What is Moon Gardening, how does it work, and why is it useful?
Moon Gardening uses the cycle of the Moon to select the best day of the month to plant, prune, pull or poison weeds, fertilize, and harvest crops. The aim is to enhance crop yield, to have strong healthy plants which can survive adverse conditions, and of course; to create beautiful gardens.
As far back as we have the written word; we have worked the land according the Moons natural rhythms. Even the ancients knew of the Moons effect on water as seen in the tides that follow the Moons cycle, and the ancients knew that this cycle could be used in planting and harvesting.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every
purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant and a time to pluck up what which is planted…
…….…..A time to reap and a time to sow……
Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 8 The Bible
Plants are predominately made of water. The Moon pulls the water upward through the micro roots and through all the capillaries of the plants. There is a rush of movement and vital energy through all plants as the Moon increases in size. You only have to see a drooping plant respond to being watered, to know how fast and how effectively water moves through the plants fibres.
Since we are also predominately made of water it is also not surprising that we are also affected by the movement of the Moon. Just as there are good times to plant, there are also good times for us to begin activities, and times to allow things to finish. Thus we can also follow the Moon cycle for our own personal development and goals. But that is for another article!
Using Moon gardening has many advantages. The increase in crop yields benefits both the home and commercial gardener. The ability of the plants to surviving adverse conditions saves money on replacements, harvested crops do not spoil on storage, less fertilizer and poisons are needed, and much less measurable, but far more profound, is the increased harmony between the land and you – the guardian of the land.
Why Ancient Moon Gardening and not Biodynamic Moon Gardening?
There are two different methods of Moon Gardening. The first method uses the Moon phase along with the fertile and barren signs of the Moon and has been used for thousands of years. I call it “Ancient Moon Gardening” and it is an elegant, easy and historically proven system that is my personal favourite.
The second method was devised in the 1930’s by Rudolph Steiner who was a philosopher fascinated by the forces that regulated life and growth. His ideas have developed into a much wider and wonderful system encompassing different techniques for soil and compost know as Biodynamic Gardening. His Moon gardening system uses the Moon phase and the movement of the Moon through the heavens where a Fire Moon position aids seeds and fruits, an Earth position aids root crops, an Air position aids flower growth and a Water position aids the development of leaf crops.
I have dabbled in the Steiner system but I far prefer using the ancient methods utilizing the barren and fertile signs, along with the Moon phase. This ancient system can be used to prune for growth, to prune to retard growth (bonsai, lawns and hedges), to find the best days for effective spraying, to harvest for taste or to harvest for storage.
Timber is felled most advantageously when the Moon
is in conjunction with the Sun.
Cato 234 -149 BCE
Moon Phase – see it change!
The Moon phase is common to both systems and even if you do nothing else with the Moon in planning your garden activities – I strongly recommend you use the Moon phase! Although if you want better results, combine the Moon phase with the barren and fertile signs.
There are 4 phases to the Moon. The first and second quarters are when the Moon is increasing in size, also known as waxing. You can easily see when the Moon changes from 1st to 2nd quarter as it is known as the half Moon. After the Full Moon, it decreases in size through the 3rd and 4th quarter. This decrease in size is known as the waning Moon. You can easily see when the Moon changes from 3rd to 4th quarter as it again appears as a half Moon.
The Moons cycle can be said to begin at the New Moon. At this time the Moon is so close to the Sun that we cannot see where it is. Thus it is invisible to us. No planting or pruning should be done at the New Moon, as plants will tend to bolt to seed and lack necessary strength to survive any difficulties. You may have noticed plants or branches that grew quickly; but grew weak and spindly.
In the waxing phase the Moon visibly grows in size and the life force or energy is going into a growing phase. The surge is upward and growth buds are activated. This is the phase for any garden activity where you want growth and foliage and general expansion. In the 1st quarter waxing it is best for plants where you are interested in eating or admiring the leaves. The 2nd quarter waxing is best for fruiting type plants and vegetables.
