About Barrel Compost (BC)
Although Rudolf Steiner did not propose the idea, European practitioners have long used a concentrated compost as a starter culture or innoculant. Dr. Herbert Koepf described the process of creating “Cow Pat Pit”: One builds a small container of wood partially in the ground. It is filled with manure and treated with multiple sets of the compost preparations. In a few weeks, the resulting material is brown, pleasant smelling and ready for use. It may be spread on the manure in a barn to start the composting and minimize odors. Or it may be used in small amounts as a compost starter as the compost pile is built.
The Oregon Biodynamic Group offers 2 types of barrel compost and leaves it to the
Practitioner to determine which type they want to use.
One may order from the group’s Prep Master either “Barrel Compost” according to
Maria Thun’s original recipe or they may order a similar compound, that is made with
only cow manure and Compost Preparations, without the mineral additions.
Maria Thun's process:
Maria Thun expanded usage of this manure concentrate to include the homeopathic spraying onto soil in the same manner as Horn Manure (Preparation 500). This practice has been widely used by others, notably by Peter Proctor in India and New Zealand. Thun proposed that BC spray acts like a compost starter, stimulates micro-organisms and helps decomposition of organic matter. Thus, it differs from Horn Manure spray which acts directly on the plant to propel life forces.
Thun recommended a specific process to make the material. Since she used a wooden barrel for the container, her recipe has become known as “Barrel Compost” or BC. Thun’s method calls for “potenizing” or aerobically turning the manure for an hour with small amounts of minerals in the form of powered eggshell and basalt dust. It is reported that Thun worked with Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in the 1950’s when there was concern about radioactive fallout from bomb testing. Thun thought that healthy calcium nutrition was facilitated by eggshells and that a healthy calcium nutrition inhibited the plants from taking up radioactive elements, such as strontium 90. For this reason, Thun thought that BC protected against the fallout from Chernobyl.
Subsequent research finds some evidence that organic nutrition does indeed reduce the uptake of harmful elements. But there is no evidence that BD provides better protection beyond what good organic compost and neutral pH might otherwise provide. Furthermore, there is no evidence that BC does anything more than the usual BD treatment. (See research here.)
It must be noted that Rudolf Steiner did not give directions on this concentrated compost or its use – it has been the development of BD practitioners after his time. Since we have no “official” protocol, questions have arisen as to the proper approach. In particular, the practice of adding mineral substances has been called into question.
In Favor of Minerals:
Rudolf Steiner stated that limestone helped to make effective compost. Its “grasping” properties gather in ethereal forces related to the nitrogen process. Thus, he directed inclusion of some non-organic minerals in the compost pile. Practitioners often use the compost pile to add rock phosphate, limestone or other low-solubility minerals. The expectation is that, the earlier the minerals are exposed to biological activity, the sooner they will be brought into the soil food-web ecology. It is understood that minerals become effective nutrients only after biological uptake. Eggshells presumably provide calcium that is closer to the biological stream since they have already traveled through the chicken’s body.
Basalt may provide some mineral nutrients – but release would be slow. Basalt is of interest because it weathers to clay – which serves as a reservoir of growth forces. Once again,including the rock dust early in the composting process may speed up biological absorption. The majority of users include both sorts of minerals in the compost and appear satisfied with the results.
Thun viewed the minerals as an indispensable part of her recipe – in fact, she described the manure as the medium to disperse the minerals in homeopathic form. Proper mineral nutrition to mitigate uptake of radiation was one of her goals.
In Favor of No Minerals:
Speaking with regard to plant micro-nutrients, Rudolf Steiner stated that calcium must “remain within the realm of life; it must not fall out of the living realm.” Steiner’s proposed the compost preps to incorporate “living” calcium in properly controlled way. Concerned critics say that no other addition is needed beyond the compost preparations. Furthermore, some practitioners have reported intuitive feelings that the compost material with mineral is not as effective or beneficial as without.