Archive for March, 2018

3. February 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

Gardeners still follow the Quarter Days, from Imbolc to Lady Day to Beltaine and Midsummer, each observance marking a task—planning to seed starting to planting to the first harvest.

02- (3) FebruaryMidsummer Day is the first Quarter Day of the harvest season—the summer Solstice, when the sun lined up with the temple doors, and farmers sold the yearling foals and colts. Greens and peas are done, and the beans and fall squash can be planted. It’s followed by the August 1 cross quarter day, Lammas, Lughnasadha, or the Loaf Mass, when the first wheat harvest is sent to the mill, and the abundance of the garden becomes almost oppressive as the goddess is at her most ascendant. In the U.S. Lammas is celebrated as Labor Day. It wasn’t moved there from May Day to honor the farmers at the heart of our mythos, but it’s appropriate all the same. The ancient holidays have an inescapable wisdom.

Michaelmas near the end of September marks the fall Equinox, when you plant the bulbs and winter cover crops, and the Michaelmas daisies (chrysanthemums) bloom. It marks the Archangel’s triumph of the Light over the Dark, just as the days get short and the nights long.

02- (3a) FebruaryThen All Hallows and All Saints, Samhain, the ancient celebration of the New Year. There’s a holiday that still celebrates the end of fall as the new year – Rosh Hashana. The Jews celebrate the new year, then atone for their transgressions. Christians honor those passed and appease them with sweets, celebrating the mass for the dead; but those who celebrate Samhain know that this is when the veil is thinnest and the dead try to insist they are still part of the world. Just ask Buffy. Bring in the final harvest, preserve the last of the squash, tomatoes, herbs, fall fruits, and cucumbers, plant your winter cover crops and give a feast of thanks with family.

At All Hallows, farmers allow the itinerant to glean the fields, clearing them for the spring planting to come. This story makes it into the Bible, when Ruth gleans Boaz’s fields to catch his eye. Twenty generations later, the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, brought about amid the gleaning, leads to the marriage of their descendent Mary to Joseph, and the final quarter day in late December.

Marked by the Winter Solstice, the Christ-mass celebrates the pre-Christian tale of the god’s return to earth to save humankind, while the goddess freezes it in mourning for the loss of her daughter. We hang branches to remind us of the god’s journey, of the green that stands for the god that never dies, and put lights on it to remind of us of the warm sun that always comes back.

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2. February 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

02- (2a) FebruaryLike all Christian holidays, the quarter days and cross quarter days have their roots in our magical past, when the gods and spirits of the natural world lived close to waking reality.

After Candlemas, the first true quarter day is Lady Day, the Assumption, the return of the goddess from the underworld. Occurring near the March Equinox, it signals the beginning of market season. In middle climes, bulbs and onions can be planted, but in the cold north we plant them at the other equinox in the fall. Either way they get harvested at the midsummer solstice. This is how I remember garlic: it grows from the Equinox, whichever one has the friable soil, to the Summer Solstice. In our new reality of changing climate, you no longer need to plant the garlic in the fall; in fact it comes up too soon now when you plant it in the fall. Also at Lady Day you can start your warm weather seeds indoors, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

Following Lady Day is another cross quarter: May Day, Beltaine, when the lambs are born and the babies are made. (Everybody fucks at Beltaine. It’s kind of the point, and leads to babies at the year’s final quarter day or the winter Solstice.) Plant out your cool-weather starts in Zone 5, and start seeds indoors for fall crops like squash so that they’re ready to plant after Midsummer’s Day, when the moths that lay eggs in them have died.

In most of the world May Day is also Labor Day, or International Workers’ Day, chosen because of the unrelated confluence of the existing, ancient spring rite and the Chicago Haymarket Riots. The conservative U.S., always more hostile to the needs (as opposed to the romance) of actual workers, moved Labor Day to September to sever the association with the actual labor movement.

02- (2) FebruaryIn Zone 5 the “frost date” falls between May Day and Midsummer, and northern gardeners mark it by planting out the tomato and pepper seedlings they’ve been growing inside. I suppose it’s a cross-cross quarter day.

As I wrote this in the deep midwinter, a friend who was moving brought me currant and gooseberry bushes to stage in the Breezeway, and I started lettuce seeds in my basement, with heating mats and grow lights.

A little bit of May Day in the house.


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1: February 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

When society was agrarian “quarter day” meant payday, servants hired, school starts, rent due.

The first such calendar marker is February 2, although it is actually a “cross quarter” day, or the day midway between quarter days. It marks the slow return to Spring. The servants and the children would get a new dress or trousers and a pair of shoes, and the farm manager planned out the year’s planting and harvest, and hired his workers. In the Church the second of February is Candlemas and the Feast of St. Brigid; among the standing stones Imbolc, also dedicated to the goddess Brigid. The secular society calls it Groundhog Day, but the impulse is the same: to bless the light and look for signs of spring; to honor the lower-case gods of late winter. It’s the earliest day for starting seeds indoors—cool weather crops and summer flowers.

In my new house, I marked the day by gathering my scavenged plants in unseasonal warmth, staging them in the Breezeway. We went into the month with the longest snow-free stretch since they started keeping records. Despite the spring-like warmth, the plants stayed dormant, an uncomfortable disconnect. It looked like winter, but it felt like spring. At the end of the month we had 8 days in a row with temperatures 20 to 40 degrees above normal. I went out one evening around 8 in a t-shirt with no sweater, which I’d taken off because I was walking and I got hot. In February. In Chicago.

My November-planted crocus bulbs did not emerge. This marker of imminent spring is important, not just to gardeners, but to anyone walking past a garden. We know intellectually that spring is coming, just ask the groundhog, but viscerally northerners always think (don’t deny it) that this is the winter that will not end after all. The crocuses and the snow drops tell us, “don’t be silly.”

But this year, they stayed where they were, mistrusting the mixed up signals of winter sun and April warmth.

02- (1) February

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