Recently, a local news channel that reported a story about garden and weather folklore.
The interesting program got me to thinking about how the “old-timers” used seeds, insects, acorns and certain phases of the moon to predict optimum planting schedules and weather forecasts. Fascinating! Could there really be any merit to their observations and predictions for future occurrences in nature?
I did some of my own research on the subject and found out some wonderful garden and weather folklore.
Gardening folklore does have some scientific roots. The old-time farmers based their experience on seasonal changes that correlate with animal behavior and plant growth. This type of knowledge is based on what is called phenology, the relationship between annual cycles of plants and animals and how they respond to seasonal changes in the environment.
Phenology has been used for ages in gardening and agriculture for planting dates, when insects will become a problem and blooming times of plants. Modern-day plant scientists have found that this formula corresponds to a measurement called growing degree days. They take the average daily temperature in a region by adding or subtracting it to 50 F. This information is used to estimate events such as when pest controls should be used to get maximum benefit results.
The older generations have plenty of gardening advice. We sometimes do things the way our elders did before us: Parent to child, neighbor to neighbor. Some are backed up by actual events and the tips could prove to be helpful. I guess it has to do with the storyteller.
The ever popular Farmer’s Almanac endorses planting by lunar cycles and using astronomy to make their predictions. Even though the almanac does not use weather lore to make long-term forecasts for broad areas, it does take cues from nature and believes there is a strong cause-and-effect relationship between nature and weather.
Predictions by the Farmer’s Almanac have a sound mathematical and astronomical formula that has been proven to be quite accurate. So accurate that the formula is kept locked away somewhere in Maine!
How about planting by lunar cycles? Some say the moon impacts the movement of moisture in soil and plants and helps bulk up root and leaf growth in vegetables. Hmmm. Look at the gravitational pull of the moon in relation to ocean tides. Some would discount the theory, I suppose.
Plant lore can range from “planting vegetables by a waxing moon,” or split open a persimmon seed and the shape of the seeds will tell you what type of winter is expected. A knife shape means a very cold winter, a spoon shape means a lot of snow shoveling and a fork means winter will be easy and mild. In reality, when you split open the seeds they do look like eating utensils.
Other folklore includes:
- Bury nails around the roots of hydrangea to make the blooms blue.
- Anything planted on the first day of spring will live.
- Planting peppers when you are mad makes the peppers hotter.
- Tomatoes should be planted on Memorial Day.
- A ring around the moon at night means a storm is coming.
- Lightning before Christmas means snow is coming.
- My favorite: “Folks up here in the mountains claim that for every foggy morning in August, there will be a snow in the winter.”
Weather and gardening folklore apparently won’t hurt anything. It can be a conversation starter and a fun activity to share with children. I think most sound gardening practices have to do with soil health and temperature, moisture levels and fertilization.
But I can’t help but wonder when I see that caterpillar late in the fall if we are going to get a mild winter, or those fogs that we actually did have here in August mean snowfall for us this year. You decide.
Go out and purchase a recent Farmer’s Almanac. It is fun to read. Also, if you want to have some fun exploring the phenology of our region, go to the website www.attra.org, a USDA-sponsored project.
Also if you need university-researched-based information on all gardening practices, give Extension a call. We provide up-to-date accurate information on all things horticulture.
Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.