Planting by the signs

I’m sure you’re aware Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday — as in tomorrow — when we “fall back” and retrieve that hour’s sleep we lost in the spring. How that impacts this column is that all times give are now Eastern Standard (EST) rather than Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). And that’s the way it will stay until early March of 2020 — about 4 1/2 months away when Daylight Saving Time returns.

A hard freeze

We find ourselves in the “betwixt-and-between time” here with the 2019 season over except for the most diehard gardeners who are planting in greenhouses, low tunnels or cold frames.

And when a hard freeze hits, the last two of those — low tunnels and cold frames — will most likely be done unless there’s a snow cover or some sort of blanket over them to hold in the heat of the day.

As I finish this up Wednesday morning, there was a chance of a freeze later in the week.

Since I don’t know how that turned out, what follows might be just a lesson and not a warning since it’s already happened!

A bit of botany here: We can cover and protect plants from light frost to extend the growing season for a while, or at least keep the plants alive, but as the soil continues to cool the plant shuts down, knowing the growing season is over and so is its time.

Just like in the spring as we were waiting for the soil to warm enough for planting, on the other end of the season — as it cools — the plant’s internal programming says “enough” and quits producing until a freeze finishes it off. Most garden plants are annuals — and their “year” is done.

To over-simplify — and with the apologies to my teacher Kim Cowherd, former Franklin County Extension horticulture agent — all living things are composed of cells and cells are largely composed of water. When the temperature drops below a certain crucial point — like 27 or so — and remains there for a few hours, the water in those cells freezes, the cells explode (without a bang!) and the plant dies.

It can frost without dropping below freezing (32 degrees F). Covering plants before frost occurs holds enough heat in the plant to help it survive until daylight and things warm up. Such is not the case with those freezing temperatures sustained for several hours.

So, as cold days inch ever closer (if they haven’t already arrived), if you have house plants you want to bring in to over-winter, get it done. When a hard freeze arrives and they spend the night on the porch or patio, chances are they’ll be wilted and dead when morning arrives.

Any living thing — animal or vegetable — can freeze if left unprotected long enough in bitter cold weather. Remember stories of cattle trapped in snow and cold and the homeless in unheated areas. But animals have fur or feathers to protect them for a longer period while we have skin — and keep putting on more clothes as the temperature drops.

Alas, plants don’t have that luxury so either get those house plants in or have one final “moment” and say goodbye when the temperature is going to plummet.

Change days ahead

As I’ve written for several months now, we haven’t had any stretches that perfectly fit the formula for making changes: dark phase of the moon/signs going out of the body beyond anything that functions. That will be changing in December, but for one more month we must endure.

In my opinion, the best alternative is when the signs are going out of the body beyond anything that functions (thighs through feet — Sagittarius through Pisces) even if the moon is in the light phase. Those days in November and on into early December are today through Thursday and then Nov. 26-Dec. 4.

Again, these days are the best alternative, they are not the days that perfectly fit the formula.

The days that perfectly fit the formula next month are Dec. 23-25. Probably not the best days to start a diet, however! There’ll be more perfect ones in January and beyond.

Pouring gravel

If you have gravel to pour on a drive or road on your farm, do that when the light moon rules thru Nov. 11 then Nov. 26-Dec. 11.

The same applies for stones on a garden path: Place them when the moon is in the light phase, so they don’t sink. If you’re setting fence posts, do that in the light phase of the moon so the posts don’t sink.

About moon phases

A PBTS follower of my Facebook page, @plantingbysigns, who lives in northern Kentucky wrote last week asking about when to pour gravel. In the course of the discussion he said he was confused about the light and dark phases of the moon. If you’re confused, here it is again:

Light moon: From the time of the new moon when there is no moon visible in the sky for the first couple of nights until the full moon while the moon is waxing or growing. This month that’s now until 8:34 a.m. (EST) Nov. 12 with the arrival of the full moon, or …

Dark moon from the time of the full moon until the new moon while the moon is waning or growing smaller. That’s most of Nov. 12 until the new moon at the end of the month, 10:06 a.m. Nov. 26.

There are 14 days of light moon each month and 14 days of dark. The moon doesn’t care how many days are in our calendar month — 30, 31, 28 or 29. That’s why in many months there can be two full or new moons.

Still confused? Let me hear from you and I’ll try to lift the veil a bit more. Trying to explain the whole concept in writing is challenging for me and perhaps tough for you to understand.

Would be better if we could sit down and talk about it.

Coming next week

Howard Hazelwood, the Frankfort gardener I reported on who harvested more than a thousand tomatoes from his six vines, gives his final report. You won’t want to miss that.

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