Planting by the Moon

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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There are two groups of people out there when it comes to planting by the moon; either you believe and follow the signs religiously or you think it is all a bunch of rubbish. Count me in as a believer. As a kid who grew up in a family that always planted a big garden, cultivated a truck patch and farmed, I never remember my parents not following the moon signs.

They had learned their lessons well after a few times when they got behind and did not follow the signs. One year it was getting late and we planted the root crops at the same time as the rest of the garden. Our potatoes, carrots and onions had beautiful leaves and growth above ground but there were hardly any vegetables below ground.

Following the almanac even applies to other tasks such as castrating hogs. One time in particular, we performed this task in the sign of the heart, the worst possible sign to do this procedure. Dad lost 5 hogs that time and he changed nothing in the way that he always performed the castration. It certainly made a believer out of me.

So, what exactly is gardening by the moon and is there any scientific evidence that it works? Well, yes and no. Basically, gardening by the moon is aiming to optimize plant productivity by scheduling specific gardening activities during favorable moon phases.

The theory behind this is that the gravitational force of the moon affects water movement on earth. It is this same reasoning that is behind the high and low tides. This lunar gravitational movement causes fluid movement in plants.

The four phases of the moon, new moon, first quarter, full moon and last quarter govern this cycle. It begins with new moon which is not illuminated. As it “waxes” or grows in illumination toward the full moon stage, it is believed that it is drawing moisture and nutrients upward; thus plants that produce above ground crops will flourish during this stage.

After full moon, the moon is said to be waning, or decreasing in light which is better for the underground crops. Thus, the science behind this theory lies in the effect of the moon’s gravitational pull on earth.

The waning moon is associated with harvest. Crops do better if harvested during the waning moon. Fruits and vegetables are better harvested during the waxing moon because the water content is higher. Tomatoes harvested at full moon will be plumper and juicier because of the higher concentration of water.

New moon is good for balanced root and leaf growth whereas when the moon is in first quarter it is a good time to plant, especially plants that produce above ground crops that have their seeds in the fruit like beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash and tomatoes.

During full moon the gravitational pull is high, there is more moisture in the soil but the moonlight is decreasing, which means that the energy is in the roots. The second quarter is generally a resting period, good for cultivating, fertilizing, pruning and mowing lawns to retard growth.

Photo by Getty Images/Jupiterimages.

We can even narrow the planting down further by following the signs of the zodiac along with the phases of the moon. On its 29 day journey around the earth, the moon passes through all 12 signs of the zodiac.

These are divided into four broad groups; water, earth, air and fire. Signs classified as water or earth are optimal for planting and pruning for growth. Air and fire are barren and are suitable only for weeding, tilling and pruning for control of growth.

Thus, a few days each month correspond to the 12 signs in the zodiac, which in turn each sign is associated with a different part of the body which control certain functions associated with gardening or other activities. Here is a rundown of the 12 signs and characteristics associated with each one:

Water Signs

  • Cancer (hands): Plant aerial crops or prune to encourage growth or perform grafting. Plants take up water easier.
  • Pisces (feet): Transplant or sow seed for vigorous root growth, plant root crops, fertilize root crops.
  • Scorpio (pelvis): Best time for planting seed or grafting or pruning for growth or planting root crops.

Earth signs

  • Taurus (throat): Transplant for hardy plants, sow seed, plant root crops, prune to limit growth.
  • Virgo (stomach): Till, cultivate and turn compost piles, garden pests and weeds are most vulnerable in this sign and pruning to shape plants is effective.
  • Capricorn (legs): Prune for strong growth, graft and plant seeds, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes.

Fire signs

  • Leo (heart): Prune to shape shrubs in this most fiery of fire signs, cultivate and till soil, best sign to weed or control pests.
  • Aries (head): Destroy weeds and pests, till and cultivate, prune to limit growth, turn sod and harvest crops for best keeping qualities.
  • Sagittarius (thighs): Till and cultivate, plant onions, weed and prune to limit growth, harvest crops for maximum keeping quality.

Air signs

  • Gemini (arms): Cultivate and till, harvest herbs and root crops, weed for maximum effectiveness.
  • Aquarius (ankles): Cultivate and till the earth in this dry, airy sign, get rid of weeds or harvest for long term storage.
  • Libra (kidneys): Plant annual flowers, plant vines, flowers picked in this sign last longest and plants pruned will keep their shape longer.

This all sounds pretty complicated until you break it down, which is where an almanac does it all for you, month by month and day by day. In a nutshell, to garden by the signs of the moon, you plant when the moon is waxing and in a fertile sign and weed, till and harvest when it is waning and in a barren sign.

Does it work? All I know is that every year when we have truly followed these signs we have had amazing crops. Some may call it coincidence but I like to think there is definitely something to gardening by the moon. If not, 63 years of coincidences is quite a few!

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