Farming and Gardening
for Health or Disease
(The Soil and Health)


Sir Albert Howard, C.I.E., M.A.

Honorary Fellow of the Imperial College of Science,
Formerly Director of the Institute of Plant Industry,
Indore, and Agricultural Adviser to States
in Central India and Rajputana

assisted by
Louise E. Howard

Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square London

First published in Mcmxlv
by Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square London W.C.I
Printed in Great Britain by
Latimer Trend & Co Ltd Plymouth
All rights reserved


The earth's green carpet is the sole source of the food consumed by livestock and mankind. It also furnishes many of the raw materials needed by our factories. The consequence of abusing one of our greatest possessions is disease. This is the punishment meted out by Mother Earth for adopting methods of agriculture which are not in accordance with Nature's law of return. We can begin to reverse this adverse verdict and transform disease into health by the proper use of the green carpet -- by the faithful return to the soil of all available vegetable, animal, and human wastes.

The purpose of this book is threefold: to emphasize the importance of solar energy and the vegetable kingdom in human affairs; to record my own observations and reflections, which have accumulated during some forty-five years, on the occurrence and prevention of disease; to establish the thesis that most of this disease can be traced to an impoverished soil, which then leads to imperfectly synthesized protein in the green leaf and finally to the breakdown of those protective arrangements which Nature has designed for us.

During the course of the campaign for the reform of agriculture, now in active progress all over the world, I have not hesitated to question the soundness of present-day agricultural teaching and research -- due to failure to realize that the problems of the farm and garden are biological rather than chemical. It follows, therefore, that the foundations on which the artificial manure and poison spray industries are based are also unsound. As a result of this onslaught, what has been described as the war in the soil has broken out in many countries and continues to spread. The first of the great battles now being fought began in South Africa some ten years ago and has ended in a clear-cut victory for organic farming. In New Zealand the struggle closely follows the course of the South African conflict. The contest in Great Britain and the United States of America has only now emerged from the initial phase of reconnaissance, in the course of which the manifold weaknesses of the fortress to be stormed have been discovered and laid bare.

I am indebted to some hundreds of correspondents all over the world for sending me reports of the observations, experiments, and results which have followed the faithful adoption of Nature's great law of return. Some of this information is embodied and acknowledged in the pages of this book. A great deal still remains to be summarized and reduced to order -- a labour which I hope soon to begin. When it is completed, a vast mass of material will be available which will confirm and extend what is to be found in these pages. Meanwhile a portion of this evidence is being recorded by Dr. Lionel J. Picton, O.B.E., in the News-Letter on Compost issued three times a year by the County Palatine of Chester Local Medical and Panel Committees at Holmes Chapel, Cheshire. By this means the story begun in their Medical Testament of 1939 is being continued and the pioneers of organic farming and gardening are kept in touch with events.

The fourth chapter on "The Maintenance of Soil Fertility in Great Britain" is very largely based on the labours of a friend and former colleague, the late Mr. George Clarke, C.I.E., who, a few days before his untimely death in May 1944, sent me the results of his study of the various authorities on the Saxon Conquest, the evolution of the manor, the changes it underwent as the result of the Domesday Book, and the enthronement of the Feudal System till the decay of the open-field system and its replacement by enclosure.

The spectacular progress in organic farming and gardening which has taken place in South Africa and Rhodesia during the last few years owes much to the work of Captain Moubray, Mr. J. P. J. van Vuren, and Mr. G. C. Dymond, who have very generously placed their results at my disposal. Captain Moubray and Mr. van Vuren have contributed two valuable appendices, while Mr. Dymond's pioneering work on virus disease in the cane and on composting at the Springfield Sugar Estate in Natal has been embodied in the text. For the details relating to the breakdown of the cacao industry in Trinidad and on the Gold Coast and for a number of other suggestions on African and West Indian agriculture I am indebted to Dr. H. Martin Leake, formerly Principal of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad.

I have been kept in constant touch with the progress of organic farming and gardening in the United States of America by Mr. J. I. Rodale of Emmaus, Pa., the editor of Organic Gardening, who has started a movement in the New World which promises soon to become an avalanche. Mr. Rodale was the prime mover in bringing out the first American edition of An Agricultural Testament and is responsible for the simultaneous publication of this present book in the United States and of a special American issue of Lady Eve Balfour's stimulating work -- The Living Soil.

In India I have made full use of the experience of Colonel Sir Edward Hearle Cole, C.B., C.M.G., on the Coleyana Estate in the Punjab, and of Mr. E. F. Watson's work on the composting of water hyacinth at Barrackpore. Messrs. Walter Duncan & Company have generously permitted Mr. J. C. Watson to contribute an appendix on the remarkable results he has obtained on the Gandrapara Tea Estate in North Bengal. In this fine property India and the rest of the Empire possess a perfect example of the way Nature's law of return should be obeyed and of what freshly prepared humus by itself can achieve.

