Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Lusty Month of May

May 1 marks the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane, according to The Celtic Book of Days by Caitlin Matthews (Destiny Books, 1995). Beltane, or Bealtaine in the Irish, celebrates the bright half of the year. Inspired by the song in the movie Camelot, John likes to call this month "the lusty month of May." There's actually some historical basis for that: way back in the day, on Beltane it was customary for unmarried couples to go off to the woods for…well, use your imagination.  In any event, when May finally arrives, it seems like the earth is brimming over with vibrant, lusty life!

Modern people have put their own spin on May Day celebrations—contemporary Irish folks have even finagled a bank holiday out of it. When I was a kid, the first of May was a blast. My sisters and I would craft little baskets out of construction paper, fill them with clover, dandelion blossoms, or whatever flowers we could scarf from our mom’s flower garden, and attach a little handle. Then we’d stealthily approach our favorite neighbor’s houses, carefully hang a basket on the front doorknob, ring the doorbell, then giggling, we’d race home before the neighbors could open their door. I thought the whole anonymity thing was exhilarating.

 I haven’t done that for…well, I won’t tell you how many years it’s been since I left a May Day basket on somebody’s door. But these days, I celebrate May Day with a different kind of exhilaration…the kind you get putting in your spring garden! You see, here in the Foothills, May 1 is exactly two weeks before our last frost date. Which means it’s safe to start planting! Of course, there are a few cool-weather crops you can seed in April, like spinach, and peas. But May Day means we can get serious about Berryridge Farm staples: carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes and kale. A lot of sources say you can plant these in April, but I’m sorry—with this being our 6th Spring in the Foothills, we know April is just too undependable. We’ve probably had upwards of 5 inches of rain this month, plenty of temps in the low 40’s or even down into the 30’s, which is hardly conducive to happy seeds and germination!

 On the Celtic timetable, May 1 actually the official beginning of summer (since February 1, St. Brigit’s feast day, marks the opening of spring). All I can say is, I wish.  I’d love to be celebrating these mid-spring days as is the brightest, sunniest part of the year, but we get so much rain in May, right up through June, that the longest days of daylight don’t feel that bright. But I guess the plants have it all figured out—whether weeds, seedlings or established plants, they grow like nobody’s business from May through summer solstice time.

I’m heading outside asap to get some seeds in the ground—what do you plant in May? If you aren’t sure about the last frost date in your area, you can consult your local university county extension program for gardening and farming info!