There’s a new moon today. At 7.41 this morning to be precise. (The picture wasn't actually taken today but it's a pretty one so I thought I would include it anyway!) So what better day to launch myself into looking at the realm of planting by the moon.
I used to rent a patch of land which I turned into an allotment/mini-market garden. I ended up growing far too much for the family, so I set up a little shop at a craft centre on the same site through which I sold my surplus. What’s this got to do with planting by the moon, I hear you ask. Well, I found that I needed a structure to plan my working day around. Obviously, there were the routine tasks that needed doing, but what then? I didn’t want to waste time humming and ha-ing about what to do next, so a friend suggested that I look at setting out my jobs according to the lunar calendar, and she duly presented me with a, then current, copy of Gardening and Planting by the Moon by Nick Kollerstrom.
I have to admit to being a little sceptical about it at first, but I could see the value of using it as a timetable guide. I didn’t carry out any trials or experiments to see whether this system of sowing, planting, harvesting or ‘maintenance’ was any better than doing it ad hoc, so I can’t say if my crops did any better or worse than the next person’s. All I can say is that I was happy being told what to do when, but didn’t get too upset if I missed an auspicious day for sowing my lettuces or planting out my courgettes.
The idea behind planting by the moon is that there are certain days that are best for carrying out certain types of tasks relating to certain types of plants, depending on the cycle of the moon and where it is in relation to the four zodiacal elements of earth, water, air and fire. Each element is associated with particular signs of the zodiac, and types of plants:
Earth is linked to Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn and root crops;
Water is linked to Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces and leaf crops;
Air is linked to Gemini, Libra and Aquarius and flower crops;
Fire is linked to Aries, Leo and Sagittarius and fruit/seed crops.
For example, today, the 21st June 2020, according to the latest edition of Gardening and Planting by the Moon, the moon is in Gemini, so it should be a good day for flower crops - however there is a disrupting solar eclipse so we shouldn’t be doing anything at all in the garden except perhaps putting our feet up and having a brew. Tomorrow, however, the moon is still in Gemini (and there is no solar eclipse) making it a good flower day, so nurturing all flowering plants, including vegetables grown for their ‘flowers’ like globe artichokes, broccoli and cauliflowers, should be on the work agenda.
Other tasks, like pruning and grafting are also considered, for example: pruning should be done during a waning moon, since the water uptake is less; whereas grafting is best done under a waxing moon.
Of course, this is a simplification of the thinking behind it - to quote Shakespeare, ‘There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ (Hamlet, Act1, Scene 5) - and whether you subscribe to it or not, the underlying principles are not as new-fangled as some might think:
Hesiod, writing in the 9th century BC, tells us that: ‘the thirteenth of the waxing moon is a bad day to start seeding’;
Thomas Tusser in his Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie of 1557 to 1580 suggests that we should ‘Sowe peason and beanes in the wane of the Moone, who soweth them sooner, he soweth too soone.’
In 1615, Gervase Markham instructs the ‘English Hous-wife’ that: ‘in the new of the Moone shee may sow Garlicke […] Marigolds and Time. The Moone full shee may sow […] Fennell and Parslie.’
The Moon and Bees
Another aspect of plants and the moon - and bees - is that it appears that plant metabolism and the water content of plants is greater at full moon, whereas the concentration of carbohydrates is higher at the new moon phase. Additionally, research has shown that bees are more active at around the time of the new moon. Surely there must be a link: there is higher concentration of sugar in the nectar, ergo, there is an increased foraging for nectar by bees?
Planting by the moon is taken one step further – or, if we keep to the moon theme, should it be a giant leap further – in the biodynamic approach.
Biodynamics is a system of agriculture and horticulture introduced in the 1920s by Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher. (By the way, his areas of influence also include education, medicine, social reform, architecture and visual arts.) The central tenet is that the farm, or any other growing regime, is seen as a self-sustaining, closed ecosystem where nothing is brought in from the outside, apart from other goods produced biodynamically, such as manure. Despite the farm being ‘closed’ Steiner advocates the view that everything within it, from the soil to the farmer himself, is interconnected to the universe beyond and as a result is shaped by cosmic influences, particularly the moon. In addition, specific natural preparations, made to precise recipes, are used to enhance the life and potency of the soil. All these activities are carried out to encourage the natural growth of the plants which will ultimately result in healthy, wholesome crops. To some, while the whole concept is laudable, its methods seem spurious, verging on, dare I say, luna-tic. But whatever view you take, Steiner’s system of Biodynamics has been practised for almost a hundred years and is gaining in popularity all the time.
So that was a swift orbit around the subject of gardening and planting by the moon. Inspired as I might be to don my gloves, we learnt that today is not a good for gardening, so I’ll just go and have a nice cup of tea and a sit down – in the garden.
(Picture of Gemini, above, with kind permission of www.pictureboxblue.com)