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The Mast-Head: Gardening by the Stars

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 18:43

Two thousand years before Stonehenge, a nomadic people in North Africa built what is thought to be the oldest known astronomical clock. Think what we may about the yearly climate cycle on eastern Long Island, I think that some kind of seasonal calendar is still needed to anticipate when to take the dahlia and tomato seedlings outside.

Nabta Playa sits in the Sahara about 700 miles from the pyramids at Giza. Though it was uncovered in the 1970s, it took years for the stone circle set in sand to be decoded. An archaeoastronomist familiar with the American Southwest worked out that Nabta Playa would have aligned with the stars Arcturus, Sirius, and Alpha Centauri, as well as the constellation Orion and probably indicated the coming of the summer rain to its builders.

Almost by accident a week or so ago, I went on a bit of a tear about ancient Egypt after checking out a digital book from the East Hampton Library, which led to watching bits of related documentaries. Nabta Playa grabbed my attention because of its age; it was constructed about 7,000 years ago. That was nearly 4,000 years before the first extant pyramid was built for King Djoser on the west bank of the Nile River.

A shelf by one of the south-facing windows functions as my greenhouse or plant nursery. Like many home gardeners, I succumbed too early to the optimistic claims on the seed packets. A back room with a propane burner used for hot water and heat keeps the air around it about 75 to 80 degrees. Germination takes place in a blink. A few cold-tolerant plants have been out in a cold frame in the yard for a few weeks and it seems time to harden off the rest, or not.

Nights have been cold and the days when a chill rides in on the southerly winds off the ocean have slowed my enthusiasm. So has overambition, I think. Deer being how they are, the young plants would have little protection, and there is no need for a stone circle to tell me that.


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