I will attempt to flesh out something I started in church this morning. The subject is not an obvious one for church, but it made sense this morning when Dwight preached about the fourth day of creation, the day when the sun, moon, and stars were created. In passing, he mentioned a specific event that occurred during the full moon in October this year and the "moon phase" explanation he heard for the event. He also expressed his suspicion of astrology.
On the night of the ladies' prayer partner banquet this year, on October 18, many of us had to scrape the frost off the windshield of our vehicles before we could see to drive home. Surprisingly, there seemed to be little effect on tender garden plants. The explanation Dwight heard from someone is this: If the first frost occurs during full moon, plants are not damaged.
It was full moon that night. He had never heard such a thing, and was certainly not passing it on as gospel truth, but he acknowledged the possibility that there may be some largely unknown effects of the moon cycles.
My mind immediately went back to some research I had done a number of years ago, in preparation for a gardening article I wrote for Keepers at Home
. One defining insight I gained during that research is that planning activities "according to the signs" as found in an almanac is based entirely on the Zodiac, and it is a solar (sun) cycle. Lunar (moon) cycles are slightly shorter than solar cycles (about 29 days, although slightly irregular) as opposed to exactly 1/12 of a year, as comprises one "sign" of the Zodiac.
The Zodiac is essentially an elliptical path through the heavens. The entire solar system travels this path once each year. On or along this path are twelve different constellations--one for each of the twelve equal sections of the Zodiac. At any given time when we are said to be in a certain "sign," that sign is the constellation that could be viewed during a total solar eclipse in the sky spot where the sun is located. In other words, that constellation is "behind" the sun when viewed from the earth. Obviously any stars "behind" the sun are not visible during normal daylight hours because the brightness of the sun totally overwhelms any light from the stars. On a normal day, no one can simply go outside and look up at the sky and figure out what sign of the Zodiac we are in.
Astrology is based on the signs of the Zodiac. Astrology interprets the Zodiac signs as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world. When people rely on the signs of the Zodiac for gardening guidance, they are tapping into one aspect of astrology.
I gained a second insight when I asked this question: How would God communicate to man whatever creation markers are important in the timing of our activities? The answer that satisfied me is that God would make the markers easily observable for everyone. Lunar cycles meet this criteria; the solar Zodiac cycle does not. One Jewish writer put it this way: "Yahweh’s calendar is based on observation. Man’s calendars are based on calculation."
How does this relate to gardening? I found information in one book that is a gardening classic:
How to Grow More Vegetables
by John Jeavons. In this book, filled with pages of valuable charts, etc., the author has a short section on planting by the moon. At the center of his recommendations are these factors, all of which decrease or increase at different points in the moon's phases:
2. Gravitational pull
Essentially, he limits his recommendations to two gardening tasks: planting seeds, and transplanting seedlings. You will find an online explanation of Jeavons' strategies here
The third insight I gained is the realization that, whatever we do in the garden according to the lunar cycle will fall in the category of nuance--a small adjustment that may affect the outcome--rather than being foundational to success or failure. When germinating seeds, for example, the right temperature, the presence of moisture, and the absence of toxicity or decay must be in place, or a seed will not germinate even if the moon phase is favorable for germination.
What are the practical applications? To make the applications to seed germination, one additional piece of information is needed: Which germination time is typical of this seed--short or long? Short is generally accepted to be 5-10 days, and long is 15-20 days. This assumes favorable temperature and moisture conditions. Almost all common vegetables fall into the short germination category and the majority of flowers fall into the long germination category. Usually the seed packet will say when germination can be expected.
1. Plant most vegetables around new moon, in the period from three days before to one week after.
2. Plant most flowers around full moon, in the period from three days before to one week after.
The above recommendations are based on the fact that magnetism and gravity are both strongest at the new moon, and the above timing is suggested in order to help insure germination around new moon. As Jeavons describes it, at this time, the forces combine to burst the seed coat of any seed that has absorbed sufficient moisture and is within an ideal temperature range. Roughly two weeks later, at full moon, the night light is greatest, and top growth seems to respond favorably to this increased light.
Without my going into the reasons here, you may be interested in Jeavons' recommendation that transplanting happens at full moon.
One more bit of research on the respiration of potatoes helped solidify my thinking that moon phases can, in fact, affect living things in ways that are real but often imperceptible. Respiration is carried on by all living things. It is basically oxygen exchange--moving from the inside of the organism to the outside or movement in the other direction. Potatoes qualify as living things, perhaps contrary to intuition. We all know that they can sprout, however, given the right conditions.
For the experiment, potatoes were placed inside a dark, temperature-constant chamber, and the rate of respiration was measured. The rate changed measurably throughout different phases of the lunar cycle. Essentially, this strongly suggests that the forces of magnetism and gravity were exerting influence on potato respiration. If that is true, similar effects may well be present in all (or most) living things--plants, at least.
When I sent my article to Keepers at Home
, it created quite a furor among some of the workers at the place where it was published and printed. My sense is that the opposition to the content on moon planting occurred among people who did not distinguish it from the astrological practice of planting by the Zodiac--something they no doubt would have avoided as a matter of principle. Perhaps they even associated it with some of the superstitious practices that still are prevalent in some Amish circles.
One caveat: What I have written here is not a categorical condemnation of considering the Zodiac in the timing of gardening activities. I have no experience with using it, I have insufficient patience for consulting the complicated charts containing the necessary information, and I have no confidence that it is important. Nevertheless, I'm not necessarily convinced that doing so is wrong or foolish. I do believe that most other aspects of astrology have nothing to offer us, and involvement with them may be detrimental. I personally steer clear of them and would recommend the same to others.
Lunacy? I'll leave it to someone else to explore how or whether the lunar cycle affects emotional balance. The main thing I know is that lunacy and lunar have a common Latin root: luna. I may not be entirely on target when I speak of "luna" in relation to gardening, but I'm in safer territory by talking about what happens in the garden than about what happens inside people's heads during the various moon phases.