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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

GA 327


The following is a record of indications given verbally by Dr. Steiner to individuals in answer to questions and with reference to particular problems and local conditions. (Several of these were given prior to the Agriculture Course of June, 1924.)

Readers should remember that they are quoted from memory, are fragmentary and not necessarily of universal application.

The following indication was given by Dr. Steiner at the Guldesmühle Mill in Dischingen during a conversation about the more or less harmful influences of artificial mineral manures. Dr. Steiner said that in view of the increase in yield which was generally required, they might perhaps not be able to forego the use of such manures. But the harmful influence, for human beings and for animals alike, would not fail to ensue. Some of these influences would not appear in full till generations after. At any rate it was necessary to discover and apply remedial measures in good time. Such, for example, were the leaves of fruit-trees, and it was therefore good to plant fruit-trees on the fields.

A second indication by Dr. Steiner concerned the use of horn manure. This had been manufactured at the Guldesmühle Mill, and it was further developed at Einsingen. In answer to a direct question as to the value of horn manure, Dr. Steiner replied that mixed with ordinary stable manure, horn manure was among the very best. Subsequently we asked Dr. Steiner whether roasted or unroasted horn-meal was better. (At Einsingen we do not roast it, whereas as a general rule the horn-shavings, etc., are first subjected to a very rigorous drying process. The advantage is that they are more easily ground down after this process. On the other hand, the roasting involved a loss of about 15 per cent, consisting mainly of water). Dr. Steiner answered to the effect that unroasted horn-meal was better on account of the higher hydrogen content. For the right influence of the manure, the hydrogen content was in fact far more important even than the nitrogen, though modern science had not yet awakened to the real importance of the hydrogen content for plant growth.

—Communicated by Dr. Rudolf Maier.

Report of a Conversation Between Dr. Steiner and Dr. Streicher

Dr. Streicher: Another matter we are concerned with here is one that was brought very near to me in my youth. I grew up in the country, and was much concerned with the problem of manures for plant-life generally. The present position—the prevalent opinion on these matters—seems to me highly detrimental. The prevailing notions about manures have not gone far beyond what was inaugurated by Liebig, who wanted to instil mineral substances into the soil—nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potassium, for instance. The artificial manure industry in its present stage produces nitrogen bound to very strong acids—hydrochloric and sulphuric. Agriculture is faced with a new danger, which has even now become reality to some extent. Artificial manures are brought into the soil, regardless of the way the plants receive them. These artificials give rise to an acid reaction in the soil, and in a dry summer the results are disastrous.

Dr. Steiner: The fact is, the only really sound manure is cattle manure. The first principle is to take one's start from this. It is the really healthy manure. At the same time, a healthy nitrogen content must be brought about in the soil by discovering some principle, by virtue of which the soil will be thoroughly worked-through by earth-worms and similar creatures. I do not think we have yet gone so far as to be able to tell quite fully what this is.

Then it will also be essential to find the necessary weeds—in a word, the necessary neighbour-plants. As I said yesterday to Herr St—, who is now devoting himself to Agriculture, it is important, for example, to plant sainfoin on the rye- and wheat fields, at least along the edges. This influence decidedly exists. You should investigate scientifically how important it is to plant horseradish along the edge of your potato fields, to have a sprinkling of cornflowers in your corn fields, and to exterminate the poppy.

These things should be considered in connection with the manuring question as a whole. Otherwise you are reduced to the most abstract principles, where for example you get acids formed in the soil, and you then ask: “How can I counteract them?” and on these lines, in course of time, you absolutely kill the soil for plant growth. You make it deaf.

Dr. Streicher: The farmers too have a feeling that the soil is extracted and impoverished by the use of artificial manures.

Dr. Steiner: It is not at all a bad expression; it makes the soil deaf. On the other hand, one must not fall into the extreme of using plant-manure. It must be admitted that plant-manure is not favourable to plant-growth. In point of fact, the only ideal manure is cattle-manure—not plant-manure. Everything follows on this basic principle. Also you must be clear that very much depends on the neighbouring plants, notably leguminosae—sainfoin especially. With herbaceous plants you should also take care as far as possible to plant them in a dry soil, whereas with cereals a moist soil is needed.

Moreover, strange as it may sound to the chemist and biologist of to-day, your human and personal relation to the seed-corn is undoubtedly important. If you examine it thoroughly, you will find it makes a difference to the thriving of the corn, whether the sower simply takes the seed-corn out of a sack and throws it down roughly, or whether he has the habit of shaking it a little in his hand and throwing it gently, sprinkling it on the ground. These differences are of importance in relation to the manuring problem.

It would be good for you to discuss these matters with farmers, who cannot but be interested in them. They have no little experience, only their experiences are eclipsed nowadays. Modern agriculture has such experience no longer. Altogether I should advise you think it will serve you well—to use old peasant-calendars in connection with manuring problems. They contain very curious instructions, some of which you will indeed bc able to formulate in chemical terms.

