Interview RadioLive Home and Gardening Show, 10 Sept
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 10, 2016
Q: Are our seasons out of step with the rest of the world as some may suggest?
A: Well, there is confusion. On the calendars August is always shown as having daffodils, lambs etc, but it's still considered winter. So people say oh, winter is lasting longer now, going into Sept. And we do celebrate daffodil day in August. So, are daffodils a spring flower? or a winter flower? Most people associate daffodils with spring and yet they start blooming in winter... And "spring lambs" can start arriving any time from mid July to September.
What we have is two systems. There's meteorological seasons, marked by specific weather conditions, temperatures, or length of the days, so spring is considered to be 1 Sept., summer on 1 December, autumn on 1 March, and winter on 1 June. But spring in the old gardening books always had it starting at the 22 September, and Summer not until just on Xmas, and that is the much older astrological seasons (or 'astronomical' for those who look for a witch to burn when they hear the word astrology). So the old idea of spring is the Sun cycle which puts it all nearly a month ahead. On 22 December (solstice) for NZ, the Sun rises in the SE (it's actually halfway between E/SE and SE) and then it moves slowly up the E coast, so on 22 March (autumn equinox) it is rising due E, then on 22 June(winter solstice) it is rising roughly in the NE (actually in NZ between E/NE and E)
But you might say, if daffodils and lambs appear in August, then is there a case for calling for spring to be considered to start up to a month earlier? So instead of mid spring being 1 Oct, maybe it should be 22 August? With the days suddenly starting to get longer after the winter solstice (21 June), then indeed it's a signal to the plant world, and a message saying hey, spring is in the wings, so we better start to get cracking. At each of those astrological points is the beginning of a change - winter solstice to spring equinox (22 June -23 Sept) - whereas calling them as we do now (1 Sept), they are arguably in the middle of the change.
So for plants, autumn could be from summer solstice to autumn equinox (22 Dec-22 March) and winter from autumn equinox to winter solstice (22 March-22 June). But no one would buy into that, with winter ending sometime in June. It might suit gardeners, but not skiers.
So there's often a mismatch between when things flower or get born, and the traditional dates.
But even more importantly, something else is also going on, and that's that the seasons extend about two weeks every year further ahead, then they spring back to what they are supposed to be, when it comes to weather trends. So for instance, in 2015, our summer rolled on into the start of May, and this year it was still Indian summer at the end of May. Next year is a transition, with first snows coming at the end of April which will get snow operators all excited, but it won't be sustained, and in 2018 seasons are somewhat back to what they should be, in terms of the calendar. And that is all moon stuff, and it's on about a 9-year repeating cycle. For example, 2007 saw a late winter with not much snow until August, just like 2016.
So it's all about cycles of the Sun and Moon. But to sort this, imagine 4 balls (which represent cycles) being juggled at once, one big yellow one and 3 smaller gray ones.. The yellow one belongs to the Sun, and the other 3 belong to the moon. We all know that the Earth is on a tilt, and that is what traditionally causes the seasons. We tilt closer to the Sun on 22 Dec (summer solstice) and furthest away on 22 June (winter solstice). That puts Earth around 13 weeks closer to the sun, 13 weeks furthest away and 13 weeks each at the mid positions, which are called the equinoxes. The sun does the one cycle per year.
But the moon does 13 cycles per year and each month is moving 13 degrees per day around Earth and doing 3 things at once, as it goes around us each month.
1. Perigee cycle,
2. Declination cycle and
3. Phase (full /new moon) cycle.
Perigee is when the moon comes closer to earth once a month, and that brings the kingtides, earthquakes, and cyclones because it puts turbulence in the land, sea and air, and so, weatherwise, it exaggerates the season. Declination is which hemisphere the moon is over, and thirdly there's the full moon/new moon cycle which changes the angle of illumination from the sun. What people don't commonly know is the way all the Moon cycles work together, being that certain periods make for hotter summers, like full moons and perigees.
But because of that tilt, February is hottest for us because the heat engine of summer being the full moon time of the month, sees, in February in the southern hemisphere, the airtide 'out' to a max depth below us, which brings the sun's heat closer to our ground.
The autumn, according to the moon, is when the quarter moon and lunar equinox coincide, and the winter according to the moon is when full moon and southern declination combine, which happened in the second half of July in 2016 and brought the first real snows to the skifields. For the reverse, it is also why February is the coldest month in the northern hemisphere, because the new moon is the cold engine of winter, and the February new moon brings a maximum to the airtide depth right out below them, allowing the cold of space to come closer to their ground.
