a year, and apply cow horn silica 2.7 times a year. Two responses only spray the two preparations 500 & 501 once a year, and interestingly were in the 30% of responders who indicated that they did not have a dedicated stirring area at their provision.
|Average Number Of Sprays
|3.6 X BD500
|1 x BD500,
|8 x BD500
|2.7 x BD501
|1 x BD501
|8 x BD501
90% of responders said that they would like to do more stirrings a year. The barriers to doing more stirrings were due to ‘time’, ‘lack of staff’, and ‘other work getting in the way’. In order to make the preparations, and stirring them takes a lot of time and commitment. The farmer has to collect the cow dung/horn silica, source cow horns, fill the cow horns, bury them in the ground, dig them up, stir in a barrel of water for one hour, and then disperse them across the land.
I asked the practitioners how they felt while stirring the preparations, ‘Happy’, ‘Meditative’, and ‘Calm’ came up the most. Here are some of the other responses:
“Impatient, but I guess it’s ok if it gives you a break from a heavy or difficult job for a little while, and if other people are around it can be an opportunity to have a chat and a catch up, though it can be hard to get up and go back to work when the time’s up! Can make your hand cold so I prefer to stir with a stick.”
“It depends. The one stir I have done by myself I was able to reach a very calm and meditative state. Often I do not relax into it though”
“Its hard work when I’m alone, its a great opportunity to observe, to be with water, and to take in a different perspective of the garden. In a group there are feelings of building community, and its a great opportunity to discuss the land, water, and Biodynamics. Alone, it can be a process of feelings of frustration, commitment, joy, peace, and positivity.”
“really good, I feel I am doing a service for the land”
Across the provisions, 80% of responders said that staff from other workshops or roles join them for the stirrings. This indicates that the stirrings are seen as a time for coming together, its a time for staff to take an hour together. In my experience, most stirrings take place when the students are on half-term, which is why staff can find the time to stir for one hour.
I asked the practitioners if they believed that the biodynamic preparations had a beneficial impact on the land. 80% of responses gave a clear, which I thought was quite surprising, it would have been interesting to enquire further to ask why they believed the preparations benefited the land. Here is one of the responses I received.
“I personally don’t believe the specific preparations in themselves make much difference if any, but spending more time on the land engaging in non essential tasks such as ritual activities can be fun and beneficial and help growers to connect with the land and each other and notice more about the world around them.”
Interview with Tim Rahmsdorf about the stirring area in the valley
Results & Analysis
(4.1, 4.2) This research has affirmed the importance of having a dedicated stirring area in the valley, it is likely that it will lead to more frequent stirrings which will impact the landscape. The biodynamic preparations enhance the soil and the plant. The market garden provides vegetables and herbs for the cafe, and by following the biodynamic method, we provide food with life force.
Interestingly my research has been happening at the same time that I have been constructing the stirring area, since I moved the barrel to the area, we have conducted numerous stirrings. We had a training day where staff stirred 500 together, and it was very interesting to observe the conversations and feelings of everyone during this hour, especially following research into how the stirrings may bring people together, and invite meditative conversations.
I began the project in November 2021, and as I write this we are in April 2023. The project has been delayed due to problems sourcing the limestone for the wall, but this has given me time to reflect on the preparations themselves and the stirring. I have been very interested in learning more about the efficacy of biodynamic preparations, there are many studies that point to the subtle benefits of using the preparations, however, none of these studies appears very convincing, especially if you presented the results to an organic market gardener who is content growing his vegetables, and only interested in rational and scientifically provable results. The biodynamic preparations require a degree of faith. A practitioner’s understanding or justification for using the preparations evolves. If I am explaining BD500 to someone unfamiliar with biodynamics, I would say that it is a bacterial bomb that has been developing in the ground over winter, and when it is spread over the land where the bacteria are able to thrive in the soil.
Rudolf Steiner. (1924). The Agriculture Course
John Soper. (1983). Bio-Dynamic Gardening
Christopher Brock , Uwe Geier , Ramona Greiner , Michael Olbrich-Majer and Jürgen Fritz. (2019, January 1). Research in biodynamic food and farming – a review. De Gruyter. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/opag-2019-0064/html?lang=en
S. Sharma, K. Laddha, R. Sharma, P. K. Gupt, L. Chatt, Priyanka Pareeek. (2012). Application of biodynamic prep arations and organic manures for or- ganic production of cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.). Semantic Scholar. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Application-of-biodynamic-prep-arations-and-organic-Sharma-Laddha/1e0f1023e11845cc9f88c84100b4e136e11d2dc5
Nijolė Vaitkevičienė*, Elvyra Jarienė , Reto Ingold, Jasmin Peschke. (2019). Effect of biodynamic preparations on the soil biological and agrochemical properties and coloured potato tubers quality. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331735470_Effect_of_biodynamic_preparations_on_the_soil_biological_and_agrochemical_properties_and_coloured_potato_tubers_quality
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