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Biodynamic Gardening In An Urban School

Harvests Magazine Article – Summer 2016

Jen Speedy manages the gardens at Taikura Rudolf Steiner School, and assists with the Taruna Certificate in Applied Organics and Biodynamics.

It’s a busy bustling life, that of the school garden.

The school year begins in late summer, after a six week rest for the garden from the activity of children, teachers and school people. I’m sure our school gardens rejoice when term begins, with the renewed activity and the return to rhythm.

We use the biodynamic calendar in our gardening activities and our general work over the three-acre grounds, as well as when we work alongside the children of the lower school in their gardening.

Our school is located in sunny Hawkes Bay, in the heart of Hastings city, right next door to Heinz-Watties. I am very fortunate to care for our school gardens with co-gardener and friend Jo-Anne Doig.

We are blessed with the rich, very fertile soils of the Heretaunga Plains. Our school is Taikura Rudolf Steiner School, founded originally as Queenswood Rudolf Steiner School in 1950. The first applications of preparation 500 were applied then, and the varied and beautiful gardens have been biodynamically cared for ever since. Just imagine 66 years of having preparation 500 joyfully, noisily, and lovingly applied. Sixty-odd years of the uplifting, sparkling light-filled mists of preparation 501 and lavish dressings of biodynamic composts. The blackbirds and thrushes are not the only ones who can hear the worms; the soil is so rich with life, and digging into soil is like slicing through butter.

Just imagine 66 years of having preparation 500 joyfully, noisily, and lovingly applied.

Jen Speedy

Taikura’s gardens are a holistic support system for the children; they not only provide a beautiful and safe environment in an urban setting, but are also used for education and enjoyment.

The grounds have increased in area over the years with the addition of Scannell’s Garden. Scannell’s is a woodland garden treasure with century-old trees, cool shady pathways, an open sunny lawn and a woodwork room. Thanks to the help of the children, there is much wood chip mulch under the trees to protect tree roots and retain moisture and soil life.

Bark-mulching these pathways also defines them, helping keep the ornamental gardens safe from playful children, although not always from the odd stray ball.

More recently, the school grew into a neighbouring office block. The challenge here was to enliven what was previously a sealed carpark. Now, four years on, what was once a hard, compacted, stony ground is a thriving garden – the clear result of hard work by Class 3 children digging over the ground, adding many barrow-loads of biodynamic compost, applying preparation 500, sowing green crops of lupins and barley, mustard and broad beans, and many dressings of cowpat pit and light mulchings of lawn clippings.

There are yearly themes in Steiner education, and in Class 3 (around nine years old), one is the study of how people work in the world. The children learn particularly about basic things that are sometimes taken for granted, such as how we obtain food and shelter. This leads naturally to them working in the garden

As an urban garden, the school is on the town water supply. We have a good-sized tank of rainwater specifically used for biodynamic preparations (and which also proves useful in times of drinking water crisis….)

The Annual Cycle

When the summer draws to a close and before our plants are fully ripened, we like to give a thank you application of preparation 501, a time we think suits our varied gardens.

This is a quiet and gentle activity with a small group of parents, teachers and friends enjoying the dawn of the new day, stirring and releasing light filled mists over our loved grounds.

With the children, our garden year starts by harvesting corn, tomatoes, beans, courgettes, eggplants, and sunflowers, along with herbs that they will use when cooking at the cob ovens. We then compost the gardens, plant winter crops such as leeks, kale, cabbages and broccoli, and sow broad beans. Some gardens are sown with green crops for later digging-in and replanting.

In the autumn, we stir and spread preparation 500; we create lasagne-style hot biodynamic compost heaps; we make the cowpat pit; and we fill cow horns with cow manure and bury 40 of them in the whare garden. With three acres of grounds, we have a good supply of materials such as leaves, lawn clippings, crop refuse, weeds and food scraps (from school lunches) for composting. The cow manure is collected from the cow pastures at Hohepa Farm and from Jo-Anne’s two cows at her farm. Our compost preparations are bought from the Biodynamic Association.

