They planted and harvested by the moon in P.E.I.'s Bygone Days

·4 min read
Daniel McInnis and Samuel Finlayson in a P.E.I. field cutting and harvesting hay using horses, circa 1900.   (PARO - image credit)
Daniel McInnis and Samuel Finlayson in a P.E.I. field cutting and harvesting hay using horses, circa 1900. (PARO - image credit)

Reginald (Dutch) Thompson's column The Bygone Days brings you the voices of Island seniors, many of whom are now long-departed. These tales of the way things used to be offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Every few weekends CBC P.E.I. brings you one of Dutch's columns.

In Prince Edward Island's bygone days, many Islanders relied on the phases of the moon to plant their gardens and crops.

There were two phrases commonly used in the olden days, the "dark of the moon" and the "light of the moon." The light of the moon is the first two quarters of the lunar cycle when the moon is getting bigger, or waxing, and the dark of the moon is the second two quarters, when the moon is waning, or getting smaller.

"You plant vegetables that don't blossom, you plant them under the ground in the dark of the moon, and the stuff that blossoms, you plant it in the light of the moon — that's tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, stuff like that ... and it works!" said Amy Breyenton from Spring Valley, north of Kensington.

Mickey Place was born in 1909 and lived on his grandparents farm in Alexandra when he was a boy.

Dutch Thompson is an award-winning historian and storyteller. He has published a book about P.E.I.'s bygone days.
Dutch Thompson is an award-winning historian and storyteller. He has published a book about P.E.I.'s bygone days.(Submitted by Dutch Thompson)

"My grandmother would tell my uncle when to plant things, and when to do this and when to do that. She was the one who followed the phases of the moon. I don't know whether there was anything to it or not, I've often wondered" Place said.

"People with weak minds are supposed to get 'different' when the moon is full. And they make allowances for it at hospitals. The liquor control board puts people out inspecting much stronger around the time the moon is full, [because] there's going to be trouble."

The word lunatic comes from the root luna, or moon. In France, some farmers will not take their cattle up into the mountains to summer pasture during a new moon — they say the cows will behave like lunatics all season if they do.

How get 'real firm' bacon

Andrew Murnaghan from Donagh said his father always planted potatoes when the calendar indicated the period considered the "dark of the moon." That doesn't mean he'd plant at nighttime, but just during that period of the month.

'Killed in the dark of the moon, it'd be real firm,' says Andrew Murnaghan of pork slaughtered at what old-timers believed to be the 'proper' time of the month.
'Killed in the dark of the moon, it'd be real firm,' says Andrew Murnaghan of pork slaughtered at what old-timers believed to be the 'proper' time of the month. (Dutch Thompson)

"Anything that grows above the ground in the light of the moon, and anything that grows under the ground, in the dark of the moon," Murnaghan explained to historian Dutch Thompson.

Hogs and cattle were to be slaughtered only in the dark of the moon, and Murnaghan insisted he could tell if it was done improperly.

"I'd get bacon here and I know damn well it's killed in the light of the moon, it's not killed in the right time," he said, saying it was greasier and slimier.

"Killed in the dark of the moon, it'd be real firm."

"I wouldn't kill a pig, only a certain time of the moon, or the bacon would all curl up," agreed Clayton Ballum of Tyne Valley, adding "the moon was a direct message for cutting bushes, they wouldn't grow again."

"They were smart them days," Ballum said.

Fence posts by the dark of the moon

The dark of the moon was the one to remember — it's the last three days of the full moon, plus the first three days of the new moon. That was the time to plant root crops such as potatoes, turnips and carrots.

Clayton Ballum wasn't sure of the science behind the rule of when to plant and harvest certain things by the moon, but said he knew first-hand it was true.
Clayton Ballum wasn't sure of the science behind the rule of when to plant and harvest certain things by the moon, but said he knew first-hand it was true.(Dutch Thompson)

The light of the moon was apparently the time to plant crops above the ground including pumpkins, beans and corn.

"I think it's more than a theory, it happened to me, and it happened to other fellas too!" said Johnny (Chuck) MacAdam. If you plant root crops during the light of the moon, they'd flower all summer and produce no vegetables, he said.

"And I seen that happen ... a lot of people don't credit that idea, but it happens. I don't know why."

The dark of the moon in August is said to be the best time to cut alders and other bushes, and fence posts.

"Stakes now, that you'd drive for fences, they're better cut in the dark of the April moon," said Murnaghan.

The dark of the August moon was also a good time to cut fence posts, but most farmers were too busy with harvesting then, he said. He also claimed the bark of pulp wood peels off easiest in early July.

The light of the moon is time to shear sheep and prune vines, he said.

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