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The Agriculture Course

Agriculture Course: Lecture 7

Schmidt Number: S-5773

On-line since: 26th June, 2007

Lecture Seven

15th June, 1924.


In the remainder of the time at our disposal, I wish to say something about farm animals, orchards and vegetable gardening. We have not much time left; but in these branches of farming, too, we can have no fruitful starting-point unless we first bring about an insight into the underlying facts and conditions. We shall do this to-day, and pass on to-morrow to the more practical hints and applications.

To-day I must ask you to follow me in matters which lie yet a little farther afield from present-day points of view. Time was, indeed, when they were thoroughly familiar to the more instinctive insight of the farmer; to-day they are to all intents and purposes terra incognita. The entities occurring in Nature (minerals, plants, animals — we will leave man out for the moment) are frequently studied as though they stood there all alone.

Nowadays, one generally considers a single plant by itself. Then, from the single plant, one proceeds to consider a plant-species by itself; and other plant-species beside it. So it is all prettily pigeonholed into species and genera, and all the rest that we are then supposed to know. Yet in Nature it is not so at all. In Nature — and, indeed, throughout the Universal being — all things are in mutual interaction; the one is always working on the other.

In our materialistic age, scientists only follow up the coarser effects of one upon the other—as for instance when one creature is eaten or digested by another, or when the dung of the animals comes on to the fields. Only these coarse interactions are traced. But in addition to these coarse interactions, finer ones, too, are constantly taking place — effects transmitted by finer forces and finer substances too—by warmth, by the chemical-ether principle that is for ever working in the atmosphere, and by the life-ether.

We must take these finer interactions into account. Otherwise we shall make no progress in certain domains of our farm-work. Notably we must observe these more intimate relationships of Nature when we are dealing with the life, together on the farm, of plant and animal. Here again, we must not only consider those animals which are undoubtedly very near to us—like cattle, horses, sheep and so on. We must also observe with intelligence, let us say, the many coloured world of insects, hovering around the plant-world during a certain reason of the year. Moreover, we must learn to look with understanding at the birds.

Modern humanity has no idea how greatly farming and forestry are affected by the, owing to the modern conditions of life, of certain kinds of birds from certain districts. Light must be thrown upon these things once more by that macrocosmic method which Spiritual Science is pursuing — for we may truly call it macrocosmic. Here we can apply some of the ideal we have already let work upon us; we shall thus gain further insight.

Look at a fruit-tree — a pear-tree, apple-tree or plum-tree. Outwardly Seen, to begin with, it is quite different from a herbaceous plant or cereal. Indeed, this would apply to any tree — it is quite different. But we must learn to perceive in what way the tree is different; otherwise we shall never understand the function of fruit in Nature's household (I am speaking now of such fruit as grows on trees).

Let us consider the tree. What is it in the household of Nature? If we look at it with understanding, we must include in the plant-nature of the tree any more than grows out of it in the thin stalks — in the green leaf-bearing stalks — and in the flowers and fruit. All this grows out of the tree, as the herbaceous plant grows out of the earth. The tree is really “earth” for that which grows upon its boughs and branches. It is the earth, grown up like a hillock; shaped — it is rate—in a rather more living way than the earth out of which our herbaceous plants and cereals spring forth.

To understand the free, we must say: There is the thick tree trunk (and in a sense the boughs and branches still belong to this). Out of all this the real plant grows forth. Leaves, flowers and fruit grow out of this; they are the real plant—rooted in the trunk and branches of the tree, as the herbaceous plants and cereals are rooted in the Earth.

Here the question will at once arise: Is this “plant” which grows on the tree — and which is therefore describable as a parasitic growth, more or less — is it actually rooted? An actual root is not to be found in the tree. To understand the matter rightly, we must say: This plant which grows on the tree — unfolding up there its flowers and leaves and Stems — has lost its roots. But a plant is not whole if it has no roots. It must have a root. Therefore we must ask ourselves: Where is the root of this plant?

