Planting by the Signs

Preparing the earth to plant

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.  Genesis 1:14

Growing up in south Florida, I knew the pull of the moon’s gravity had a lot to do with the ocean’s tides; the tide was always higher when the moon was full. And talking with nurses who worked in the emergency room, they related that more people were admitted with mental breakdowns when the moon was full. Other than that, I had never been exposed to the phenomenon of planting by the signs of the zodiac until I moved to the Love community and became a neighbor of Johnny Coffey. At that time Johnny was in his middle eighties and always cultivated a vegetable garden that yielded huge amounts of food. When I commented about his large harvest, he kept referring to the fact that he planted by the signs. I had no idea what he was talking about and his explanation didn’t make sense to me, but soon the phrase “seeing is believing,” had me wondering if maybe he was onto something ancient that had somehow been omitted in our modern-day world.

The property where I lived was full of rocks and not fit for a garden, so that spring I asked Johnny if, in exchange for help hoeing, he would let me put in a few rows of green beans next to his. He said yes, and that I was to specifically come the following Tuesday to drop the seeds. When all the beans were planted, a man who lived a few miles down the road approached Johnny to ask if he, too, could have a small section in which to put a row of beans. He came a week later and Johnny just shook his head and said he was planting in the wrong sign; a “posey day.” Once again, I had no idea what he was talking about. All the beans came up and the rows that we planted soon had a fair number of white blooms on them. The other man’s beans, however, were literally covered with blooms and made ours look sparse by comparison. He pointed his prolific blooms out to us repeatedly, to which Johnny just smiled knowingly. When it came time to pick, our bean rows were laden with fruit and I canned over sixty quarts from my two short rows. The other man’s? Nada. Zilch. Just enough beans for a few messes, and he drove home dejectedly with his crop in a small paper bag. Johnny watched him drive away, looked at me and said, “Posey day… all blooms and no fruit. He planted in the wrong sign.” From then on, I’m a believer but still with have no idea how or why it works. Only that it does!

Donald Hite with his Brownie calendar and Farmer’s Almanac

Another firm believer in planting by the signs is Donald Hite of Afton. Donald said he remembers helping his father in the garden as a young child but didn’t get interested in the moon signs and their effect on the earth until about twenty years ago. That’s when a man by the name of Fulton Henderson began telling Donald the secret for his abundant garden harvests, and Donald, in turn, began asking a lot of questions about Fulton’s practice of planting by the signs. One of Donald’s co-workers at Acme Visible Records, Carroll Herring, was another strong advocate for this old-time practice. About ten years ago Donald, who always loved to fish, came upon a Ramon’s Brownie Calendar he found at Crozet Hardware that had the best fishing days printed on it. Closer inspection of the yearly calendar also showed the best days for planting the garden. He began following the signs of the zodiac that corresponded with parts of the human body and planted accordingly. From that time on, his garden has had an over-abundant yield that’s quite noticeable. In addition to a Brownie calendar, Donald keeps a 2012 Garden and Farm Almanac handy when he’s ready to plant. The almanac has pages that recommend the best planting days for different vegetables; those that bear above the ground (beans, corn, tomatoes, etc.) and those that bear below the ground (potatoes, turnips, beets, etc.). Donald is a firm believer that planting by the signs works, but like me, he doesn’t exactly know how or why.

Ancient astronomers found that the constellations in the sky that they studied and named were equally placed along the yearly path of the sun. This path created a sort of belt that includes the paths of other planets and the monthly path of the moon. This belt was divided the into twelve equal parts and designated with signs. Each constellation made up a sign and shared the same name. Given that each name was that of an animal (except Libra) the belt itself was titled the zodiac, which means “zone of animals.”

Potatoes dropped in rows

Early wise men believed there was an intimate relationship between the celestial bodies and mankind and the twelve signs soon became identified with parts of the human body. Charts that illustrate this relationship have been noted as far back in history as 1300 B.C. Planting calendars such as Ramon’s Brownie Calendar, the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and the T. E. Black Planting Chart give complete directions for planting by the signs and are a great help to those wanting to give it a try for themselves.

Potato vines after they’ve grown

How it works is that every day of the month is dominated by one of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Each appears at least once a month, and then for a period of either two or three days. All good planting calendars label each day with a sign that rules over it and the part of the body and the planet associated with the sign and the element it is closely akin to. Here are two examples: 

1. Sign: Aries; Symbol: Ram; Body Part: Head; Planet: Mars; Element: Fire.  

12. Sign: Pisces; Symbol: Fish; Body Part: Feet; Planet: Neptune; Element: Water. 

The signs always appear in sequence, 1 through 12, beginning with the Ram or Head and working their way down to Pisces, the Fish or Feet. Following Pisces, the Ram appears again, beginning a new sequence.

Each of the signs is known as being either masculine, feminine, airy, dry, barren, fiery, earthy, moist, watery, fruitful, or very fruitful. Any activity that requires a dry atmosphere, such as painting, should be done in one of the dry signs; and an activity requiring moisture, such as some planting, should be done on one of the moist or fruitful signs.

The best time of all to conduct any activity is when a day falls on both an ideal sign and a good phase of the moon.

Seed packets; ready for the garden. Photos: Lynn Coffey.

Over the years, a more specific set of rules has grown up around the zodiac which governs such activities as planting and harvesting. These rules take into account both the sign governing the day and the phase of the moon on that particular day. A farmer consults his particular calendar and picks out one of the fourteen favorable days that occur each month, and plants only on one of these fourteen “fruitful” days. Should he miss and plant on an unfruitful day, his crops will not produce as well. People who faithfully plant by the signs say that even a few hours can make the difference between success and failure.

Paying attention to the signs works for all areas of life and not just gardening. Here is a small list of other non-gardening subjects that are worth noting.

Cut timber in the old of the moon. It will dry better and not become worm-eaten.

If you cut your hair in Libra, Aquarius, or Pisces, it will grow stronger and thicker.

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

Can vegetables, cook jelly, and make pickles in the right sign during the last quarter of the moon.

Cut hay on the old of the moon and it will dry a third quicker than it will on the new.

Dig a hole on the new of the moon and you will have dirt to throw away. On the old, you won’t have enough to fill the hole back in.

It seems that planting by the signs began to subside around the same time as self-reliance, when we began to modernize and mass produce. Growing what you needed only fell off quickly while the progression of the assembly line, skyscrapers and grocery stores rapidly increased.  

Many skeptics think this ancient method of planting is a hoax or an old wives’ tale, but the actions of the moon and how old-timers went about gardening often meant the difference as to whether or not they would survive the severe winter months.

If planting by the signs does work, then why? In the first Foxfire book, a lady by the name of Margaret Norton was interviewed and asked this why question. Her response? “Well, it must have been in th’ plan when th’ world was made. Because you know in Ecclesiastes it says, ‘There’s a time for everything. Time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.’ That’s God’s book, you know, so that’s the reason.” 


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