As you embrace the homestead lifestyle, your life becomes tuned to the cycles of nature and the seasons of planting, fruitfulness, and dormancy that occupy the year. Some people, with a romanticized idea of old fashioned homesteading and the “Amish” lifestyle, enter homesteading thinking that life will somehow magically simplify, external demands will quiet down, and life will be one long meditative peaceful circle-of-life. That’s the Disney version. The reality version looks more like a complicated spirograph picture of intersecting circles that make a complicated but unified pattern. While there is peacefulness in the homestead lifestyle, one must seek out the natural rhythm and tune in to the seasonal cycles to transcend the noise and tyranny of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and the institutionalized, conformist mold. Becoming attuned to the natural schedule is part of the appeal of the self sufficient homesteading and a delightful benefit of the nonconformist lifestyle.
The Seasonal Cycle
There are several cycles that influence the homesteader. The most obvious is the seasonal cycle of planting, watering and harvest. The homesteader needs to plant in Spring, in order to harvest within the frost free window allowed by their particular climate.
To take full advantage of the length of your growing season, several factors come into play. When purchasing seed, look for the length of time from planting to harvest. In short season areas, you’ll want to provide protection for the plants at either extreme of the growing season. Some plants, like tomatoes in my zone, need to be started indoors about 8 weeks before the expected beginning of the frost-free period — around mid April here. If you have a longer growing season you may get away with direct seeding.
Another factor in the length of your growing season is the amount of available water. Many areas expect heat and drought in July or August. New seedlings don’t thrive during periods of drought even with frequent waterings. There are things you can plan into your gardening regime to help cope with dry periods but planning your gardening around temporary dry spells works with the season and is more fruitful.
Generally, planting during spring rains and weeding and maintaining during the dry period, to harvest at maturity, works best and provides the most satisfying harvest with the least amount of work. Those who wish to extend the growing season, may take on work of heroic proportions and need to carefully plan their strategy to ensure a harvest that is worthy of the effort.
Fall brings harvest time, garlic planting, and preparing the garden for dormancy, unless you plan a winter garden. This is a time of heavy work to bring in the harvest and preserve it for winter. You need to time the harvest before the killing frost hits and the ground is frozen. Once the ground is frozen you will have trouble harvesting carrots, winter radishes or beets, before the Spring thaw. Once the killing frost comes, some very hardy plants, like kale may survive for another picking. Most will stop growing completely.
I look forward to the “end of apple picking” in my climate. Although there remains a few things to preserve, like drying apples or cooking up the last of the ripening tomatoes, I’m able to shift gears in my thinking and begin to plan winter wooly projects. We’ve had a hard frost now -15C, and the garden is done. Last night I took my harp out of its case, attached the legs and tuned it for the first time in months. And I sat down and began to pluck a christmas carol. This is the start of “dormancy” for me — a time of rest and rejuvenation, a time of creative projects, wooly comfort, stories read-out-loud, family music jam sessions, board games, and spiritual and intellectual development. I have more time to read, to practice my arts, and to fine tune my mind. Winter is good when one is prepared, the larder and the woodshed are stocked and the animals are healthy.
The annual cycles are not pure. There is overlap. Onion seeds are planted indoors in January or February to allow for a full season of growth before harvest. Tomatoes, peppers and egg plant are planted in March or April. And wooly projects continue until the outdoor garden demands more time, the nights shorten and lambing time begins.
Demanding more of the seasons than the seasons can give, creates more work, and often leads to disappointment. Lambing in January to meet the Spring Lamb market, often means losses, as wet lambs chill before they can dry in the snowy fields. Planting too soon can lead to damping off diseases as seeds struggle to emerge in cold, wet soils. Working within the seasons leads to more fruitful labour on the homestead.
The Moon Cycles
Have you watched the cycle of the moon in the sky? During the new moon, the moon rises with the sun, during the day. This is why solar eclipses only take place on the day of the New Moon. As the lunar month progresses and the moon waxes, the moon rises later and later during the day. You see it in its phases in the daytime sky, lingering a little later into the night each day, until the Full Moon. The Full Moon rises after sunset, bold and bright in the East, directly opposite the setting sun, with the Earth between the two. This is why the lunar eclipse can only happen on the night of the Full Moon.
As the moon wanes, and the cycle moves to a close, there is a change in the weather. The full moon usually rises on a clear night. If there has been a period of still weather up till then, you may see a ring around the full moon, indicating an increase in precipitation in the sky. The experienced will predict snow based on the Moon rings in Fall and Winter. The weather patterns usually follow a 2 week cycle, in tune with the Moon cycles, unsettled weather with precipitation or calm, clear weather. Both the full moon and the new moon, often herald the change in weather.
Both the full moon and the new moon have an influence over tides, fresh water bodies and soil moisture. Dews are heavier during full moons. There is an increase in light energy, for photosynthesis, as well. For this reason many people recommend planting by the moon cycles, to take advantage of increases in surface soil moisture and light which increases the chance of success. “During a ten-year study, Dr. Frank Brown of Northwestern University studied the effects of the moon’s phases on plants. Through his research, he discovered that plants do in fact absorb more water and moonlight during a full moon.” (Canadian Gardening Magazine)
Planting by the cycles of the moon involves dividing the lunar cycle into a 4 week period: New Moon, waxing quarter, Full Moon, waning Quarter. During the waning quarter the moon is darkest and there is less gravitational draw on soil moisture. It is the dry period and a time to let the garden rest. The other three periods of the lunar cycle are ripe for planting, with root vegetables, which require the highest soil moisture planted during the full moon week, leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce planted during the new moon week, and the other vegetables like tomatoes, and peppers planted in the waxing quarter.
