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Signs and tales in the garden

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

Seems like only yesterday, we were dealing with the snows of April, but now we’re mowing lawns and getting ready to plant our gardens.

Planting time brings to mind the old wive’s tales about when, what, where and how to plant.

Whether there’s any scientific proof to them, and sometimes it turns out there is, it’s interesting.

How many people still honor the “old folk’s” superstitions?

It’s sometimes contradictory and often impossible to obey, but this mysterious wisdom of our ancestors is nothing to be sneezed at.

Since man first learned to grow crops, agriculture has been central to our existence.

If crops failed, it meant famine and death.

No wonder so many superstitions have, pardon the pun, “grown up” around growing things.

They may have sprung from silly old wive’s tales, or they may be based on some scientific facts, but superstitions are always fun to talk about.

Let’s start with the basics – most farmers around here know what it means to garden and farm by the signs of the moon.
If you are new to the concept, find an old-fashioned calendar or a farmer’s almanac – they make note of the moon signs for each day.

Plant seeds when the moon is in a fruitful sign – Taurus, Cancer, Libra, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces – and you will have a more bountiful harvest.

Do your digging, weeding and pest control when the moon is in the “barren” signs of the zodiac – Gemini, Leo, and Virgo.

Planting anything that grows above ground, flowers and vegetables, for instance, should be done when the moon is waxing (moving from new to full), in order to get the best results.

Root vegetables (potatoes, beets and carrots, for instance) must be planted 48 hours before the moon is officially full, but 10 days following a full moon.

Crops should be sown from north to south, never from east to west.

It is considered bad luck to plant anything on the 31st of any month.

Some gardeners say that planting flowers and plants by the light of a full moon will mean larger and more abundant flowers and fruit.

If there’s frost overnight when the moon is waxing, plants won’t be damaged.

There’s an old saying that goes: spring snow is the “poor man’s fertilizer.” And there may be truth in it, because when snow falls, it contains nitrogen from the air.

As the snow melts, the nitrogen is absorbed into the soil, rather than being washed away, as it would in the rain. This provides young plants with a little boost of natural fertilizer.

It’s time to plant beets, lettuce and peas when the first lilac leaves appear.

Plant corns, beans, and squash when the lilac blooms.

Plant corn when the apple blossoms fall, or, some say, when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.

Plant spinach, and carrots when the dandelions bloom and cabbage when the dogwood is in bloom.

But don’t plant your cabbage on Sunday, as it will be subject to suffer from pests.

For bigger, healthier pepper plants, plant some matchsticks with your peppers.

And if you like hot peppers, it’s said that shaking the plants periodically will make hot peppers grow hotter.

Tomatoes apparently love the color red.

It’s said that if you start tomato plants in red containers and tie a red bandana or a piece of red cloth to your tomato stakes when you plant them in the garden, your tomatoes will come on in bushels.

And while you’re planting tomatoes, plant some marigolds.

They are the ultimate companion for tomatoes.

Planting them among or around your tomato plants will help keep aphids away.

Some people say you should talk or sing to your plants or play music to them, to make them grow better.

There may be some foundation for this.

When we talk or sing, we do exhale carbon dioxide which plants need to grow.

There’s a superstition that says that shrubs and trees should not be planted in a leap year. If they are, they will not bear fruit except in a leap year.

Some old folks say that you can keep moles away by laying out Juicy Fruit gum or human hair.

Placing rusty nails or iron items in the garden when seeds are planted is said to help them grow.

Sunflowers in a garden are said to bring happiness and good luck.

Garlic planted in a straight row is said to ward off rabbits.

Since ancient times, basil has been thought to be a sacred plant because of its healing properties.

Whether basil’s grown in a kitchen garden, kept on the porch or the kitchen window sill, the family that keeps care of it will be blessed by good fortune.

Growing leeks in the garden is supposed to protect a house from thunder and lightning.

In matters of love, finding a lilac blossom with five petals is fortuitous.

Make a wish for your heart’s desire and immediately tuck the flower to your bosom to make the wish come true.

When hulling chestnuts, keep three intact and keep them with you at all times to ensure a year of good health.

Some plants and trees have a bad reputation.

Plants with thorns should never be kept in the house and should not be given as gifts, is it may cause a quarrel between the giver and the recipient.

Weeping willow should not be planted near the house because it brings sadness and sorrow.

It also brings an invasive root system- which may have been the origin of this superstition.

Trees whose branches grow downward should not be planted around the house, but only the trees whose branches grow upward – this is to keep the family’s prosperity from falling away.

Nothing grows under a black walnut tree. This is another saying which is based on fact.

Black walnut trees are toxic to most other plants because of the chemical it produces called juglone.

Even after a black walnut tree is cut down or removed, growing conditions remain poor as the chemical can remain in the soil for quite some time.

Some people say that you should apologize to an herbal plant when you pick its leaves so that it will continue to grow.
Folklore tells us that a scarecrow should not be put out before Easter and should always be taken down and burned before midnight on Halloween.

And a scarecrow is always to be given a name.

It must also always have a hat to protect it from the sun and, I presume, for the sake of decency, it must have clothing, which is to be in relatively good repair.

As in everything, there are varying opinions about snakes in the garden.

Some people like snakes in their garden because there’s an old superstition that finding a black snake in the garden precedes a bountiful harvest.

Whether you plant by the signs or aren’t superstitious at all, just remember this.

No matter how tired you are after a long day of gardening, never forget to leave the hoe a safe distance away from the house.

It’s very bad luck to carry a hoe in your house.

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