Dr. Streicher: It is difficult for the modern farmer, especially just now. Last year the stock of cattle was much reduced by illness; and it has very largely been reduced by lack of fodder.

Dr. Steiner: Scientists will have to summon up courage to point out the main detrimental causes. The undue praise of stable feeding in recent times is undoubtedly connected with the prevalent tuberculosis among cattle. For all I know, the animals may be able to give more milk for a short time, or what not; but their state of health deteriorates through generation after generation. It should go without saying.

Even the manure which the peasant-woman—basket on back and shovel in hand—gleans from the meadows, is undoubtedly better than the manure you get by stable-feeding. Also the animals ought not to have to absorb the breath of the neighbouring animal while they are feeding; that is undoubtedly harmful.

Go out on to the pastures and you will see, they keep a certain distance apart. Look at the pastures for once, and you will find that of their own accord the beasts take their stand at a considerable distance from one another. The animal cannot abide the breath of the neighbouring animal while it is feeding. And, after all, how easily it occurs that an animal gets an abrasion, and if the breath of the neighbouring beast comes into this, it will undoubtedly be a cause of disease.

Dr. Streicher: Perhaps I may point out certain prevailing tendencies in outer science—in the use of artificial manures and synthetic materials? Having succeeded in the synthetic fabrification of nitrogen products, they are now boasting the discovery of the synthesis of protein. They find it tedious to have to go via the plants in gaining protein. There is already a movement on foot to short circuit this “roundabout way” of the plant, and to feed the animals on synthetic nitrogen manure directly.

It may sound strange, but scientists have made investigations on these lines. They set great store by the synthetic urea which is added as a concentrated foodstuff to the ordinary hay, as cattle fodder. It has also been tried on sheep. The idea is that certain bacteria live in the paunch of the animal, and that these bacteria will disintegrate the urea and transform it into albumen or protein. I think the danger is very real. If these experiments are continued—if it becomes habitual among farmers to give urea and other synthetic foods—the present symptoms of deterioration in our stock will go from bad to worse.

Dr. Steiner: True results can never follow from experiments conducted in this way. In the sphere of vitality—if I may so express it—there is always the law of inertia. That is to say, it may not appear in the present generation or in the next, but it will in the third. The vitalising influence goes on beyond the first few generations. If you restrict your investigations to the present and do not extend them over several generations, you get a completely false picture. Then, when you do observe the next generation but one, you turn your attention to quite other causes than the real ones, namely, the feeding of the grandparent beasts. Vitality cannot be broken down at once. It is surely broken, but only in succeeding generations.

Dr. Streicher: In studying this question last year, I came upon a piece of work that gained publicity in England during the war—I mean the researches of the English botanist, Bottomley. Bottomley discovered that there are certain plants which cannot absorb mineral manure directly. If you make a solution of nutritive salts, certain plants cannot live in it for long. On the other hand, he observed that if a certain bacterial life was brought about in the soil, substances were thereby formed which he could not quite get hold of chemically. He puts them side by side with the “Vitamins” of the biologists. Adding these substances in imponderable quantities to the nutritive salt solution, he finds that the plants unfold a quite extraordinary life. The substances he thus produces he describes as “auxines”—life-kindling substances. During the war, when England was obliged to till the soil for the growth of cereals, this “Humogen”—as it was named by Bottomley—was produced in large quantities and added to the earth. In certain cases it had an extraordinary effect; in other cases the effect was absent.

Dr. Steiner: Which plants received this blessing?

Dr. Streicher: It is not said.

Dr. Steiner: Food-plants?

Dr. Streicher: In the growth of cereals. ...

Dr. Steiner: If it is done with food-plants, the people who consume them will suffer no great harm, but their children may very well be born with hydrocephalus. From the whole process it is evident that the development of the plant has been hypertrophied. When such plants are used for nourishment, the result is a malformation of the nervous life in the next generation. This is the fundamental fact: certain effects in the life-process only show themselves in the next generation, or even only in the next but one. So far must the investigations be extended.

Dr. Streicher: One could mention in the same connection the experiments initiated by a Freiburg scientist. He made organic mercury salts and manured the vegetable gardens with them during the war. Growth was remarkably enhanced by this “mercury manuring.” People even began to hope that the whole question of plant-growth would rapidly be solved; that vegetables would be produced in a very short time. These vegetables too showed a hypertrophied growth.

Dr. Steiner: You would have to investigate whether the children of those who consume them do not grow up impotent. These things must all be examined, for in this sphere you simply cannot make your experiments within narrow limits. The vital process goes on in time, and only in the course of time does it degenerate in its inherent forces.

Further Indications by Dr. Steiner Relating to Agriculture

Dr. Steiner gave the following answers to questions by Herr Stegemann:—

In preparing the ground for oats, one should take care that the soil is dry. So, too, for potatoes and root-crops. Wheat and rye on the other hand should be sown in a moist soil.