The point is simply that the root is invisible to crude external observation. In this case we must not merely want to see a root we must understand what a root is. A true comparison will help us forward here. Suppose I were to plant in the soil a whole number of herbaceous plants, very near together, so that their roots intertwined, and merged with one another — the one root winding round the other, until it all become a regular mush of roots, merging one into another. As you can well imagine, such a complex of roots would not allow itself to remain a mere tangle; it would grow organised into a single entity. Down there in the soil the saps and fluids would flow into one another. There would be an organised root-complex — roots flowing into one another. We could not distinguish where the several roots began or ended. A common root-being would arise for these plants (Diagram 15).

So it would be. No such thing need exist in reality, but this illustration will enable us to understand. Here is the soil of the earth: here I insert all my plants. Down there, all the roots coalesce, until they form a regular surface — a continuous root-stratum. Once more, you would not know where the one root begins and the other ends.

Now the very thing I have here sketched as an hypothesis is actually present in the tree. The plant which grows on the free has lost its root. Relatively speaking, it is even separated from its root — only it is united with it, as it were, in a more ethereal way. What I have hypothetically sketched on the board is actually there in the tree, as the cambium layer — the cambium. That is how we must regard the roots of these plants that grow out of the tree: they are replaced by the cambium. Although the cambium does not look like roots, it is the living, growing layer, constantly forming new cells, so that the plant-life of the free grows out of it, just as the life of a herbaceous plant grows up above out of the root below.

Here, then, is the free with its cambium layer, the growing formative layer, which is able to create plant-cells. (The other layers in the free would not be able to create fresh cells). Now you can thoroughly see the point. In the tree with its cambium or formative layer, the earth-realm itself is actually bulged out; it has grown outward into the airy regions. And having thus grown outward into the air, it needs more inwardness, more intensity of life, than the earth otherwise has, i.e. than it has where the ordinary root is in it. Now we begin to understand the free. In the First place, we understand it as a strange entity whose function is to separate the plants that grow upon it — stem, blossom and fruit — from their roots, uniting them only through the Spirit, that is, through the ethereal. We must learn to look with macrocosmic intelligence into the mysteries of growth. But it goes still further. For I now beg you observe: What happens through the fact that a free comes into being? It is as follows:

That which encompasses the free has a different plant-nature in the air and outer warmth than that which grows in air and warmth immediately on the soil, unfolding the herbaceous plant that springs out of the earth directly (Diagram 16). Once more, it is a different plant-world. For it is far more intimately related to the surrounding astrality. Down here, the astrality in air and warmth is expelled, so that the air and warmth may become mineral for the Bake of man and animal. Look at a plant growing directly out of the soil. True, it is hovered-around, enshrouded in an astral cloud. Up there, however, round about the free, the astrality is far denser. Once more, it is far denser. Our trees are gatherings of astral substance; quite clearly, they are gatherers of astral substance.

In this realm it is easiest of all for one to attain to a certain higher development. If you make the necessary effort, you can easily become esoteric in these spheres. I do not say clairvoyant, but you can easily become clair-sentient with respect to the sense of smell, especially if you acquire a certain sensitiveness to the diverse aromas that proceed from plants growing on the soil, and on the other hand from fruit-tree plantations — even if only in the blossoming stage — and from the woods and forests! Then you will feel the difference between a plant-atmosphere poor in astrality, such as you can smell among the herbaceous plants growing on the earth, and a plant-world rich in astrality such as you have in your nostrils when you sniff what is so beautifully wafted from the treetops.

Accustom yourself to specialise your sense of smell — to distinguish, to differentiate, to individualise, as between the scent of earthly plants and the scent of trees. Then, in the former case you will become clair-sentient to a thinner astrality, and in the latter case to a denser astrality. You see, the farmer can easily become clair-sentient. Only in recent times he has male less use of this than in the time of the old clairvoyance. The countryman, as I said, can become clair-sentient with regard to the sense of smell.

