Friday, March 19, 2010
Farm Bulletin: Doodlebugging on the Farm
Defined as "a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites and many other objects and materials," dowsing is also known as doodlebugging in some regions of the U.S. (Thanks once again, Wikipedia!). Though contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife, Carol, have only partaken of "witching" in order to find water on their farm. At least that's all they'll admit to. This Sunday you can find them in attendance at the Sunday Hillsdale Farmers Market from 10 am till 2 pm, whereafter they will take a break and return in July.
The new moon gets rather shabby treatment. For example, nobody gets excited when there are two new moons in a month. [The second is called a blue moon for the rarity of its occurrence. - KAB] For farmers at this time of the year, the new moon guides our activities. Catching the new moon earlier this week, we planted an acre or so of fava beans. Old wisdom tell us the best time to plant legume seeds is upon a waxing moon. Root crops are typically planted on the waning moon.
The practice of planting in concert with the moon is common to most agrarian cultures, and is based on careful observation. It is no more a superstition than the observation that the lunar phases affect the tides. The soil matrix where we plant our seeds has certain characteristics that are similar to a liquid, as the recent earthquakes have reminded us. The interaction between the growing plant, soil particles and water is very complex, and we hesitate at many of the simpler explanations. Planting with lunar cycles is similar to planting when the soil is sufficiently warm. The seeds may germinate in cold soil, but they are more prone to insect and fungal damage. From our perspective, we would rather work with the gravitational pull of the moon, just as we work with the warming effects of the sun.
Our appreciation of fuzzy phenomena was strengthened by the discovery that both us can "witch" or "dowse." If we need to find a buried pipe or power line, we grab a pair of divining rods, pieces of soft copper pipe or freshly cut willow branches work. It is a remarkable feeling the first time the wires move on their own, and it takes a few hours to get it out of your system and put down the rods. Oddly enough, the first time we watched someone dowse was in Portland. A Northwest Natural Gas worker located a gas line using a couple pieces of copper wire. He told us an older worker had doused with the wires, so he figured it was worth a try and it worked. He was a bit sheepish about it, lest someone would think he was looped. We figured he had some hillbilly in him, and left it at that. Many years later someone showed us how to dowse and, son of a gun, the wires moved. It is simple enough, just support the divining rods so they can move.
We are mediocre dowsers. Some people have a heightened sensitivity and can read more in the movement of the divining rods. Our dowsing ability saves us some time when we need to locate a buried pipe, but interpreting what it is that draws the divining rods together is beyond our ken. Not enough hillbilly in our pedigree, perhaps.