Planting By The Moon

Many dismiss the concept that phases of the moon are relevant to the planting of crops or a garden.  However, it is general knowledge that the moon affects the ocean tides that ebb and flow twice a day each day. The gravitational pull of the moon as the earth faces and opposes the moon each day causes the high tides twice each day. And the lesser gravitational pull of the moon when it no longer straight above or below but off to the side creates the ebb tides. These effects are of course regional in nature.

The moon’s 28+/- day journey around the earth also affects the tides. The highest high tides, called “spring tides” occur when the moon comes near to the same side of the earth as the sun during the new moon, and also when the moon nears the opposite side of the earth from the sun (full moon.) The weakest tides, called “neap tides,” occur when the moon is at a right angle to the earth relative to the sun.  The right angle is formed when the moon is half way between new moon and full moon, and conversely when it is half way between full moon and new moon.  

Of course the earth has a gravitational pull of its own, far greater than the pull of the moon. All densities of matter are held to the earth by the earth’s gravitational force. But the lower density of water allows the moon to affect the earth’s water, if ever so slightly.

The gravitational pull of the moon actually affects all water on the earth, not just the oceans, but lakes and streams, pools and ponds, the groundwater beneath the earth, and even the moisture content within the soils.  Planting by the moon relates to soil conditions and ground water that are influenced by the phases of the moon.  

The principles of planting by the moon take into account that the earth’s ground water and the water within the soil will be most activated during both the full moon and new moon phases. However the pull of the moon from the opposite side of the earth from the sun, which is the full moon, has the greatest gravitational effect on the earth itself. In some sense, the premise is that the full moon is the time when the elements of earth become most engaged with the water within the earth, creating the greatest amount of moisture activity within the molecules of soil.

Planting by the moon involves planting during both the waxing moon and the waning moon. The moon is waxing as it moves from new moon to full moon, and it is waning as it moves from full moon to new moon. The fundamental technique is to plant anything that produces its yield above ground during the waxing moon because at this time the moon is fostering maximum moisture activity within the soil Plants that produce yield above the ground includes everything from grasses, to blooming flowers, to vegetables picked from a bud, to fruit trees. Conversely, root plants such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and bulbs should be planted during the waning moon when soils conditions become less active and relatively drier. 

For those who practice planting by the moon, nuanced techniques consider each quarter of the lunar cycle. For example, some sources say that the first quarter of the waxing moon is best for planting plants that produce their seeds outside of the fruit. These plants include grasses, grains, leafy vegetables, broccoli and cabbage. Conversely, the second quarter of the waxing moon supports the planting of crops that yield fruit above ground but produce their seeds inside their fruit. These crops include beans and peas, most fruits, squash and tomatoes.

Another nuance takes into account the reduced gravitational pull of the moon at the beginning of the second quarter of the waning moon.  This time period corresponds to the “neap tides” that are created when the moon is at a right angle to the earth relative to the sun but is particular to the waning moon phase. This time is considered by some moon planters to be the best time to harvest fruit and crop yields. It is also considered to be the time for pruning and weeding with the idea that pruning done at this time is less likely to regenerate.  And most moon planters seem to agree that the full moon and the new moon are, in and of themselves, are not a time to either plant or to harvest. Both the full moon and the new moon are pivotal, transitional times and not a time for action.

The phases of the moon for the year can easily be found in any almanac. An almanac is defined by Collins English Dictionary as “a yearly calendar giving statistical information on events and phenomena, such as the phases of the moon, times of sunrise and sunset, tides anniversaries, etc.”  Throughout American history, farmers have looked to almanacs to advise them on seasonal weather forecasts, tide tables, and planting charts, most of which take into account the phases of the moon.  

Print copies of a Farmer’s Almanac  has traditionally been a mainstay in every rural American home. Some may be surprised to learn that the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” and the “Farmers’ Almanac” are two distinct publications. The “Old Farmer’s Almanac” was first published in 1792, and has the distinction of being the oldest ongoing publication in the USA. It is released in the fall prior to the year for which it is published, and its cover bears the signature yellow background with red print highlights that it has had since the 1850’s. Its weather forecasts are based on a secret forecasting formula developed two centuries ago that is still used today. There are actually four editions of the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” the National edition which is focused on New England, the Southern edition, the Western edition, and a Canadian edition. A full set of the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” can be found in the Smithsonian Institution. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a website, , which was first published in 1996.

The “Farmers’ Almanac” also dates back to early American history, though not quite so far back. It was first published in 1818. This publication also uses a highly secretive method for forecasting weather that dates back to the early 19th century. Currently the “Famers’ Almanac” covers seven climatic zones throughout the USA and also publishes the “Canadian Farmers’ Almanac.” The “Farmers’ Almanac” has a website, At one time they had their own TV show. Both the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” and the “Farmers’ Almanac” have information on planting by the moon, primarily under the category, gardening by the moon. Both almanacs give full details on the exact dates and times of the different phases of the moon

The practice of planting by the moon goes back to some of the most ancient agricultural societies. The Sumerians who some 4000+ years ago populated the fertile valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers  in what is now present day Iraq, had a thriving agricultural industry. The cuneiform texts found in archaeological ruins indicate that this culture considered lunar cycles in their planting techniques.  In 1949, a clay tablet was found at the site of Nippur that dates to roughly 1600 BC. The table is referred to as the “Sumerian Farmer’s Almanac” and is considered to be the first almanac on record. 

In the early 20th Century, Austrian born Rudolf Steiner developed a complex system for agriculture generally known as “biodynamic farming.” The system is used today as a method of sustainable farming practice to maximum yields and soil fertility. The system takes into account the influence of the phases of the moon, along with a myriad of other factors, to determine ideal times for planting and harvesting.

Some schools of thought would take the premises of planting by the moon a step further. That the moon, through its gravitational pull on the earth both aligned with and perpendicular to the sun, has an effect on the tides is a given. That this gravitational effect applies to all waters of the earth is perhaps a bit of an extrapolation in scientific circles but it seems a logical conclusion. A further extrapolation would attribute the moon’s gravitational influence to water within all earth systems -- the water within the molecules of soil, within the stems and roots of plants, within animals, and indeed, within us humans! Many sources say that up to roughly 60% of a human’s total body weight is water.

Are we humans therefore influenced by the phases of the moon, as much of our mythology and folklore would suggest? Are there distinct lunar cycles that are best for the planting of our own “seeds” - our projects and plans and endeavors - and other lunar cycles best for harvesting the results of such endeavors? This is a question for another time.

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