The traditions & adages that guided our pioneers on when it’s planting time

By MARY WEAVER

RIPPEY, Iowa, April 23, 2019 — Finally spring has come following the extremely long and rugged winter. It is time to think about our gardens.

Knowing when to plant is tricky and very weather-dependent, but to our early Greene County ancestors and pioneers, a garden was the source of 80 percent of the food eaten by the family. The gardens provided not only food, but some herbs that were used as medicines, fragrances and dyes. It was important the garden be successful for the family to survive, as there was no Fareway or Hy-Vee available to them.

Mary Weaver ProfileGardens were usually the responsibility of the woman of the household, though much of the labor was provided by her children. The garden was usually within steps of the kitchen door, and was usually fenced in to protect the plantings from the raccoons, rabbits and other animals living in the wild.

I recall from my younger years that my family always planted the seed potatoes on Good Friday. A little research provides an interesting fact; potatoes, when they were introduced into the European countries in the 1600’s were believed to be evil. They were planted on Good Friday and sprinkled with Holy Water to ward off the effects of “poison” and the “evil” ascribed to the potatoes.

As I was growing up on the farm, we had a hired hand that used to assist my mother with her gardening. The hired hand believed in planting by the moon signs, and used the Farmer’s Almanac to guide him in all his planting decisions. He did not profess to know why certain things were planted at certain times, but never the less was a firm believer.

We know the moon controls the tides, as the tides are highest during a new moon and a full moon. Those that abide by moon planting believe that a waxing moon (when it is growing to show more light) allows the seed to absorb more water, and that time should be used for above-ground plantings such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage. Root crops such as potatoes, radishes, turnips and carrots, grow most successfully during a waning moon (when it is diminishing its illumination).

I had a dear friend who had an amazing and prolific garden in a very small space. She always reminded me to plant the potatoes “with the eyes up” so they could “see better.” The scientific thesis is that the eyes produce the sprouts, and if they are planted upward, it’s easier for them to feel the warmth of the sun and break through the soil surface.

The pioneers stated you should “plant peas when the daffodils bloom,” and that corn goes in the ground when “oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.” We had a former neighbor who embellished that “size of a squirrel’s ear” tip. He said when you could sit with your uncovered butt on the soil and be comfortable, it was then time to plant the corn.

Don’t drive in the ditch looking for farmers implementing the last adage, as we know corn planting has just now started. Better to look for the oak leaves!

You can comment on this story in the space below here, or write directly to the columnist by email at mweaver235@gmail.com. The author, who lives outside Rippey, is an active member of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.

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