The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Agriculture Course
GA 327


(from the 2nd German Edition, abridged).

NOTE BY EDITOR: The following pages are notes of collective conversations with Dr. Steiner on various occasions.

After the more or less harmful effects of mineral fertilisers had been referred to, Dr. Steiner said on one occasion: In view of the obvious increase in output which people today seem to, think necessary, this kind of fertiliser might perhaps not be dispensed with. But the harmful effects upon man and animal will not fail to ensue. Some of these effects will appear only after several generations have passed. Remedies, therefore, have to be found in time. Such remedies are e.g. the leaves of fruit trees. It can be recommended, therefore, to plant fruit trees around arable land.

In another discussion, Dr. Steiner spoke of the value of horn meal (ground horns and claws of cattle) as a fertiliser. He said that horn meal was one of the very best fertilisers if mixed with farmyard manure. The horn meal should not be sharply baked; the fresh horn meal is better because of its higher content of hydrogen. Hydrogen, Dr. Steiner said, is more important for its effect on the soil even than nitrogen. The Science of today has not yet discovered the importance of hydrogen for plant growth.

(Taken from a conversation between Dr. Steiner and Dr. chem. Streicher)

Dr. Streicher complained that modern agriculture confined itself to replacing in the soil the nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potassium, just as Liebig had suggested decades ago. Great danger arises from the nitrogen being compounded with very strong acids, which cause acidity of the soil and in case of drought in summer may become disastrous.

DR. STEINER: Actually, the only healthy fertilizer is cattle, manure. This should be our starting point. In addition to this a principle has to be found whereby a healthy nitrogen content of the soil may be brought about. I cannot yet tell how this can be done; it ought to be a principle which causes the earthworms and similar animals to “work the soil through.” Besides this, certain weeds have to be discovered which should be planted in the neighbourhood of the field. It is, for example, important to plant sainfoin on rye and wheat fields — at least along the edge. This influence actually exists. You have to test rationally [“rational” is often used by Dr. Steiner in the sense of Goethe, as opposite to mere empiricism.] by experiment the fact that it is good to have horse radish planted along the edge of potato fields, and corn flowers grown among corn and to have the poppies destroyed. It is such things as these which have to be considered in studying the whole problem of fertilizers. Otherwise you arrive at abstract principles and confine yourselves to the mere neutralisation of the acidity of the soil. This would kill step by step the fertility of the soil; it would make it “deaf” (taub).

Neither should one fall into the other extreme and use only plant manure. This is without doubt unfavourable to plant growth. The only ideal fertilizer is cattle manure. Besides this much depends on plant association, e.g. leguminous plants, especially sainfoin. And care should be taken to place all herbaceous plants in a dry soil, whereas cereals need a moist soil.

But importance certainly attaches to the personal human relation of the sower to the seed (paradoxical as this may seem to the modern chemist and biologist). If you observe carefully you will find a different effect produced by the way in which the sower proceeds, whether he simply takes the seed from out of the sack and flings it down, or whether he is accustomed to shake it a little in his hand and to strew it gently on the ground. These differences are of importance for the problem of manuring and it would be good to discuss them with interested farmers for they have experience in the things which are beginning to be lost in modern agriculture. I would advise you to examine old agricultural calendars to find hints on the problem of manuring. They contain ideas which sound strange but which could be formulated in chemical terms.

[DR. STREICHER here mentioned that the critical situation of the farmer has been aggravated by the infectious diseases which decimated the livestock last year, and by the shortage of food.]

DR. STEINER: Scientists should have the courage to point out where the principal harm is done. Stable feeding, which has been unduly praised in late years, has no doubt some connection with cattle tuberculosis as well as with the fact that the yield of milk is increased for a time and so on. The state of health, however, declines of course in the subsequent generations. And it is certain that the dung which the farmer's wife gathers in her basket or collects with a shovel from the meadow is better than the dung produced in stable-feeding.

Moreover, the animal should be prevented from taking in the breath of its neighbour while feeding. This is harmful. In walking across the pastures, you will see that the animals graze at some distance from each other, because they do not want to have the breath of the neighbour near themselves. It may also happen that an animal gets some little sores and if the breath of another animal touches this wound it will undoubtedly be a cause of disease.

[DR. STREICHER indicated that there are tendencies in modern agriculture to feed livestock directly on urea and to avoid the “indirect” way of feeding them on plants; the urea is gained from synthetic nitrogen. People think that the farding bag (rumen) of the cow contains certain bacteria which decompose the urea and builds it up into albumen. If these experiments are adopted in practice by farmers, the deterioration of the livestock may be intensified.]

DR. STEINER: With experiments of this kind no true results can be attained. We have to realise that in the sphere of vitality there is always present the law of inertia, if I might call it so. The effects may not manifest themselves in this or the following, but certainly they will do so in the third generation. The workings of the vital force will meantime veil the result. If such experiments deal only with one generation, you get quite a wrong impression. In the third generation one will have effects which have their cause in the feeding of the grand-parent animals, but science will seek for the causes elsewhere. Vitality cannot be broken down at once, but only in the course of generations.

DR. STREICHER mentioned experiments of the English botanist Bottomley who succeeded in producing in peat moss a certain bacterial life., which results in decomposing the humus substance to other unknown substances, which have a stimulating effect upon plant growth. He calls them `Auximones’ and puts them on the same level as biologists do vitamins.

