Finche's Soutterain

Bringing the Late Iron Age to Life

Musings on Candlemas

So, as is often the case these past few days, I was thinking about today – February 2nd – being Candlemas/St. Brigid’s Day/Groundhog Day. Yesterday’s post showed that the Sun will make it’s transition to the cross-quarter day (by degrees) on the 18th of this month. That’s a given. But, if one were to count the number of days from the Solstice, to today and then from today to the Equinox, the *number* of days is about equal (more or less and depending onif you count the day of, or the day after). So, that could be the “reason for the season” as it were.

As the days grow longer, the Sun appears to travel faster from sunrise to sunrise in its course toward the Equinox. Hence why the number of days are less between the Sun’s rising at its actual midpoint and the Equinox, compared to the number of days from the Solstice to the midpoint.

Calendars and man are funny things.

Imbolc & the 1st days of Spring (MM*)

To some, today is Imbolc Eve, to others Imbolc isn’t until February 2nd. Either way, it is a celebration of the first stirrings of Spring – or the coming of Spring.

Astronomically, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox won’t happen until sometime on February 18th – when the sun reaches its midway point between its southern most rising (closest to 23° 30′ declension)  and its ‘truest’ Eastern rising (closest to 0° 0′ declension). The morning of February 18th, at least in my part of the world, the sun will rise at 11° 23′ and reach its true midpoint (11° 15′) in the early daylight hours. On February 19th, it rises at 11° 01′. To me, the “First Day of Spring” will be February 18th, and I will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of our last frost date (which, isn’t officially until May 15th here in Ohio).

So whether you are playing close attention to the Sun’s movements, or just celebrating the accustomed Solar festival, I hope everyone has a  wonderful Imbolc/St. Brigid’s Day and that the coming growing season brings you much happiness.

* Since this was a longish title, “MM” means “Mundane Musings” 🙂

Sun Musings (long mundane post)

No, it’s not Spring yet, despite what the weather felt like today. The high tempurature today reached at least 60° F, if not higher. That’s okay, we’ll have winter (again) by the weekend.

So, in tracking the sun and shade patterns in my back yard I have been using my almanac to see just how far south of true east it has been rising. And this got me to thinking about the Pagan solar festivals, and how modern marketing has really helped to distance people from the actual agricultural rhythms.

Let’s start with Yule/Winter Solstice. This is the midpoint of the dark half of the year. It is also celebrated as the “birth” of the Sun. It marks the longest night/shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere (reversed for the Southern). On this day, the Sun’s declination is 23° 26′ – the furthest South of due East it gets. The beginning of the “dark half of the year” falls on the Autumn Equinox – but we’ll get to that in due course.

The next festival is Candlemas/Brigid’s Day/Imbolc – which is generally celebrated on February 2nd. This, by modern man, is considered to be the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. Now, if you look at just about any almanac, in my case The Old Farmer’s Almanac, you’ll notice that the Sun’s declination is only 16° 36′. While it has indeed moved further north, it hasn’t yet reached the ‘true’ midpoint between the Solstice and Equinox. That date falls between (or during the night of) the 18th and 19th of February. The sun rises at 11° 23′ on th 18th and 11° 01′ on the 19th. And the midpoint from 23° 26′ and 0° (s.) is closer to 11° 15′. (Maths is not my strong suit.) As such, it can be considered the actual start, or first day, of Spring – despite what the American media would have you believe of the prognosticational abilities of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog in Pennsylvania.

This brings us to the Vernal Equinox. This is where the Sun rises closest to 0° 0′ declination of due East. This year, the actual Equinox falls between March 19th (0° 17′ s.) and March 20th (0° 06′ n.). Modern man celebrates this day (erroneously, as far as I’m concerned) as the “First Day” of Spring. What this day is actually marking is the midpoint – equal day and equal night – of the Sun’s northward journey. Which, for the agricultural world is actually the middle of Spring. After this date, the days get to be longer than the nights, as we head into Summer.

Signs of life (modern/mundane)

So, about a week ago, my wonderful husband brought home a bag of einkorn wheat berries from a local bulk food store. I wondered if they might be viable to grow as a cereal crop.

On 16 January 2017, I opened the bag, pinched out a few grains, and set the test up to see if they would sprout. The only information I could find on sprouting grains was from people who were more interested in sprouting the grains to then dry (again) to make sprouted grain flour/bread. This process of sprouting goes by the older name (used in beer making) as malting, but don’t tell the hipsters that! *wink*

I am happy to report today, 18 January 2017, that there are indeed signs of life from the einkorn! I am going to continue the experiment, to see how far they will go. I am hopefull that I may actually have a wheat crop to sow this spring.

Unsprouted Einkorn kernel

Unsprouted Einkorn kernel

Signs of viability - Einkorn kernels

Signs of viability – Einkorn kernels

Winter (modern/mundane thoughts)

With winter in full swing, but with days growing longer, I have been busy learning and planning. While I will be experimenting on growing my small grain crop in my backyard using more or less period methods (hand preparing the ground, sowing, and reaping), I will be using modern practices of sustainable soil management. I know that I have a number of obstacles to overcome, and while I want my Bere barley crop to be successful, I don’t want to make things harder for myself – or my crop and vegetables – now or further down the road in this exploration.

As a part of this, I am currently taking an online course on Sustainable Soil Management through edX offered by Wageningen University in The Netherlands. Since this is winter, there are a few exercises I will have to wait to fulfil in spring… or when the ground isn’t quite so frozen (as now, as we are going through an “arctic blast”). As a side effect of taking this class, I have delved into the soil survey for my county (Athens) and was a bit surprised at what I found. I knew we had a clayey soil, but I did not realize that it was as high as it is in silt. But, in retrospect, it makes sense.

Edited (18 Jan 2017) to add a link to the course on Sustainable Soil Management. 

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