“Bury Cow Horns, You Say?”

Word Cloud of Rudolf Steiner's Lecture No. 4.

If you pursue agriculture in this way, the result can be no other than to provide the very best for man and beast.” – Rudolf Steiner

In 2010 we started a series of posts exploring the lectures of Rudolf Steiner now known as The Agriculture Course. There was no schedule and three have appeared so far: 1 December 2010, Biodynamic Wine in Southern Virginia?; 2 February 2011, Manure in Biodynamic Viticulture; and the last entry was posted 27 April 2011,  Delicious Primordial Soup.  We were reminded of it when our dear friend Frank Morgan wrote an introductory post on biodynamic viticulture for his blog, Drink What You Like, called Cow Horns, Manure, Planetary Alignment and Biodynamic Viticulture in Virginia and Other Eastern States?

Frank inspired us to continue the series, so today we had a look at Lecture No. 4, which presents his thoughts on the more controversial practices he espoused: the creation and use of what he called “horn manure.”  Steiner summarized the subject in the first paragraph: “You have now seen what is essential in the discovery of spiritual-scientific methods for Agriculture, as it is for other spheres of life. Nature and the working of the Spirit throughout Nature must be recognized on a large scale, in an all-embracing sphere.”  His concern, then, being the unification of the spiritual and nature.

How does the Spirit work through nature? Steiner describes a how all the spheres of farming life must gain insight into the working of the substances and forces that affect and permeate all of nature. He asks the assembly to consider the tree: so much more than a herbaceous annual, with its core, bark and leaves. Now consider a mound of dirt, presumably rich in humus – containing vegetable matter in a process of decomposition, and perhaps containing animal decomposition products too. Steiner asks that they imagine the hillock, now with a hole pushed into it; look at it side-by-side with the tree, ever growing outward. Both living in their way, the mound of humus bing “earthly matter [which] contains etherically living substance.” The two are essentially the same:

I am telling you all this to awaken in you an idea of the really intimate kinship between that which is contained within the contours of the plant and that which constitutes the soil around it. It is simply untrue that the life ceases with the contours — with the outer periphery of the plant. The actual life is continued, especially from the roots of the plant, into the surrounding soil. For many plants there is absolutely no hard and fast line between the life within the plant and the life of the surrounding soil in which it is living.

We must be thoroughly permeated with this idea, above all if we would understand the nature of manured earth, or of earth treated in some similar way. To manure the earth is to make it alive, so that the plant may not be brought into a dead earth and find it difficult, out of its own vitality, to achieve all that is necessary up to the fruiting process. The plant will more easily achieve what is necessary for the fruiting process, if it is immersed from the outset in an element of life. Fundamentally, all plant-growth has this slightly parasitic quality. It grows like a parasite out of the living earth. And it must be so.

All this leads up to his assertion (and it sounds slightly comical) that “ We must know how to gain a kind of personal relationship to all things that concern our farming work, and above all — though it may be a hard saying — a personal relationship to the manure, especially to the task of working with the manure.”

So here we have the introduction to what we have come to know as biodynamic compost. How can we ensure that our compost captures these etheric forces so that the plants it is applied to can most benefit?

Manuring and everything of the kind consists essentially in this, that a certain degree of livingness must be communicated to the soil, and yet not only livingness. For the possibility must also be given to bring about in the soil what I indicated yesterday, namely to enable the nitrogen to spread out in the soil in such a way that with its help the life is carried along certain fines of forces, as I showed you. That is to say: in manuring we must bring to the earth-kingdom enough nitrogen to carry the living property to those structures in the earth-kingdom to which it must be carried — under the plant, where the plant-soil has to be. This is our tack, and we must fulfil it in a scientific way.

In compost we have a means of kindling the life within the earth itself. We include in compost any kind of refuse to which little value is attached; refuse of farm and garden, from grass that we have let decay, to that which comes from fallen leaves or the like, nay, even from dead animals … These things should not by any means be despised, for they preserve something not only of the ethereal but even of the astral. And that is most important. From all that has been added to it, the compost heap really contains ethereal and living elements and also astral. Living ethereal and astral elements are contained in it — though not so intensely as in manure or in liquid manure, yet in a more stable form. The ethereal and astral settle down more firmly in the compost; especially the astral.

