Calendars Tell Ancient and Modern Farmers When to Plant

Calendars were important to agricultural people, allowing them to predict when to plant and harvest crops, or to breed their livestock. Moon calendars were first used to mark the passage of time. Planting by the moon has been practiced for thousands of years, but it is also based on the scientific fact of the gravitational pull of the moon, which draws the moisture in the earth to the surface, aiding in germination of seeds.

  • Share on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail a friend

(PRWEB) December 6, 2004

Ancient people used the natural signs that they could observe to mark the passage of time: the sun, the moon and the seasons. The changing shape of the moon was easiest for them to observe, and served as a convenient interval for marking time. The very first calendars, dating back to 25,000 BC, were notched sticks, reindeer bones, or tusks of mammoths, which counted the days between phases of the moon. It was also important to track the seasons so they would know when the weather would change for planting or harvesting, or when to expect migrating herds.

In the prehistoric caves of Lascaux, France there is a lunar calendar that shows patterns of dots, representing a way of counting the days. According to Dr. Rappenglueck of the University of Munich, there is “one dot for each day the moon is in the sky. At the new moon, when it vanishes from the sky we see an empty square, perhaps symbolically representing the absent moon. It was a rhythm of nature that was important to these people. Their survival depended on them, they were part of them.”

Calendars seemed to have three main purposes: to mark civil or government holidays, religious holidays, and agricultural and planting dates. There is, however, inherent incompatibility of the solar and lunar cycles. If not adjusted to each other, then midsummer festivals would eventually happen in winter, and harvest festivals would be in the spring. This has created some unique, and random, ways of reconciling the two.

The survival of the Egyptians depended upon knowing when the Nile would flood, which provided irrigation for their crops.

They noticed that the Dog Star, Sirius, would arise each year a few days before the floods began, and thus created a solar calendar around 4236 BC. As Egyptians observed the movement of Sirius, they realized that the year was 5 days longer than the 360-day year that had been used for hundreds of years. Ultimately the Egyptians had three different calendars in use; a civil calendar derived from the lunar months and the annual seasons, used by the government, and a lunar calendar for festivals, religious affairs and everyday life. The original lunar calendar was retained primarily for agriculture because of its agreement with the seasons.

Lunar calendars were used by Celts, Islamic and Jewish people, and in Germany, Babylonia, and China. The Aztec Priests had a 260-day lunar calendar that they used to determine the best days for sowing crops, building houses or going to war. The Mayans also used observations of the planet Venus to create their calendar.

The Greeks calculated their months by observing the Pleiades, which coincided with the harvest time. The lunar year of twelve months was correlated with the solar year by adding an extra month every other year. The Romans borrowed from the Greek method, but came up with 10 months in a year of 304 days, ignoring the 61 days that fell in mid winter. Roman priests would observe the new crescent moon and announce a new month, and this is where we get the word calendar, from their word calare—to announce or call out.

Until the time of Julius Caesar the calendar was primarily lunar. Caesar decided to reform the Roman calendar with the help of Sosigenes, a Greek-Egyptian astronomer. He ordered the Romans to disregard the moon in calculating calendars. He decreed 12 months of 30 or 31 days, except for February, which had 29 days, except for every fourth year. Caesar ruled that the year of 46 BC would have 445 days, in order to realign with the seasons, which was known as the “year of confusion”.

Native Americans kept track of days by counting from a bundle of sticks. Observation of the Moon was used for longer intervals, usually beginning with the New Moon. Most tribes counted 12 moons a year, some thirteen, with names like “Grass Moon”, “Corn Moon” or “Harvest Moon”. Years were divided into four seasons, but not by a fixed number of days.

We know that calendars were important to agricultural people, allowing them to predict when to plant and harvest crops, or to breed their livestock. One could not depend solely on observations, as an unseasonable warm spell might prompt planting too soon, and killing frost could harm tender seedlings. Although now our survival is not so dependant upon knowing when the seasons will change, many backyard gardeners want to have bragging rights about having the first fresh peas or vine ripened tomatoes. A calendar that addresses the needs of more modern farmers is the Gardening by the Moon Calendar 2005, which shows you when to plant by the phase and sign of the moon.

Planting by the moon has been practiced for thousands of years, but it is also based on the scientific fact of the gravitational pull of the moon, which draws the moisture in the earth to the surface, aiding in germination of seeds. This calendar also takes into consideration the cycle of seasons. Each month has specific plant lists that tell you when to start your seeds based on your frost-free dates (for a long, medium or short growing season). You can find out more about how lunar planting works by visiting the web site http://www.gardeningbythemoon.com This calendar, available for $12.95, is a valuable reference tool which has planting information and monthly garden activities to help you get a jump on the season.

# # #


Contact