In early days, before the invention of things like the calendar and the almanac, farmers used the constellations to determine the best times to plant, as well as other activities. Though the constellations of the zodiac were the main favorites, there were several other constellations that helped mark the best times to plant and harvest.
This article explores the importance of constellations in agriculture, and some of the significant constellations in the night sky.
Constellations Used For Agriculture
Constellation #1: Taurus
Taurus has long been a feature of the early spring sky. And, for the people of the Andean mountains, an important crop indicator and guide to planting.
History of Taurus:
Taurus, the Bull, is most well known in Greek Mythology as an alternate shape of the god Zeus.
According to the legend, he transformed into a white bull to win the affections of the princess Europa.
After successfully tricking her onto his back, he carried her away to Crete.
The shape of Taurus in the night sky represents his journey across the sky with his captive princess.
Taurus was originally marked and named to show the position of the sun during the spring equinox.
Experts say that, though the constellation was officially named around 200 AD, it’s been used as a guide to the approach of summer since the Bronze Age.
Appearance and Location of Taurus:
Taurus is most well-known for two things: the presence of the Pleiades, and the V-shape of the main constellation body.
The Pleiades appear outside the right side ‘horn’, as a bright cluster, easily spotted.
Taurus can be found at the +20 degree latitude line, between Gemini and Aries.
It’s also directly over the constellation Orion, one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky.
Significance of Taurus in Agriculture:
Taurus is a summer constellation, which is important in general. Most crops of the northern hemisphere are meant to be planted in spring and harvested in fall, so the rise of Taurus meant the growing season was underway.
The people of the Andes mountains, however, have another use for Taurus.
Specifically, for the small cluster of stars within the Taurus constellation known as the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters.
Around the time of the summer solstice, the villagers would ascend the mountains and watch Taurus rise, then gauge the brightness of the Pleiades.
If the stars were bright, planting for the potato crops would need to begin soon.
If the stars were dim, it would mean that a drought season was coming, and the planting would be delayed to avoid losing precious crops to the lack of water.
In recent years, scientists have discovered that this technique actually predicts the cycle of the weather phenomenon El Nino, which is known for its affects on weather and rainfall across the globe.
Constellation #2: Cygnus
Cygnus rises in late summer and early autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.
Cygnus is also sometimes called the Northern Cross.
History, Appearance and Location of Cygnus:
Cygnus, the Swan, is reputed to be a form that the Greek god Zeus assumed to visit the Queen of Sparta for romantic liaisons.
The constellation forms the shape of an X, and sits between and below the constellations of Cassiopeia and Draco.
The middle of the ‘X’ shape can be found at about +35 degrees latitude.
Significance of Cygnus in Agriculture:
The rise of Cygnus signifies the coming of Autumn, the beginning of the Harvest season.
Farmers would mark this constellation and it’s rise to know when to harvest the summer crops and plant any winter crops.
Crops such as Beets, Carrots and Garlic could be planted around the time of Cygnus rising.
For farmers who grow year-round, this is a very important indicator of the beginning of the second cycle of crops.
Constellation #3: Leo
Leo the Lion is one of the more recognizable constellations of the night sky, with it’s distinctive hook and triangle formation.
It appears around the time of the spring equinox.
History and Appearance of Leo:
The constellation of Leo has been identified in lore since the ancient Sumerian period.
At that time, it was known as The Sickle, focusing on its curved shape.
The Greeks were the first to officially consider the constellation as a lion.
According to them, the constellation represented the Nemean Lion, which ravaged the countryside until it was slain by Hercules as one of his labors.
The constellation has two distinct sections, an east-facing hook, and a triangle positioned between Virgo and Coma Berenices.
The Location of Leo:
The constellation of Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper, is directly northward of the body of Leo.
The constellation can be found just above the Ecliptic, with the brightest star, Regulus, directly on the line.
The Significance of Leo in Agriculture:
In Ancient Egyptian agricultural efforts, the rise of Leo marked a critical moment of the year.
Leo’s rise and the sun’s ascendancy within Leo usually signaled the imminent flood of the Nile.
Flooding brought necessary water as well as nutrient rich silt and soil to Egypt, enabling the start of the planting and growing season.
In other cultures, the rise of Leo corresponds roughly with the spring solstice.
The appearance and rise of Leo marks the start of planting season, and the official end of winter.
Constellation #4: Pisces
The constellation Pisces, the Two Fish.
It’s one of the largest constellations in the sky, but it is one of the dimmer constellations as well.
Pisces is predominately an Autumn constellation.
History of Pisces:
Interestingly enough, every ancient culture that marked this constellation identified it as ‘fish’.
In Greek mythology, Pisces represents Aphrodite and Eros, fleeing from the giant Typhon.
According to the legend, they leaped into a stream and turned into fish to escape, and tied their tails together to avoid being separated.
Location of Pisces:
The constellation of Pisces is a widespread one, falling across the ecliptic.
The eastern fish lies below Andromeda, pointing towards Cetus.
The western fish is situated underneath Pegasus and above Aquarius.
Significance of Pisces:
The rise of Pisces signals that Autumn has arrived. In the Northern Hemisphere, this would be a sign that Harvest season is over, or almost over.
This is one of the important seasonal constellations by which the farmers could identify the coming winter solstice, which was a significant day in the calendar.
Other Important Celestial Bodies:
Though it’s not a constellation as such, one critical formation was the Spring Triangle.
It’s formed by the stars Arcturus, Spica, and Regulus.
The Triangle links the constellations of Bootes (Arcturus), Virgo (Spica), and Leo (Regulus).
The Spring Triangle was a well known formation that indicated Spring had arrived, and it shines brightly throughout the spring and summer.
Every season had its own special constellations, or groups of constellations, easily recognizable by all.
It was through these constellations that farmers created a calendar for all their agricultural needs, and determined the probable conditions of the seasons to come.
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