Unit Overview - This unit introduces the student to the suggestions R. Steiner made regarding dealing with severe weed, pest and disease problems on land based enterprises.
1.1 Describe the general theory behind the effect of the ‘peppers’ [800 WORDS]
Tackling pests and diseases on a holding is a multistage process that starts with a consideration of why the pest might be proliferating in the first place. In monoculture, the mistake may be the fact that the crop is grown on its own, therefore increasing the likelihood of pests arriving that specialise in that crop. For example a monoculture carrot farm will suffer from massive problems of carrot fly which in industrial agriculture would be tackled by pesticides. In contrast, in biodynamics the solution might be forged right at the start, by encouraging biodiversity on the holding.
There are also basic physical methods of controlling pests such as netting crops at specific times or over the whole course of the growth cycle. This would help in the case of carrot fly or in the control of cabbages from the cabbage white butterfly for example. The caterpillar of the cabbage white can cause great damage if physical methods are not used and maintained thoroughly throughout the growth. In the photograph below you can see the use of netting on winter carrots and cabbages.
Similarly it may be possible to mitigate the arrival of a particular pest by ensuring - for example - that the soil is properly cared for in terms of structure, PH balance, quantities of added organic matter and good methods of compost production. Also factors such as ventilation can be controlled to the growers advantage and prevent moulds and mildews in indoor growing environments.
In extreme cases there may be a need for producing plant or animal 'peppers' in order to utilize methods outlined by Steiner in the Agricultural Lectures. Such methods have almost certainly been in use for hundreds if not thousands of years in small scale agriculture in Europe and beyond. This is understood to be a spiritual process. Quantities of the pest are collected and incinerated to ash in a fire.
'In the ashing process, the moment of combustion provides an opening to the world of elemental beings.' p179 A Biodynamic Manual Pierre Masson.
This overall process is part of a Goethean tradition involving very close study and research into the pest in question. This may involve study of the biology, life cycle, origin, optimal conditions for growth and so on. 'Goethe claimed that if we contemplate a phenomenon without prejudice, without any preconceived notion, but with the certainty that there is order and sense in the world, we can begin to understand the language of this phenomenon, and grasp something of its true nature.' p178 A Biodynamic Manual Pierre Masson. In this way, drawings might be produced of the roots and then these drawings might be meditated upon. Our active interest in a weak plant or sick animal is already an important step towards its healing.
For weeds it is possible to collect the seeds of the plant and to burn these usually over a hot wood fire. This can be most usefully effected by placing the seeds in a sealed tin and then collecting and scattering the weed 'pepper' over the problematic area. The same can be done in plants which reproduce by bulbs or roots. These structures can again be burnt and the resulting peppers scattered. Sometimes a spray can be produced from the pepper in small quantities which work in a similar way to homeopathic type remedies.
For insects a similar procedure is followed. Collecting the insect that is causing the problem and burning a number of them. Steiner was of the opinion that 'the enthusiasm one has for making the remedy as a factor in its success' Quantumagriculture.com
I have also heard from an experienced Biodynamic practioner that the pepper approach can be successful in controlling rats. In a compost making area, rats were a significant problem. By burning and producing a pepper from the rat, a successful intervention was achieved.
1.2 Describe the role of Equisetum tea for plant health
There are large quantities of Equisetum growing at the Eyam Edge site. Mostly it occurs in unkempt areas, where old spoil heaps exist. We have collected it for various reasons, to make the tea and for ink making, as the plant is said to draw up metals from the soils it grows in and when burnt and carbonised it can produce metallic black ink.
Equisetum is an ancient plant looking like no other. It is regarded as a primitive prehistoric plant that thrived 350 million years ago. It can be harvested and used fresh before midsummer or it can be dried carefully and stored for future use.
Equisetum Tea is understood in biodynamics to be an effective method of tackling mould and fungal growth on plants and has been used to tackle powdery mildew. Powdery mildew can be a problem on plants such as pumpkins, squashes and courgettes later on in the growing season. Pierre Masson advocates a mixure of equisetum and nettles in a tea and believes that it 'stimulates the natural defences of plants'
According to the Biodynamic Association, Equisetum is 'aptly described as the ‘crowd controller’, its role is to help fight against conditions that thrive in damp conditions such as debilitating moulds, or aphid attacks in greenhouses. It’s a classic example of using Nature to find her own solutions. It’s applied as needed from early spring through early winter and is easy for home gardeners to make. It can also be bought.'
2.1 Demonstrate the ability to prepare and apply an animal or plant pepper [PRACTICAL]
Assuming that proper agricultural methods have been applied to begin with p181. Steiner gives the following direction:
'Now light a flame — a simple wood flame is best — and burn the seeds. Carefully gather all the
resulting ash. You get comparatively little ash, but that does not matter. Quite literally, for the
plants thus treated by letting their seeds pass through the fire and turn to ash, you will have
concentrated in the ash the very opposite force to that which is developed in attracting the Moon-
forces. Now use the tiny amount of substance you have thus prepared from a variety of weeds,
and scatter it over your fields.'
In a practical way I experimented with the 'Docks' that are a pervasive feature or almost all sites and can be associated with the compaction of soils. I collected a good number of the long roots of the plant and dried them in the sun in the first instance. I collected probably 30-40 good sized roots and placed them in a metal tin. This was placed on the fire and the resulting carbonised ash of the root was spread on the growing beds. According to research, such methods make take up to four years to eliminate the weed.
2.2 Demonstrate the making and application of Equisetum Tea [PRACTICAL]
Putting a good bunch of three quarters nettles and one quarter horsetail into 5 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and infuse for another 10 minutes. Add another 15 litres of fresh water and fill a backpack sprayer. If using dried plants use 50-100g of nettle mixed with 50-100 g horsetail. This tea can be used with copper and sulphur.
METHOD 2 (Taken directly from the Biodynamic Association website)
a) To make Equisetum Tea
Simmer 50-100g fresh horsetail in 1-3 litres of rainwater in a covered pan (eg a stock pot) for 30 minutes.Turn off the heat, and let the infusion cool. When cold, strain the liquid, transfer to bottle(s) or a similar suitable container with a lid. It is now ready for use, and will keep for several weeks. For long term storage, use fermented equisetum.
Note: For smaller quantities, and when fresh horsetail is not available, simmer 25g of dried equisetum in 1 litre of water, for 30 minutes and let stand and cool for 24 hours. Strain and bottle as above.
b) To make Equisetum Ferment
Fermentation increases the concentration and shelf life. Boil and cool the infusion as before but transfer to a clean bucket, cover with sacking or an old cloth / breathable material, and leave to ferment for 10-14 days, or until a white mould is formed on the surface, and it smells distinctly ‘sulphury’. The length of time to ferment varies with the temperature – fermentation is quicker in warm weather – the important thing is to achieve a good fermentation. Strain and bottle as above. Stored in a cool dark place, it will keep well for up to 6 months.
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Created by Jim Hildyard