A venture into planting by the moon
Mention today that you plant by the moon and there is a fair chance that you’ll be gently ridiculed. But that hasn’t always been the case. Turn the clock back just 200 years and the response is likely to have been completely different. The lunar calendar was just one of many factors that would have been taken into account by anyone working with the soil. To fail to do so might have seemed like madness rather than the other way around. So, should we gardeners of the 21st century be considering the moon’s position as we tend our gardens? Or is it just the kind of ‘mumbo-jumbo’ that is best left in the past?
Two years ago, after a decade of gardening organically, I found myself diving head first into a completely different way of thinking. I’d been looking for a blog subject for the website of our County’s newly formed Gardens Trust. The Trust’s first event had been a visit to a wonderfully diverse and very healthy looking biodynamic garden, so having a go at planting by the moon and then reporting on the results was an obvious choice.
I needed plenty of material for the blog, so I decided to focus my efforts on my vegetable garden where the typical combination of annual flowers and vegetables would give me a good range of fast growing plants to observe and on which to report regularly. I bought myself a lunar sowing and planting calendar and determined to follow it to the letter.
Maria Thun’s Biodynamic Calendar takes note of the lunar cycles and planetary movements and advises on the best time to plant. She divides plants into 4 groups: leaf, root, flower, and fruit. Seeds are sown, cultivated and harvested on a day allocated in the calendar to their group – the day on which the optimum conditions for that particular group are in operation. Sowing carrots or parsnips on a root day for example, ensures good strong root growth. Tomatoes on the other hand, should be sown, hoed and cultivated on fruit days. Unsurprisingly, any flowering plant whether annual or perennial, should be sown on a ‘flower’ day.
In no time at all, my calendar (and its advisory notes) had become my constant companion and I had completely re-thought my seed sowing. No more wandering around for weeks with half-used seed packets in my pockets and then having a mass sowing session when I got around to it. I was relieved to read that there wouldn’t be a complete disaster if I got things wrong – I just wouldn’t get the results I’d intended. Peas and beans sown on a ‘root’ rather than a ‘fruit’ day for example, would produce less ‘fruit’ but more nitrogen producing root nodules and make a good green manure. An excellent mistake to make for anyone wanting to improve the condition of next year’s soil, but perhaps not so good for this year’s hungry family? Rather more alarming was the discovery that there were some days when the calendar advised me to keep out the garden altogether.
Having mastered the theory of sowing seed on the right day I ran into an unwanted complication. When doing any job in the garden other than seed sowing, choosing the correct day wasn’t enough. I also had to take note of whether the moon was ascending or descending. While seeds could be sown on the correct day during either an ascending or a descending moon, other garden tasks would be more successful if carried out in the right half of the month. Apparently, during an ascending moon, plant sap rises more strongly making it a good time for grafting. When it’s descending, plants take root more readily – so this is when any transplanting should be done. Sap movement is slower too so it’s a good time to trim hedges and prune trees.
My gardening diary for March 2009 is full of excited exclamation marks. I’d sown parsley, dill, corn salad, coriander, basil and two varieties of lettuce on a leaf day. Within 4 days of sowing, all (with the exception of the parsley) had germinated. The same applied to the cornflower and cosmos that I had sowed on ‘flower’ days. I couldn’t remember germination ever being quite so reliable and speedy. Whatever I sowed on the correct day did well. Other gardeners who were following the blog reported a similar experience.
My excitement was short-lived. There was an unexpected problem just around the corner. Those strong little seedlings with their very fibrous roots did so well that they were ready to be transplanted before the moon started to descend – the optimum time for planting out. What should I do? Should I cheat? Or leave the poor things to get long and leggy? I did neither. I ate anything that was edible and made a mental note to sow the next batch, not only on the appropriate day but also as close to ‘transplanting time’ as possible. Then I could be sure of planting them out while they were still at their best.
I complained (rather pathetically) on the blog about feeling harassed by this pedantic method of gardening and had a very helpful response from someone who was in her 2nd year of lunar planting. Her tip for planting at the right (but often inconvenient) time was to be organised. She had a planting target list for each month and then prepared her allotment or pots ahead of the planting date so that seed sowing only took a few minutes. I tried it and it helped. But what were the end results? Did I finish the season surrounded by vast quantities of fruit, vegetables, and flowers?
I’d like to be able to tell you that I had a bumper harvest and that my annual flowering plants were even more floriferous than usual. But sadly, that wouldn’t be true. It was a strange summer and as always, the conditions suited some plants more than others. Planting by the moon might give everything a flying start but it doesn’t change the weather, not does it avoid the need to water, protect and compost.
However, something very measurable did change and that was my attitude. As soon as I noticed how quickly the seeds were germinating and just how thick and fibrous the roots of the seedlings were, the discipline of doing what was right for the plant (rather than what suited my own timetable) started to be satisfying rather than irritating. Eighteen months on, I’m no longer writing the blog, but I haven’t given up on the moon. Sometimes I can’t avoid doing things on the ‘wrong’ day and I feel quite relaxed about that. But it is almost akin to giving my sons the occasional ready-meal. They still grow, but I know that I haven’t provided the very best. Planting by the Moon no longer feels odd. It’s my new ‘normal’. Now that I’ve mastered the basics, it’s become a more measured and restful way to garden. As for the future – I think it could be time to have a go at some hardy perennials.