Could a better understanding of the night sky be your key to a more productive vegetable garden?
Planting by the moon is an ancient tradition, practiced by cultures as diverse at the British Celts, Ancient Romans and the New Zealand Maoris. Yet, unlike some other ancient practices, moon planting has plenty of modern proponents.
Photo - photolibrary.com
One of them is Hunter Valley vintner Rod Woodrim. Rod’s vineyard is biodynamic and he prunes and harvests according to the cycles of the moon, trying to work with lunar rhythms and energy. He insists it’s all lunar, not loony, and jokes, “I don’t have a ponytail or wear a pom-pom hat or anything.”
While aligning his work and farm with the cycles of the moon simply makes sense to him, he’s also seeing advantages in the wine. “We are seeing greater varietal expression in the wines, more intensity and a greater individual vineyard character across the different varieties. The hard work does feel like it is certainly paying off.”
Rod admits the ideas around moon planting can be confusing to the point of paralysis, but says the best way is just to start, to look at the sky and the calendar, to begin to understand the phases of the moon and start to see how it all works. The easiest way to think about the effect of the moon, he explains, is to imagine that when the moon is in a descending or waning phase, the earth is breathing in and all energy passes to the roots. When the moon is ascending, in a waxing phase, the earth breathes out and energy moves to growth above the ground.
Planting your vegetables by the phases of the moon gives you an opportunity to become intimately involved with your garden. Photo - photolibrary.com
The explanations for how this might work often centre on the moon’s gravitational pull, using the obvious example of the tides as demonstration of this power. While tides only affect very large, unbounded bodies of water, adherents of moon gardening argue that subtle effects are also felt in the soil and in plants. Some research has found that plants absorb more water during the full moon, for instance. Other explanations for the effect include the influence of moonlight on growth. Skeptics argue that the true impact of moon planting is simply in keeping gardeners organized and aware of what they are doing.
Wherever you sit on the argument, planting your vegetables by the moon this season offers an opportunity to become intimately involved with your garden, to really notice what’s going on, and to spend some time in the evening admiring the night sky, before and after dining on some delicious home-grown produce.
Phases of the moon
The lunar cycle takes 29.5 days to go from full moon to full moon. In between there is the new moon, which we cannot see. Shortly after new moon, we see a thin crescnet moon in the west, just after sunset. As the days go on, this crescent becomes thicker. This growing phase is called the waxing moon. About a week after new moon, the moon appears as a half-circle. This phase is called first quarter. The moon continues getting fuller until 14.75 days after new moon, when full moon occurs. After full moon, the disk shrinks (the waning phase), back towards a half-illuminated moon, called last quarter. It continues to shrink into a crescent that rises shortly before the sun in the eastern sky.
Moon-phases. Photo - source unknown
Over these days of the waxing moon, it grows from a shadowy fingernail to a half moon. When the moon is just a sliver it’s called a crescent moon and when it is half-illuminated it’s called a quarter moon (because light from the sun is illuminating a quarter of the sphere). Power increases with the light of the moon and moon gardeners believe this is the time to plant shoot and leaf crops.
Plant: leafy vegetables
2nd quarter full moon waxing
As the moon moves from half illuminated into a gibbous state (more than half but not fully illuminated) in the waxing phase, the influence on plants increases. This is peak planting time as moisture levels in the soil are highest. Some moon gardeners also harvest at this time, especially if moisture in the crop is critical, as it is for tomatoes, for example.
Plant: fruits and vegetables with internal seeds, such as peas, beans, tomatoes, zucchini
3rd quarter full moon waning
The moon shifts to a waning phase and moon power starts to decline. Moon gardeners believe the moon in this phase has a positive influence on root growth rather than leaf and shoot growth. That makes it the right time to transplant and repot.
Plant: root vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots and beetroot
4th quarter new moon waning
The lunar cycle is completed as the night sky darkens and the moon becomes a sliver before slipping into blackness. Plants are believed to be least active in this phase, giving gardeners time to mulch or weed, or have a few days off. It’s also a good time to mow the lawn as the slowed growth at this time will delay when next you’ll have to do the job.