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In the Clear 12/05/2013

Posted by zoidion in permaculture, Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The snow is gone—hopefully, though yesterday a number of folks in my neighborhood reported what looked like snow mixed with a wind-driven spatter of rain. And I saw it too.

Perennials are sprouting—the hops in my backyard are growing vigorously, the black currant bushes are sending out their leaves, the cherry tree is cautiously loosening its buds, the elderberry bushes are confidently pushing out their greenery, the comfrey is tentatively pushing up from the ground.

The kale and collard plants that I started from seed indoors, survived being covered by snow three weeks ago and narrowly avoided the May Day blitz that devastated places as close as River Falls, Wisconsin. That was one very strange storm.


I sowed beet and carrot seeds on April twenty-sixth, figuring that the waning moon in water sign Scorpio was an appropriate time to start those root crops. Still, they’re surprisingly slow in coming up, even though they are in the raised bed into which I put my best home-brewed compost last fall.

But then, the temperature track has been the usual wild up-and-down ride, just remaining cooler than average overall.

I did a lot of digging, and I think I’m done—for a while. Along the north edge of our lot, I dug two sections of trenches, cut out layers of elm roots and filled each trench with lengths of branches from the silver maple before replacing the soil in the form of berms to catch and hold rainwater: one of the principles of permaculture. I did much the same, except for the root-cutting, along two sides of the new herb garden, and over the past week I’ve installed bush basil, summer savory, peppermint, thyme, arnica, echinacea, bulbing fennel, anise and borage. While shaping the herb area, I excitedly realized I could fairly easily extend a leader to bring rainwater from one corner of the house roof to one end and fashion a mini-pond to help charge the soil with moisture to carry the herbs through dry spells.

Last evening we showed a couple of friends around the yard, and the air was quite chilly after the day’s blasts of wind—I recalled the Bard’s words: “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.”  (See the slow-motion avalanche at one of the bigger lakes “up north,” on the Minnesota Public Radio Updraft blog.) As the sky darkened and I could spot the slim waxing crescent moon through the trees across the street, the air had the feel of a possible frost about it. Yes indeed, there was a light frost on roofs at dawn, and a thermometer reading of thirty-two degrees.

Are we in the clear? Over the next several weeks, essentially yes. Remarkably, the severe drought conditions that existed six months ago have been relieved through the upper Mississippi River region. The soil has been recharged. The heavy snows that characterized the latter half of the winter and well into spring melted at a pace to soak into the ground. Many, including myself, are amazed at the turnaround.

Astronomical indications are for a boost in temperature and moderation of rainfall. The current week, beginning with the New Moon / solar eclipse of 9 May features cold air sign Aquarius on the lower meridian, with both Sun and Moon exactly ninety degrees from the meridian. This correlates with the unseasonable chill as well as a rapid rebound—Mars is on the horizon of that chart. But it is primarily a dry week.

There is a prospect for destructive turbulence, especially on the seventeenth, as Mars crosses the position of the eclipse.


The week following the First Quarter Moon (17 May) is marked by earthy Taurus on the lower meridian: Light rains are likely, but the overall affect of the weather is apt to be drying (Sun and Mars are both still in Taurus, and lord Venus is in airy Gemini). At last, good crop-growing weather. There is not nearly as much moisture available in this region’s atmosphere. However, with stormy Capricorn on the Ascendant, whose lord is Saturn on the upper meridian, a couple of stormy episodes can be expected.


Similarly, the Full Moon chart shows Taurus on the lower meridian, with only Mars left in Taurus. Again, only light rain is likely from unusually cloudy skies for this time of year, and increasing dryness is indicated. A somewhat windier period is shown by Mercury in conjunction with Venus and Jupiter.


These weeks will be notable for the most pronounced surges of warmth over the season. They are timed to the passage of first, the Sun, and then Mars past the mark of twenty-four degrees and sixteen minutes of Taurus: the point ninety degrees from the horizon of the season chart. The Sun reaches that point on the fourteenth of May, Mars on the twenty-third.

The solar effect is primarily of bringing dryer conditions. It is Mars’ role to indicate rising temperature along with greater drying and a greater degree of atmospheric turbulence.

