“Whatever you may feel about the principals and practices of biodynamics, there are good grounds for suggesting that this is one of the most positive developments for fine wine over the past couple of decades.” - Authentic Wine, Jamie Goode, Sam Harrop MW.
Preparations 500, and 501 are, no doubt, two of the most important tools a biodynamisist can utilise to manage their property according to the principals of biodynamics. I have already written about 500 (cow manure buried in cow horns over winter and sprayed directly onto the soil), and 501 (crushed quartz crystals ground up to form a paste and applied directly onto the foliage of the plant), but there are a further seven preparations that go to complete the total arsenal of biodynamic tools that a person, such as a viticulturist, can use in their vineyard.
The following preparations are generally used in combination with each other in compost piles. However, each of the different Preparations 502-507 brings its own special contribution to the compost pile, or, as Hamish Mackay from Biodynamics 2024 puts it, “they are the organs of organic agriculture; they ‘organ-ise’ the breakdown of organic matter and the creation of living, humic substances which allow plants to select the nourishment they need.”
Composting was a normal part of European agriculture at the beginning of the 20th Century and is a major component of organic and biodynamic agriculture today. Steiner recommended that the Preparations 502-507 should be used when making a compost heap. Composting, at its most basic level, is simply a concentrated pile of organic materials, such as leaves, sticks, animal (cow) manure, grape marc and so on, that breaks down into humus after a period of weeks or months. (In Steiner’s day most ‘compost’ was the materials collected from the winter housing of animals, including piles of dung, urine straw etc. piled outside barns. Steiner envisaged adding the preparations to these piles.) Compost materials should be well saturated with moisture at the time of making, and most biodynamic practitioners only turn their heaps once or maybe twice. The worms and microbes do the turning, fungi breaks up the material, while aerobic bacteria manage the chemical process by converting the inputs into heat, carbon dioxide and ammonium. The ammonium is further converted by bacteria within the heap into plant-nourishing nitrates through the process of nitrification. By adding Preparations 502-507 to the compost, you effectively super charge the pile by accelerating the process of humus formation. A good compost heap neither smells nor leaches liquids into the environment (this is important, as it is one of the criticisms levelled at organic agriculture – that compost pollutes the waterways. This is wrong, because if it is not properly made it would be a wasted/lost resource for the farmer).
As with all things in biodynamics, it is recommended that you make these preparations with the raw materials collected from your own farm, or vineyard. However, you may not have ready access to some of the ingredients needed to make these preps, and you can buy ready made versions through the various certifying bodies and elsewhere. See here.
Each of these preparations should be made in a descending period of the moon. Once the preparations have been made, care must be taken to store them appropriately to avoid drying out.
Te Whare Ra (NZ) Compost Pile – photo by The Wine Idealist
Prep 502 - Yarrow, Achilea millifolium
Steiner says: “Like sympathetic people in human society, who have a favourable influence by their mere presence and not by anything they say, so yarrow, in a district where it is plentiful, works beneficially by its mere presence.” - Agriculture (V/7).
This preparation stimulates the delivery of potassium, silica and selenium activating bacteria, and helps to combine sulphur with trace elements. Steiner recommends the yarrow because of its ability to bring in light forces to the soil through its connection to sulphur and potassium. He said yarrow can,“enliven the soil so it can absorb and retain extremely fine doses of silicic acid, lead and so on that come toward the Earth.” 502 strengthens a plants’ ability to flower, or fruit and helps protect the plant from insect attacks. This is particularly useful to the grapevine to help build its defence mechanisms and immunity.
502 can be prepared by fermenting the heads of the yarrow flower in a stag’s bladder. Stuff the bladder with the flower and hang it from a tree during summer. In the autumn the dried bladder is prepared to be buried over winter in small earthenware pots surrounded by healthy soil. The bladder is then dug up the following spring and the flower preparation is stored in a glass jar and kept moist to prevent it from drying out.
