Planting Research

Malcolm Gardner, a translator of the Agriculture course, gave this reply to Allan Balliett's question ".... how do you feel about Thun's calendar work?" on the wonderful BdNow discussion forum.


"Dear Allan,

That's a good question, but I don't want to say how I feel about her "calendar work" without presenting at least a rough overview of the facts. That way you can also draw your own conclusions. For clarity, before reviewing the experimental work, I will first spell out Thun's "sidereal trigon theory," which is the basis for the recommendations in her calendar ("Working with the Stars").


Thun's theory basically has three parts:

a) Plants (i.e., higher plants) consist of four main organs, each of which is related to one of the four classical elements:

Fruit & Seed = Fire (or Warmth)
Flower = Air (or Light)
Leaf = Water
Root = Earth

b) The circle of 12 sidereal constellations of the zodiac consists of four overlapping "trigons" (roughly equilateral triangles), each of which is related to one of the four elements (which in turn is related to the four plant organs):

Ram, Lion, Archer = Fire/Warmth trigon = Fruit/Seed trigon
Twins, Scales, Waterman = Air/Light trigon = Flower trigon
Crab, Scorpion, Fishes = Water trigon = Leaf trigon
Bull, Virgin, Goat = Earth trigon = Root trigon

c) The four sidereal trigons "engender favourable conditions" for the development of the corresponding plant organs "as the Moon passes in front of the particular constellation, that is, if cultivation, sowing and planting are carried out at the corresponding period" ("Work on the Land and the Constellations," East Grinstead 1990, p. 11). Thus, according to Thun, if these things are done when the Moon is in a particular trigon, one may expect better development of the corresponding plant organ, and poorer development of the other, non-corresponding organs.

More specifically, Thun defines the 12 sidereal constellations in accordance with the annual astronomical calendar published in Dornach, Switzerland, which uses slightly different divisions than the IAU (International Astronomical Union). These 12 constellations are unequal in size and so too are the four trigons (thus, for example, the Earth/Root trigon [Bull, Virgin, Goat] is 56% larger than the Air/Flower trigon [Twins, Scales, Waterman]).

In practice, Thun indicates that there are some exceptions to the trigon-plant organ correspondences listed above. She says, for example, that the favorable time for sowing potatoes and onions is when the Moon is in the Earth/Root trigon, even though neither potato tubers nor onion bulbs are true roots. Also, she sometimes makes a distinction between fruits (corresponding to the Ram and Archer) and seeds (corresponding to the Lion). As far as I am aware, Thun does not discuss optimum times for growing lower (seedless) plants (not even for Equisetum, one of the biodynamic preparation plants).

Lastly, a number of other astronomical conditions are said by Thun to interfere with or override the Moon's influence. These include Moon at apogee or perigee or at its nodes, any eclipse or occultation, full Moon and new Moon, and oppositions or trines between the planets. Furthermore, if the soil is poor (less than 2% humus), the compost not mature, the seedbed not tilled deeply enough, or irrigation used, these may also, according to Thun, interfere with the manifestation of the correspondences listed above.