It is that last week of May that holds the greatest potential for destructive atmospheric forces. May we be spared anything like the tornado that cut a swath through the north side of Minneapolis two years ago.

I remember that day and year. I was sheltering in the basement as the tornado tore up a swath of the city little more than a mile away; many holes in the urban fabric remain, especially since some of the poorest sections were hit. In August, I experienced the earthquake that shook the Washington, DC, area, as well as Hurricane Irene drenching the Northeast. I consider myself most fortunate to have come through unscathed.

May all of our gardens grow and yield a bounty of health-giving food and the blessings of a greater sense of community.

– Pete(r) Doughty –


Mayday! Mayday! 01/05/2013

Posted by zoidion in Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: It was fun while it lasted. Heck, it was spectacular.  We lost that last—or was it last?—snow in a hurry. The temperature shot up past sixty on the 26th—tying the record for latest date to reach that level of warmth—and attained eighty on the 28th.

People emerged from their caves in droves and thronged every outdoor eatery and drinkery. Feet were adorned with sandals; calves, thighs and midriffs were bared. Our house windows were open, night and day. I found it delightful to wake to the early light, to the gentle clatter of wooden chimes and the first chirps of the birds. It was bizarre, and wonderful.

I did my share of celebrating, and more than my share of digging. I’m glad to have a plausible excuse for taking a few days off, as elbows, wrists and knees issue a steady complaint. But I got the herb patch ready for planting. It’s roughly chevron-shaped, fifteen feet along the two longest sides, along which I dug trenches, laid in branches and dry stalks from perennials, and raked the soil on top to form berms. To help contain and hold the rainwater. I shaped an elevated area and a basin, and extended a leader to conduct rainwater from one corner of the house’s gutter system.

The latter was inspired by a couple of water management stories I looked at while waiting for the snow to melt. They show projects in rather different climates: central Illinois (recently hit by very heavy rains) and the desert regime of Tucson, Arizona. See Midwest Permaculture and The Oil Drum.

While I’m at it, let me direct your attention to a fascinating project to begin reviving sail-powered freight boats in the inland waterways of the Northeast. The Vermont Sail Freight Project and its instigator, Erik Andrus, are building a boat dedicated to shipping Vermont farm products to New York City and other markets via Lake Champlain, the Champlain Canal, and the Hudson River. Author James Howard Kunstler—whose post-peak oil novels World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron I recommend—has a podcast episode about this at his Kunstlercast site. I find this very exciting. Check it out.

Alas, the beginning of May is still within the average last frost date for this area. And also within the historic last snow date.

And so the cooler-than-average pattern of the season is returning as the Full Moon week gives way to the Last Quarter. And no surprise, really.

As you may recall from the previous post, the Full Moon (lunar eclipse) chart for this location featured fire sign Sagittarius on the crucial lower meridian—hence the welcome surge of warmth.  I note that the warmest day here coincided with the Sun-Saturn opposition, which indicates a shift to a distinctly unpleasant period. (George J. McCormack, in A Text-Book of Long-Range Weather Forecasting, summarizes this astronomical combination: “Lower barometer. Dull to overcast skies. EASTERLY WINDS. Heavy downfall, colder.”)

Sun and Saturn were obscurely placed in the Full Moon chart for this location (and for this band of longitude). Not so for this next week.

In the Fourth Quarter chart (within minutes of sunrise on the 2nd), this region gets a strong dose of Sun-Saturn: across the horizon.


And like the First Quarter chart—for the week that brought us a parade of snowstorms—this chart has cool water sign Cancer on the lower meridian. This time the moisture-indicating Moon is in cold Aquarius. And configurations such as this, with many bodies in “fixed” signs (Taurus, Scorpio and Aquarius this time) can correlate with some quite persistent weather systems. Here we go yet again.

Already, after periods of light rain through the morning, snow is coming down and the temperature has dropped to thirty-six, as I type these last words near noon. Since 1891, there have been only five two-inch-plus snowfalls in May in the Twin Cities. I do not find that reassuring. Not this year.


– Pete(r) Doughty –

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