“Drink in the moon as though you might die of thirst.”― Sanober Khan
In earlier times many sophisticated societies such as the Greeks, the Romans and Native Americans considered the Moon central to their lives. They lived by a Moon Calendar — not the Gregorian Calendar we use today. The full Moon tomorrow night, our January Moon, was called the Full Wolf Moon by Native Americans because in this lean month, starving wolves howled around their villages. http://www.almanac.com/content/full-moon-names The hungry wolf along with the grim reaper are common images in our folk lore, representations of how bad things can get when food runs low. If starvation was the penalty for bad gardening, it is easy to see why our ancestors reached for the Moon as an ally.
Some of the best modern gardeners I know engage in the practice of Moon gardening. I have promised myself from time to time that I’ll try it. I haven’t yet for several reasons. First, critics grumble that there is no scientific evidence to support it. I would pity anyone trying to apply the scientific method to a garden; every year is so different. There is invariably an early killing frost, a tree-bud-destroying heat wave or some other variant that gardeners live with day after day, year after year.
There is also a long history of mistaken beliefs about the Moon. For example, the idea that the Moon causes insanity has been thoroughly debunked. Over 2000 years ago, Roman agricultural writer, Varro, wrote a lively and interesting treatise on country life, Res Rusticaes; but, unversed in genetics, he advises that cutting hair during a waxing Moon creates balding.
And my last reason for not yet gardening by the Moon, is simply that my life sometimes conflicts with the lunar planting calendar. Out of town for even a long weekend, I’ll miss a lunar window; or, unable to walk on my clay soil after many days of rain, I plant when I can.
On the positive side, and it is a big positive, gardening by the Moon connects us to the heavens. “We need emotional content….Don’t think, feel. It is a like a finger pointing the way to the moon, don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon. Life seems awfully short to miss any heavenly glory we might find in a garden.
And what about the connection plants might have with the moon? Humans do not have an exclusive claim on emotions; animals have rich emotional lives and I believe plants do too. Plants are sentient beings…I think so anyway, and I’ll post at length on that subject one day. But sentience aside, a powerful reason to believe that plants and the moon have a sophisticated and complex relationship is that plants have been around for 450 million years. We, “modern” humans, have been around for arguably about 200,000 years. Humans feel the mystery and magic of the Moon and we should at least entertain the idea that there are mysteries and magic going on between plants and the Moon that are beyond our comprehension.
In the end though, magical thinking is not necessary for Moon gardening; the practice has been boiled down to some very practical observations.
I am supposed to plant root crops from the day after tomorrow’s full Moon to the day before the new Moon on the 27th. This is lucky advice since I have carrot and beet seeds I had already planned to plant directly in the garden this week. The carrot seeds were purchased, I am sorry to say, from the grocery store rack (such a busy Christmas this year); the beet seeds are left over from the spring when I ordered from my favorite seed house, Johnny’s Seeds. I read that the gravitation pull is high during the full moon, creating more moisture in the soil; further, that when the moonlight is decreasing over the next two weeks, energy will flood the plant roots. This is a happy idea since root vegetables struggle in my clay soil.
Above ground crops should be planted after the new Moon. I am advised to plant such flowers and vegetables when the Moon is waxing. I have spinach, lettuce and snapdragon seed that I was planning to germinate in my kitchen this week. But the Moon will be waning beginning tomorrow; and I should wait and plant these seeds following the dark nights after the new Moon. When the Moon is new it is in line with the Sun and Earth and the gravitational pull of the Moon is at its height. The lunar gravity pulls water up and will, theoretically cause my little spinach, lettuce and snapdragon seeds to swell and burst. My problem is that January 27th, the date of the next new Moon, is a little late to start spinach and lettuce seeds. Of course, December would have been a better month to get the process started; and I have to laugh thinking of getting out the potting soil and seeds two days after Christmas, just before the new year celebrations. https://www.calendar-12.com/moon_phases/2017 Food shortages much less starvation is not an issue for us in our privileged world, but I imagine Moon gardeners in the past got their seeds going during their winter celebrations without a lot of complaining and hand-wringing.
The above and below ground instructions and many other more complicated concepts on Moon gardening are available in hundreds of books and on dozens of websites. Nifty apps for your phone remind you when to plant what. http://farmersalmanac.com/calendar/gardening/
Skeptics explain that Moon gardening works because it forces gardeners to plan ahead, to order early from a highly-rated seed producer instead of grabbing seeds off the rack at the grocery store. Moon gardeners are tuned in and think carefully about timing and that produces good results. Skeptics also suggest that if I have a really good crop this year, I may be enjoying the pleasures of Confirmation Bias. When a superstition interfaces with careful and attentive gardening or studying hard for a test or hours of practice before an important game, we see success. Confirmation Bias runs through our lives like a comforting song. We can relate success not only to hard work but to some token like a rabbit’s foot or some special routine or to the Moon. I am a lover of skepticism, but I am skeptical that Moon gardening is a superstition.
Even the New York times writes seriously, if not uncritically, about the practice. “Moon planters believe that the same gravitational force that pulls the tides, the same cosmic rhythms that draw a horseshoe crab ashore to mate, also cause crops, especially those that bear above ground, to leap right out of the earth. And conversely, when the moon is on the wane and its light and gravitational pull are on the decrease, the earth’s gravity kicks in again, and roots burrow happily into the ground.” http://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/02/garden/planting-by-the-full-moon-bright-idea-or-lunacy.html?pagewanted=all
While staring at the almost full Moon last night, it occurred to me that Moon gardening will lead to a relationship with the Moon. I would have to keep track of it; its movements will pop up on my phone. I think it would not be so bad to have the movements of a heavenly body pop up on my phone; to have a heavenly body in my day to day consciousness. I like the idea that when the new Moon comes around in a few weeks, it will raise the tides, millions of gallons of water; but it might also raise the water in the soil containers on my kitchen counter and bring the little seeds there to life.