2a) Maria Thun's Research

In 1952, Maria Thun noticed variations in the form of radishes sown over a 10-day period in similarly prepared soil. She was intrigued by this and began doing various experiments to try to figure out the cause of this variation. In the next years she came up with the idea that the position of the Moon in the zodiac was important and that the different sowings of radishes could be divided into four different "types," a root, leaf, flower, and fruit/seed type. However, it was not until she heard a lecture by Guenther Wachsmuth around 1957, that she hit on the idea of "elemental trigons" within the zodiac. She then expanded her research to include other annual crops and in 1963 published a general report of her morphological observations and her trigon theory ("Nine Years' Observations of Cosmic Influences on Annuals," Working with the Stars 1986). Around 1963 she also began publishing her annual sowing calendar and began doing her first quantitative experiments, measuring potato yields. In 1966 she began publishing her results with the help of Hans Heinze and over the next years published more than a dozen experiments, on several crop species, all of which seemed to exactly confirm her theory. In the late 1960's other researchers became interested in her spectacular results, but they also recognized that her experiments, and Heinze's statistical methods, contained a number of problems, which they tried to correct in their own research. Some of these problems were: lack of true replication (sowings on different days are not true replicates if the differences in weather are not taken into account); usually measuring only one parameter (usually weight) of one organ; often not reporting the exact date and time when the sowings took place; and not considering alternative explanations for the observed phenomena. In addition, although Heinze mentions subjective influences as a possible factor in the success or lack of success in these experiments (Lebendige Erde 1983(1)), he and Thun do not report any effort to control for this in their own experiments by "blinding" the experimenters and technicians (e.g., not informing everyone which row is which). The reports of Thun's ongoing experiments that appear every year in her sowing calendar, along with the pretty pictures of the experimental gardens, etc., are impressive to casual readers but are far too sketchy to be scientifically meaningful.

2b) Other Researchers

I am aware of about 80 experiments undertaken by other people to test Frau Thun's sidereal trigon theory. Many of these experiments have not been published (only mentioned in passing), some have been published but not very completely, and the remainder (about 30) have been published in full. All but three of these experiments were done in Europe and most of those that were published are in German. The quality of the methodology of these experiments is very uneven, but I have tried to be comprehensive and use the researchers' *own* interpretations to score the results as either + or - (positive or negative for the theory) or ? (unclear). (Where I do not have details on the year of the experiment, I have substituted the year of the report or publication in square brackets.)

# of exps / result / researcher / year / (test plants) / [publication]

1 + Schwarz 1968 (potatoes) [Lebendige Erde 1969(?)]
6 - Boguslawski & Debruck 1968-69 (barley, potatoes) [unpublished]
2? - Koepf 1970's (weeds) [unpublished]
3 + Wildfeuer 1970 (carrots, beets, calendula) [unpublished]
1 + Abele 1970 (barley) [dissertation (Giessen)]
1 + Abele 1971 (oats) [dissertation (Giessen)]
1 - Bockemuehl 1971 (groundsel) [unpublished]
1 + Abele 1972 (carrots) [dissertation (Giessen)]
2 - Graf 1973-74 (potatoes) [dissertation (Zuerich)]
1 + Abele 1974 (radishes) [Leb. Erde 1975(6)]
1/1 +/- Graf 1975 (radishes) [dissertation (Zuerich)]
1 ? Kollerstrom/Muntz 1975 (beans) [Star & Furrow #63]
1 + Kollerstrom/Muntz 1976 (potatoes) [Biodynamics #185]
1/1 ?/- Kollerstrom/Bishop 1976-77 (lettuce) [Mercury Star Journal 4(1)]
10 - Abele 1977-79 (10 weed species) [unpublished]
8 - Spiess 1977-85 (rye) [dissertation (Kassel)]
4 - Spiess 1978-81 (carrots) [dissertation (Kassel)]
1 - Kollerstrom/Bishop 1978 (radishes) [Science Forum #2]
5/1 -/+ Luecke 1979-81 (oats, potatoes) [dissertation (Giessen)]
3 - Spiess 1979-80, 1982 (radishes) [dissertation (Kassel)]
4 - Spiess 1979, 1982-84 (beans) [dissertation (Kassel)]
3 - Spiess 1980-81, 1983 (potatoes) [dissertation (Kassel)]
2 ? Kollerstrom/Temple 1982 (radishes, lettuce) [unpublished]
6 + Lust [1984] (6 vegetables) [Leb. Erde 1984(6)]
1? - Baker [1984] (drop-picture method) [unpublished]
4 - Danek-Jezik [1987] (root & leaf crops) [Austrian academic journal]
1? - Soltysiak [1989] (unknown) [unpublished]
1 - Goldstein 1997 (carrots) [unpublished]
2 ? Adams 1998-99 (garlic) [unpublished]
81 total experiments