How concentrate the ethereal and the astral? This is where the notorious (and controversial) cow horns come in.

“What happens at the places where the horns grow and the hoofs? A locality is formed which sends the currents inward with more than usual intensity. In this locality the outer is strongly shut off; there is no communication through a permeable skin or hair. The openings which otherwise allow the currents to pass outward are completely closed. For this reason the horn-formation is connected with the entire shaping of the animal. The forming of horns and hoofs is connected with the whole shape and form of the creature.”

“The cow has horns in order to send into itself the astral-ethereal formative powers, which, pressing inward, are meant to penetrate right into the digestive organism. Precisely through the radiation that proceeds from horns and hoofs, much work arises in the digestive organism itself. Anyone who wishes to understand foot-and-mouth disease — that is, the reaction of the periphery on the digestive tract — must clearly perceive this relationship. Our remedy for foot-and-mouth disease is founded on this perception.”

“Thus in the horn you have something well adapted by its inherent nature, to ray back the living and astral properties into the inner life. In the horn you have something radiating life — nay, even radiating astrality. It is so indeed: if you could crawl about inside the living body of a cow — if you were there inside the belly of the cow you — would smell how the astral life and the living vitality pours inward from the horns. And so it is also with the hoofs.”

Here is why cow manure is superior to that of other animals:

“This is an indication, pointing to such measures as we on our part may recommend for the purpose of still further enhancing the effectiveness of what is used as ordinary farm-yard-manure. What is farm-yard-manure? It is what entered as outer food into the animal, and was received and assimilated by the organism up to a certain point. It gave occasion for the development of dynamic forces and influences in the organism, but it was not primarily used to enrich the organism with material substance. On the contrary, it was excreted. Nevertheless, it has been inside the organism and has thus been permeated with an astral and ethereal content. In the astral it has been permeated with the nitrogen-carrying forces, and in the ethereal with oxygen-carrying forces. The mass that emerges as dung is permeated with all this.”

Horn Manure

This perceived property of combining and concentrating the astral and the ethereal in a cow’s horn is what prompted Steiner to recommend the method of creating horn compost. He’s quite specific in the procedure:

We take manure, such as we have available. We stuff it into the horn of a cow, and bury the horn a certain depth into the earth — say about 18 in. to 2 ft. 6 in., provided the soil below is not too clayey or too sandy. (We can choose a good soil for the purpose. It should not be too sandy). You see, by burying the horn with its filling of manure, we preserve in the horn the forces it was accustomed to exert within the cow itself, namely the property of raying back whatever is life-giving and astral. Through the fact that it is outwardly surrounded by the earth, all the radiations that tend to etherealise and astralise are poured into the inner hollow of the horn. And the manure inside the horn is inwardly quickened with these forces, which thus gather up and attract from the surrounding earth all that is ethereal and life-giving.

And so, throughout the winter — in the season when the Earth is most alive — the entire content of the horn becomes inwardly alive. For the Earth is most inwardly alive in winter-time. All that is living is stored up in this manure. Thus in the content of the horn we get a highly concentrated, life-giving manuring force. Thereafter we can dig out the horn. We take out the manure it contains.

Dynamization & Application

Before application, it is diluted in water and “dynamized” – I don’t see this term used by Steiner, but that is the term used by today’s practitioners:

To give an impression of the quantitative aspect: I always found, having first looked at the area to be manured, that a surface, say, about as big as the patch from the third window here to the first foot-path, about 1,200 square metres (between a quarter- and third-acre) is adequately provided for if we use one hornful of this manure, diluted with about half a pailful of water. You must, however, thoroughly combine the entire content of the horn with the water. That is to say, you must set to work and stir. Stir quickly, at the very edge of the pail, so that a crater is formed reaching very nearly to the bottom of the pail, and the entire contents are rapidly rotating. Then quickly reverse the direction, so that it now seethes round in the opposite direction.”

Do this for an hour and you will get a thorough penetration. Think, how little work it involves. The burden of work will really not be very great. Moreover, I can well image that — at any rate in the early stages — the otherwise idle members of a farming household will take pleasure in stirring the manure in this way. Get the sons and daughters of the house to do it and it will no doubt be wonderfully done.

