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Does the Moon Really Matter at Planting Time?

What is a Myth?

My dictionary defines a myth as “an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.” To me, myths are those scary things that no one can explain, no matter how they try. As an experimental gardener, one myth or legend that has always intrigued me is planting by the moon phases.

When I heard about this technique, I became determined to learn all I could about how it is done. I read a book or two, or three, and thought, “OK, I’m going to make my green thumb even greener.” I decided that I would make or break this myth with a test in my garden.

First, I prepare the soil. I am all about green living – compost is my blood type. Every drop of water is a benediction. Nothing goes to waste (some things go to my waist), but you know what I mean. I use fresh compost from home, and I spade by hand so that I do not bring old weed seeds up to the surface.

I eyeball my planting rows ahead of time in preparation for the nighttime activity I am about to experience. My flashlight is tied to my garden hat, with new batteries freshly inserted. I have my garden tools set up in the space I am going to plant, and the smaller tools are secured in my garden apron. I have my lunar guide tacked to the garden fence, zodiac signs and all.

At some point in the future, I may try all three moon planting ideas, but on this night I am working only with the synodic waxing and waning cycle. My chart shows tonight to be an ideal night for planting root crops. I realize that a person does not really have to plant in the dark, but I am determined to get as close to the wane as possible.

My seed of choice is beets. I have already planted some beets ahead of time, so that I will have some to compare to those that I am going to plant in the light of the waning moon. I am surrounded with crickets, bats, and all of the other things that move around at night. They appear to have a slightly distant curiosity about this light bobbing around in their territory, disturbing their own nighttime work. Eventually, my moonlit work is done.

We will see if this myth works. I am pumped.

As the days go by, I keep diligent notes. I record when the first beet breaks its cute little leaves above the ground. How were the plants affected by bugs and other chewing creatures like slugs? How well did the plants respond to the elements – sun, rain, soaker watering – well, you get the picture, I record everything.

I spent a whole lot of time taking care of and recording the story about my little moon babies.

Alongside the moon rows, I had planted several rows of beets when the moon chart clearly said, DO NOT PLANT ROOT CROPS AT THIS TIME. I shuddered in my shoes when I planted these seeds. I often awoke from a deep sleep, grabbing a flashlight and rushing to the garden fence to see if some creature had stolen my “No No” crop.

My moon planting life began in April. By June the results were in and verily I say unto you, both my No No crops and my moon babies did very well. The beets arrived a couple of weeks apart as they were planted a couple of weeks apart. My No No beets not only survived, they produced. All of the beets in my garden, regardless of planting time, tasted sweet and bled red. The greens were all beautiful and tasty.

For me, this myth ended happily.

All my beets grew well, and now I can sleep through the night worry-free. I do know some people who swear by moon phase planting. To them, I say, “Whatever works to get a good harvest is the way to go.”

For me, gardening is fun and experimental. I am always learning from the good earth, from plants, from other green-hearted, compost-blood-type individuals. I realize that Mother Nature has most of the control, and I have learned to live with her moods and love her for the continual challenges she presents to me.

Many myths and legends of gardening came about in times when people relied upon different methods than the ones we use today. But not everything has changed. In my area, to this day radishes usually come in during May, strawberries arrive in June, raspberries in July, corn and tomatoes in August and September. I have come to appreciate the older gardeners that live in my locale. They seem to have the best knowledge about what really works in my area – even if a few myths are included from time to time.

waning-gibbous-moon

These old green thumbs delight in the smell of rich composted earth, and they relish all of the seasons. They love to be the discoverer of a new myth, or the breaker of an old myth. They go to bed each night with a head full of garden knowledge and some of the good earth beneath their nails.

When I shared my moon planting story with some of these old timers, they gave me a smile, a shake of the head, and said, “Yep, tried that.”

One of them said, “Hey, did ya try spittin’ some tobacco at the beginning of each row?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t chew tobacco.”

“Well, lass, it works for me.” He said, as he handed me a round tin of Copenhagen chewing tobacco.

But that’s another myth, for another day.

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COMMENTS(12)

  • Terri Combs says:

    This story reminds me of the time I wanted to convince my doctor to prescribe Armour Thyroid verus the synthetic I had been taking for years. He finally relented when I asked, “If it is a placebo effect that works, itsn’t that good enough?” And, yes, the natural thyroid does work.

  • Anita says:

    Interesting and just as I suspected! My grandfather was considered one of the best gardeners around. He never planted by the signs. He considered it foolishness.

  • Marcia says:

    Delightful story! Thank you so much.