Let us observe where this will lead us. We must now ask: What of the polar opposite, the counterpart of that richer astrality which the plant — parasitically growing on the tree — brings about in the neighbourhood of the tree? In other words, what happens by means of the cambium? What does the cambium itself do?

Far, far around, the free makes the spiritual atmosphere inherently richer in astrality. What happens, then, when the herbaceous life grows out of the free up yonder? The tree has a certain inner vitality or ethericity; it has a certain intensity of life. Now the cambium damps down this life a little more, so that it becomes slightly more mineral. While, up above, a rich astrality arises all around the tree, the cambium works in such a way that, there within, the ethericity is poorer.

Within the tree arises poverty of ether as compared to the plant. Once more, here within, it will be somewhat poorer in ether. And as, through the cambium, a relative poverty of ether is engendered in the tree, the root in its turn will be influenced. The roots of the tree become mineral — far more so than the roots of herbaceous plants. And the root, being more mineral, deprives the earthly soil — observe, we still remain within the realms of life — of some of its ethericity. This makes the earthly soil rather more dead in the environment of the free than it would be in the environment of a herbaceous plant.

All this you must clearly envisage. Now whatever arises in this way will always involve something of deep significance in the household of Nature as a whole. Let us then enquire: what is the inner significance, for Nature, of the astral richness in the tree's environment above, and the etheric poverty in the realm of the free-roots? We only need Look about us, and we can find how these things work themselves out in Nature's household. The fully developed insect, in effect, lives and moves by virtue of this rich astrality which is wafted through the tree-tops.

Take, on the other hand, what becomes poorer in ether, down below in the soil. (This poverty of ether extends, of course, throughout the tree, for the Spiritual always works through the whole, as I explained yesterday when speaking of human Karma). That which is poorer in ether, down below, works through the larvae. Thus, if the earth had no trees, there would be no insects on the earth. The trees make it possible for the insects to be. The insects fluttering around the parts of the tree which are above the earth — fluttering around the woods and forests as a whole — they have their very life through the existence of the woods. Their larvae, too, live by the very existence of the woods.

Here you have a further indication of the inner relationship between the root-nature and the sub-terrestrial animal world. From the tree we can best learn what I have now explained; here it becomes most evident. But the fast is: What becomes very evident in the tree is present in a more delicate way throughout the whole plant-world. In every plant there is a certain tendency to become tree-like. In every plant, the root with its environment strives to let go the ether; while that which grows upward tends to draw in the astral more densely. The free-becoming tendency is there is every plant.

Hence, too, in every plant the same relationship to the insect world emerges, which I described for the special case of the tree. But that is not all. This relation to the insect-world expands into a relation to the whole animal kingdom. Take, for example, the insect larvae: truly, they only live upon the earth by virtue of the tree-roots being there. However, in times gone by, such larvae have also evolved into other kinds of animals, similar to them, but undergoing the whole of their animal life in a more or less larval condition. These creatures then emancipate themselves, so to speak, from the tree-root-nature, and live more near to the rest of the root-world — that is, they become associated with the root-nature of herbaceous plants.

A wonderful fast emerges here: Certain of these sub-terrestrial creatures (which, it is true, are already somewhat removed from the larval nature) develop the faculty to regulate the ethereal vitality within the soil whenever it becomes too great. If the soil is tending to become too strongly living — if ever its livingness grows rampant — these subterranean animals see to it that the over-intense vitality is released. Thus they become wonderful regulators, safety-valves for the vitality inside the Earth. These golden creatures — for they are of the greatest value to the earth — are none other than the earth-worms.

Study the earth-worm — how it lives together with the soil. These worms are wonderful creatures: they leave to the earth precisely as much ethericity as it needs for plant-growth. There under the earth you have the earth-worms and similar creatures distantly reminiscent of the larva. Indeed, in certain soils — which you can easily tell — we ought to take special care to allow for the due breeding of earth-worms. We should soon see how beneficially such a control of the animal world beneath the earth would react on the vegetation, and thus in turn upon the animal world in general, of which we shall speak in a moment.