Our next task will be to spray it over the tilled land so as to unite it with the earthly realm. For small surfaces you can do it with an ordinary syringe; it goes without saying, for larger surfaces you will have to devise special machines. But if you once resolve to combine your ordinary manuring with this kind of “spiritual manure,” if I may call it so, you will soon see how great a fertility can result from such measures. Above all, you will see how well they lend themselves to further development. For the method I have just described can be followed up at once by another, namely the following.

Horn Silica

Horn silica addresses the same problem of concentrating these forces from the “other” direction — how do you capture the astral forces to maximize their benefit for the plant?

Once more you take the horns of cows. This time, however, you fill them not with manure but with quartz or silica or even orthorclase or feldspar, ground to a fine mealy powder, of which you make a mush, say of the consistency of a very thin dough. With this you fill the horn. And now, instead of letting it “hibernate,” you let the horn spend the summer in the earth and in the late autumn dig it out and keep its contents till the following spring.

So you dig out what has been exposed to the summery life within the earth, and now you treat it in a similar way. Only in this case you need far smaller quantities. You can take a fragment the size of a pea, or maybe only the size of a pin’s head, and distribute it by stirring it up well in a bucket of water. Here again, you will have to stir it for an hour, and you can now use it to sprinkle the plants externally. It will prove most beneficial with vegetables and the like.

I do not mean that you should water them with it in a crude way; you spray the plants with it, and you will presently see how well this supplements the influence which is coming from the other side, out of the earth itself, by virtue of the cow-horn manure. And now, suppose you extend this treatment to the fields an a large scale. After all, there is no great difficulty in doing so. Why should it not be possible to make machines, able to extend over whole fields the slight sprinkling that is required? If you do this, you will soon see how the dung from the cow-horn drives from below upward, while the other draws from above — neither too feebly, nor too intensely. It will have a wonderful effect, notably in the case of cereals.”

So there is the rationale for the two substances: Horn Manure draws etheric forces from below, while Horn Silica draws and concentrates astral forces from above.  In practical terms, the Horn Silica is believed to enhance photosynthesis in the leaf and complements the action of the Horn Manure, which is believed to work primarily in the root zone.

Horn Manure is now commonly referred to as BD (Bio-Dynamic) Preparation 500 (BD-500), and Horn Silica as BD-501.   Details of the best times of day and which days of the month have been worked out; generally it is best to spray BD-500 during the descending phase of the moon, preferably in the late afternoon, and BD-501 in the early morning when the moon and Saturn are in opposition.  The interaction of days, time and the working of the soil has been studied by Maria Thun, who we wrote about in an earlier post.


It’s a curious thing how critics and naysayers of these methods react so violently.  Is it because they are contrary to the precepts of scientific research, lacking double-blind studies and the resulting product patented by massive corporations?  The Internet is rife with critics who object to Steiner’s theories, calling him among other things a charlatan, fakir or just simply deluded.  Recall the purpose of that gathering in Koberwitz in 1924, which was described in the Preface to The Agriculture Course by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer:

The agricultural course was held from June 7 to 16, 1924, in the hospitable home of Count and Countess Keyserlingk at Koberwitz, near Breslau. It was followed by further consultations and lectures in Breslau, among them the famous “Address to Youth.” I myself had to forgo attendance at the course, as Dr. Steiner had asked me to stay at home to help take care of someone who was seriously ill. “I’ll write and tell you what goes on at the course,” Dr. Steiner said by way of solace. He never did get round to writing, no doubt because of the heavy demands on him; this was understood and regretfully accepted. On his return to Dornach, however, there was an opportunity for discussing the general situation. When I asked him whether the new methods should be started on an experimental basis, he replied: “The most important thing is to make the benefits of our agricultural preparations available to the largest possible areas over the entire earth, so that the earth may be healed and the nutritive quality of its produce improved in every respect. That should be our first objective. The experiments can come later.” He obviously thought that the proposed methods should be applied at once.