  • geraldc says:

    Been planting my garden in Savannah Ga for 30+ years, always plant red potatoes on Fed 15, always planting garden on Good Friday and for 2 nd tomato crop using moon phase and zodiac sign from farmers almanac. Love fresh tomatoes for Thanking diner. Garden produces great.

  • nola says:

    My grandfather always planted by the moon. not because it worked better but because, in his words, “it’s how I remember what I put in where and when” He was an old farmer and always held the land as sacred. He never put something in the ground that didn’t belong there. He was careful where he burned the trash (no landfill for him), composted, etc. He also had great “luck”, which to him was hard work, with all his plants.

  • Cheryl says:

    I tested this out a few years ago, with the same results 🙂
    To me, it’s less stressful to not have to worry about the moon phase when I’m just challenged trying to find time to get the garden all planted.

  • Michael Ford says:

    I have to admit, sheepishly, that we do plant by the moon at my house. We use Llewellyn’s Moon Sign Book and follow their recommendations. We don’t always stick to the guidelines, but we do when it’s convenient. I learned about this from 2 professional veterans who I trust.

    I haven’t really decided whether I think any benefits are from the actual gravitational pull of the moon, or from a placebo effect, as Terri suggests. Honestly, I think that if you have healthy, active, nutritious soil – the moon is really an afterthought.

    A friend of mine is a Waldorf teacher and has learned a lot about Rudolph Steiner’s teachings. She taught me that the power of intention is indeed a valuable asset in the garden, and elsewhere. In my garden, I feel like our efforts to plant with the moon are an exercise in intention, and that could explain the placebo effect.

  • Tasha Greer says:

    I love the personal touches to your story – waste/waist, flashlight tied to your garden hat with fresh batteries. It was a very entertaining read! I planted by the Biodyndamic calendar for my first round crops this year. Then for my second round of the same varieties (lettuces, beets, turnips, summer squashes), I went with my “instincts” which derived from seeking weather forecasts with strings of partially clouded days to give seedlings a better chance in the summer heat and feeling my soil for retained moisture. I wasn’t expecting much for stuff planted in 85 degree weather, but incredibly, timing it by my “gut” even in the middle of summer has produced better results then my methodically planting by the moon phases. Even if you want to bolster your planting regimen with moon phases, I think you need to pay attention to your environmental conditions first. Also, maybe between the poles shifting a few centimeters as a result of climate change, and China’s mega-dam and earthquakes changing our orbital path, maybe moon planting is harder to plan these days. I am with you though – whatever gets people out and planting is a good thing! Thanks for the article!

  • Angela in Austin says:

    I practice no-till gardening, and every time I plant transplants, I spit into the hole before sticking the roots in it. I do this because I feel like it connects me with the soil, by adding my microbes to the soil’s ecosystem. I have this idea that I can establish a positive microbial feedback loop between the garden and me, whereby we both develop a complex, diverse, resilient microbiome that enables us to thrive. I give microbes to the soil when I plant, and receive microbes when I eat. This seems like it would be a hard idea to test, though.

    1. Bonnie Krause-Gams says:

      I love it. Any way we can connect with the earth and our garden is for the betterment of mankind. Old timers, of which I am now considered one, have a lot of history with this good earth . I totally believe in trying to keep these memories and history alive! Thank you!

  • Meg says:

    Strangely enough I have a different story to tell. I am an organic seedling grower and when I started out I also kept rigorous records on germination rates, weather, health, bug attacks etc. When I sow seed I use 198 cell seeding trays so I can count exactly how many seeds germinate. To make my work life easier I had set days that I sowed seed on Tues & Wed. What I noticed was that sometimes I had great results with certain plants and not so good with others at different times and sometimes germination with everything from leafy, fruiting & root was exceedingly poor. I checked everything temperature, weather, did I change my mix etc and I could not find an answer. Finally I decided I would work backwards through my records with a moon chart and I found there was a definite link. If I sowed seed on a barren day then germination was poor for everything, if it was a leaf day (lettuce) they did better in germinating than the fruiting seeds (beans) and visa versa, beans germinated better on a fruit sowing day than the lettuce did. So the word here is better – not that they did not germinate. So for me the golden rule is I never sow a single seed on what is a barren day and this has saved me a considerable amount of money and time. It also means that where I use to have a stock shortage on certain things due to poor germination I now sow more seeds of say beans if it is a leaf or root crop day, then I end up with the right amount of stock I need for sale.
    On the aside funnily enough I have found that beetroot only seem to do badly being sown during a barren period but germinate equally well on a leaf, fruit or root day. Though if sown on a fruiting day they long term do not perform as well meaning they don’t hold over in the seeding trays for as long and need more fertilizer to keep them happy.

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