Moon Light Gardening
As the full moon rises, my soul is stirred. Very often I am pulled from my slumber and sit at my bay window, drawn to that full, bright orb that dispels the darkness.
It is in these quiet hours that I become aware that I’m just a small dot on a big planet inside a bigger solar system, inside a bigger universe. It is humbling and expansive all at once.
The full moon pulls out potential – not only in people, but in plants as well. Tonight's full moon is known as the “Pink Moon.” Old-timers gave it this name for the wild pink phlox that emerges from the forest floor and drapes the woods and hillsides in April.
Farmers who depend upon the success of their crops recognize the moon’s effect on water, seed and soil and the wisdom in working with the cycle of the moon. There is even a calendar printed each year, Gardening by the Moon, that takes into consideration a myriad of geocentric and astrological calculations to guide planting activities based on the gravitational pull of the moon.
I first heard of lunar planting in the movie, “The Children of Huang Shi.” A young, English journalist is charged with helping Chinese orphans who have been forgotten by the war. He procures some seeds and tries to make a garden. It is not doing well. The movie shows one of the boys getting up during the full moon and sowing some of the extra seeds - with great results.
The boy combined his planting with a religious ritual of sorts and it was a movie, so I dismissed the idea. Yet here I am, by the window unable to sleep. The moon does effects the elements of this earth.
This isn’t just known by ancient practices and folklore. Isaac Newton established the laws of gravity, which proves the tides are affected by the gravitational pull of the moon. The pull of the moon is stronger than the sun because, even though the sun is larger, the moon is closer to the earth.
“The gravitation of the passing moon pulls the nearest body of water a little away from the solid mass of earth beneath it, and at the same time pulls the earth a little away from the water on the farthest side. In this manner the moon sets up two tidal bulges on opposite sides of the earth,” according to Louise Riotte.
These same forces affect the water content of soil, creating more moisture in the soil at the time of the new and full moon. This increased moisture encourages the seeds to sprout and grow. If you remember nothing else of Lunar planting, this one fact could help your gardening – plant seeds at the time of the full moon (and if you’re really dedicated, you could do it under the light of the full moon, like they did in the movie.)
Interestingly enough, the seeds don’t have to be outside to benefit from this phenomenon. Dr. Frank Brown of Northwestern University performed research over a ten-year period of time and kept meticulous records of his results. He found that plants absorbed more water at the time of the full moon. These experiments were done in a laboratory without direct contact from the moon, yet he found that they were still influenced by it.
In general, there are two periods of the moon’s cycle: waxing, when the moon is increasing to our visibility; and waning, when it is decreasing to our visibility. According to John Jeavons, author of "How to grow more vegetables…" during the waxing phase the above ground portions of a plant are stimulated to grown and during the waning phase the roots are stimulated to grow.
Ute York, in her book "Living by the Moon" says, “The old-time gardeners say, "With the waxing of the moon, the earth exhales. When the sap in the plants rise, the force first goes into the growth above ground. Thus, you should do all activities with plants that bear fruit above ground during a waxing moon. With the waning of the moon, the earth inhales. Then, the sap primarily goes down toward the roots. Thus, the waning moon is a good time for pruning, multiplying, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, and controlling parasites and weeds.”
Here is a quick guide from Gardening by the Moon website for planting your garden according to the moon’s phases (two for waxing/two for waning):
At the new moon, the lunar gravity pulls water up, and causes the seeds to swell and burst. This factor, coupled with the increasing moonlight creates balanced root and leaf growth. This is the best time for planting above ground annual crops that produce their seeds outside the fruit. Examples are lettuce, spinach, celery, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and grain crops. Cucumbers like this phase also, even though they are an exception to that rule.
In the second quarter the gravitational pull is less, but the moonlight is strong, creating strong leaf growth. It is generally a good time for planting, especially two days before the full moon. The types of crops that prefer the second quarter are annuals that produce above ground, but their seeds form inside the fruit, such as beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Mow lawns in the first or second quarter to increase growth.
After the full moon, as the moon wanes, the energy is drawing down. The gravitation pull is high, creating more moisture in the soil, but the moonlight is decreasing, putting energy into the roots. This is a favorable time for planting root crops, including beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, and peanuts. It is also good for perennials, biennials, bulbs and transplanting because of the active root growth. Pruning is also best done in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter there is decreased gravitational pull and moonlight, and it is considered a resting period. This is also the best time to cultivate, harvest, transplant and prune. Mow lawns in the third or fourth quarter to retard growth.
• The period from the Full Moon through the last quarter of the Moon is the best time for killing weeds, thinning, pruning, mowing, cutting timber, and planting below-ground crops.