This can be understood against the background of a conversation I had with Dr. Steiner en route from Stuttgart to Dornach shortly before the agricultural course was given. He had been speaking of the need for a deepening of esoteric life, and in this connection mentioned certain faults typically found in spiritual movements. I then asked, “How can it happen that the spiritual impulse, and especially the inner schooling, for which you are constantly providing stimulus and guidance bear so little fruit? Why do the people concerned give so little evidence of spiritual experience, in spite of all their efforts? Why, worst of all, is the will for action, for the carrying out of these spiritual impulses, so weak?” I was particularly anxious to get an answer to the question as to how one could build a bridge to active participation and the carrying out of spiritual intentions without being pulled off the right path by personal ambition, illusions and petty jealousies; for, these were the negative qualities Rudolf Steiner had named as the main inner hindrances. Then came the thought-provoking and surprising answer: “This is a problem of nutrition. Nutrition as it is to-day does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.”

A nutritional problem which, if solved, would enable the spirit to become manifest and realise itself in human beings! With this as a background, one can understand why Dr. Steiner said that “the benefits of the bio-dynamic compost preparations should be made available as quickly as possible to the largest possible areas of the entire earth, for the earth’s healing.”

This puts the Koberwitz agricultural course in proper perspective as an introduction to understanding spiritual, cosmic forces and making them effective again in the plant world.

Appreciate that, and you understand biodynamics.

A Sublime Dinner Paired with the Wines of Jura.

Wine Broker Thomas Calder Holding Court at a Dinner in Washington, DC.

Last week found us far removed from the gentle rolling hills, fields and forests of Annefield but in the middle of Washington, DC for the most amazing wine pairing dinner. Our dear friends Sidra Forman and John Cochran periodically host dinners at their home in Washington, called appropriately “Home Restaurants.” John and Sidra formerly owned the legendary restaurant called Ruppert’s, which they closed a few years ago so they could pursue other interests. For years they have consulted with other Washington restaurants on menu planning and restaurant design, and Sidra has developed a following as a first-rate floral designer, with her work featured in publications like Martha Stewart Living. Whenever we do a DC-area wine trade show, we always have Sidra do a pair of arrangements for us.   We especially enjoy receiving updates of her elegant blog, Sidra’s Food, Flowers and Garden – a welcome note of civility and grace that brings a bit of peace to an our otherwise hectic days.  John and Sidra share a similar philosophy, perfectly articulated on Sidra’s website: “finding the best available seasonal ingredients and presents them in a straight forward manner that lets the raw materials speak for themselves.”  Enough said.

This dinner featured a special guest — Thomas Calder, a wine broker who specializes in promoting the top natural and progressive French winegrowers, including organic and biodynamic producers. Mr Calder is an American living in Paris, and represents an exclusive collection of hand-picked , small family-owned estates throughout France.

The Jura Wine Region. Map Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Jura

The focus of this dinner is Jura, France’s smallest wine region.  It is about 35 miles east of Burgundy, nearly adjoining Switzerland. It has an interesting history and geology, and has characteristics eerily like Virginia. We had a look at Wikipedia and Jancis Robinson’s “big book of everything,” The Oxford Companion to Wine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) to learn more.

Jura’s climate is continental, with many similarities to Burgundy, but a bit colder in the winter. Ripening the grapes appears problematic, and harvest is usually delayed as long as possible – usually into late October – in order to fully ripen the fruit. The regions’ vineyards are planted at altitudes between 820 and 1,310 feet above sea level, between the plains of the Bresse region and the Jura Mountains. The vineyard soils tend to composed of mostly clay in the lower flat lands, with more limestone-based soils in the higher elevation (sound familiar, Virginians?). Deposits of marl are scattered throughout the region with some of the area’s most regarded vineyards being found on those sites. Many vineyard slopes are quite steep, which creates problems with soil erosion.

There are four regional appellations in the Jura: Arbois, Côtes du Jura and the smaller Etoile and Château-Chalon, plus two wine style appellations that cover the whole area, Crémant du Jura and Macvin (a Vin de Liqueur).

