The Signs are in the Knees

Vegetable gardening is a challenge in Texas (at least for me), because there are such long, hot summers to contend with.  The best time for planting can easily pass by, and you find yourself outside on a baking hot day, with weeds already knee-high in the beds you prepared so carefully back on those two days of cool weather in November, and the little defenseless seeds bursting open like tiny popcorn before you can get them in the ground.

But if you try to avoid that scenario by sneaking the seeds into the ground too early, a cool snap is sure to come along, holding  temperatures just below freezing,  just long enough to lay your little seedlings on the ground like melted candy.

Fortunately our little corner store hands out almanac calendars, which spell out the proper time to do all of your gardening chores, based on planting “by the signs.”

calendar page

Fishing should be good on the 13th.

The basic theory of planting by the signs is that the phases of the moon affect plants – when the moon is increasing in size, it’s a good time to plant crops that yield above ground, like lettuce, and when the moon is decreasing, it’s time to plant crops that yield below ground, like carrots.  Also, as the moon passes through the constellations of the zodiac,  the different areas of our bodies are supposed to be more sensitive.  Genesis 1:14 supposedly gives credence to this system, because it says that God created the lights in the heavens, and said, “Let them be for signs, and for seasons…”

I learned a little about planting by the signs years ago, when I worked at a historic park.  I can’t say I noticed any dramatic harvests when we tried it, but I liked learning about old folkways.  Also, I like having a system to remind me of all my gardening tasks.

I started some seeds in the shed a few weeks ago – turnips, rutabagas, yellow squash, winter squash, cucumbers.

seed packets

I have become convinced of the importance of seed saving and heirloom plants.

seed starting

Not fancy, but functional.

I was tempted to put pea and bean seeds right in the ground today, but checked the almanac first – it is the fourth quarter of the moon, so it was time to destroy noxious growth instead!  I have plenty of that available so I got to work.  The almanac says I need to wait about nine days to plant those peas and beans.

Back when I worked at the park, my husband found two old almanacs for me.

almanacs from 1823 and 1824

190 years old!

I thought I’d compare them to my current almanac.  The size has changed, but look at the picture of how the zodiac influences anatomy – the 2013 one is the same as the 1824 illustration!

side-by-side almanacs

Comparing old and new.

diagram of zodiac

2013 version

zodiac anatomy 1824

This illustration is from 1824 – I wonder how far back the original was.

almanac page

February 1824 page. I can imagine studying this by candlelight to plan the next day’s work.

I haven’t had the best success with vegetable gardening the last few summers.  In 2011, we had a drought – in 2012, I thought the drought would continue and didn’t plant much, and the weeds took over.  But I have just read Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I picked up some tips and lots of motivation, so I hope to do better this year!