The tradition of planting by the moon is a long one, practiced by many cultures for thousands of years; Pliny the Elder, Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher of the first century, even gave advice on the topic in History of Nature, Book 18, stating that the moon "replenishes the earth; when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, while, when she recedes, she empties them.". Before modern science and farming techniques, humans relied on the consistency of the seasons; the moon, being one of our most consistent metrics, served as a great tool to mark the annual planting and harvesting of produce. Utilizing these celestial cycles in the garden can give a gardener a larger connection to their environment and deeply-rooted traditions.
How it works
The moon's gravitational force pulls water upward (think of the ocean tides) and this is most powerful when the sun and moon align at the new and full moons. In theory, the new and full moons are better times to sow seeds because there is more moisture in the top part of the soil. This tradition is further applied to the four phases of the moon that complement working with specific types of plants.
Beginning with the waxing of the new moon, or the waxing crescent, when the moon begins to reflect more light, lunar gardeners can sow and/or transplant annuals that are harvested above ground and produce seeds outside of a fruit. A brighter, waxing moon is believed to encourage the production of the leaves of these plants, much like bright and sunny days are the most productive for these leafy vegetables. Since the moon's glow is a direct result of the sun's rays hitting it, this makes sense! These vegetables include lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, mustards, bok choy, cabbage, celery, and artichokes.
A the moon reaches an even greater brightness, during the second week or first quarter of the waxing moon, lunar gardeners sow and/or transplant crops that produce a fruit with seeds inside, such as tomatoes, peppers, okra, melons, squash, peas, beans, and cucumbers. This phase of the moon is believed to help the stems of these plants grow to greater fullness.
The days following the full moon, called the waning gibbous, when the moon begins to "wane" (appear smaller), it is thought to be good for sowing root crops, following the idea that the water in the soil is retreating to a deeper depth, drawing root crops with it, promoting healthy and strong roots. These dirt-dwelling vegetables are also notoriously productive during the autumn months because of the shorter day length (which prompts root growth); therefore, less light (even if it is by the moon) would stimulate the same root growth. Carrots, radish, beets, and parsnips are all vegetables that would benefit from this practice. Onions are also included in this category (although onion bulbs are technically layers of leaves) because they are buried in the ground.
Finally, the third quarter or last week of the waning moon (which leads to the new moon) is thought to be best for weeding, improving the soil, turning the compost, and fertilizing to prepare for the crops sown during the new moon.
Following these practices can help us become more connected to nature and comfort us in knowing that techniques created centuries ago can still teach us so much about gardening and farming, passing down from generation to generation—much like gardening itself.
Written by Lauren Wetenkamp