Biodynamic basics: bringing life to your soil

Biodynamic Basics: the art and science of making and applying compost
7th September 2020
Biodynamic basics: Horn Silica – “Making your Garden Glow”
6th March 2020
Biodynamic Basics: the art and science of making and applying compost
7th September 2020
Biodynamic basics: Horn Silica – “Making your Garden Glow”
6th March 2020

Photo Paul Ruston

In the second of our series, our biodynamic expert, Andre Tranquilini, Estate Manager of Waltham Place biodynamic farm and gardens, explains all about the biodynamic soil activator (horn manure).

Why is the biodynamic soil activator ( horn manure) so important for the garden?
The health of the garden starts in the soil. In Biodynamic gardening we feed the soil and not the plant. A soil that is active and healthy will be able to support the growth of most plants. The horn manure prep.  enlivens the soil by stimulating microbial activity thus supporting humus formation. 

I have observed over the years that the success of a crop depends on the early stages after sowing or transplanting. At this stage we want to minimise the stress and welcome the plants into their new environment. A soil that is active, enriched with organic matter and has been fertilised properly with biodynamic compost is the best start we can give our plants. The horn manure energises all the active microbial life processes

When is best time to use it?
Generally speaking, Spring is the time that is most used in the gardens, but you can apply it as a tonic or pick me up also when sowing and transplanting or adding compost and cultivating, In my experience the ideal number of applications is to 2 to 3 times a year.  

It’s applied in the late afternoon, early evening.  A useful way to think about this is that if we were to compare the daily cycle of the earth to our breathing, the afternoon is when the Earth is breathing in and the morning breathing out. Thus, the horn manure is applied in the afternoon when the Earth is breathing in so it can penetrate the depths of the soil. Ideally is applied when the soil is warm and damp. Hot and windy days should be avoided and delay if frost is expected overnight.

It’s worth stressing, too, that though recommendations are helpful, through observation and practice, over time you will develop an intuition for the needs of the garden regarding the preparations. It’s this ability to understand the subtle needs of your garden which is one of the greatest gifts for personal development that biodynamic gardening can offer.

Would you apply it in autumn?
In a garden horn manure can be used in the autumn before sowing and transplanting winter crops or green manures 
Some of us like to apply compost and cultivate in the autumn and in these instances it would also be appropriate to use the preparation.  If you are applying in the autumn, ensure you do so before the ground gets too cold. In the cycle of the year Autumn and Winter are the seasons when the cosmic forces are most active in the depths of the soil – and all that Autumn / Winter activity is very important for the next spring and summer! In a way by using the horn manure in the Autumn, the gardener is already becoming aware and actively supporting the next season. 

Should you time it with the planting calendar and if so what days would be the best ?
The horn manure application can certainly be timed with the planting calendar. As it is a preparation for the soil, which also promotes the development of healthy root systems, the obvious choice would be to apply on a root day / descending moon.
Ed Note: The descending moon period is a two-week moon cycle and is called Northern Transplanting time in the Maria Thun biodynamic calendar – it is also a very good time to do any transplanting.

Once again it is very important to acknowledge one’s intuition and personal relationship to the needs of the garden and preparations and not to follow recipes. For instance, if a descending moon / root day comes and the weather is not appropriate for applying horn manure I would wait for the closest day with the right weather conditions. 

Is it suitable for urban/ container gardening?
The use of the horn manure preparation is also suitable for the urban/ container gardening. It would certainly be a beneficial to support fertility. It can also be used to pre-soak seeds before sowing.  

What are the benefits that you have seen?
My growing journey started with Biodynamics. For many years I only worked on Biodynamic holdings and in hindsight I realise that I had virtually no knowledge of pests and diseases despite have been an experienced gardener. It was only when I started to work with places in conversion from conventional to organic that I had a very steep learning curve regarding pests and diseases. In my experience the preparations are fundamental to restore balance in a garden. Balance is health!

One of the aims of the biodynamic gardener is to create plants that are sensitive to their environment and tolerant to stress. In times of extreme change in the weather that is more important than ever. This summer we have been supporting our crops during the dry hot periods with an application of horn manure when possible.
Ed note: so are our members Louise & Liam Phelps in their urban biodynamic garden
The other thing I would say is that the work with the preparations is a fundamental part of biodynamic gardening, but it’s not a silver bullet, and to ensure you practice your good organic gardening techniques so that the preparations can work to their full potential.

The soil activator ( horn manure)  preparation can be bought from our shop here

This video explains how to use stir and apply it