Lunar planting, or bio-dynamics, is no new thing. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy and the Steiner system of education, was an advocate of gardening according to lunar phases and did a lot to spread the knowledge.
I'll admit that it sounds a little bit like hippie twaddle on the surface but the basic principles are largely sound.
Plants, like us, have a high proportion of water in their succulent little cells and so are as keenly tuned to the pull and push of the moon as we are: and the moon controls the amount of moisture that is in the soil at various times throughout the month. The first quarter, or waxing phase of the moon, is when the lunar pull starts to gain in strength, and advocates claim that this is an ideal time to plant above ground annuals as the seeds take that energy pull along with them and their sap does better for it.
When the moon is full and its power and strength are at their height any plants that grow above ground get the benefit of that blast of energy. Then, the waning moon in the third quarter works on the deeper, darker root crops, biennials and bulbs. This is also a good time for transplanting and pruning.
Finally, in the last quarter when the moon is at its weakest and darkest, the quieter jobs can be taken care of: harvesting, more transplanting and pruning, and cultivating.
So far, so simple. You work with the push and the pull of the moon with a set of tasks for roughly each week, and you carry on doing this throughout the year.
But then it gets a wee bit more complicated, because you can't have a system that uses the sun and the moon without adding in all the other plants as well, and it's this part that I suspect puts off the more cynical of gardeners with its connection to astrology and somewhat New Age principles.
Each planet has an attribute and an element associated with it: determine these and you can use them to their advantage with your crops. Gemini, for example, is ruled by the element Air, and is barren and dry by nature. Not so good for basil, but excellent for thyme.
Where it gets really complicated, and where charts and complex planning start to creep in, is when you break all this information down into the 365 days of the year. The rule of thumb is that you:
- find your last frost date
- work backwards for germination times
- look for the nearest favourable moon phase
- and then look for the perfect moon sign for your chosen seeds
I did a quick calculation on some beet seeds that I was thinking of putting out. Working backwards from my last frost date in Brighton - around the end of April - and allowing for a two week germination period before transplanting, that took me into mid-April, where the moon began waning around the 12th of the month.
The waning moon is great for root crops so that was good. Next I looked at where the zodiac signs were for that week and the 16th had Capricorn sitting in it. Capricorn is defined as a dry, productive sign ruled by the earth - and especially auspicious for beetroot. Bingo. The seeds went in and I waited cynically for everything to go either completely wrong or pretty unremarkably.
The damn things shot up in two days flat and turned red at the stalks a couple of days after that.
Curious, and a little bit weirded out, I decided to check some of the seeds I'd planted previously, by way of an acid test, albeit one not involving merry pranksters. I planted my seed potatoes somewhere between March 1st and the 3rd - a quick check revealed that this was in the first quarter and ruled by Taurus. So not quite an accurate moon phase for root crops but the best zodiac sign for potatoes: these would be my potatoes which are now two feet high and grow every time I look at them.
One last sample tells me that the nasturtiums I planted on March 25th hit the New Moon - good for above grounders and with Pisces giving them a nice wet beginning and governing a healthy root system. Sure enough, they've grown extremely well despite being in the worst possible place I could have put them - right at the side of the balcony facing the manic winds from the sea which have tried to blow me over every time I've stood on that side. but not the nasturtiums with their strong Pisces roots.
Remember the thyme and marjoram that died? Wrong moon phase, wrong zodiac sign. The poor buggers never stood a chance.
So now my curiosity has been well and truly piqued and my natural hippie inclinations are feeling very smug indeed.