I can hear her shaky voice like it was yesterday, “You need to get your taters in the ground tomorrow, ’cause the signs is right’.”
The last “Granny Woman” of our family, my ‘Mamaw’ served as a wealth of knowledge for most everything we encountered in our West Virginia community, and in the springtime, folks from all over the holler would seek her advice regarding when to plant their gardens. She was a firm believer in “planting by the signs”.
Described as devilish by some and extolled by others; I never truly understood what any of it meant until long after she was gone, but as I age, I find myself becoming more and more fascinated by the complex astrological system she relied upon for the better part of a century.
Today, most everyone who plants a garden does so as a mere hobby or at the very most in an effort to supplement their grocery store purchases; however, 150 years ago, a successful garden was often the difference between surviving the winter and starving to death.
As a result, the folks “back in the day” took a far more serious approach to planting and the moon’s phases helped to serve as a guide to improve their chances of a successful garden.
“And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years… And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” — Genesis 1.14, 16
In its simplest of forms, “planting by the signs” means that you plant crops that will produce their fruits above the ground during the waxing moon (the time between a new moon and a full moon — when the moon is getting bigger), while plants that produce their crop below the ground must be planted during a waning moon (the time between a full moon and a new moon — when the moon is shrinking).
Lori Elliott, writes, “Many old-time farmers also planted and harvested by the astrological signs. Barren signs, such as Aquarius, Gemini, and Leo, would have been considered ideal times for plowing and cultivating the soil, while fertile signs such as Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces would have been considered the best times for planting seeds.”
Old timers lived by these signs for centuries, but the one question remains: is there any science to back up their traditions? And that’s the million dollar question!
25 years ago, the New York Times set out to determine if planting by the full moon was a bright idea or lunacy; unfortunately, they were not able to reach any definitive conclusion.
Scientists at NASA stated that planting by the moon was pure “mythology” and nothing more; however, Dr. Mac Cathey Ph.D. in plant physiology, told the Times that his grandmother gardened by the signs in North Carolina. “And she was a tremendous gardener… But all our high-germinating seeds and pesticides have damped out our ability to read the signs… It’s like music. We can’t sight-read anymore.”
Regardless of whether you’re a believer or not, chances are the folks in your family tree religiously planted by the signs only a few generations ago. Do you like articles like this? If so, click here to learn more about receiving a year’s subscription of the print edition of Appalachian Magazine!
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