Lunar Gardening – Fact or Fiction?

Living in New Hampshire for the last year and half, I find we are much more in tune with the natural world around us. We watch the weather daily, not only the forecasts, but from our house at 1500ft overlooking Newfound Lake we can see weather systems come and go.  We monitor the various conditions with our weather station recording rain mounts, wind speeds, barometric pressures and temperatures but the flag still provides the quickest signal for which way the winds are blowing. Technology has the tendency to remove us from the nature.
Centuries ago, mankind listened much more to the natural world and the signals it was giving them. We know the ancient mariners figured out how to navigate via the stars. In prehistoric times, the moon ruled everything.  Observing the natural world around him, first century historian, Pliny, the Elder wrote volumes about the natural world around him in the History of Nature in which he discusses the relationship of nature and the heavens and how they should be observed.
Pliny, The Elder
The sun, the moon and the stars have been a source of mystery to the ancients who first recorded their observations, trying to understand the world they lived in.  Some gardeners of this time listened and observed the world around them and let that dictate the timing of when to do certain things on the farm or in the garden, while others paid no heed to the signs that nature and the cosmos were delivering.
“The person who do not take notice, consequently of the phenomena of Nature, while others lay too much stress upon them and hence these refined subtleties and distinctions only add to their blindness.”
Pliny, goes on to say,
“…the observation of the heavens plays a very important part of operations of agriculture; and Virgil, we find gives it as his advice, that no less the mariner, should regulate his movements thereby.”
He recognizes the importance the heavens can play to the gardener much like the mariner and backs his argument by saying Virgil makes the same comparison between the two as well. But Pliny also believes people can go overboard, placing too much emphasis, perhaps getting too caught up in the heavens, making them as blind as those who pay no attention at all.
March 2018 blue moon
Blue Moon
Lunar gardening is not a way of planting on the moon or late at night by moonlight. Lunar gardening or gardening by the moon has been practiced by many different cultures for centuries. A controversial method which uses the cycles of the moon as a tool in helping decide when to plant and seed. There are a couple of different methods of lunar gardening, one more complex than the other which I believe was part of what Pliny warned about – getting too complex.  The basic method of lunar gardening simply focuses on the moon and what stage it’s in. The moon’s gravitational pull changes with the various cycles affecting ocean tides.  But what about groundwater?
Groundwater makes up a very small percentage of the overall water on the Earth, only 1.69% compared to oceans and seas at 96.54%, but is much closer to the 1.74% of rivers and lakes.  Bodies of water like rivers and lakes, unless it’s one of the Great Lakes, are too small to feel the effects of the moon’s gravitational pull. In 1991, NASA Goddard scientist, Frank Abramopoulous said, “tidal force – the gravitational pull of the moon would be there, but at a level smaller than would affect any biochemical processes.”
Many scientists have found it difficult to discount the other factors involved in the environment and the effects the moon many have on them, such as bug activity during the different phases and how that may play a part.  It’s impossible to isolate, and that’s what science likes for the most part, being at to look at things in a vacuum.
“It’s mythology….There has to be a physical reason why the moon’s different phases would affect soil properties, soil temperature, moisture content, precipitation which are physical factors that make seeds germinate. And that’s not documentable.”
– Cynthia Rosenzweig, Agronomist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (1991)
However, by 1997, there was good evidence that moonlight affects plants directly via stomatal activity and indirectly via insect activity. The stomata are the tiny little openings on plants that allow them to exchange gases needed for cellular processes like photosynthesis.
Klaus-Peter Endres and Wolfgang Schad in Biologie des Mondes: Mondperiodik undLebensrhythmen (1997) said they found some plants to show a small connection in their growth and reproductive behavior, although it wasn’t consistent as to which phase. While other plants were not at all affected. Some reacted to the full moon, others the new moon and still others, to the waxing or waning quarter moons.The inconsistencies is what
Many subscribers to the practice of lunar gardening point to the research of Dr. Frank Brown, at Northwestern University in the 1950’s. Reports of his studies of plants for over a decade found that overall plants absorb more water during a full moon and least during the new moon phases. It was around this same time in 1956, when scientists, Frau Dr. Kolisko and Maria Thunfound maximum germination of seeds occurs on the days preceding a full moon. As the new moon grows, seeds swell with water and burst into life more quickly. Thun’s experiments with planting of seed potatoes supports Dr. Brown’s theory that plants absorb more water during a full moon, as her seed potatoes planted at the full moon did overwhelmingly better than those planted during the new moon.
To understand lunar planting, it helps to know the different cycles of the moon. Focusing on the moon phase is one of the systems of lunar gardening which focuses on the increase or decrease in the moonlight and gravitational pull at each cycle.
[the moon] “replenishes the earth when she approaches it, she fills all bodies; while when she recedes, she empties them.”
-Pliny, the Elder
Pliny, may not have known about the concept of gravity, but he describes the moon’s effect on the natural world vividly.
The 8 Phases of the Moon
1.     New Moon – “dark moon” when the moon is nearest to the sun
2.     Waxing crescent
3.     First quarter
4.     Waxing gibbous
5.     Full moon – the moon is closest to the earth
6.     Waning gibbous
7.     Last quarter
8.     Waning crescent
Lunar gardening believes that the closer the moon is to the Earth’s surface, the more nourishment it possesses and delivers to the Earth. The ancients were much more in tune with nature and sought a harmonious relationship with it than man does in today’s modern times.  They also believed that understanding the cycles of the moon could help them to determine when to plant in order to improve their yields.