58 - (negative)
17 + (positive)
6 ? (unclear)

Hartmut Spiess' work is by far the most extensive and most scientifically rigorous. It was published in German in 1994 in two volumes, totalling more than 550 pages ("Chronobiologische Untersuchungen mit besonderer Berucksichtigung lunarer Rhythmen im biologisch-dynamischen Pflanzenbau"). However, some of his work (on rye and radishes) *is* in English: Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, vol. 7 (1990), pp. 165-189. Spiess designed his experiments with Frau Thun's cooperation and had expected to be able to confirm her theory in a couple of years; when this did not occur, he extended his experimentation for six more years but still could not confirm it. He found some evidence of a sidereal lunar rhythm, but not of a *trigonal* sidereal rhythm, and even the sidereal rhythm could be better explained by the simultaneously present synodic (full/new) and tropical (high/low) rhythms. Moreover, contrary to Thun's recommendations, he found no detrimental effects at lunar perigee, at the lunar nodes, or during planetary occultations.

In addition, Spiess also reexamined the data from some earlier experiments and found, for example, that Abele's apparent success with barley, oats, and carrots rested on incomplete reporting. Although the yields of barley and oats were highest when sown in the Fire/Fruit trigon, and carrots were highest in the Earth/Root trigon, the *straw* of the barley and oats, and the *leaves* of the carrots, were *not* highest during the Water/Leaf trigon. Similarly, in Abele's 1974 radish experiment, the yield of roots and leaves were *both* highest in the Earth/Root trigon. With Graf's radish experiments and Luecke's potato experiment, Spiess points out that their highest yields coincided with the period just before full Moon (which is the time that Steiner recommends for sowing, and which Lili Kolisko and other researchers have found to be very effective).

Spiess' final work goes far beyond merely being a test of Thun's theory; it also demonstrates several consistent patterns of lunar influence (besides the full Moon) that may be of great practical significance. I hope these will soon be published in English. In short, Spiess found clear lunar effects, but not of the kind that Frau Thun postulates.

Recently, Kollerstrom and Staudenmeier have published an article entitled "Maria Thun's Trigons: What Have Other Investigators Found?" (in the New Zealand BD journal "Harvests", vol. 52/1, Winter 1999). In this article they focus exclusively on the six most impressive "positive" experiments listed above. They disregard four of Kollerstrom's own experiments (which I have therefore labelled "unclear") as well as the negative results reported by the other two researchers whose positive results they cite. In an amazing display of chutzpah, Kollerstrom and Staudenmeier conclude their article with the statement that Thun's theory is now supported by "a considerable and growing body of evidence."

Interestingly, the soil for the Kollerstrom/Muntz potato experiment that Kollerstrom and Staudenmeier cite, has been described elsewhere by Kollerstrom as "poor quality soil, which had not been treated with anything" ("Star & Furrow" #63, p. 19). Frau Thun has specifically attributed other people's failure to replicate her work to their use of non-biodynamic soils low in organic matter. (Spiess remarks, however, that optimal growing conditions may not be appropriate for demonstrating lunar effects on yield because the plants are already growing at their best.)

It should be noted in passing that Kollerstrom, while defending Thun's basic theory, has also argued (e.g., Science Forum #2) that Thun's theory would better fit at least his own experimental results when he uses the Babylonian equal division sidereal zodiac (revived by Powell and Treadgold), instead of the unequal division sidereal zodiac from Dornach
that Thun currently uses.

In sum, it is certainly true that just because other researchers have had difficulty confirming Frau Thun's theory, does not necessarily mean that her theory is wrong. It is equally true, however, that if her consistently positive results are possible only in her location, or only when she does the experiment, then, from a practical standpoint, her work may be marvellous, but it is *irrelevant* for the rest of the world.



