The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 17, 2013

Sign Language

Planters need more than a green thumb, believes gardener

By John Blankenship
For The Register-Herald

CAMP CREEK — The next time J.K. (Kent) Lilly offers you some tips on harvesting and planting, you better take heed. His skill in the fields is far more than a natural-born ability to grow crops or merely having a “green thumb.”

Lilly, 88, of Stovall Ridge near Camp Creek in Mercer County believes there is a proper time for everything —even for planting potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage and onions.

The agricultural enthusiast has been planting crops and raising a garden for more than 60 years. He believes that the proper times for many agricultural chores are determined by the signs of the Zodiac and phases of the moon.

“I like to watch out for the signs,” Lilly noted, as he explained his devotion to the astrological indicators. “My father never would plant corn or anything else when the sign was in the upper part. The sign must be in the legs or the feet before it will grow.”

Planting by the signs of the moon, stars and planets is an astrological system of agriculture and gardening that has guided mankind since early times. This rural lore was once widespread among the hill people of Appalachia, according to Lilly, who noted that each day of the month is ruled by one of the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Each sign appears at least once a month for a period of two or three days.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the Zodiac is a belt through the Heavens about 18 degrees wide within which lay the path of the sun, moon and principal planets. It is divided into 12 parts, called signs and each sign received its name in ancient times from the constellation in that portion of the Heavens.

The 12 signs of the Zodiac are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Each sign is supposed to rule a certain part of the human body.

The proper time to plant cucumbers is when the sign is in the stomach (Cancer) or legs (Aquarius), according to Lilly. Cabbage grows best under the sign of the Ram (Aries), and onions should be set out during the dark phase of the moon — to prevent the tender bulbs from being burned by the sun.

Anything that grows in the ground should be planted in the dark of the moon, Lilly explained, or it will come out to the top of the soil and be destroyed by the sun.

“Some farmers have planted a potato crop during the light of the moon and later found it ruined,” he said. Therefore, planting is always done in one of the fruitful signs. There are 14 fruitful days in a month. The best signs for planting are the water or earth signs of Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces or Taurus — Cancer being the most fruitful sign.

“Planting should not be done in one of the barren signs; they are good only for trimming, deadening and destroying. No planting should be done on Sunday… and never transplant when the signs are in the Heart or the Head. This will cause the plants to die.”

Lilly, a retired forest ranger, added, “The phase of the moon is also consulted in conjunction with the dominant sign. All things that yield above ground should be planted during the waxing moon, and all things that yield below ground (root crops) in the waning moon. Planting should not be done on the first day of the new moon, or on a day when the moon changes quarters.”

The veteran planter explained that he follows the signs for other activities, too.

For instance, Lilly maintained that chickens lay eggs and hatch best during the cool months of April and May, when there is plenty of moisture, though some poultry farmers prefer June.

And, he pointed out, it is important to observe the cycle of the moon when performing other chores, such as putting shingles on a house or barn.

“The moon can cause the shingles to warp and turn up if you put them on during the dark of the moon,” Lilly warned, adding that the same advice prevails when building fences.

Following the cyclic patterns of planting and harvesting cultivated by their ancestors, Lilly and other disciples of the Farmer’s Almanac still till the soil and select seeds according to the traditions of their forebears.

Usually, almanac readers agree that planting is best done during the fruitful signs of Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus and Cancer (when the signs are in the feet, neck or breast).

Some other popular advice is as follows:

-- Plowing, tilling or cultivating should be done in Aries. Never plant anything in one of the barren signs, as they are only good for trimming, deadening or destroying.

-- Always set plants out in a water or earth sign. Plant flowers when in Libra, which is an airy sign that also represents beauty. Plant them when the moon is in the first quarter.

-- Set fence posts in old phase of the moon to prevent loosening.

-- Set eggs to hatch in a fruitful sign, such as Cancer, so the chicks will mature faster and be better layers.

-- Don’t nail shingles on roofs during the growing side of the moon or the ends will draw up, curl and go crooked.

-- Slaughter while the signs are in the knees or feet, and during the last quarter of the moon.

Lilly noted that for the past 50 years he has planted the same kind of bean seed, a variety popularized by his ancestors in rural Mercer County.

“I do know one thing,” he said. “You should never thank anyone for seeds that you are going to plant.

“If you do, they won’t grow.”

— E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net