Now there is again a distant similarity between certain animals and the fully evolved, i.e. the winged, insect-world. These animals are the birds. In course of evolution a wonderful thing has taken place as between the insects and the birds. I will describe it in a picture. The insects said, one day: We do not feel quite strong enough to work the astrality which sparkles and Sprays around the trees. We therefore, for our part, will use the treeing tendency of other plants; there we will flutter about, and to you birds we will leave the astrality that surrounds the trees. So there came about a regular division of labour between the bird-world and the butterfly-world, and now the two together work most wonderfully.

These winged creatures, each and all, provide for a proper distribution of astrality, wherever it is needed on the surface of the Earth or in the air. Remove these winged creatures, and the astrality would fail of its true service; and you would soon detect it in a kind of stunting of the vegetation. For the two things belong together: the winged animals, and that which grows out of the Earth into the air. Fundamentally, the one is unthinkable without the other. Hence the farmer should also be careful to let the insects and birds flutter around in the right way. The farmer himself should have some understanding of the rare of birds and insects. For in great Nature — again and again I must say it — everything, everything is connected.

These things are most important for a true insight: therefore let us place them before our souls most clearly. Through the flying world of insects, we may say, the right astralisation is brought about in the air. Now this astralisation of the air is always in mutual relation to the woods or forests, which guide the astrality in the right way just as the blood in our body is guided by certain forces. What the wood does—not only for its immediate vicinity but far and away around it (for these things work over wide areas) — what the wood does in this direction has to be done by quite other things in unwooded districts. This we should learn to understand. The growth of the soil is subject to quite other laws in districts where forest, Field and meadow alternate, than in wide, unwooded stretches of country.

There are districts of the Earth where we can tell at a glance that they became rich in forests long before man did anything—for in certain matters Nature is wiser than man, even to this day. And we may well assume, if there is forest by Nature in a given district, it has its good use for the surrounding farmlands — for the herbaceous and graminaceous vegetation. We should have sufficient insight, on no account to exterminate the forest in such districts, but to preserve it well. Moreover, the Earth by and by changes, through manifold cosmic and climatic influences.

Therefore we should have the heart — when we see that the vegetation is becoming stunted, not merely to make experiments for the fields or on the fields alone, but to increase the wooded areas a little. Or if we notice that the plants are growing rampant and have not enough seeding-force, then we should set to work and make some clearings in the forest — take certain surfaces of wooded land away: In districts which are predestined to be wooded, the regulation of woods and forests is an essential part of agriculture, and should indeed be thought of from the spiritual side. It is of a far-reaching significance.

Moreover, we may say: the world of worms, and larvae too, is related to the limestone — that is, to the mineral nature of the earth; while the world of insects and birds — all that flutters and flies stands in relation to the astral. That which is there under the surface of the earth — the world of worms and larvae — is related to the mineral, especially the chalky, limestone nature, whereby the ethereal is duly conducted away, as I told you a few days ago from another standpoint. This is the task of the limestone — and it fulfils its task in mutual interaction with the larva- and insect-world.

Thus you will see, as we begin to specialise what I have given, ever new things will dawn on us — things which were undoubtedly recognised with true feeling in the old time of instinctive clairvoyance. (I should not trust myself to expound them with equal certainty.) The old instincts have been lost. Intellect has lost all the old instincts — nay, has exterminated them. That is the trouble with materialism — men have become so intellectual, so clever. When they were less intellectual, though they were not so clever, they were far wiser; out of their feeling they knew how to treat things, even as we must learn to do once more, for in a conscious way we must learn once more to approach the Wisdom that prevails in all things. We shall learn it by something which is not clever at all, namely, by Spiritual Science. Spiritual Science is not clever: it strives rather for Wisdom.

