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Moon Gardening: Building Food and Seed Security

In this Leaf Unfurling Moon, we see the surge of vitality all around us. It is as if the fresh, new green tentatively sniffs the air and temperature for a safe emergence. Then, as things warm, they emerge with great abandon! Hearing the breeze first ruffle the new leaves is a springtime joy, as is watching robins gathering worms and insects for their nestlings who then show up as fledglings unaccustomed to wings. Once again, the Life principle is reaffirmed, vigorously pulsing through the Earth and all beings, renewing our hope and reharmonizing our soul. We ought not take the miracles of this seasonal emergence moment for granted.

In the past, I have planted my garden loosely by the moon phase. As I have a regular observance for the full and new moon, this year I decided to rigorously plant by the moon, as one more way to live by the patterns of the natural world. It is a big part of my ethnic heritage too, observed whenever my dad routinely purchased and consulted the farmer’s almanac. I always thought he was checking weather, but moon phases are a key part of the almanac’s offerings. So, I studied up to understand the nuances of moon planting, in addition to juggling for soil temperature, air temperature, sunlight, frost, and rain, as do most gardeners and farmers.

Moon planting is an ancient practice, but it has been revived as a key concept in permaculture as well as in biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamics is based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Interestingly, Steiner was from the ancestral locale of both my grandmothers in Silesia and thus his ideas were pioneered in Germany, Austria, Poland, and Switzerland before migrating elsewhere in Europe, North America, and Australasia. Both these approaches understand soil, plants, livestock, seasons, weather, and planetary movement as integrally connected. The impetus for biodynamics began as Steiner witnessed the degradation of crops and land from chemical fertilizers. This was one origin of “organic farming” with the goal of avoiding chemical treatments and external inputs to work instead with natural processes and cycles. Each approach uses appropriate garden siting, crop diversity and rotation, soil health through animal and green manures, less or no tillage, perennial plantings, and attention to disease and pest vectors and cycles. Biodynamics also includes some interesting mystical ideas—related to folklore, star constellations, medicinal plants, and energetics—that migrated into the philosophy.

So, what is “moon gardening”? Just as the moon has a gravitational pull on the water creating ocean tides, so water in the ground and in plants are likewise impacted. Just like the highest tides occur at new and full moon, so moisture rises in the Earth at the same times, both in plant sap and the water table. Further, the strength of moonlight impacts plant growth which largely occurs at night, increasing leaf growth as moonlight increases. For my early crops, I planted several beds in this way, and I am amazed at the results! The plants literally popped out of the ground and were much more vigorous. So, why does it work?

The basic theory is to plant seeds during the waxing moon as it moves toward full moon, when the Earth’s moisture rises and swells the seeds. With the waning moon, as moonlight decreases toward the new moon, sap flow is drawn down into roots. So, seedlings and root crops are best planted as well as harvested at this time.

Avid moon gardeners follow each quarter of the moon which is seven days in length. In the first quarter of the new moon as it is waxing, it is best to sow seed leafy crops where we eat above ground elements. It is good also for seeding annuals as well as transplanting, as both seeds and roots will absorb the most moisture. During the second quarter, sowing fruit bearing crops such as tomatoes, corn, or beans up to the full moon is recommended.

When the moon is waning toward its third quarter it is best to sow or plant root crops such as potatoes and beets as well as divide plants and take cuttings. Finally, the last quarter is best avoided for planting. There are a few days in each quarter where the moon is transitioning from one phase to