As mentioned above, a crucial part of Thun's sidereal trigon theory, and hence her calendar, came from Guenther Wachsmuth (1893-1963), who was the leader of the Natural Science Section of the Goetheanum in Dornach and who also attended Steiner's Agriculture Course in 1924. Wachsmuth, however, does not exactly say that this trigon theory came from Rudolf Steiner. What he says in his astrological book, "Kosmische Aspekte von Geburt und Tod" [Cosmic Aspects of Birth and Death] (Dornach 1956), is that the trigonal correspondences between the four elements and the twelve parts of the zodiac rests on an "ancient tradition," which he then goes on to suggest Steiner had confirmed out of his own spiritual research. What seems more likely, however, is that Wachsmuth merely *inferred* such a confirmation, because nowhere in Steiner's own writings is there any hint of such a trigonal pattern in the structure of the zodiac. Similarly, no one has been able to trace this pattern back to any truly ancient astrological tradition, but only to writings from the Middle Ages, a time when direct perception of the subtle worlds had largely been lost and instead been replaced by superstition and speculation. This "ancient tradition" was also given a further twist when Wachsmuth took the trigonal scheme of the elements that had hitherto been applied to the equal signs of the tropical zodiac, and instead applied it to an unequal division of the sidereal zodiac, which meant that it was shifted by almost a full sign relative to the tropical zodiac. (I note in passing that although Steiner favored a sidereal zodiac, there is actually no evidence that he favored unequal divisions.)

To this ancient tradition modified by Wachsmuth, Frau Thun added her own ideas, namely, that the element associated with a particular constellation is stimulated by the presence of the Moon in that constellation, and that this element in turn affects the growth of one of the four main organs of the plants on earth. She does not directly claim that her ideas came from Steiner, but she often quotes him when it suits her and she certainly leaves the impression that her ideas are completely compatible with his. This, however, is not exactly the case. In addition to the zodiacal trigons, their ideas diverge also in the following areas:

1) When Steiner speaks about the four elements in relation to plants, he does not speak of the elements in any schematic manner, nor does he outline four distinct "corresponding" regions of a plant. For example, in his lecture of Nov. 2, 1923 (in "Man as Symphony of the Creative Word"), he speaks of the four elements and writes them on the blackboard, but in the following hyphenated, almost untranslatable manner: moist-earthiness, moist-airyness, airy-warmthness, warmish-lightness. Alongside this he sketches a "swirling" plant in which only root and shoot are distinguishable (this drawing is unfortunately omitted from the English editions of "Man as Symphony.") Here he is trying to describe the living, spiritual dimensions of a plant; this is not a plant where one can measure the "yields" of its individual parts. When Steiner speaks of plants on the physical plane, he almost always describes them as *threefold* organisms, as inverse images of the threefold human organism (e.g., July 31, 1924, in "The Evolution of the Earth and Man").

2) When Steiner speaks about plants in relation to the fixed stars, he does not restrict this to the stars of the zodiac but explicitly includes all the *non-zodiacal* constellations (e.g., July 22, 1922, GA 213). On the other hand, he relates the zodiac specifically to the *animal* world (as the etymology of the word 'zodiac' also suggests).

3) Steiner speaks of the Moon in exactly the opposite way from Thun. For Thun, the forces of a given constellation are *transmitted* when the Moon is in front of it ("Work on the Land," p. 65). For Steiner, the Moon is like a mirror; it *reflects* what is in front of it, but it *blocks out* what is behind it. Thus, on the one hand, he says, "The Moon reflects everything that comes toward it. In a certain sense, the whole starry heavens are reflected by the Moon and stream toward the Earth" ("Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture," p. 117). On the other hand, in a lecture about a month earlier, Steiner explains: "The Lion is a constellation in the zodiac and it has a certain influence on the human being. When the Moon stands in front of the Lion, however, it does not have this influence; then the human being is free from the influence of the Lion, the Lion's influence does not affect him" (May 17, 1924, in "From Beetroot to Buddhism"). In other words, any effects that occur at this time are due to the *absence* of the influence of the constellation of the Lion."