From Groundhogs to Vegetable Gardens
By Evelyn Kirkwood
There are few holidays on the modern calendar whose celebrations revolve around nature. Groundhog Day, however, is one.
To discover the roots of Groundhog Day, we need a refresher on the astronomical calendar. In ancient times, holidays and festivities were often linked to solstices and equinoxes when the sun is farthest from or closest to our equator. Ceremonies and feasts celebrated the start of the seasons on or around these astronomical events.
In addition to celebrating the beginning of the seasons, early Europeans also regaled on Cross Quarter Days: the halfway point of each season. February 2nd is one of those days. Winter is half over!
February 2nd is also Candlemas, which is observed in many churches around the world with the blessing and distribution of candles. So, how did the groundhog come to be associated with this date in America?
Traditionally, on Candlemas Day, European households took stock of their assets. “Have half your crops and half your hay on Candlemas Day,” the saying went. Frugal families assessed their supplies. Farmers toured their fields. At markets and pubs, farmers discussed plans for spring planting. Forecasting became interwoven with the day.
“Candlemas Day be warm and bright, Winter will take another bite. But if Candlemas Day brings cold and rain, Winter is gone and won’t come again.”
In some European countries animals were part of the folklore. French farmers received their news from a bear. In Germany, the long range forecast was made by a badger.
When German immigrants came to the New World in the 1800s, they brought the legend of the forecasting badger. Finding few badgers, but many groundhogs, they modified the story to fit local wildlife. It apparently was of no concern that woodchucks hibernate and rarely surface until the weather is warm! Since many Germans settled in Pennsylvania, that state (the town of Punxsutawney in particular) serves as a focal point for American festivities on February 2nd. Today, North American folklore says if the prognosticating groundhog sees his shadow when he emerges from his burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter.
Meteorologists and naturalists have tracked the weather on Groundhog Day and have found little correlation to the remaining winter weather. Nevertheless, it is a delightful bit of folklore. Why not jot your weather observations in your calendar and compare them in a few weeks?
Family Activity: Sprout Some Seeds!
If you don’t intend to tour your farm fields as early Europeans did on February 2nd, it is a good day to plan your vegetable garden by looking through seed catalogs. And, anytime in February is a good time to start vegetables from seed as a family project.
· Potting soil
· Garden seeds, available at garden centers or hardware stores.
· A seeding flat
You can sometimes purchase seed flats, pre-filled with potting soil. If you just want to plant a few seeds, fill some tiny pots with soil to get started.
By far, beans are the easiest seeds for young children to sprout. Their large size makes them easy to handle. Push the seeds into the potting soil about a half-inch and water. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Beans need warm temperatures to sprout. After they sprout, a sunny window will help them grow. If you intend to transplant your beans outside in mid-May, determine if you want seeds for bush beans (no staking required) or pole beans that need to vine up a structure.
Leaf lettuce is another easy seed to start indoors. Scatter the tiny seeds in a flat or pot with pre-moistened soil and cover lightly with more soil. It’s best to water these from the bottom by adding water to a tray under your flat or pot. Otherwise the seeds float away! After sprouting, lettuce thrives in cool growing temperatures.
Try pepper and tomato seeds, too!