For most of human history, farmers have looked to the night sky, to the phases of the moon, to know when to plant their fields.
The Ancient Egyptians planted their crops in the rich sediment of the Nile Delta according to the phases of the moon. The great Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, wrote about the moon’s extensive influence over Roman agriculture.
In Africa, China, and the far reaches of the frozen north, areas developing separately and in complete isolation, the moon governed planting cycles. The Mayan Indians, long before they were reached by Spanish Conquistadores, planted their gardens by the phases of the moon.
Benjamin Franklin published the lunar calendar in Poor Richard’s Almanac to help Colonial farmers plan their plantings. Our Founding Fathers followed the phases of the moon in their gardens.
In modern times, some folks say planting by the moon is folklore, but some farmers swear by it. On our farm, we plant by the lunar cycle when possible, but usually we are happy to get our seeds into the ground any time our busy schedule allows.
The fact is, seeds will grow perfectly well any time of the month they are planted. But if you want to know more about how to capitalize on the magnetic and gravitational impact of the moon on your garden, agricultural scholars Alan Chadwick and John Jeavons offer some insights. Here is what they tell us:
The new moon is the first day of the lunar cycle. When the moon is new, or dark, it exerts a strong gravitational pull on the earth, and tides are high. The groundwater level beneath the soil is lifted the same way tides are lifted, and in this gravitational pull the roots of plants experience a growth spurt.
The new moon, or dark moon, is the best time of the month to plant short germinating seeds and extra-long germinating seeds. Short-germinating seeds sprout in one to seven days. Most garden vegetables are considered short-germinating. Extra-long germinating seeds sprout in seven to twenty-one days. Eggplant, peppers, and parsley are extra-long germinating seeds.
During the first week of the lunar cycle, plants experience a balanced rate of growth between the roots and the leaves.
However, during the second week of the lunar cycle, as the moon becomes full, the leaves of the plants grow at a rapid rate in the bright moonlight. The leaves grow at a faster rate than the roots, which set down strong legs during the first week of the lunar cycle to allow the plant to “reach to sky” during the full moon.
The full moon is the best time to plant long-germinating seeds, which take eight to twenty-one days to sprout, such as basil, okra, and parsnips. The full moon is also the best time to plant your transplants into the garden.
The third week of the lunar cycle, as the moon is waning and gravitation pull strengthens, plant roots experience another growth spurt, while leaf growth remains relatively static.
Finally, during the last seven days of the lunar cycle, as the moon goes dark and gravitation pull falls away, plants experience a time of balanced rest, where the rate of growth slows in both roots and leaves, and then a new lunar cycle begins.
In North America, the next new moon, or dark moon, occurs this Sunday. You certainly don’t have to plant your seeds by the lunar cycle to be successful. But if you do, you can feel reassured knowing you are backed by thousands of years of gardening tradition.