“The old-time gardeners say ‘with the waxing 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 the waxing moon. With the waning moon, the earth inhales. Then the sap primarily goes down towards the roots. Thus the waning moon is a good time for pruning, multiplying, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, and controlling parasites and weeds.”
_Ute York, Living By The Moon
The old-time farmers also say a full moon makes corn grow tall and pulls vining beans right up their poles – perhaps reaching for the brightest light of the moon. But these sound like tall-tales, folk-lore that’s been passed down from generation to generation. But if they didn’t work, would they have survived through the centuries as they have?  
Science knows that the same gravitational force that affectsthe tides are the same cosmic rhythms that draw horseshoe crabs ashore to mate.Geotropism is the effect of gravity on plants which science has proven to be greater during the full moon, in that plants will absorb the most water at this time, as do seeds. The moon is a powerful force of nature leading lunar gardeners to naturally see the connection of the moon’s gravitational force, swelling the water content in the soil, causing moisture levels to increase, thereby, encouraging growth and germination It’s understandable that planting seeds during the phases of increasing light and gravitational pull (the cycles between the new moon and full moon) would increase the success rate of germination and overall health; ‘sap flow is drawn up’. During the waxing phase there is an increase in the speed of water spreading throughout the plant’s bodies; activating and facilitating the delivery of nutrients and phytochemicals throughout the plant; all factors of health, development and growth.
As mentioned earlier, the days preceding the full moon, science has agreed presents the most optimum conditions for successful germination, upping the odds for success of seeds of vegetables that fruit above ground – leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers etc… During the waxing phases, lunar gardeners focus seeding these vegetables as well as transplanting annuals and biennials, harvesting leafy vegetables, use liquid fertilizers, pruning and grafting with the understanding that increased sap flow can equate to new quick growth.
Ridiculed by the mainstream scientific world, the study of lunisolar impact on biological systems has struggled to overcome the unjustified skeptics.  However, scientists continue to explore the field with recent discoveries by Catarina Rydin of Stockholm University in Sweden who discovered a rare plant, Ephedra foeminea, whose pollination is dictated by the full moon. Peter Barlow of the University of Bristol looked at data from the 1920s onward and found that leaf movement in beans and other plants turned when lunar tides turn at the time and location of the experiments. [New Scientist, August 17, 2015]
The period of time from the full moon to the last quarter, the earth begins to “inhale drawing down the sap” into herself.  It’s best to focus now on sowing root crops and planting perennials. The moonlight is decreasing, and more energy is now drawn down into the roots. The 1991 Farmer’s Almanac recommended to plant flowering bulbs and veggies that bear crops below ground during the this time from the day after the full moon to the day before its new again. But many believe from the last quarter to the new moon when the moon furthest away from earth and soil moisture levels drop, it’s best not to do any planting or seeding during this final quarter to the new moon. This quarter is best to simply focus more on soil maintenance by weeding, mulching, making compost and manure teas. This also the best time to turn a garden is when the soil is drier and the water tables low. If there is fruit to harvest ding so at this time lessens the likelihood of rotting, however, I find this to be true basically anytime.
(l. to r.) Fire, Earth, Water, Air
The other system of lunar gardening takes into the consideration of the moon’s location within the zodiac. Within this system, the most optimal time to plant is during the time of a water sign (Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces). Earth signs are recommended for root crops (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn). No planting is to be done during the Fire signs of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius, whereas the Air signs were seen as neutral. So considering that the moon passes through each zodiac sign for about 2 to 2-1/2 days and a water sign occurs every 7 days, you can see why Pliny was saying people perhaps can get too caught up in the details, “while others lay too much stress upon them…” Mainstream science doesn’t give credence to the science of Astrology, and it’s this method of lunar gardening which scientists understandably have the most difficult time with.
Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food and nutrition originally popularized in the mid-sixties by master horticulturalist, Alan Chadwick. Chadwick rose to the challenge to demonstrate biodynamics, also known as then as french intensive gardening on a 4 acre barren lot in Santa Cruz, Ca. His garden proved to be a tremendous success. The major principles of a biodynamic farm or garden is that its integrated, whole, living organism made up of interdependent systems. Farmers and gardeners work to harmonize these elements, supporting the health and vitality of the whole through managing them in a holistic and dynamic way. Today we hear biodynamics referred to more often as permaculture. Although there are many methods employed in creating a permaculture, biodynamic farmers carry on the ancients’ traditions of working in rhythm with the Earth and Cosmos. They, too, observe the rhythms and cycles of the earth, sun, moon, starts and planets in hopes to seek further understanding of the subtle ways the environment and wider cosmos influence the growth and development of plants and animals.  
For myself, I will listen to Pliny, the Elder to take notice but not so close. In a 1991article in the New York Times, Goddard agronomist, Dr. Rosenzweig admitted to believing a little, but not from the scientific standpoint at the time, saying “the ancient traditions are wonderful. And who knows: there are more things out there than are known by science.” At the very least lunar gardening provides farmers and gardeners with an organizational time line to follow which is how author, Linda Woodrow of Permaculture Home Garden initially got onboard.  Initially in the skeptics’ camp, she adopted the practice to for organizational purposes and became a true believer when witnessing firsthand the difference in the increased germination rate and overall plant vitality.
full moon
Super Moon January 2, 2018
So with that, I am planning on adopting the practice of lunar gardening this season where my focus will be on the ebb and flow of sap in tune with the phases of the moon. We will see how it goes.  It certainly does no harm to practice and at the very least it provides me which a guideline to follow to keep me organized in the garden. Who knows, perhaps I will find what others have found that my seeds germinate better and crops are more bountiful from healthier plants. 

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