Planting a Garden by the Moon
What Is This Nonsense?
Let's start with the basics, shall we? We know and accept that the tides operate in conjunction with the moon. We also are well aware of the sun's effects each and every day. Yet outside of these examples we are quick to ignore the possibility that the celestial realm affects our lives in other ways.
Of course this raises the question of cause and effect. But that's not within the scope of this article. So for the sake of simplicity I will be speaking as if the moon is the cause of these effects.
Plants flower based on the length and strength of the light they receive. When certain plants don't receive enough daylight, sometimes the light of a full moon is just enough to encourage them to flower. It's also obvious that in marshland biomes the moon's effect on the tides will have a huge impact on the flow of water. Some animals remain in sync with lunar cycles even when isolated from their habitat. Perhaps plants, bacteria, and/or fungi have similar mechanisms.
Well If It Works, Now What? Folklore.
Here we have a small collection of folk advice that was likely well known among American farmers in the 1800s.
- Rail fences cut during the waning moon (dry) will stay straighter.
- Wooden shingles/shakes will remain flatter if cut during the dark of the moon.
- Fence posts ought to be set in the dark of the moon to resist rot. Ozark lore goes one step further, instructing one to align fence posts as the tree grew. Them mistake of putting root end up would shorten the life of the fence.
- Don’t begin weaning when the moon is waning
- Castrate and dehorn animals when the moon is waning for less bleeding.
- Slaughter when the moon is waxing for juicier meat.
- Crabbing, shrimping, and clamming are all best performed during a full moon.
- Fishing is best on the days between a new and full moon.
- Dig up horseradishes in the full moon for the strongest flavor.
- Set eggs to hatch on the moon’s increase, but not if a south wind blows.
Making Some Larger Principles
From these bits of advice, that were compiled over several lifetimes of experience, we can extrapolate certain patterns. Some gardeners keep it simple, others take it to the extreme of using zodiacal signs in conjunction with moon observations. Here I'd simply like to list some of the common activities during each phase.
Waxing: New Moon
Here the moonlight begins to increase. Although it is of course, still very low. This mild, fresh energy of the new moon is perfect for leafy greens along the lines of lettuce, spinach, kale, and some herbs.
Waxing: First Quarter
As the available light becomes more significant, most recommend the planting of fruiting annuals. Pumpkins, squash, beans, tomatoes, and peas are all good examples. It is also recommended to add liquid fertilizers to your garden, as well as any grafting that is in your plans.
During this time there is an increased flow of moisture. Water moves from deep in the earth towards the surface, where plants can more readily make use of it.
Waning: Full Moon
It’s during this period that root vegetables and perennials have the greatest advantage. As energy is drawn down into the earth, strong root growth is heavily stimulated. Everything from potatoes, to onions, to beets; as well as fruit trees, asparagus, and garlic, will all do well during the Full Moon.
Waning: Last Quarter
Simply a good time for garden maintenance. For plants it is a time of rest, meaning it is a time to hold off on planting and sowing. Instead spend your time on neglected garden chores: weeding, mulching, composting, harvesting, etc.
Solid fertilizers are recommended during this period (worm castings, manure, eggshells, etc). It's a great time to harvest crops, and prune your plants. Especially during the winter months.
→ There are many plants (Cucumbers and cabbage among them) which don’t follow the expected trend. You’ll need to do your own research on exactly what times of the month are suggested. As with everything the deeper your understanding, the more subtleties there are.
A woman named Maria Thun did an incredible amount of direct experimentation on gardening with respect to the moon. Unfortunately information on her experiments aren't easy to come by, but this is a good place to begin looking.
Dr. Frank Brown conducted many years of research into biological clocks during his time at Northwestern University.