At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
TwoInTents Blog
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Star watching for farmers

Look to the skies just before sunrise and you’ll see something interesting: the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter appear to be in a line!  Though not actually in alignment, our perspective from Earth makes them appear so, but it is a good time to consider that in ancient times, people would look to the stars for an understanding of what to do in their agriculture.  It came naturally, as farmers used the light of the moon to get a few more hours of work done at night.

Though more recently, religious groups have claimed that stars and planets exert influences on our crops here on earth through their “energies,” in ancient times, the farmers would watch the stars to get a better idea of what time of year it actually was.  You see, the modern calendar and all its conveniences was not available then, and sometimes June would be in the middle of the winter, and November would be in the warmest part of the year.  It took the ancients a long time to perfect a solar calendar that actually worked.  Until they did, they relied on the stars to know the season.

The Dog Star, Sirius, was a good indicator that summertime was at its peak.  With the rising of Sirius, farmers would prepare to harvest potatoes and other heat sensitive crops, cease tilling, bring water to their fields, and otherwise bunker down for extreme heat.  By counting the moons, they knew when it was likely to be safe from frost to plant.  Each star and planet had its season.

The farmer LJ Columella was the first to describe an agrarian calendar based on stars and planets.  His work, On Agriculture, is still used by many farmers today even though we now have a reliable solar calendar to tell us the months and seasons. 

As superstition was gained after the age of reason, people began to become confused: did the stars cause the seasons, or did they simply mark the changes of the seasons?  The mythology associated with the stars and planets began to influence people, and new religions based on the ancient worship of the numerous deities that the ancients worshiped arose.  Permaculture is one such modern system that advocates utilizing planetary energies to improve harvests, but even Columella, who worshiped Mars thousands of years before Permaculture was ever considered, would tell you that the stars don’t tell you what to do: your knowledge that the stars are regular in their rising and setting against the passage of the seasons lets you anticipate seasonal trends in weather.

Today, farmers still work late by the light of the moon and still enjoy star watching, but now farmers enjoy starwatching for the joy of it, because they can look at a calendar to know what needs done at any given time.  But one of the greatest parts of that joy is remembering the days before the solar calendar and using the stars and moons to help in your farming.

 
 
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