The Full Moon is such an intense energy that any planting or pruning will lead to grotesque and distorted plants or crops. Some people desire weird growth; for example, decorative gourds. If you want to win first prize at the local garden show for the strangest shaped vegetable, then plant at the Full Moon! If you don’t believe that the Full Moon influences growth and hence behaviour – ask any emergency ward staff, or the English Police force who decided to put on extra staff only because a festival was to be held at a Full Moon.
When the moon is getting smaller, known as waning, the life force or energy is shrinking and going into the roots. In the 3rd quarter you can plant root crops, and in both 3rd and 4th you can apply organic manures, prune to retard growth, dig out weeds, cultivate the ground, and do your maintenance. This phase is ideal for harvesting as the reduced water content limits loss through mould and mildew in stored crops.
Honey apples picked during a waning
Moon preserve a finer blush
Horace 65 – 8 BCE
Barren and Fertile Moons
The Moon moves in a regular manner through the signs of the zodiac. Some signs are fertile and some are barren.
The fertile signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, and these are the perfect days. While Taurus, Libra and Capricorn are known as semi-fertile and are the second best days. I find that semi-fertile days are just as good as fertile days. Especially since some months we seem to wait for a long time for the perfect fertile days to occur. And since both work well then using both fertile and semi-fertile days effectively doubles the times we can plant, prune, fertilize and spray.
Even so, if I were to move a very large plant and wanted all the Moon help I could get; then I would choose a perfect fertile day.
The Barren Signs are Aries, Gemini, Virgo, Leo, Sagittarius, and Aquarius. The very names say it all; a barren Moon is not a good time to plant, so choose a fertile day for planting.
In essence; planting, pruning for growth, liquid fertilising, applying soluble poisons, and transplanting, should all be done in Fertile Moons. This way the roots can easily establish themselves and settle into their new positions. Plans can take up the nutrients or toxins supplied, which is best practice especially for commercial growers. Even herbicide poisons are best sprayed at this time so a little poison goes a long way and reduces the toxin load in the environment. Barren Moon times are ideal to dig weeds, to prune to minimise growth (hedges, bonsai and lawn moving) and to harvest crops.
Combining Phase and Sign
The combination of Moon phase with the barren or fertile signs is the way to maximize crops and create beautiful gardens.
Using the combination you can see that planting, transplanting, grafting, and taking cuttings should all be done at a waxing fertile time. The Moon is increasing in size and can be said to be in a fertile state of mind!
Pruning for growth, tip-pruning, and dead-heading is also best done at waxing fertile times.
While pruning to retard growth for hedges, bonsai, tub plants, and lawn mowing should be performed on waning fertile days. Note that both types of pruning are done at a fertile phase because you will find that the cuts ends will die back if cut at a barren moon time. But growth pruning is done at waxing and pruning to limit growth is done at waning.
Weeding that requires digging, which to the weeds point of view means you are cultivating the soil, are best done at 4th Quarter barren time to limit their re-growth. While applying poisons should be performed at waxing fertile to maximize uptake of toxins.
Soluble or chemical fertilizing is best done at waxing fertile Moon times so the plants are able to absorb the nutrients and run off is reduced. Theoretically organic fertilizing is best done at 3rd and 4th quarter, although I find that they take a long time to break down and can be applied at any time.
It is ideal to harvest for storage at the waning barren Moon. The water levels are reduced and if you harvest at the wrong time there is nothing worse than watching a whole crop, for example, pumpkins go soft and rot before they can be used! Harvesting for immediate eating is best done at the Full Moon for the tastiest and juiciest fruits and vegetables.
Look out the window
The phase of the Moon can easily be seen by simply looking out the window of an evening. Once you know where it is you can follow it each night. Although I must admit that life does get busy with other activities, and if you are not keeping an eye out the window, the Moon does move quickly. Fortunately you have this Almanac which gives you all the information you need at your finger tips.
Remember, that to work with the natural rhythms of the Moon is to work with your own natural rhythms. The result is a greater sense of harmony with the earth, and with yourself. And at the same time you have saved time and money, and are rewarded with great crops and beautiful gardens.
Happy Ancient Moon Gardening!