Moon Signs

As I was leaving our local farm store/coop recently a woman who works there called out to me, “Mr. Guerrant!  We have the Almanac calendar.  This will help you with your planting.”  And she handed me the 2014 Farmer’s Almanac calendar.

The Farmers Almanac is a truly amazing thing.  It almost defies description.  Those of you who are familiar with it will know what I mean.  The most amazing thing about it, to me, is how seriously farmers have traditionally regarded it.  My Grandpa consulted it daily (even though he already had much of the wisdom in its head).

So what does the Almanac have to say about planting?  Here’s a taste:

The best planting time is in the sign of Cancer, the second best is in the sign of the Scorpion and the third best is in the sign of the Fishes.  However, the best time to plant crops which grow underground is in the sign of the “feet.”  The sign of the “knee” is also a good growing sign.  But seeds planted in the sign of the “head” will grow to stock and vine.

The seeds for all root crops will do well when planted during the dark of the moon and in the sign of the “lower part of the body.”  Plant seeds when the moon is full and they will not do well.  Cucumbers will be more plentiful when planted in the sign of Gemini.

Plant cabbage in the sign of the head and beans in the sign of the arms.  The dark of the moon is the best for planting onions and potatoes.  Corn should be planted when the moon is full.  If you plant corn when the signs are in the heart, black spots could appear on the grain.  Never plant in the sign of the bowels for your seeds will rot.

And so on.

For those who are wondering, the body parts relate to zodiac signs.  The feet are in Pisces (or “The Fishes”), the knee is in Capricorn (“Goat”), etc.  For ease of reference the calendar identifies what zodiac sign the moon is passing through every day.  For example for May 1 (the day I usually try to plant beans and melons), the Almanac calendar says the moon is in Gemini (“arms”).  It cautions, “Any seed planted now will tend to rot.”  On the 3rd, the moon will be in Cancer (“breast”).  This day, the calendar says, is “most favorable for planting corn, cotton, okra, beans, eggplant and other above ground crops.”  Whether the moon is “running low” or “running high” (waxing or waning crescents) is also relevant.  It can be complicated, which is of course one of the advantages of having the Almanac.

Farming by moon signs is dying out these days.  I’ve never farmed that way.  There are still folks around here who do it; old-timers for the most part, but also some younger people who have preserved the tradition.  An elderly neighbor who still gardens takes not only the phases of the moon into account, but also the time of day.  He insists, for example, that melons must be planted before sunrise.  Another farmer I know, who is younger than me, times the planting of her squash by the phase of the moon and she says she has less trouble with squash bugs than her neighbors.

In traditional farming moon signs mattered for other things as well.  The moon signs determine the best and worst time for slaughtering animals for example.  Moon signs also reveal the best and worst days for fishing.

Many of these traditional practices are being kept alive by biodynamic farmers.  I have a friend who swears by biodynamic practices.

Farming by signs goes far beyond moonsigns and astrology of course.  It includes timing farm activities around what nature is doing, rather than just the date on a solar calendar.  Older farmers here, for example, might say to plant a certain crop “when the dogwoods bloom,” or “when the oak leaves are as wide as your hand.”

And of course there are traditions based on solar calendar dates (planting Irish potatoes on St. Patrick’s day or planting garlic on Columbus Day, for example) and other traditions based on the lunar calendar, but unrelated to specific moon signs (such as the common tradition here to plant one’s garden on Good Friday).

I wish I’d paid more attention to the way my grandfather followed these practices. Some of his superstitions I remember well (“Never start a job on Friday,” for example), but most I’ve forgotten.

Maybe in 2014 I’ll experiment some with taking moon signs into account.

Our farming ancestors have consulted the moon and stars for thousands of years.  It would be a pity, I think, for that practice to die out completely.