Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Plant By The Almanac? No, Thanks.

Ohio Country Journal:
At the office, we consulted multiple farmer’s almanacs this spring to identify the best days to plant corn. In general, according to almanac wisdom of old, it is best to try and plant corn in the first quarter following the new moon. In both April and May, the new moon phase starts on the 18th. The very best dates are after the first quarter, which starts on the 25th of both months. Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces are considered the best Zodiac signs for planting.
With all of this in mind, we came up with a list of the best days to plant with input from Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac, Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac. For planting corn in Ohio, the best days are April 19, 20 and 23 though 25 and May 21, 22, and 28 through 31.
Scott Labig, who farms in Darke County, looks at the field conditions, soil temperatures, and carefully tracks the weather forecast like every farmer during planting season. He also considers the phase of the moon in his planting decisions.
“I think it does have some merit,” he said. “In February or March I dig the almanac out of the nightstand and start looking at the dates for the windows we need to plant in. This year the key planting dates are more limited than what they have been in the past.”
Then, if all the other factors for planting are right, Labig tries to get as much corn in the ground as possible during the windows of optimal planting according to the almanac.
“We are right in an optimum period right now and we are missing it around here,” Labig said. “Usually when I get started rolling I don’t stop, especially if I’m in that window. I really try to go on that day to get that corn in if I can and slow up or stop when I get way outside that window. But if I am outside of that window, it is hard to sit idle and watch the neighbors farming around me.”
Along with telling farmers which days to plant, the moon phase also offers advice on when not to plant — the last quarter. In both April and May this year those dates are the 11th through the 17th. Labig said that he has noticed that planting by the phase of the moon does translate in some positive realities in his fields.
“Last year I planted into Mother’s Day weekend. That was the worst corn I had and it was outside of the window,” he said. “I don’t know that I see it so much in the yields, but I have seen differences in the emergence. Years ago Dad asked me why I thought some fields we planted would emerge so much better than others. That is when I started buying the almanac.”
As an experiment this planting season, we are going to keep track of planting progress around Ohio and the country and take note of the percentage that falls into the optimum planting windows (and the not so optimum windows) according to the moon phases in the almanacs. At the end of the season we will make a 2015 corn yield estimate based on what we find, then see how planting by the moon phase translates into a final yield at the end of the season.
Can anybody give me any non-magical explanation of why the phase of the moon would have any impact on plant growth? I might as well check my horoscope to see if it is going to be a good day or a bad day. I hope everything goes well for the guy who tries to wait until the moon phase is right to get his corn planted.  However, I have enough trouble deciding whether the bad spots are bad enough that I shouldn't plant, or whether the weather forecast is reliable enough that I probably should go ahead and settle for not-quite-good conditions.  Worrying that nice weather and fit soil happens to fall on or after the full moon doesn't seem wise to me.

I hear all the talk about favorable planting dates every year, but I can only remember one time when somebody attributed moon phase to poor yields.  That was 1996.  The weather was awful that spring.  I graduated from college on May 19, and corn planting finally broke loose on the 20th.  After about 3 or 4 days of planting, rain returned.  Soil conditions were extremely marginal on the first of June, but there was more rain in the forecast.  Everybody hit the fields and put as much corn in the ground as they could.  The first also happened to be a full moon.  On the second, it rained some more.  I'm not sure when anybody was able to get into the fields again, but I' guessing it was around June 12. By that time, dad and grandpa decided to switch their remaining corn acres to beans.  I believe they only planted about 70 percent of their intended corn acreage. I believe they finished planting on June 23rd, which is about three weeks later than normal.  June 1 may have been the latest we've ever planted corn, although I'm not sure of that.  I'm pretty sure the fields planted on June 1 also had cutworm damage.  So we had terrible planting conditions, very late-planted corn, terrible weather after that corn was planted and insect damage.  At the end of the season when everything was harvested, all the corn was disappointing, but the corn planted on June 1 was the worst-yielding.  And somebody said, "well, there was a full moon on June 1, and you aren't supposed to plant corn under a full moon (even though this article says don't plant in the fourth quarter)."  Personally, I'll cut the moon some slack for that year, and just leave the poor corn yields for corn planted on June 1 to all the other negative factors present. 

Don't get me wrong.  I buy an almanac almost every year, and I'll flip through it once in a while, consult the weather forecast for shits and giggles, and just read parts of it for entertainment.  But deciding when to plant, or when to set fence posts (in the dark of the moon, according to a former co-worker [according to him, the moon's gravitational pull when full would pull the posts out of the ground, or some such nonsense {I would think high or low tide would be more significant since the moon moves oceans then}]) will not be determined by the almanac.  I will be interested to see if the folks at Ohio Country Journal find any statistical link between corn yield and moon phase.  I'll wager they don't.

1 comment:

  1. If I had to guess, I'd say that the tradition or relying on the moon for planting help would go back hundreds, nay, thousands of years, when more farms were near large bodies of water. Tides are of course affected by the moon's cycles, so that would have affected the water table for those crops near open water.

    Of course, most modern farms are nowhere near lakes and oceans, but were you expecting the Farmer's Almanac to keep up with the times? Next you'll be expecting the Republicans to renouce supply side economics ;)