There is a world I had forgotten. Beyond snow and ice, frigid temperatures and howling wind. That world has been slowly slipping into this one, and over my winter-ravaged spirit, thawing even the most cold-bitten parts of me. The vernal equinox arrived in the northern hemisphere four weeks ago heralding a bright new season, but the warmth of spring has taken its time settling in. The sun that lights up our valley shares space with fast-moving clouds, cold rain, and blustery winds. The eternal early-spring dance twirls on.
Spring rain coaxes out a different perfume from the earth than autumn rain does. The last time my valley was blessed with precipitation that wasn't snow, it was late November and the land had concluded its sickly-sweet dance of dying and rot, putting that haunting season to bed barren and still. The rain returned at the dawn of this month and the earth is rising to meet it, flushing with the sharp medicinal bouquet of greens and yellows. The buds on the trees are growing fat (and in a very few instances, popping open), and the grasses are pushing up from under last year's leaf compost. This is not the sugary scent of spring bulbs and blossoms - that will come soon. This is the hint of ginger and citrus, the pleasant balm of sunlight-awakened earth, that is the first welcome home sign of spring's return.
I am still stirring from my long winter's slumber, stretching and yawning. I've begun walking with my umbrella by the river as the Canada geese pair off and gorge themselves on the new grass on the path. The sheep have lambed at the small farm beneath the hill and the little ones race around their mothers. Crows soar past carrying nesting material in their beaks. The last of the snow melted away from the shadowy corners of my yard only two weeks ago, and now I'm keenly aware of how much work I have in order to clean up all the garden beds for the new growing year. It will move fast now that the cold season has finally loosed its grip.
This year I am making more of an effort to watch the moon and charting the astrological signs so I might put the age-old wisdom of well-timed planting to good use. I have my trusty Old Farmer's Almanac and a journal to mark this year's experiments, successes, and inevitable failures. My peas and lettuces went into the ground under the waxing moon in Cancer last Friday, and I'm hoping to get some spring flowers in today or tomorrow while the moon is lingering in Libra. (I've long planted under the particular moon phases, but I've never been especially vigilant about planting under specific signs.)
If you too want to give your crops a leg up, why not try to correspond your planting and tending to the moon's movement through the constellations? Here's a quick and easy list for reference, or you can always pop over to the Farmer's Almanac site and check in on their moon planting calendar each month.
ARIES (head & face): Dry and barren. Never plant. Best sign for plowing, tilling and cultivating.
TAURUS (neck): Earthy and moist. Plant here to withstand a drought. Excellent for root crops and okay for crops above the ground and flowers.
GEMINI (arms): Airy, dry and barren. Destroy weeds, kill trees and prepare soil.
CANCER (breast): Watery and very fruitful. Plant here to withstand a drought. Excellent for above and below-ground crops. Time to graft.
LEO (head): Fiery, dry and barren. Never plant; destroy weeds, kill trees and prepare soil.
VIRGO (bowels): Earthy, dry and barren. Destroy weeds, kill trees and prepare soil.
LIBRA (balance): Airy, moist and semi fruitful. Excellent for flowers (beauty) and okay for above-ground crops.
SCORPIO (loins): Watery and fruitful. Excellent for above ground crops and flowers. Okay for below-ground crops. Time to graft.
SAGITTARIUS (thighs): Fiery, dry, and barren. Destroy weeds and kill trees.
CAPRICORN (knees): Earthy, moist and productive. Good for root crops and okay for above ground crops. Root cuttings and make grafts.
AQUARIUS (legs): Airy, dry and barren. Destroy weeds and kill trees.
PISCES (feet): Watery and fruitful. Plant here to withstand a drought. Excellent for below ground crops and okay for above ground crops. Root cuttings and make grafts.
If charting the moon's course isn't enough magic for you, there are a variety of folk charms, historical customs, or familial traditions that you can employ while preparing your gardens for the new growing season.
* Ask the elders around you what practices were their favourites for successful growing. My 86 year old friend swears that you must bury a fish beneath your tomatoes and pumpkins for the best possible harvest (I prefer to use a good quality fish fertilizer).
* If you created a corn or wheat dolly last summer or autumn you can put it to bed in the garden or field now to re-plant the spirit of that fetish back in to the earth. Some folks will burn or bury their dolly upon creating a new one each year. You may have your own charms or magics to tuck in your garden as the growing season begins. Perhaps you've written out petitions of things you'd like to come to you slow and steady as the spring progresses, or you may bury a coin or two with the beans in the hopes of 'growing' your bank account.
Wildlife-safe, biodegradable or retrievable offerings to the land can be made at the start of your growing season and/or throughout the year. I routinely share local wine with my gardens and their good spirits, and chocolate-free cookies or cake make their way into a specific corner of the perennial garden to keep myself on the sweeter side of the mischievous creatures that wander by that shade-dappled place full of strange, flickering lights in the dark, and odd volunteer plants.
* There are a number of seed-sowing charms and songs. The Consecration of the Seed from the Carmina Gadelica is a beautiful example. Children's gardening songs are easily found - often creatively crafted to the tunes of older songs a child has learned. I create my own as I move through each variety I'm planting. It's a delightful trance to be in, singing or chanting to the seeds as you tuck them into the earth, wishing them fruition.
The old saying "one for the rook and one for the crow, one to die and one to grow" has many incarnations and is found all over North America and abroad. Being generous with your seeding was wise as it meant more chance of germination, especially when planting seeds near the surface of the earth where hungry critters could nibble them up. In a similar bent, "two for the devil and one for the garden" speaks to successive sowings of plants that might be finicky about sprouting. Sometimes this is temperature related (sowing too early) or might be a result of sub-par seed stock, or simply a crop that takes its sweet time germinating.
* Special days, hours, or time markers that have meaning can be worked into your planting rituals. In different regions, towns, or even spiritual communities there are sometimes special days/times that signal optimal planting opportunities. Perhaps you always plant a certain flower or herb on a beloved's birthday. In my valley we consider the May holiday weekend the safe-zone to begin planting crops that are less cold-hardy. Good Friday was once considered a beneficial day to plant as the devil was thought to be powerless on this date. (Of course, this is going to depend on your climate.)
Sowing above-ground crops as the day dawns or as the hands on the clock work their way up (from 6 to 12) might be how you symbolize your wish for the plants to grow tall and strong, and planting root crops in the waning hours of the day or when the clock hands are moving downward may bring to mind healthy tubers reaching deep into the earth.
However you bless or begin to plant this year's gardens or patio pots or wee windowsill terrariums, I am wishing you the utmost joy as you step into spring and the blossoming year!
Sweet month thy pleasures bids thee be
The fairest child of spring
And every hour that comes with thee
Comes some new joy to bring
The trees still deepen in their bloom
Grass greens the meadow lands
And flowers with every morning come
As dropt by fairey hands
- John Clare, The Shepherd's Calendar, "April"