The Importance of Winter ©
By Hugh Lovel
Many of us have covered up a patch of sod in autumn, only to find it ready to take off growing again in spring. However, if in summer we cover the same patch of sod it is dead and decaying in only a month or so. Why are things so different in winter? Many plants go dormant in winter, yet they burst forth regenerated in spring. Something of especial importance to agriculture goes on in winter that we tend to pay little attention to. How can we use the importance of winter to improve what we grow?
A refractometer measures the diffraction of light as it passes through plant juice. The solids dissolved in this juice increase the angle of diffraction, which is measured as brix. Photosynthetic products like sugars tend to predominate in sap, although it also contains enzymes, hormones, complex carbohydrates, mineral chelates and amino acids. High brix usually means rich plant chemistry, not just high sugar—with one important exception. Under dry conditions plants that take up nitrate and other salts can run short of water and be high brix but low complexity. In this dry scenario, high brix means low sugar, low energy and a plant with little life force. This exception proves the rule that ordinarily high brix means efficient, high energy, high complexity crops that pests and diseases find too dense and robust to digest.
Generally, low brix warns something needs to be done. If the right things are done brix will improve—sometimes dramatically. However, since a refractometer does not say what to do, over reliance on it can lead to unrealistic expectations about fixing things once they are broken. Remedy may fall short, and even expensive inputs such as kelp and foliar chelates may fail to lift crops out of their doldrums.
Commonly, vigour lags and crops run out of puff after the summer solstice when sap flow tapers back from its peak. Some may think the grower ‘didn’t do everything he should have’, while growers may think ‘how the bleep can I?’ Neither has penetrated deeply enough into nature’s cycles to prepare for these midsummer blahs, and both need to understand that winter sets the stage for high brix.
As crop seeds sprout they give off abundant nourishment for high populations of nitrogen fixing microbes which in turn feed protozoa and other digestive organisms that provide a freshly digested stream of amino acids around plant roots. As long as soluble nitrogen levels are low, microbes living around crop roots can supply amino acid rich nutrient uptake which assures photosynthetic efficiency which results in abundant root exudation. The more energy given off as root exudates the more abundant the nitrogen fixation and nutrient development is. The lower the levels of nitrogen salts, the more easily crops develop complex amino acids, better photosynthesis and more energy for microbial symbiotes in the soil, and the system builds vigour and complexity, which shows up as high brix. Thus there is a dynamic interplay between what goes on above ground and what goes on below.
How Life Force Works
The key characteristic of life energy is it accumulates—it flows from lower concentration to higher concentration. Life begets more life—it is the only thing that does. In biodynamics this is called ether
There is both free flowing life energy, such as accumulates in clouds or crystals, and there is bound life energy as in living organisms. Free flowing life energy, such as the warmth, light, tone and life ethers tend to accumulate in bound form where carbon based life forms are richest. Thus clouds, which coalesce moisture, rain more over dense forests and rich grass lands than over bare landscapes. In general, life energy, both free and bound, suffuses the carbon framework of a plant even though free ether is not locked into the plant’s substance.
Since the Sun is by far the most organized body in the solar system the etheric forces of warmth and light spiral in from beyond the earth, bringing with them the influences of Mars (blossoming), Jupiter (fruiting) and Saturn (ripening) as they soak into the earth on its dark side and escape to organize the atmosphere on the sunny side. Warmth and light work on the substance of the plant to drive sap vigour and photosynthesis. The intensity of their association and the extent to which they are built into the plant is a measure of the plant’s vitality and how well these forces work in tandem with its chemistry and its structure.
The situation is somewhat different with the tone and life ethers which organize the plant’s chemistry and structure. Tone and life are reflections of what goes on between the earth and the Sun, as reflected onto the earth by the Moon. Although the Sun is the focus of the forces involved with warmth and light, the Moon reflects the Sun forces, which bring with them the influences of Mercury (digestion) and Venus (mineral activation) as well as the Moon (nourishment and growth).
In summer, and especially in the higher latitudes, the warmth and light ethers flow forth strongly and soak in weakly. In winter this situation is reversed and the sun spends more of the day below the horizon than it does above so that the outward flow on winter days is weak and the inward flow on winter nights is strong. This means the tone and life ethers build up in the soil foodweb during winter, as they are no longer carried back upward by the warmth and light streaming out of the earth. Moreover, since they build up in winter they draw organization to the earth’s oceans, soils and biosphere most strongly when the sun spends more time below the horizon than above, and the richer the ethers become the more strongly they draw life forces to themselves.