Nor can we rest content with the abstract repetition of words: “Man consists of physical body, etheric body,” etc., etc., which one can learn off by heart like any cookery-book. The point is for us to introduce the knowledge of these things in all domains — to see it inherent everywhere. Then we are presently guided to distinguish how things are in Nature, especially if we become clairvoyant in the way I explained. Then we discover that the bird world becomes harmful if it has not the “needle-wood” or coniferous forests beside it, to transform what it brings about into good use and benefit. Thereupon our vision is still further sharpened, and a fresh relationship emerges. When we have recognised this peculiar relation of the birds to the coniferous forests, then we perceive another kinship. It emerges clearly. To begin with, it is a fine and intimate kinship — fine as are those which I have mentioned now. But it can readily be changed into a stronger, more robust relationship.

I mean the inner kinship of the mammals to all that does not become tree and yet does not remain as a small plant — in other words, to the shrubs and bushes — the haze-lnut, for instance. To improve our stock of mammals in a farm or in a farming district, we shall often do well to plant in the landscape bushes or shrub-like growths. By their mere presence they have a beneficial effect. All things in Nature are in mutual interaction, once again. But we can go farther. The animals are not so foolish as men are; they very quickly “tumble to it” that there is this kinship. See how they love the shrubs and bushes. This love is absolutely inborn in them, and so they like to get at the shrubs to eat them. They soon begin to take what they need, which has a wonderfully regulating effect on their remaining fodder.

Moreover, when we trace these intimate relationships in Nature, we gain a new insight into the essence of what is harmful. For just as the coniferous forests are intimately related to the birds and the bushes to the mammals, so again all that is mushroom — or fungus-like— has an intimate relation to the lower animal world — to the bacteria and such-like creatures, and notably the harmful parasites. The harmful parasites go together with the mushroom or fungus-nature; indeed they develop wherever the fungus-nature appears scattered and dispersed.

Thus there arise the well-known plant-diseases and harmful growths on a coarser and larger scale. If now we have not only woods but meadows in the neighbourhood of the farm, these meadows will be very useful, inasmuch as they provide good soil for mushrooms and toadstools; and we should see to it that the soil of the meadow is well-planted with such growths. If there is near the farm a meadow rich in mushrooms — it need not even be very large — the mushrooms, being akin to the bacteria and other parasitic creatures, will keep them away from the rest. For the mushrooms and toadstools, more than the other plants, tend to hold together with these creatures. In addition to the methods I have indicated for the destruction of these pests, it is possible on a larger scale to keep the harmful microscopic creatures away from the farm by a proper distribution of meadows.

So we must look for a due distribution of wood and forest, orchard and shrubbery, and meadow-lands with their natural growth of mushrooms. This is the very essence of good farming, and we shall attain far more by such means, even if we reduce to some extent the surface available for tillage.

It is no true economy to exploit the surface of the earth to such an extent as to rid ourselves of all the things I have here mentioned in the hope of increasing our crops. Your large plantations will become worse in quality, and this will more than outweigh the extra amount you gain by increasing your tilled acreage at the cost of these other things. You cannot truly engage in a pursuit so intimately connected with Nature as farming is, unless you have insight into these mutual relationships of Nature's husbandry.

The time has come for us to bring home to ourselves those wider aspects which will reveal, quite generally speaking, the relation of plant to animal-nature, and vice versa, of animal to plant-nature. What is an animal? What is the world of plants? (for the world of plants we must speak rather of a totality — the plant-world as a whole.) Once more, what is an animal, and what is the world of plants? We must discover what the essential relation is; only so shall we understand how to feed our animals. We shall not feed them properly unless we see the true relationship of plant and animal. What are the animals? Well may you look at their outer forms! You can dissect them, if you will, till you get down to the skeleton, in the forms of which you may well take delight; you may even study them in the way I have described. Theo you may study the musculature, the nerves and so forth.

All this, however, will not lead you to perceive what the animals really are in the whole household of Nature. You will only perceive it if you observe what it is in the environment to which the animal is directly and intimately related. What the animal receives from its environment and assimilates directly in its nerves-and-senses system and in a portion of its breathing system, is in effect all that which passes first through air and warmth. Essentially, in its own proper being, the animal is a direct assimilator of air and warmth — through the nerves-and-senses system.

