Dad spent the early days of spring at the barn preparing the first steps towards a time for planting. He re-conditioned the hoes, shovels, pitchforks, axes and rakes. Old handles were replaced with hewn white hickory wood. He then soaked them in the creek to swell the wood for a tight fit.
An old sharpening wheel was used to keep tools in mint condition. It was mounted on a wooden box that held water. A turning handle was mounted in the center of the stone. My brothers toted creek water in buckets to keep the box filled. Slowly I turned the handle as Dad held tools against the smooth white stone. Bright orange and white sparks from the metal looked like fireworks on the 4th of July. The wet stone put a nice edge on the farm tools.
Barren fields laid silent through the dead of winter as the land rested awaiting the next planting season. Old stalks and weeds stood in the frozen rows like naked soldiers. Seeds sleeping in withered brown pods were shaken and planted by the wind into every crack and crevice in the cold earth. Yet, until the magic of warm yellow sunbeams touched the new season and nourishing spring rain fell from the heavens to prepare the soil, no seed will germinate. Last year’s white corn was taken from the corncrib and shelled by hand because the corn sheller damaged the heart in the kernels. The seeds were dropped by hand in long rows that lead to the creek bank. At the appointed time, the hard seed casings began to crack open and the heart of the seed sprouts life. O! the wonder of it.
Dad had already done his homework in The Farmer’s Almanac to determine dates to plow and for planting. He, like many mountain generations before him, followed the signs and phases of the moon and the stars religiously. “He made the moon to mark the seasons…” Psalms 104:19
My ancestors believed strongly that the heavens direct our path and the stars speak without words through signs and seasons. According to Psalms 19 their teachings are: “More to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.”… Psalms 19:10-11
When the zodiac signs were in the head, or Aries, he began cultivating the soil. This sign was pictured on the planting calendar as a ram. He waited until the signs changed to Taurus the bull with the signs in the neck to begin planting root crops like potatoes. Never would he plant potatoes when the signs were in Pisces, or the feet, saying “All ye get is a crop of marbles. It’s all vines and no ‘tators.” The best potato crops were planted on the dark nights in March. Dad was never short on humor, “Never plant onions above the ‘tator patch. They will get in their eyes and wash th’ crop away. Always plant peppers when you are good and mad if you want ‘em to be hot!”
This article was written by Barbara Taylor Woodall.
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