There were 9.5 hours of daylight yesterday. Here in Maine the Persephone Period has begun. If Halloween festivities and the celebration of Samhain weren’t enough to indicate the turning of the Wheel of the Year, day light savings really drives the message home. Darkness descends upon the landscape right now at 4:30 in the afternoon, cutting the days dramatically short, and they will continue to get shorter and shorter until we reach the Winter Solstice, when the days start to grow in length once more.
The Story of Persephone
In his books “The New Organic Grower” and “The Winter Harvest Handbook” Eliot Coleman reminded us that before humanity had science to explain how the world works we made up stories like that of the Greecian myth of Persephone. She was the Goddess of Spring Growth, beautiful and lovely. She was also the daughter of Demeter, who was the Goddess of Corn, Grain, and the Harvest.
One day while Persephone was playing in a flowery meadow Hades, Lord of the Underworld, came and abducted her to be his bride. Demeter was so enraged that she laid a curse upon the Earth that caused the crops to wither and die, and the land became barren.
Zeus has no choice but to intervene, seeking the return of Persephone, but because the maiden had eaten 6 pomegranate seeds (the food of the dead) while in captivity Hades had a claim on her. It was decreed that Persephone would forever spend four months of the year in the Underworld with her husband.
During these months Demeter grieves for her daughter, withdrawing her gifts from the world, creating winter. Persephone’s annual return to the Earth in the spring was marked by the greening of meadows and the budding of new leaves of the trees.
Why does it matter?
As a grower it’s important to know when your Persephone period because most plants won’t grow when there are less than 10 hours of daylight. Sure, we can manipulate it a bit, using cold-frames, low-tunnels and high-tunnels, and selecting cold-hardy varieties. However, these are natural forces that we ultimately have no control over; the sun comes up when it comes up, and sets when it sets.
If we want to harvest during this time we need to plant the seeds in advance, so that the crop has enough time to reach at least 75% maturity. There will be some growth during the Persephone Days, but it will be very slow.
To determine the Persephone Period where you are try the Duration of Daylight site offered by the US Navy’s Astronomical Applications Department.
Learn more about growing through the winter by checking out this great Winter Growing Guide offered by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Whether you’re growing for market or to feed your own family, knowing your Persephone Period is key.
Here in Maine the days will not be long enough for significant growth to occur again until February. In the meanwhile I have 3 beds under row-cover in the garden: 2 beds hold kale and a variety of greens, and the 3rd contains carrots. These beds are something like living-refrigerators, where we laughingly go to “shop” once a day.
During the winter it can be difficult to access fresh vegetables locally, but thanks to our own dedication, we’ve managed to grow our own, reducing the food budget and providing our family with more nutritious food. What’s more, there’s a way to grow even more fresh greens this winter! Check back soon to learn more about Runamuk’s Winter Growing Challenge!
When does your Persephone Period begin? Share your comments below so we can all learn from your experiences! And thanks for following along!