FondsGoetheanum: agriculture

News – October 2010

As with the apple, so with life

Nature’s life processes can make us aware of the development steps in human life. Consider an apple from seed to ripeness.

If we observe the events of nature, we see how everything living is in constant flow. It is futile to look for a beginning or an end – the stream of life emerges from the fog of the past and flows into the distant future. Even so, within this flow we can recognise life’s phases in the seasons round: seeds, sprouts, fruits and ripening. The example of the apple is a clear case in point.

From apple seed to apple tree

Consider the natural development of an apple tree as it unfolds from its seed. The seed must first experience the cold earth of winter. Outwardly seen, nothing happens, but the cold stimulates the seed, so that come the spring a tiny plant appears. The up-welling of life results in autumn in a first ripening, followed by a withdrawal into next year’s buds. The following spring, life again takes hold of the bare wood and the apple seedling is ready to become a small tree. One year later, the sapling develops further, increasing in size and habit but as yet without blossom. In this first phase, akin to youth in the human being, blossoming and ripening processes are not yet differentiated. They manifest themselves in small laminar leaves and outspreading lateral branches that can be trained. After a period of change, the young apple tree passes into the adult part of life, becoming capable of bearing fruit.

Ripe apples – next year’s buds still concealed.


Step by step fruit formation

Let’s look at the fruiting process a bit closer. It takes place over two years, partly visible, partly hidden. In early summer of the first year the so-called flower induction occurs. Without this being outwardly or substantially visible, the young buds then ‘decide’ whether in autumn they will become leaf buds or flower buds. After the quiet of winter the first small leaves and flowers appear, thereby revealing the splendour of what has been in secret preparation for almost a year. With the flowers the fruiting process undergoes an important inversion. What has been prepared within, steps into the light of day: arrayed in wonderful colours, aromatic and with sweet nectar. Then, like an extinguished fire, the apple blossom aroma and colours disappear out of the orchard. Everything becomes green. With this second new beginning life forces again take hold of the substance. The apple tree then develops small green, sometimes also red-brown fruits. But green remains the dominant colour of the growing apple, during which time anyone taking a bite would find it sour, acidic and unripe. With the ripening a renewed inversion in the fruiting process takes place: the starch changes into sugar, what was sour becomes aromatic and the green skin lightens into yellow and red colours.

Ripe occurs sometimes earlier, sometimes later

Ripening is related to the type of apple. Prized as the first crop, early varieties are ripe by high summer. They grow very quickly, ripen rapidly and often keep for only a short time before they become soft and over-ripe. Autumn varieties ripen on the tree. They taste best when fresh-picked. Cooled, they last a couple of weeks longer.

Storing varieties behave quite differently, being ready for picking before they are ripe to eat. They ripen in storage, only then developing their full flavour. In storage, their sourness is broken down, but the fruit flesh also becomes weaker. The art of apple storage depends on knowing which conditions favour which variety so that they taste delicious at the time they reach the consumer.

Niklaus Bolliger, Poma Culta Apfelzüchtung

Two chickens out of one.

In October 2008, the GoetheanumFund reported on a research project of the Swiss Biodynamic Agricultural Association and the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL). This has since had a successful outcome.

This project had two aims: to develop a breed of chicken that is robust and lives 2-4 years, throughout which time it lays well, and to enable all chicks to be reared. Normal egg production is quite otherwise, of course. The chickens are bred for high levels of productivity using the minimum amount of food. They have a life expectancy of one and half years at most. The day-old chicks are separated by sex. The male chicks are killed, the females are kept for a laying period of 60-70 weeks, after which they too are killed and their flesh used as animal food.
Research showed the Sussex breed to be best suited to the project’s twin aims. On the six bio-dynamic farms where the research was carried out, the chickens proved themselves to be not only good layers, but showed good comportment and less vulnerability to their natural enemy, the hawk. The confirmation of their good properties on the farms meant that by the spring of 2010 the first organic breeding flock had been raised on the FiBL farm. In November this year the first Bio hatching eggs will be available.

Free-range Sussex hens.

The last project phase, the breeding of the male chicks, has begun. The preliminary research was successful. The Sussex hens have developed well. The meat has been consistently well-judged, being more muscular and stronger in taste. Not only does the raising of the chickens in this way lead into unknown territory, so does the marketing of these special ‘poulets’. Because they are somewhat dearer, we hope that enough people will be found who are prepared to pay a higher price for this greater quality.
Thanks to the robustness of the breed, the hens can live longer and the male chicks will not be immediately killed. The GoetheanumFund has been key in enabling this important research project to take place.

Susanna Kuffer Heer