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The Time isn’t all that Important, but the Date Is

August 4, 2015

Our modern society is fixated on time. We need to know what time to get up in the morning. We need to know the time so we aren’t late to work. We need to know when it’s time for lunch, when it’s time for dinner, when it’s time to pick the kids up, etc, etc, and etc.

But time hasn’t always been that important. Before society became so complicated, people didn’t need to know the exact time. You got up with the sun and worked for awhile, then you had a morning meal, then you went back to work. When the Sun was in the middle of the sky you had a mid-day meal and then rested for awhile. You went back to work until the Sun got low, and then you came in for the evening meal. A short time after dark you went to bed because creating light out of the darkness was not an easy task; and besides, you were very tired from all of that physical labor. Am I talking about Stone Age man here? No, I’m talking about my Dad’s life as a boy growing up on a farm in the early 1900’s. This is the way it was for most of rural America in those times.

Of course there have been time keeping devices around for millennia but clocks as we know them today are a relatively recent invention, and they weren’t invented for the convenience of the average Joe. The first mechanical clocks were closely guarded military secrets that were developed to help sailing ships navigate on the vast oceans. Specifically, they were used to determine a ship’s longitude.

If you have a compass you can determine your direction of travel, if you have a transit you can determine your latitude, and if you have an accurate clock and a book listing the time of sun rise each day (this is a huge over simplification of the process) you can pretty well determine your longitude. These three instruments revolutionized ocean navigation, and the mechanical clock was the last one to be invented. Prior to mechanical clocks, ships were equipped with an hour glass to keep track of the time. Must have been a pain to make sure that the thing got turned over on time.

So clocks were very important to the Navy, but to the average rural resident, the time wasn’t too important, and it probably won’t be real important to you either. I know that since I retire, I rarely look at a clock. I do, however, keep a close eye on the date; and you probably will too if our current technological society ever bites the dust. The date will be important so that you know when to start seedlings, when to plant various crops, and when to expect the first frost. Most everyone plants by the calendar today, so a good calendar is a must for home food production. You won’t be able to look at your cell phone or computer to see the date, so you need to plan on going old school with a paper calendar. Personally, I printed off 120 blank calendar pages to be filled out if and when necessary. After 10 years I guess I’ll have to start carving notches on a post like Robinson Crusoe.

There is one method of determining planting dates that does not require a calendar. I’d never heard of it until my sister, the Master Gardener, told me about it. It’s modern name is “phenological gardening”, and it’s based on the study of the life-cycles of plants. The old timers probably didn’t call it phenological gardening. To them it was probably planting by the “signs,” but the idea was that when certain wild plants and flowers bloomed it indicated that it was the proper time to plant various different domesticated crops. Here are some examples of this planting system:

When the daffodils bloom it’s time to plant peas.
When the catalpas bloom its time to plant broccoli
When bearded iris bloom it’s time to plant peppers
When shadbush blooms it’s time to plant potatoes
When lilies-of-the-valley are in bloom it’s time to plant tomatoes

It’s an interesting system. It might be worth looking into how it would apply to plants in your area and making a list of signs to look for. I know that I’ll be watching my catalpa trees this year to see if they bloom when my planting guide says it’s time to plant the broccoli.

For more information on phenological gardening my sister recommended the book, Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way. You can also do an internet search on “phenological gardening” and you will find a number of interesting sites about this planting system. In my next post we’re going to talk about weather prediction. and we’ll be talking science rather than “signs.”

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