Diagrammatically, we can draw the animal in this way: In all that is there in its periphery, in its environment — in the nerves-and-senses system and in a portion of the breathing system — the animal is itself. In its own essence, it is a creature that lives directly in the air and warmth. It has an absolutely direct relation to the air and warmth (Diagram 17).

Notably out of the warmth its bony system is formed — where the Moon- and Sun-influences are especially transmitted through the warmth. Out of the air, its muscular system is formed. Here again, the forces of Sun and Moon are working through the air. But the animal cannot relate itself thus directly to the earthy and watery elements. It cannot assimilate water and earth thus directly. It must indeed receive the earth and water into its inward parts; it must therefore have the digestive tract, passing inward from outside. With all that it has become through the warmth and air, it then assimilates the water and the earth inside it — by means of its metabolic and a portion of its breathing system.The breathing system passes over into the metabolic system. With a portion of the breathing and a portion of the metabolic system, the animal assimilates “earth” and “water” In effect, before it can assimilate earth and water, the animal itself must be there by virtue of the air and warmth. That is how the animal lives in the domain of earth and water. (The assimilation-process is of course, as I have often indicated, an assimilation more of forces than of substances).

Now let us ask, in face of the above, what is a plant? The answer is: the plant has an immediate relation to earth and water, just as the animal has to air and warmth. The plant—also through a kind of breathing and through something remotely akin to the sense system — absorbs into itself directly all that is earth and water; just as the animal absorbs the air and warmth. The plant lives directly with the earth and water.

Now you may say: Having recognised that the plant lives directly with earth and water, just as the animal does with air and warmth, may we not also conclude that the plant assimilates the air and the warmth internally, even as the animal assimilates the earth and water? Ne, it is not so. To find the spiritual truths, we cannot merely conclude by analogy from what we know. The fact is this: Whereas the animal consumes the earthy and watery material and assimilates them internally, the plant does not consume but, on the contrary, secretes — gives off —the air and warmth, which it experiences in conjunction with the earthy soil. Air and warmth, therefore, do not go in — at least, they do not go in at all far. On the contrary they go out; instead of being consumed by the plant, they are given off, excreted, and this excretion-process is the important point.

Organically speaking, the plant is in all respects an inverse of the animal — a true inverse. The excretion of air and warmth has for the plant the same importance as the consumption of food for the animal. In the same sense in which the animal lives by absorption of food, the plant lives by excretion of air and warmth. This, I would say, is the virginal quality of the plant. By nature, it does not want to consume things greedily for itself, but, on the contrary, it gives away what the animal takes from the world, and lives thereby. Thus the plant gives, and lives by giving.

Observe this give and take, and you perceive once more what played so great a part in the old instinctive knowledge of these things. The saying I have here derived from anthroposophical study: “The plant in the household of Nature gives, and the animal takes,” was universal in an old instinctive and clairvoyant insight into Nature. In human beings who were sensitive to these things, some of this insight survived into later times.

In Goethe you will often find this saying: Everything in Nature lives by give and take. Look through Goethe's works and you will soon find it. He did not fully understand it any longer, but he revived it from old usage and tradition; he felt that this proverb describes something very true in Nature. Those who came after him no longer understood it. To this day they do not understand what Goethe meant when he spoke of “give and take.” Even in relation to the breathing process — its interplay with the metabolism — Goethe speaks of “give and take.” Clearly-unclearly, he uses this word.

Thus we have seen that forest and orchard, shrubbery and bush are in a certain way regulators to give the right form and development to the growth of plants over the earth's surface. Meanwhile beneath the earth the lower animals — larvae and worm-like creatures and the like, in their unison with limestone — act as a regulator likewise.

So must we regard the relation of tilled fields, orchards and cattle-breeding in our farming work. In the remaining hour that is still at our disposal, we shall indicate the practical applications, enough for the good Experimental Circle to work out and develop.

 Figure 7
Figure 7
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Last Modified: 18-Apr-2017
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