East Tennessee History: Signs – Part 2
Published 2:10 pm Monday, September 14, 2020
I have lived long enough to understand that often the old ways are the best ways, and the past has a lot to teach us, especially if we are willing to listen.
Take farming as an example. Generations of settlers who have called these mountains home have turned to farming as a way to put food on the table. They have learned that certain foods grow well here while others don’t grow at all.
The first settlers learned that crops such as corn grew well here. It is a crop that doesn’t need perfect soil to grow, and it can be a cash crop for the settlers.
Settlers discovered early that they could make more money from corn when they put it into liquid form than if they tried to sell it still on the cob. Thus, we became well known for our moonshine.
These same farmers relied heavily on the signs in nature and especially the moon for planting and harvesting their crops. Some of these were pure superstition while others were based on scientific facts.
The main signs they used for planting and harvesting their crops were the signs of the Zodiac. They reasoned that these signs affect everything in nature, including tides and animal behavior, why would they not affect their crops?
There are 12 signs of the Zodiac and each of these are associated with four elements of nature: earth, air, fire and water. Each month the moon passes through all four of these elements and certain signs are associated with each of these elements.
Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn are considered earth signs. Gemini, Libra and Aquarius are air signs. Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces are water signs. Finally, Aires, Leo and Sagittarius are all fire signs.
There is some scientific evidence to all of this. An astronomer named Ptolemy was the first to relate celestial events in the weather, tides and seasons during the 2nd century.
By the 16th century, almanacs were being published charting these signs, and farmers were following them religiously. By the time of Ben Franklin, who wrote an almanac titled Poor Richard’s Almanac, almanacs were selling so well they were only second to the Bible in total sales.
According to old-timers, the best planting times are when the Zodiac signs are Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus and Cancer. Air and Fire signs are considered barren, a time to stop planting and concentrate on weeding and pruning the plants. Libra is an exception to this rule, and it is considered fertile and good for planting blooming herbs, flowers, tubers, roots and vines.
Prune trees during a fire sign, and weed in the sign of Leo so seeds won’t sprout. Harvest in the moon’s fourth-quarter fire sign to preserve fruit and vegetables for storage.
Root crops, such as carrots, turnips and potatoes, produce the best when planted during Capricorn. Above ground crops such as flowers and vegetables are best planted when the moon is in Cancer. Finally, never, ever, plant on Sunday regardless of its sign. It is considered a barren day and is not suitable for planting or harvesting.
Planting and harvesting by the signs go back for centuries, and our ancestors trusted them with their very lives. If their crops failed, they would have little to eat and would go hungry through the long winters in the mountains.
We can learn a great deal from what these farmers had to teach us because their wisdom has truly passed the test of time and is just as valuable today as it was 300 years ago.