Planting a garden? Look to the moon

When the moon becomes full today at 5:16 p.m., the Earth's tides will reach their peak. The moon's gravitational effect on the Earth's water is a scientific fact.

What's not proven is the common belief that today's full moon will be responsible for a sudden rise in births, crimes, romantic interludes and downright crazy behavior. Blame it on the full moon, say believers. Nonsense, say critics.

The moon's cycle is also credited with success or failure in the garden, an ancient lore followed faithfully by many farmers and gardeners worldwide who believe the moon's cyclical light and gravitational pull on the Earth affect plants. They practice a form of gardening called "lunar planting," in which the phases of the moon dictate when seeds should be planted, crops harvested, lawns mowed, weeds pulled and plant pests killed.

Though there's scant scientific proof that lunar planting guarantees robust vegetables or prolific flowering, following the principles does have its advantages. You're likely to be more attentive in the garden, which should result in more fruitful crops. Then there's the whole connection to the Earth and getting back to nature, an obvious result of watching the Earth's natural cycles from day to day.

Lunar gardening expert Caren Catterall, who has been planting by the moon at her home in Northern California for about 15 years, admits it's difficult to prove the cosmic connection. After all, there are winds, rainfall, air temperature, sunlight and other natural occurrences taking place. Still, the method works for her

— and judging from the thousands of visitors to her Web site, Gardening By The Moon (www.gardeningbythemoon.com), she's not alone.

"It could be that you are giving your plants more attention and having more of a relationship with them. It does work for me, but I don't have concrete evidence," says Catterall, who considers the lore an important part of organic gardening.

The most common source of lunar planting advice is the Old Farmer's Almanac, which has been published yearly since 1818 and includes weather predictions, gardening and household advice, fishing tips and astronomical data. According to its publisher, the Almanac Publishing Co., its forecasts — which are based on a secret formula that analyzes natural cycles and solar activity — are 80 percent accurate.

If that's true, today through Tuesday are good days to kill plant pests, according to the almanac's "Gardening By The Moon" calendar. Seeds planted from Aug. 24 to 26 will most likely rot. The best days for planting flowers, seeds and root crops are Aug. 27 and 28.

Though the almanac's formula is a secret, lunar gardening enthusiasts base their activities on the four phases of the moon: new moon, first quarter, full, last quarter. Each phase lasts about one week and is distinguished by its lack (called "waning moon") or abundance ("waxing moon") of light and gravitational pull on the Earth. The basic theory is that increasing moonlight stimulates plant growth and increasing gravitational pull raises soil and plant moisture.

The Zodiac gardener

So far, so good. Matters get more complicated when one adds the next theory, which is based on the 12 signs of the Zodiac and their assigned elements of earth, fire, water or air. The moon moves through the astrological signs every few days. If you follow this theory, seeds planted during periods of earth signs (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn) will develop strong roots because of the earth connection, while chores such as watering and grafting are best during the water signs (Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces). (See box below for lunar planting guidelines.)

In addition to the Old Farmer's Almanac, which is available in stores and online at www.almanac.com, there are numerous books and Web sites about lunar gardening. Catterall's site provides advice and tips to get started, plus a gardening calendar that combines growing seasons with the moon's phases and signs of the Zodiac.

If you want to get in touch with the cycles of nature, lunar gardening may be the perfect approach for you. If you're a skeptic and doubt the cosmic influence on your vegetable garden, the Old Farmer's Almanac recommends other activities that are especially well suited for today: cutting your hair, potty training, washing wooden floors, painting, quitting smoking and starting a diet.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer and master gardener who lives in St. Petersburg.

What the stars saY: Each day of the month is ruled by one of the 12 signs of the Zodiac.

Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn (earth):

Good for planting root crops, transplanting.

Libra, Aquarius and Gemini (air):

Good for cultivating, harvesting.

Aries, Sagittarius and Leo (fire):

Good for weeding, pest control, cultivation and harvest.

Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces (water):

Good for planting above-ground crops and vines, grafting, pruning, transplanting, watering.

What the stars saY: Each day of the month is ruled by one of the 12 signs.

Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn (earth):

Good for planting root crops, transplanting.

Libra, Aquarius and Gemini (air):

Good for cultivating, harvesting.

Aries, Sagittarius and Leo (fire):

Good for weeding, pest control, cultivation and harvest.

Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces (water):

Good for planting above-ground crops and vines, grafting, pruning, transplanting, watering.

. FAST FACTS

The cycles of the moon: waxing and waning

New moon: Strong gravitation increases soil and plant moisture. Increasing (waxing) moonlight stimulates equal leaf and root growth. Plant crops that produce seeds outside the fruit (lettuce, spinach, grains, broccoli, cauliflower); plant flowers grown for beauty and fragrance; lay sod; graft fruit and flower trees; transplant and repot houseplants.

First quarter moon: Less gravitation, but waxing moonlight stimulates leaf growth. Plant crops that form seeds inside their fruit and are harvested above ground (beans, melons, peppers, squash, tomatoes); mow lawn to stimulate growth; take cuttings for propagation; water and fertilize plants; pick crops to eat; gather herbs; water compost.

Full moon: Strong gravitation increases moisture. Decreasing (waning) moonlight results in strong root growth. Plant root crops (carrots, onions, potatoes) and bulbs within 48 hours of the full moon; transplant; plant fruit trees; divide perennials; mulch; kill weeds; prune; mow lawn to slow growth; dig herb roots for medicinal use; dry herbs and flowers.

Last quarter moon: Less gravitation and waning moonlight. Rest; harvest; prune; mow grass to slow growth; apply fertilizer; start compost pile; spread and turn compost; spray fruit trees.

Yvonne Swanson

Planting a garden? Look to the moon 08/15/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2008 9:41pm]

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