I owe much to a number of the active members of the New Zealand Compost Club, and in particular to its former Honorary Secretary, Mr. T. W. M. Ashby, who have kept me fully informed of the results obtained by this vigorous association. The nutritional results obtained by Dr. G. B. Chapman, the President, at the Mount Albert Grammar School, which show how profoundly the fresh produce of fertile soil influences the health of schoolboys, have been of the greatest use. In Eire the Rev. C. W. Sowby, Warden of the College of St. Columba, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, and the Rev. W. S. Airy, Head Master of St. Martin's School, Sidmouth, have placed at my disposal the results of similar work at their respective schools. These pioneering efforts are certain to be copied and to be developed far and wide. Similar ideas are now being applied to factory canteen meals in Great Britain with great success, as will be evident from what Mr. George Wood has already accomplished at the Co-operative Wholesale Society's bacon factory at Winsford in Cheshire.

For furnishing full details of a large-scale example of successful mechanized organic farming in this country and of the great possibilities of our almost unused downlands I owe much to Mr. Friend Sykes. The story of Chantry, where the results of humus without any help from artificial manures are written on the land itself, provides a fitting conclusion to this volume.

In the heavy task of getting this book into its final shape I owe much to the care and devotion of my private secretary, Miss Ellinor Kirkham.

"The civilized nations -- Greece, Rome, England -- have been sustained by the primitive forests which anciently rotted where they stood. They survive as long as the soil is not exhausted." -- Thoreau, Walking and the Wild.

"The staple foods may not contain the same nutritive substances as in former times... Chemical fertilizers, by increasing the abundance of the crops without replacing all the exhausted elements of the soil, have indirectly contributed to change the nutritive value of cereal grains and of vegetables... Hygienists have not paid sufficient attention to the genesis of diseases. Their studies of conditions of life and diet, and of their effects on the physiological and mental state of modern man, are superficial, incomplete, and of too short duration. They have, thus, contributed to the weakening of our body and our soul." -- Alexis Carrel, Man the Unknown.

The preservation of fertility is the first duty of all that live by the land... There is only one rule of good husbandry -- leave the land far better than you found it." -- George Henderson, The Farming Ladder.



1. Introduction
An Adventure in Research

Part I. The Part Played by Soil Fertility in Agriculture

2. The Operations of Nature
The Life of the Plant
The Living Soil
The Significance of Humus
The Importance of Minerals

3. Systems of Agriculture
Primitive Forms of Agriculture
Shifting Cultivation
The Harnessing of the Nile
Staircase Cultivation
The Agriculture of China
The Agriculture of Greece and Rome
Farming in the Middle Ages

4. The Maintenance of Soil Fertility in Great Britain
The Roman Occupation
The Saxon Conquest
The Open-Field System
The Depreciation of Soil Fertility
The Low Yield of Wheat
The Black Death
The Industrial Revolution and Soil Fertility
The Great Depression of 1879
The Second World War

5. Industrialism and the Profit Motive
The Exploitation of Virgin Soil
The Profit Motive
The Consequence of Soil Exploitation
The Easy Transfer of Fertility
The Road Farming Has Travelled

6. The Intrusion of Science
The Origin of Artificial Manures
The Advent of the Laboratory Hermit
The Unsoundness of Rothamsted
Artificials during the Two World Wars
The Shortcomings of Present-day Agricultural Research

Part II. Disease in Present-Day Farming and Gardening

7. Some Diseases of the Soil
Soil Erosion
The Formation of Alkali Land

8. The Diseases of Crops

Sugar Cane
Leguminous Crops
Some Parasitic Flowering Plants

9. Disease and Health in Livestock
Foot-and-Mouth Disease
Soil Fertility and Disease
Concentrates and Contagious Abortion
Selective Feeding by Instinct
Herbs and Livestock
The Maintenance of Our Breeds of Poultry

10. Soil Fertility and Human Health

11. The Nature of Disease

Part III. The Problem of Manuring

12. Origins and Scope of the Problem
The Phosphate Problem and Its Solution
The Reform of the Manure Heap
Sheet-Composting and Nitrogen Fixation
The Utilization of Town Wastes

13. The Indore Process and Its Reception by the Farming and Gardening Worlds
Some Practical Points
The New Zealand Compost Box
The Spread of the Indore Process in the Farming and Plantation Worlds
- South Africa
- Rhodesia
- Malaya
- India
- New Zealand
- The United States of America
- Great Britain

14. The Reception of the Indore Process by the Scientists

Part IV. Conclusions and Suggestions

15. A Final Survey


A. Progress Made on a Tea Estate in North Bengal
B. Compost Making in Rhodesia
C. The Utilization of Municipal Wastes in South Africa
D. Farming for Profit on a 750-Acre Farm in Wiltshire with Organic Manures as the Sole Medium of Refertilization

Next: 1. Introduction

To Albert Howard review and index

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