There is a change between the hemispheres, of course, because when to sow and when to prune are about the waxing and waning moon, tying in with what we call the ascension and descension, which is where the moon is throughout each month with respect to the tilt of the earth. So energies are either going up or down in the plant, and for sowing you want the energies going upwards from roots to branches, and for pruning you want the energies going downwards, so branches don't bleed or regenerate when you lop them off.
Throughout the year those moon requirements vary, such that for the southern hemisphere, those best planting and pruning days are mostly between April and August, and are least good between November - February. That is why winter time in the southern hemisphere is better for gardening activities than summer. It also explains why for the northern hemisphere, in particular the US, Canada and UK, from April – October is usually considered their best planting season.
Also, we are more uniquely affected by the amount of seas around us that “temper” our climate bringing in less extremes than say, in very inland areas of larger continents. The further inland you go, the harsher the climate, so Germany gets colder than England even though England is closer to the N pole. And in NZ, inland places like Alexandra and Rotorua can become very hot or cold.
Today the moon is in the part of the sky some call Sagittarius. That means good for roots and cultivating soil. Favoured by onions and fruit trees. People in NZ should be planting fruiting crops, tomorrow it's root crops, and midweek its flowering plants. You should only be pruning 18th-23rd, and leave any weeding and crop harvesting until the last week of September. The next rain periods are 15-17 September and 24-27 September. Remember daylight saving returns on 25 Sepotember.
In October the best sowing days are 2nd-8th, and pruning.days are 17th-21st.r
Q: When is the start of spring for you?
A: Well, it changes depending on whom I'm talking to. By the 1st of September we are well past the winter solstice (shortest day of the year, 21st June), and our days are getting longer, there's more light, the ground is beginning to warm up, spring bulbs are starting to come up through the soil, and the gardeners who are looking forward to planting their seedlings under protection for planting out in mid spring, which is traditionally Labour Weekend here 24th October, they will fall in line with what seed suppliers bring in. By then the soil is warmer too.
After the spring equinox(22 Sept), plants grow more vibrantly because there's more sunshine hours than before, crops will ripen faster, lawns will really burst into life, so if I'm talking to lawnmower contractors there's a different timetable. From mid-September to Labour Weekend all summer vege seedlings are ready for planting out. But for the almanacs I and my team choose the 1st of September as our “start of spring” as it is a constant, but we mark all this other stuff in the books and newsletters and in our regional weather wall calendars, so the customer has a choice of when to start.
Q: Does spring vary in the different parts of our country?
A: The only variance is related to the impact of the weather systems – Spring starts regardless where you live, day and night will still be of equal length at the equinox, whether you are in Kaitaia or Otago. However, what does vary is the climatic influences of the regions. So, technically, due to the “colder” climate of the base of the South Island, their winter season is considered to go for a longer time than the tip of the North Island, but this is simply due to the impact of the “roaring 40’s weather systems” verses the north Pacific Ocean weather systems. September is usually still cold enough for wintry frosts in the South island. The El Nino and La Nina bring different weather systems to different parts of the country. Also, the word 'climate' actually means latitude, so there can be no climate change in our lifetimes, because all places stay the same distance from the equator. Both ends of the country receive their seasons according to their latitudes, due to the angle of the sun's rays.
Q: Is the start of a season at the start of the month, as is recognised now, or around the equinox and the longest and shortest days of the year?
A: Longest and shortest days and the amounts of daylight and darkness are about the solstices and equinoxes, but the closest distance of the Earth to the sun is different again, because it is 4 January, which is 2 weeks after solstice (22 Dec). So what is spring and what the plants and garden decide is spring – is to do with a lot of factors, the climate, the placement of the moon and sun, the duration of the daylight hours and the energies of the planets. You can keep the temperature of the room in which a plant has been kept, fairly constant (down to around 10 deg C at night and up to 22 deg C during the day – even over winter). So something else besides temperature has told it to sprout - it has to be a host of factors, e.g. daylight hours, and also these astrological, astronomical factors, geomagnetic, whatever you want to call that, it's stuff the plant feels and responds to, deep down in its tidal genes, and not all plants are going to respond to the same factors, because they all have different nutritional needs.
You could say that while our seasons change under the meteorological dates, the hemisphere you are in, stays “locked-in” to their season until the astrological date comes around several weeks later. But generally speaking, when the equinox arrives on September 22 it is this date that we regard as the official end to winter. I have the last frost in Napier tomorrow, for Waikato on 15 Sept, for Dunedin about the 17 Sept, and for Marlborough the 20 Sept. Having said that, Christchurch may continue getting the odd frost until about 3 Nov and Cheviot even into December