As border-plants for cereals, Dr. Steiner indicated dead-nettle and sainfoin. They should be planted four to five metres apart. Horse-radish might be good as a border-plant for roots and potatoes. It need only be planted at the four corners of the plot. It must be eradicated every year.

Concerning animal pests, Dr. Steiner remarked that as new cultivated plants were evolved, they would increasingly disappear.

Against wire-worm, Dr. Steiner gave the following method: Expose rain-water to the waning moon for a fortnight, and then pour the water over the places where the worm occurs. One should take enough water to moisten the soil through to the level where the worm abides.

To counteract the deterioration of the potato, Dr. Steiner said the seed-potato should be cut into pieces until every little piece has only a single eye. The same process should be repeated in the following year.

In answer to questions by Count Carl von Keyserlingk, Dr. Steiner gave the following indications (communicated by Count Adalbert Keyserlingk):

To counteract smut, a ring of stinging-nettles should be planted round the fields. On the same occasion, Dr. Steiner remarked that it is good to put the manure-heaps on the field until the time when the manure is needed. For an orchardry on a rather moist and boggy soil, Dr. Steiner recommended “Kali magnesia.”

When walking through the flower gardens at Whitsun, 1924, Dr. Steiner remarked as he looked at the flowers: “They none of them seem to feel quite happy here; there is too much iron in the soil.” When he came to the roses, which were not flowering well, and did not look at all healthy (mildew), Dr. Steiner advised that very finely divided lead be given to the soil.

When it was pointed out that an enormous number of cow horns would surely be needed for the Koberwitz estate—an area of 18,500 acres—Dr. Steiner gave the astonishing reply that once it was all in working order, probably no more than 150 cow-horns would be needed for this land.

To a question by Count Wolfgang von Keyserlingk on the use of sainfoin, Dr. Steiner answered that about 2 lb. of sainfoin seed should be included with the seed-corn per three-fifths acre.

Question: In Dornach and Arlesheim we suffer from an awful plague of slugs. They eat up all the foliage.

To counteract them, Dr. Steiner advised the following remedy: Sprinkle out a 3-in-1,000 dilution of pine-cone seeds. The answer is to be understood as follows: The soluble content of the seeds (which must presumably be extracted by pressure) should be dissolved in water to a dilution of 3-in-1,000, and this should then be sprinkled over the beds affected. Dr. Steiner said we should begin by making this experiment. It would be very interesting if parallel experiments were made at other places.

Once when we were going round the Dornach and Arlesheim plantations, Dr. Steiner advised the following method of strengthening preparation “500” for the meadow-land—for the land where fruit-trees were standing. Take a few fruits and a handful of leaves of the kind of fruit in question; make a decoction of these with a litre of water, and add this fruit-decoction to the bucket in which the content of the horn is being stirred.
To strengthen sick and feeble fruit-trees, a circular trench about a hand's-breadth deep may be dug around the tree in a circumference approximately corresponding to the crown of the tree. Into this trench pour larger quantities of the stirred-up preparation “500.”

For the silica preparation “501,” Dr. Steiner said it would even suffice to mingle and knead up a piece of quartz of the size of a bean with soil from the land which is afterwards to be sprinkled, and put this mixture into the horn. This would already contain sufficient silica-radiation if a little of it was dissolved and stirred.

As border plants for vegetable gardens, sainfoin, dandelion and horse-radish were mentioned.

To a question about plant-diseases, Dr. Steiner answered: Properly speaking, there can be no such thing as sick plants, for the etheric is always healthy. If disturbances occur in spite of this, it is a sign that something is wrong with the environment of the plant, especially the soil. To strengthen trees that are growing old, he said we might try the effect of putting fresh earth around their roots—earth taken from the neighbourhood of the roots of sloe (Prunus spinosa) and birch.

To make the destruction of weeds more effective, the root-stock and seed of the weed may be burned.

Communicated by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer.

Some years before the War, Dr. Steiner said, in answer to a question about the use of night-soil: It should not bc used at all, because the cycle from man to plant and back again to man is too short. (The question referred to gardening.) The proper cycle is from man to plant, from plant to animal, from animal to plant; then only from the plant again to man.

Dr. Steiner repeatedly and expressly rejected the use of peat for the improvement of the soil, whether as manure or as a would-be improvement of the physical properties of the soil. Humus and humus again should be given to the soil in every conceivable form—as compost, leaf-mould, etc.

Communicated by Frl. Gertrud Michels.

To a question on the use of mineral manure (compare page 70 of the Course), Dr. Steiner answered: If obliged to use mineral manure, one should always mix it first with dung or liquid manure. Dr. Steiner strongly rejected the use of lavatory fluid. It should not even be emptied out on to fresh compost—“not even if the compost-earth will only be needed after four years. Even then, things are contained in it which are not good.”

Communicated by Frau A. Ganz.

Under trees that suffer from woolly aphis (Eriosoma lanigerum), a ring of nasturtiums should be planted.

Communicated by Franz Lippert.