Thursday, March 11, 2010

You're Planting WHAT, WHEN??

I thought I got a lot of weird looks when I told people I like to weave, spin and cook over a fire. Turns out, I get even weirder looks when I tell them I'm planting by the signs this year. "You're doing WHAT?" they say.

First of all, I need you to understand that I've been gardening since I was a kid. I spent much of my childhood on my grandparents' small family farm and my parents always had a big garden in the suburbs. Once I was grown and on my own, I gardened in containers on apartment balconies and then in the yards of the various houses I've lived in. Vegetables, herbs, flowers, you name it. I feel naked without a garden. But my gardening hasn't always been uniformly successful.
For some reason I've been unable to fathom, my gardening has always returned mixed results. Sure, something does really great every year. My freezer is still half-full of the green beans and tomatoes that grew like wildfire last summer. But no pumpkin in that freezer, because the pie pumpkins absolutely failed to produce a single fruit. And some of the marigolds came up like crazy, while another planting of them petered out to nothing. One year the corn grew 14 feet tall (really, I have photographic evidence) and other years it stopped at 5 feet and hardly produced a thing.

I do all the right stuff - organically amended soil, plenty of water from a rainwater catchment system, garden beds situated for optimum sun - so I tried to figure out what was missing. And I started thinking back to my childhood, those days on the farm with my grandparents. They always had a calendar on the wall of the living room. It was a freebie given out by the local feed store during the holidays every year. It had all the usual info - dates, holidays, moon phases. But it had something else as well: the zodiac sign the moon was in each day. My grandparents used this information to time the planting of their seeds, both for cash crops and for the family garden. They swore by it.

As a child I never did quite understand my grandmother's explanations about planting by the signs. Then as I grew older and began to study esoteric subjects, I questioned the accuracy of modern tropical astrology. After all, it's frozen in time, based on the positions of the planets thousands of years ago when the sun did indeed rise in the constellation of Aries on the Vernal Equinox. I've found sidereal astrology (based on the current, correct positions of the planets) to be astonishingly accurate but hard to come by. And what about this moon sign issue - how might it affect my gardening?
 My grandparents were hardworking and, as is so often the case with small family farmers, never particularly well-off as far as cash was concerned. But by golly, their crops always did well. Sure, there was the occasional late frost or insect infestation, but as far as the stuff actually growing vigorously and producing copiously, you could count on it. When I asked my grandmother about her gardening success she always credited planting by the signs.

So I did some research. Hauled out my Old Farmer's Almanac and my Foxfire books. Noted all the correct signs for planting each different kind of herb, flower and food crop. Checked the ephemeris and figured out dates for each type of seed. So I now have a date book of sorts, a list of days I'm obligated to go out into the garden and plant things, regardless of the weather. I still remember Grandmother fussing about having to plant in a storm, because it was the right day for it.

And we'll see how the garden turns out. Maybe it won't make a difference. Or maybe I'll have more uniform success. I've already planted broccoli, broccoli raab, English peas and leeks. Next weekend I'll start the carrots, then a few days later the lettuce, spinach and coriander. I'll let you know how it turns out. If it's a success, would you like a few zucchinis and tomatoes in about July or so?