Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
For those of us who grew up on a farm in this mountain area, we were accustomed to hearing our elders discuss spring planting “by the signs.” This did not mean the normal signs of warmer days and nights, longer days and climate that might mean the danger of frost was by. “Planting by the signs” was a long-held belief in the signs of the zodiac and how these astrological characteristics helped to guarantee good yield from garden and field. What was needed was a good Almanac, such as “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” “Grier’s” or “Ladies’ Birthday Almanac,” as well as a good knowledge of what the signs meant in relationship to planting, cultivating and harvesting.
With spring in the air on some of our warm March days, we turn our thoughts to this lore that was learned from our Scots-Irish forebears and from their experience with “planting by the signs.” Also, consult any one of the above-mentioned almanacs for 2011 for a wealth of information concerning when to plant what for best yields.
The Zodiac, defined, is believed to be “a belt through the Heavens about sixteen degrees wide within which lie the paths of the Sun, Moon and principal planets” (cited from “Ladies’ Birthday Almanac,” p. 4). Divided into twelve parts, the Zodiac got its name in ancient times. Each sign is believed to be related to a part of the human body. Ancient astrologers assigned names and symbols to the signs and gave them relationships according to an assigned symbol, the body of a person and their times in the year as follows:
Aquarius, waterman, the legs, January 20-February 18;
Pisces, fishes, the feet, Feb. 18-March 20;
Aries, ram, the head and face, March 20 to April 20;
Taurus, the bull, the neck; April 20-May 22;
Gemini, twins, the arms, May 22 to June 21;
Cancer, the crab, the breast; June 21 to July 23;
Leo, the lion, the heart; July 23 to August 23;
Virgo, the Virgin, bowels (or stomach): August 23 to September 23;
Libra, a balance, the kidneys, September 23 to October 23;
Scorpio, the scorpion, the loins: October 23 to November 22;
Sagittarius, the archer, the thighs, November 22 to December 22; and
Capricorn, the goat, the knees, December 22 through January 20.
These astrological signs throughout the year are used to help plan events according to the placement of the sun, moon and planets in the twelve signs of the Zodiac.
And that brings us to another interesting observation. Within each month’s moon and sun phases, the twelve signs are active and specific. Take for example, March, 2011. Consulting the ever-popular “Old Farmer’s Almanac” for this year I note on page 122 the following signs for the dates in March: 1, 3, 29, 30 - Capricorn; 2, 4, 31, Aquarius; 5, 6, 7, 8 - Pisces; 9, 10, - Aries; 11, 12, 13 - Taurus; 14, 15 - Gemini; 16 - Cancer; 17, 18, 19 - Leo; 20, 21, 22 - Virgo; 23- Libra; 24, 25 - Scorpio; 26, 27 - Sagittarius.
Every good farmer and gardener knows, in observing these monthly “signs of the moon“ and remembers: Never, ever plant in the barren signs of Gemini, Leo and Virgo. If you want to do something productive in these signs, dig up weeds or otherwise destroy them. They will not come back readily and drown out your crops if weeded in these “barren” signs.
And remember to plant in the “New of the Moon” for best results from your crops. Those who plant by the signs avow that plants, trees and vegetables planted at the “New of the Moon” grow lushly and vigorously. When time to harvest, gather on the “Old of the Moon” for more flavor and for vegetables and fruits that store and preserve better.
Obviously, we do not plant in the mountains during all twelve months of the year. How then are these signs read and how do they become guidelines to help us know when the best time is for putting seeds in the ground? Just go by your faithful almanac! It’s worth the cost for all the “signs” spelled out for the avid gardener. And besides, you will enjoy the folklore, stories, personal testimonies, and sure-fire remedies for this and that, not only about the best time to plant and harvest, but for healthful living in general. At a time when experts were not easily available for these common concerns of an agrarian lifestyle, our ancestors worked out their own systems by the signs given in nature. Maybe they had a handle on how best to do things.
According to ancient astrologers, good times for planting are the days of Pisces (February 18 to March 20) for spring planting and early harvests. Plant in Cancer (June 21 to July 23) for summer and fall harvests. Then, in warmer climates when you plant some hardy crops for winter growth, the time to plant is Scorpio, from October 23 through November 22.
I wish I had listened more to my father, a master farmer, the first in Union County to grow 100 bushels of corn on an acre back in the mid-twentieth century. He “went by the signs“ for his planting. And always he put great store in planting on Good Friday. Since it comes this year on April 22, most of the danger of frost should be past.
Good gardening and farming to you!
c2011by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 10, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian. She may be reached at e-mail email@example.com; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]