Our winter activities include turning the composts, mixing and aerating the cowpat pit, and gifting our trees with tree paste – a much-enjoyed activity completed with exuberance by all.

It’s spring as I write this, and we harvested the cowpat pit and have carefully lifted the cow horns. The children share much surprise over what comes out of the cow horns; it no longer looks, feels or smells like the cow manure that they originally put in. Together we have stirred and spread the cow horn manure (preparation 500) over our grounds.

The children are sowing seeds into their well-composted and prepared gardens. The green crops are dug in, and once the frosts have passed, the children plant out their tomato, courgette, corn, eggplant, watermelon and pumpkin seedlings, which they have grown themselves from seed in the classrooms and glasshouse.

The children enjoy the practical use of the gardens, cooking and sharing their produce.

Living with the Seasons

We’re very excited to introduce Glen Atkinson’s (PhD) latest educational offering. Over three online workshops, Glen will be shedding light on plant growth and the seasons through Rudolf Steiner’s lens and the unique worldview of biodynamics. 

Read more

Summer Solstice and Planting Ideas

Summer Solstice is approaching (it’s next Wednesday the 22nd of Dec) and it’s a lovely time of the year to slow down and contemplate our connection within nature and it’s rhythms.

If you planted your garlic around the Winter Solstice – it’s now time to lift the garlic! 

I chatted to Christine Moginie one of the Biodynamic Association Council Members about her thoughts, contemplations and suggestions for this upcoming Summer Solstice celebration.

Create a Spiral in Nature

Whether you live by the beach, or near a bush or even just a park – Christine suggests creating a spiral out of leaves, petals or branches or marked in the sand and walking the spiral slowly and contemplatively while the sun is rising on the longest day of the year. (You can either get up earlier than the sunrise to make the spiral or set it up the night before).

Over the next week, you might like to collect flowers and petals to use for your nature spiral. You can use these to create the spiral in the first place and it also might be nice to sprinkle the petals as you walk the spiral, Christine sees this as a way to acknowledge the beings that walk with us always on this journey of life (seen and unseen).

There’s no hard and fast rules for a specific prep to apply at this time of year, but for the home gardener, Christine suggests using a cow pat pit (CPP) or BD501 Horn Silica to balance and strength the connection between earth and light.

Contemplation

With the light and warmth energies at it’s highest at this time of the year, Christine suggests contemplating the cosmic forces and imagining that the cosmic energy are drawing us up into the highest aspect of ourselves.

In contrast to the Winter Solstice which is calling in the earthly forces and drawing us downwards.

With the days being longer, our energy levels are naturally higher than in winter, you may want to think about how you’re going to use the extra energy and day light at this time of year. Do you want to spend more time and connect more deeply with family and friends? Or do you feel like it’s time to rest, or to focus on introspection?

Full Moon and Planting Schedule

We also have the full moon happening on Sunday the 19th and the moon is in opposition with Saturn next Thursday so here’s a suggestion of how to schedule getting some new seeds going and into the garden next week.

Today/Friday – Soak seeds (approximately three days before the full moon).

Saturday or Sunday – Plant seeds in seedling tray – Christine recommends Saturday as it’s a root day. Around the full moon with it still in descending phase.

Next Thursday – Plant seedlings into the ground (Moon in opposition to Saturn) – moon has started to ascend so hopefully will draw energy up into producing leaves!

Christine recommends trying out basil, coriander or parsley

Festivals Recording from Cosmic and Earthly Impulses Workshop

If you’re feeling inspired about celebration, festivals and connection, we have something very special for you.

At the recent Cosmic and Earthly Impulses workshop we recorded Ineke Mulder speaking on “Renewing the Festivals of a Biodynamic Farm”

Ineke has generously donated this to the Biodynamic Association and as a member, you can purchase the audio of the lecture for just $10. Your contribution will go towards more online Biodynamic Education 🙌🏻

Listen to it while sowing your seedings into the ground next Thursday!