Prep 503 – Chamomile - Matricaria chamomilla
Steiner says: “Camomile assimilates calcium and potassium. (Manure treated this way) has a more stable nitrogen content and with the added virtue of kindling the life in the Earth so that the Earth itself will have a wonderfully stimulating effect on plant growth. Above all, you will create more healthy plants if you manure in this way, than if you do not.” – Agriculture (V/11)
Preparation 503 is made from the flowers of the German chamomile, which was once used for preserving meat. Chamomile can also be used medicinally to promote digestion and, also, for its calming effect. This preparation enhances the activities of calcium, sulphur, potash, nitrogen and oxygen, and strengthens a plant’s regenerative abilities, and stimulates the manganese and boron, as well as azotobacter activity, the best bacteria for nitrogen fixation in the soil.
503 is prepared by first drying the Chamomile flowers out completely, and then stuffing these flowers into a cow’s intestines, making it into long sausages. Once the intestines are stuffed gently with the flowers and is full, tie the ends up. Bury the sausage in the autumn in small earthenware pots surrounded by healthy soil. Retrieve the preparation in the early days of spring, and store the preparation in a glass jar, the same as you would for Prep 502.
Yarrow between the vines at Seresin (NZ) – photo by The Wine Idealist
Prep 504 - Stinging nettle - Urtica diocia
Steiner says: “The stinging nettle is a regular jack-of-all-trades, who can do very, very much… and has a kind of iron radiation (which) is almost as beneficial to the whole course of nature, as our own iron radiations in our blood.” – Agriculture (V/12)
Preparation 504 helps with the proper decomposition of the compost heap, aids chlorophyll formation and stimulates iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and sulphur activity in the soil.
Preparation 504 is made from the harvesting of nettles, before they flower, during late spring and early summer, which are then dried and placed in a small unglazed earthenware pot and buried in healthy soil during autumn. Upon digging up, the nettle usually shrinks and deposits a small amount of black compost at the bottom of the pot. Sieve out the stalks before storing it.
Prep 505 - Oak bark - Quercus robur
Steiner says: “It restores order when the Ether-Body is working too strongly, that is, when the Astral cannot gain access to the organic entity. It ‘kills’ or dampens down the Ether-Body… but if we want a rampant Ethereal development, of whatever kind, to withdraw in a regular manner, so that its shrinking is beautiful and regular and does not give rise to shocks in the organic life, then we must use the calcium in the very structure in which we find it in the bark of the oak.” - Agriculture (V/14,15)
Preparation 505 is used to provide calcium and phosphorus absorption into the earth, and provides strength for the plant to maintain its representative form. The ash of oak bark contains up to 78% calcium and Steiner believed that soil needs to contain the right amount of calcium if plants are to be healthy and free from disease. This preparation helps prevent fungal disease, and, when used over time, will eventually raise the pH levels in the soil.
This preparation is made in autumn. The oak bark is grated into a fine powder, then packed tightly into a clean and washed animal skull, preferably a cow, bull, or sheep. Make sure the lining of the brain cavity has not been removed. This bony, calcified container harmonises with the calcium present in the oak. The oak filled skull is then submerged into a barrel of water, which is filled with plenty of rotting vegetation, such as leaves, grasses and so on. The barrel should be placed under a down pipe where water can refresh it – not too close to your house! Alternatively the skull can be buried in a swampy place but make sure it will not be dug up by dogs, foxes et al. The opening is sealed with a bit of bone and/or clay. The skull is then retrieved from the water in spring, and the contents put into a glass jar. The preparation will need to be turned (as you would a compost heap) to allow oxygen to get at it and stop it from smelling, however, if this is done regularly, it will soon smell quite sweet.
Companion planting (mustard) at Tamburlaine – photo by The Wine Idealist
Prep 506 - Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale
Steiner says: “We need the silicic acid to attract and draw in the cosmic properties… there must arise a clear and visible interaction between the silicic acid and the potassium… We must look for a plant whose own potassium-silicic acid relationship will enable it to impart this power to the manure.” - Agriculture (V/17)
Preparation 506 utilises the dandelion flower to stimulate potassium/silica bacteria in the soil to enable it to work more effectively with the growth forces of the plant. The silica inherent in the dandelion, when made into Prep 506, helps to increase the flowering and fruiting stages of the plant it’s being applied to, meaning you get healthier, more vibrant looking flowers, or fruit.
