Hesiod, who lived in ancient Greece somewhere between 900 B.C. and 725 B.C., wrote a poem called “Works and Days.” Among other things Hesiod offers advice on agriculture. Pretend that you are a farmer who lived in Hesiod’s day. You are accustomed to plant wheat each year, and you also have a vineyard. What would your agricultural year be like?
The agricultural year in ancient Greece began in fall. You have two fields. One has been harvested earlier in the year. Leave that one fallow, so that it can recuperate its fertility. Ancient Greeks did not know about crop rotation, and they did not have synthetic fertilizers.
The other field has been left fallow for a year and is ready for sowing. Wait till you hear the sound of migrating cranes traversing the skies overhead (about 27 days after the autumnal equinox in the middle of October). This is your signal to start sowing wheat.
If your plough-tree (handle for plough) is worn out, go to a nearby mountain, find a holm-oak, and make a new plough-tree.
Attach your plow to your ox. As the ox pulls the plow across your field, hold on to the plough-tree to guide it. Sow wheat seed into the broken soil behind the plow.
Do not delay your sowing. If you do not get it done before the Winter Solstice, you will have a bad crop. But you still may have a fair harvest if there is extra heavy rain after the cuckoo delights the world with its calls in spring.
The rainy season lasts from the middle of October until spring. So your field work is finished for the time being. Let the crops grow. They do not need your help. Keep yourself occupied with indoor activities.
The month of Lenaion is a cold, distressing time. At this time, you must wear a long tunic, a cloak, and leather shoes with fleece inside. (Lenaion is mostly in January, but not completely. The Greeks used lunar months.)
After the cold subsides, you will have to take care of your vineyard. When Arcturus rises right after sunset (about 60 days after the Winter Solstice), watch for the appearance of the swallows. When they come, prune your grapevines and dig the soil around them. This will occur at the end of February or the beginning of March.
When snails begin to crawl up the stems of grass and herbs at the time of the heliacal rising of the Pleiades (in April), sharpen your sickle and harvest your wheat.
Sometime in spring, plough your other piece of land which has been lying fallow all year, so that the weeds will dry up during the dry season. Hesiod does not happen to mention this, but it was a common practice among the ancient Greeks.
When Orion rises shortly before the sun (a little after the middle of June), thresh your wheat. Store it and lock it up in a safe place.
When Arcturus rises just before the sun (early September), harvest your grapes and make wine.
When the Pleiades and Hyades set shortly before sunrise in the middle of October, you are ready to begin a new agricultural year. This time let the field you have just harvested lie fallow, and plant the one that has rested for a year.
Note #1: This article is based directly on Hesiod’s work. It is available in an English translation by M. L. West.
Note #2: Because of the precession of equinoxes, stars rise and set on different dates from the time of rising and setting in ancient Greece.