The wines and styles are quite complicated. For an explanation of them, we turn to an expert, Wink Lorch, author of Wine Travel Guides focused on France, Italy and Spain.  Ms Lorch published a detailed description of Jura as a guest columnist on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages.  In it, she wrote:

Five grape varieties are used today: for whites, Chardonnay and Savagnin (sometimes called by its old name, Naturé), plus Poulsard (also called Ploussard), Trousseau and Pinot Noir for reds. Colour in the Jura is often not what it seems! Whites can vary from pale greenish through to dark amber (and that includes the famous jaune or yellow), and reds are more often than not pink, or tile-coloured at best. On labels, variety is indicated sometimes, but the style of wine rarely, unless it is the famous Vin Jaune or the sweet Vin de Paille. Any style may be made under the Arbois or Côtes du Jura appellations; Etoile is restricted to whites (including Jaune and Paille); Château-Chalon is exclusively Vin Jaune, but note that in this case the words “Vin Jaune” do not appear on the label. Apparently all this makes sense to a Frenchman and is part of la patrimoine.

To understand the whites, first one must learn about the mysterious Vin Jaune. From very ripe Savagnin grown at low yields, it undergoes conventional fermentation and malolactic fermentation and then, the magic starts. The Savagnin wine is transferred to old Burgundy pièces (barrels) incompletely filled and placed in the producer’s cave à Vin Jaune. Convention is turned on its head here, for these caves may be attics, cellars or simple storage warehouses, sometimes all three (for more complexity), but the essential is that they are well ventilated and subject to temperature fluctuations. It is these conditions that allow the voile or film of yeast (similar to flor in Jerez) to form on the surface of the wine.

And that’s it. There the wine stays for at least six years during which, each pièce is regularly checked for dangerous levels of volatile acidity and for the formation of the beneficial ethanal, which in part provides the famous goût du jaune. The testing is done mostly by a laboratory, though a few producers taste the wines too, with the aid of the dzi or tap on each barrel, placed well below the voile. A slow oxidation will have taken place, but the voile protects it from forming vinegar. Those pièces that do not make the grade are withdrawn and the wine is sold simply as Savagnin white wine (a sort of baby or second Vin Jaune) and/or is blended with Chardonnay and sold as a white. Amongst rigorous producers, the rejection rate may be as high as three-quarters of the original barrels. Those that are retained are bottled in the 62cl clavelin and sold for prices of around €25. Good producers advise aging for at least a further decade, though the best can last centuries.

Ms Lorch is a seasoned wine travel writer, whose own blog offers incomparable advice on wine travel; she wrote more about the Jura this past August September and October.

While the region is steeped in tradition, its growers are at the forefront of organic methods.  The organic winegrowers in the Jura have organized a trade show called Le Nez dans le vert!  (“Nose in the Green”), an exhibition of organic wine from Jura, on 25 and 26 March 2012 at the Château de Gevingey, just south of Lons-le-Saunier.

Our Dinner

Dinner included 11 wines from the Jura from two producers, Domaine André et Mireille Tissot and Caves Jean Bourdy.  Both are Demeter-accredited winegrowers and certified Biodynamic (Tissot has been certified Biodynamic since 2005, and Bourdy since 2006). As a special treat, our courses included a 1953 and 1992 Côtes du Jura Blanc, and a 1959 and 1990 Côtes du Jura Rouge.

The whole thing was very causal, starting with Tissot’s non-vintage Crémant du Jura Blanc and Crémant du Jura Rosé while starters were passed while the guests mingled. A word should be included about Crémant du Jura, which is the appellation for sparkling wines from the Jura. According to the Wine Searcher website, the title was created in 1995, and includes the style of sparkling wines that have been made in the Jura since the eighteenth century. Prior to 1995 they were sold as mousseux under the region’s other appellations.

The Crémant du Jura appellation covers the whole of the Jura appellation.  Crémant du Jura Blanc is made from a minimum of fifty per cent Chardonnay, the remainder being made up of Savagnin. Crémant du Jura Rosé is made up of the region’s key red varieties, Poulsard and Pinot Noir, which must constitute at least half of the blend. The wines are made in the methode traditionelle, and aged in bottle with their lees for a minimum of nine months. We found them both bracing and refreshing.

During the dinner, between courses Thomas Calder took a few questions, explaining what distinguishes the Jura from other regions in France, and succinctly explained biodynamic practices to the layman. The older wines could not help but have that oxidative character that is highly prized in the region, with its aromas of walnuts and dried apricots. The way the wine is treated certainly lends complexity and a nutty finish, and this method combined with the extremely high acidity and sugar allows the wine to age for many years. There were hints of honey and citrus in the older wines, with an extremely long finish.  Truly extraordinary.  Caves Jean Bourdy has white wines in its cellar that date from 1911, and reds dating from the 1880s. These ancient wines aren’t museum pieces, for they are available for purchase.