Lime, Silica and Clay
From analytical chemistry, Rudolf Steiner realized lime and silica lie at opposite poles in living organisms. Where lime has a close relationship with amino acids, proteins and DNA, silica is found in carbon structures such as cell walls, connective tissues and transport vessels. Steiner called this the lime/silica polarity while pointing to clay as the mediator between their extremes.
In spring and summer the buoyant ‘cosmic’ light and warmth work upward from within the earth via silica towards the sun, lifting lime, amino acids and minerals into growth, blossom and fruit. Since warmth and light flow from beyond the earth toward the Sun via silica, as the summer reaches its longest day, the light forces reach the peak of their upwelling, after which sap vigour may decline even though warmth is still increasing. Thus late summer crops may suffer if the earth has not built up sufficient reserves of warmth and light ether over the previous winter.
In autumn and winter the denser ‘earthly’ forces of tone (chemistry) and life—reflected from the Sun via Mercury, Venus and the Moon—gain the upper hand as warmth and light recede and the summer’s vegetation is digested back into the earth. As the earth absorbs these fallen summer substances along with the tone and life ethers working through them, it organizes stable clay/humus complexes while the earthly forces of tone and life, along with the substances they work upon, build up and reach their maximum in mid-winter.
In the flowering process where phosphorous, a component of clay, works with light, flowers have sugary nectar on the silica/female side, while on the lime/male side there is protein rich pollen. Seed is formed by the plant separating its lime and silica forces and re-joining them into a new plant born out of a fresh union of the cosmic and earthly forces in its surroundings.
A Mystery Solved
In the sod that survives being covered up through winter we see the forces of warmth and light in the leaf that joined up with the roots’ chemistry and life in winter. However, plants must have the connection between warmth and light and chemistry and life. Thus when we break the connection in summer between the tone and life ethers in the roots and the warmth and light in the foliage, the plant dies.
We may have thought that in winter the earth goes to sleep, but winter is the season when the plants above the earth fall down to be digested even as warmth and light recede and the earth becomes inwardly sensitive and alive. There in winter the forces of warmth and light are caught up by lime while the forces of tone and life are caught up by silica and both substances are enlivened by their complimentary processes. Then in spring the earth dozes off to sleep and ‘dies’ again as plant growth outwardly expresses the activity that took place within the earth in winter while it was sensitive and alive. In winter warmth and light combine with the chemistry and life, and many perennials go dormant above ground while their root growth comes into its own. What warmth and light do within the earth is seen in the abundant upwelling of sugary sap in Canadian maples in the spring. The amount of sugar maples produce speaks volumes about what warmth and light can do within the earth over winter.
Summer crops rising into the atmosphere work with the dreaming of the earth going to sleep. It is no accident that ‘awake’ winter crops like wheat, barley and rye live right at the soil surface all winter and spread out a network of fine, sensitive roots brimming with life. Then, as the earth dies off again in spring, these cereals go through a tremendous spurt of growth above ground, making fat heads of grain.
Balance and Remedy
The cosmic and earthly streams combine to support each other—but when they are out of balance crops can either be undernourished and burn up from insufficient lime forces or they can be too lush to ripen without problems due to insufficient silica forces. What we really want is to strengthen both streams in a balanced way. Understanding life forces and how they arise can help us balance and enrich either or both streams as needed. By building a balance of life forces into the soil over winter, we can ensure that it streams back warmth, light, tone and life strongly enough to last through the entire summer.
Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course
introduced horn manure and horn silica as preparations made with cows’ horns using clay to close the open ends of the horns. These were remedies to impart new vitality to the earth. To gain an appreciation of a cow horn’s resonant power, hold an empty horn up to your ear and imagine the coherence produced by that resonance working on the contents while buried in the soil for six months. These preparations, or at least their patterns, can enhance and modify the warmth, light, lime tone and life streams of life force discussed previously.
As the life forces build in the soil, they will draw in a stronger and stronger stream of life forces from their surroundings. Winter is perfect to boost both polarities so that the following summer they stream back and sustain healthy crops.
If boosted only with the biodynamic horn manure, tone and life can build up strongly over winter, and without sufficient balance by the silica forces the digestive and nutritive processes may overwhelm the fruiting and ripening processes in late summer when warmth and light decline. This can spell trouble with low brix at the end of the summer crop cycle where insects and diseases digest crops before harvest. To correct for this, balance soil applications of horn manure by also applying horn silica to the soil in winter.