Some people think that planting by the moon cycles means that you go out in the dark and plant on the precise day, leading many to think of moon gardening as an occult practice. However, planting by the moon simply means that you take advantage of the increase in light and soil moisture that the moon cycles announce, and plant certain vegetables in harmony with their needs for moisture and light.
I don’t go outside to plant in the middle of a storm but the moon cycles often bring planting weather with them. You might even find yourself planting by the cycles of the moon without realizing it, if you tend your garden in fair weather.
The Family Cycle – living with the seasons
Another cycle that bears mentioning is the family cycle, both for the homestead animals and for the farmer. Animals go into season at certain times of the year. Sheep and Goats have a 5 month gestation and generally go into season around the fall equinox, as the days shorten and the cold weather approaches. They share this trait with wild deer.
Hunting season coincides exactly because this is the time when female animals are “open” and the males are fighting to win the right to breed. Excess males are “culled” by hunters for the good of the wild flocks. Unfortunately, in this system the stronger males are usually culled as they also have the prized “trophy racks.” Management by hunting can lead to a weakening of wild stocks.
By winter, there is a deep contentment that settles on the animals. Although the weather is colder, the fear of predation is lessened as many of the predators are hybernating or have moved on with the herds of wild deer. The flock is safe in their winter paddock, well fed and growing their babies. You can see the contentment on their faces as they chew their cuds.
For the humans, too, there is a family cycle. To expect to spend hours in the garden for three seasons of the year with toddlers underfoot and a baby in a bundle on your back is unrealistic. A little bit of gardening to supplement the family diet and enjoy the fruit of one’s labours is great. If you can achieve this with your babies well cared for, you can be very proud of your accomplishment. But don’t try to be super-Mom. Don’t expect a mother, to spend all day growing enough food to feed her growing family, without help from the other partner. This will lead quickly to burn out, resentment, and needless stress. There are seasons of fruitfulness in family life, and seasons to rest and be creative in other ways.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are many fruitful years of homeschool bliss where you can work together with your children in the garden, learning about plants, insects,and animals in wonderment. The reward is the joy of a fruitful harvest that is shared with your children. The more children you have to help you in the garden the more food you can grow. In fact, farming with children is the best way to manage a homestead lifestyle. But don’t put the extra pressure on yourself to have it all now, while your babies are young.
Then once the kids are grown, there are fewer mouths to feed and the garden can produce less. There is less weeding, less planting and more time to enjoy it. As the strength wanes, the need for food also lessens, as it should and so people are able to continue to find satisfaction in their garden well into their 80s and 90s. Gardening is the ideal exercise for the elderly, with its gentle stretching and activity, and good doses of vitamin D and organic produce to keep the body healthy and strong.
The weekly cycle
Any discussions of the rythms of the homestead life would be remiss without a discussion of the weekly cycle. Our 7 day week comes right out of the Bible. It is in reference to God creating the world in 6 days and resting on the 7th. The 4th commandment instructs all of mankind to labour for 6 days and rest on the 7th to honour their creator. (Exodus 34:21; 23:12) Napoleon, seeking to build an entirely secular society attempted to supplant this system with a 10 day week. It failed.
We are hardwired to the 7 day week. And humans need a day of rest to rejuvenate and heal the body, after a week of labour. Failing to labour over the 6 days, violates this cycle as does ignoring the day of rest. If you don’t already take a day off, each week, unplugging from technology and reconnecting with your family and your God, begin to explore this cycle. The rewards of a weekly rest are greater creativity, and productivity on the other 6 days, and deeper, more satisfying relationships within your family. The Sabbath Manifesto can give you guidance to make this cycle work for you. The principle of Sabbath Rest applies whether you are Jewish, Christian, Moslem or Pagan. You are created both to work and to rest.
Learning to say, “No” to the institutionalized demands
The corporate and institutional cycle of profit and conformity is in conflict with the natural cycle. School goes from September to June — while most of the learning in nature takes place from April to September. Corporations demand production through out the year. Although natural milk production cycles follow the cycle of heat, gestation and birth, with an decrease in milk production during gestation and an increase after birth — milk marketing boards demand a uniform year-round production from the dairy farmer, with penalties for noncompliance. Egg marketing boards demand year round egg production, although chickens naturally take the winter off. To plug into the system means to fight against the natural cycle. Its a frustrating and stressful battle, that robs the homesteader of both peace of mind, rest and profits. It is more costly to produce outside of the natural cycle of production and rest for both the animals and the farmer.
Learn to rest in the natural cycles and you will find an increase in productivity, and creativity. Fight the natural cycles, and you will lose out, in the long run. The nonconformist lifestyle works within the natural cycles.
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What season are you struggling with getting into harmony with? Is your struggle part of who you are — a nonconformist? How can you achieve serenity in this situation? Leave a comment.