DR. STEINER: If these substances are used to stimulate the growth of plants destined for human food, no ill results may appear in those who eat this food. But their children will perhaps be born with hydrocephalus. The procedure shows that the plants will become hypertrophied and if they serve as food, the nerve life of the succeeding generations deteriorates. One has to realise that certain effects upon the life process do not manifest themselves until the succeeding or even the third generation. Research has to be extended as far as this.

DR. STREICHER said that experiments of a scientist in Freiburg have shown that organic compounds of quicksilver have an extraordinarily stimulating effect upon vegetable growth« People hope that in this way vegetables can be produced in a very short time. The plants exhibit signs of hypertrophy.

Dr. STEINER: In this case one should find out whether the children of those who consume them become impotent. All this has to be considered. Experiments must not be carried out in too restricted a sphere, because the vital process is something which goes on in “Time,” and only in course of years does it degenerate in its inherent forces.

Further Indications on Agriculture given by Rudolf Steiner.

DR. STEINER in answer to a question by Herr Stegemann.: In sowing oats one should take care that the soil is dry; the same applies to potatoes and root crops. [Wheat and rye on the other hand should be sown in moist soil.] As marginal plants for cereals, Dr. Steiner named deadnettle and sainfoin; they should be planted at a distance of 4½ to 5½ yards. Turnips and potatoes can be surrounded by horseradish; this need only be planted at the four corners of the field and must be removed every year.

Animal pests, Dr. Steiner said, will vanish gradually with the cultivation of new kinds of plants.

To combat wireworms, Dr. Steiner recommended the exposure of rain water to the waning moon for a fortnight. The water must be poured on the places where the wireworms occur and must moisten the ground as deep as the worms go.

In order to prevent the degeneration of the potato, he recommended that seed potatoes be cut into small pieces with one eye only in each. This process should be repeated the following year.

To a question by Count von Keyserlingk: As a remedy against rust, the field can be surrounded with a border of stinging nettles.

Manure heaps should be carried out to the field and remain there until they are wanted.

Dr. Steiner recommended that an orchard on peaty ground be treated with Kali Magnesia.

On looking at the flower garden at Whitsuntide, 1924, Dr. Steiner said: “The flowers do not seem to be quite happy here| there is too much iron in the soil.” On coming to the roses, which were not flowering well and were suffering from mildew, he recommended that very finely distributed lead should be added to the soil.

When he was questioned about the enormous number of cow horns that would surely be necessary for treating the 30,000 acres at Koberwitz, Dr. Steiner gave the astonishing reply that when all measures were fully applied, as few as 150 cow horns would suffice.

When asked about sainfoin, his instructions were to use about 2 lbs. for sowing with one acre of corn.

To combat snails and slugs, Dr. Steiner recommended that a solution of 3-in-100 seed of conifers should be sprayed. This is understood to mean: obtain the sap of these seeds by pressure, dilute it in the proportion of 3:1000 of water and spray this on to the plant beds. Dr. Steiner encouraged such an experiment. Similar experiments should be made elsewhere. On a walk through the fields at Arlesheim and Dornach, Dr. Steiner told those who were with him that to increase the vigour of Preparation 500 for use upon meadows .and fields with fruit trees the following should be done: Take some fruit and a handful of leaves of the fruit trees in question and boil them in ¼ gallon of water so as to form a kind of infusion, then add this “fruit tea” when the content of the cow horn is stirred in the pail.

In order to strengthen diseased and weak fruit trees a 4-irich deep trench can be made around the stem at a distance corresponding to the crown of the tree and into this a considerable quantity of the diluted and stirred cow horn preparation (Nr. 500) can be poured.

Referring to the silica preparation (Nr. 501), Dr. Steiner said that it might even suffice to take a lump of quartz the size of a. bean and knead it with moist soil from the ground on which the preparation later on is to be sprayed; this mixture to be filled into the horn. If little pieces of it are diluted and stirred with water, this will hold sufficient silica-radiation.

Marginal plants for vegetables in the garden: sainfoin, dandelion and horseradish.

Concerning plant diseases, Dr. Steiner said that plants actually cannot be ill because the etheric principle is always healthy. When troubles appear, they show that the environment of the plants, and especially the soil, is out of order. Thus the soil has to be treated, not the plant. As an example, he recommended the strengthening of aged trees by taking fresh soil from the roots of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and birch and spreading that around the roots of the trees.

One can make the weed-destroyer (pepper) more effective by burning the root-stock together with the seeds of the weed in question.

(Report by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer)

Some years before the war, when asked about the use of human faeces, Dr. Steiner gave a warning against the use of them because the circle from man to plant and from the (manured) plant back to man is too short. The way should lead from man to plant, from plant to animal, from animal to plant and then back again to man.

Peat moss as a means of soil improvement was more than once rejected by Rudolf Steiner. It is, he said, neither suitable as manure nor for improving the physical condition of the soil. We ought to add humus again' and again in every form instead: as compost, leaf mould, etc.

To a question concerning mineral manure (cf. page 39, 47 of this lecture course) Dr. Steiner replied: If one is compelled to use it, one has always to mix it up with liquid or solid stable manure. The use of liquid matter from the closet he strongly objected to; neither should this be poured on fresh compost “even if the soil is not to be used for four years, it will still contain what is harmful.”

Under trees infested with Woolly Aphis, nasturtium (Tropaeolum) should be planted in a circle.