The dandelion flowers need to be picked early, before they open up too much and become too fluffy and dry. Once picked, the flowers can be dried in the same way as the chamomile flowers for Prep 503. Then, the dried flowers are put into a cow’s mesentery, which is the ‘skin’ that holds all the digestive organs in the body of the cow. The mesentery is also known as caul fat and was traditionally used in making meat loaf style foods. In Steiner’s day these organs were part of country life and cooking and were not regarded as exotic or strange as they are considered today. The flowers are put onto the mesentery and folded up to make a tight parcel, which can be tied up with string. This parcel is then buried inside larger earthenware pots in healthy soil at a descending phase of the moon, in autumn. Dig up the preparation in the following springtime, at the same time as you unearth the Prep 500. Store the contents of the mesentery in a glass jar with the lid off, for the first two weeks.
Application of Prep 502-506
All the Preparations 502-506 are inserted into holes in a compost pile, which are spaced at least 2m apart and are approximately 50cm deep. They can also be added to liquid manure, or the cow pat pit/manure concentrate. They literally prepare and activate the raw organic material from each source, to encourage it to transform into fertile and dynamic microbial and bacterial humus, which contains all the necessary nutrients for the plant to survive, and thrive on.
Prep 507 - Valerian - Valeriana officinalis
Steiner says (little about this preparation’s purpose): “to behave in the right way in relation to what we call the ‘phosphoric’ substance.”
Preparation 507 is used in conjunction with the other Preparations to form an atmosphere around the compost pile and help with humus formation. This preparation raises temperatures, stimulates the phosphorus process and mobilises the phosphorus-activating bacteria in the soil, as well as selenium and magnesium. It also prevents the flowering and fruiting process from becoming excessive. If sprayed onto blossoms in spring it can provide protection against late frost.
To make Prep 507 you will need to grind the flowers with a mortar and pestle, and place the mash into a large jar of distilled water. Leave the jar on a windowsill for four to seven days before filtering the extracted valerian through fine filter paper. Pour the Preparation in a bottle filled to capacity and seal to exclude air. Store away in a dark cupboard.
This Preparation is not inserted into the compost pile, cow pat pit or manure concentrate like the other Preps. Instead, 507 is poured as a solution into two separate holes on top of the pile, with the remainder sprinkled out, around and over the pile.
Lethbridge Biodynamic Vineyard, Geelong – photo by The Wine Idealist
Prep 508- Equisetum – Equisetum arvense
Preparation 508 is the final Preparation and is not applied to the compost pile. This Prep is made from the horsetail plant, which can be found growing in swamps in parts of Europe. Equisetum is a proscribed plant in most of Australia and Casuarina needles are used instead. Equisetum/Casuarina has a very high silica content, and is therefore similar to Prep 501, however it does not refract light like 501 and will not encourage the ripening of plants. Like 501, Prep 508 can be used as a foliar spray to reduce excessive water from building up on the plant and therefore reduce fungal disease, such as downy mildew.
To make Preparation 508, add 100g per 2 litres of water and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for 20 minutes and then leave it to stand for two days. The preparation is then ready to use. To spray it out over your vineyard, or farm, stir it using the dynamising stirring method, used to make Prep 500, for about 10 minutes. Spray the preparation on the ground around the plants you want to protect during stress times.
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This article is intended to provide a very basic introduction into the various Biodynamic Preparations 502-508, as prescribed by Rudolf Steiner in his lectures, given at Koberwitz, 7th-16th June, 1924, entitled Agriculture.
If you would like to know more about Biodynamics, I encourage you to read the publications I have listed below, and go see a working biodynamic farm or vineyard for yourself… and then get involved!
D// – The Wine Idealist
Further Information -
Much of the information translated here has been gleaned from various sources, including Paul Proctor’s, Grasp the Nettle, ‘Making Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Work’, and ‘An Introduction to Biodynamics’, by Hamish Mackay at Biodynamics 2024, and ‘The Working of the Planets and the Life Processes in Man and Earth’, by Dr. C.B.J. Lievegoed.