We cannot do justice to the range and breadth of the food presentation and pairings since we took no notes, so please see the menu Sidra post on her blog, “Jura Wine Dinner.”  The following day we ordered a mixed case of the two Crémant that we intend to serve at Thanksgiving.  Finding them was a challenge; it took some digging on Wine Searcher, and we finally found both at a shop in Portland, Oregon called Sec Wines.  Thank you, John and Sidra — it was truly a memorable night.

Phew! Glad That’s Done.

Mercifully, the weather cooperated on our chosen day for bringing in the fruit.  It was sunny, cloud-free, cool and brisk — perfect in that respect, but unfortunately a “Leaf” day on the biodynamic calendar.  You don’t cultivate fruit on “Leaf” days, but since we were not cultivating the fruit, perhaps with picking those cosmic forces won’t exert much influence. Happily Monday, October 3 is a “Fruit” day, and that is the day the fruit was crushed. We wrote a bit about Maria Thun’s biodynamic calendar in a earlier post (God Bless Maria Thun), and we do our best to follow her recommendations.  Indeed, Ms Thun notes in this year’s calendar that the best days for the storage of fruit include October 3 to October 5 — so I think we’re all right.  She did note that “Mercuy, Venus and Saturn are all in Virgo.  This could bring a cold period.”  And this has proven to be the case.

We started promptly at 8 am, with a crew of seven professional pickers and a half-dozen volunteers. After being fortified with coffee and pastries, everyone headed off to the vineyard. One minor snafu — our man who cuts grass and maintains the vineyard rows neglected to inform us that we were out of diesel fuel, so we couldn’t use our tractor to move about the vineyard. Not fatal, since we could manage with a pickup truck, but it made things more cumbersome. But to his credit, the vineyard floor sure was tidy.  After lunch a few volunteers disappeared, which is a pity because we wanted to reward everyone with a couple of bottles of wine regardless of how long they stayed. Nevertheless, we’re grateful for the help, and I hope they enjoyed the experience. If you’re reading this — THANK YOU!

The yield? A little over one ton of Cabernet Sauvignon, and four tons of Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Sauvignon always gets hit hard by birds and other critters (but really — who can blame them?), so we need to work harder to keep them out. Even with bird netting, they work their way under it and feast. Still, we did better than last year. Putting out scare balloons helped; we didn’t bother last year.  We toy with the idea of taking up falconry.  You can take short classes at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, which are offered by the Falconry and Raptor Education Foundation, which also offers a more intensive (and expensive) course.  Some growers in California have hired falconers to patrol their vineyards after veraison (check out this story).  I made some calls to a couple of falconry associations last year to try to find someone local who might be interested, but no one would call back.

The Cabernet Franc did very well, and even with the challenging weather this season we had virtually no rot, unlike many vineyards in Virginia. We didn’t think the Cabernet Sauvignon looked that good, and some fruit with a little bit of sour rot may have made it into the bin, but when the winemaker saw it, he said “This smells GREAT!”  He also said that the Cabernet Franc was the best he’d seen this year.  Look at the photograph below and you see a valuable characteristic of Cabernet Franc and one of the reasons the variety does so well here — the loose clusters allow good air flow, which minimizes disease.  Tight clusters give a place for mildew and botrytis and bunch rot and sour rot to hide.  We had just a touch of downy mildew in the new planting that was formerly covered with grow tubes (the tubes inhibit proper coverage), which is to be expected.  Besides, we don’t use fungicides when we’re close to harvest; our last application was on September 11.

Well, raise a glass to a challenging and difficult harvest.  Mother Nature needs to remind us every once in a while who’s in charge, and she did this in spades, so here’s to getting this season behind us.  We aren’t done yet, however; we need one last fungicide spray to eliminate all fungal inoculum, and after the first frost, we’ll do a spray of kaolin clay mixed with Horn Manure (B.D. 500) to help protect the vines over the winter.  Think of the spot where the leaves dropped as tiny open wounds, which can allow in pathogens until they harden off.  And with that, we turn our attention to finishing the trellising in the new planting.