We acknowledge that the moon, that silver orb of poetry, song and madness, affects the tides. But we rarely consider (beyond the romantic surge some of us feel during the full moon) that it might affect anything else. Yet oysters transplanted from Long Island Sound in 1954 to a lab in Evanston, Ill., maintained their valve openings and closings according to the tidal rhythms of their place of origin for a time - until, still confined to a laboratory, they began to synchronize to the local lunar-tidal cycle.
Though there is not much scientific proof, there is a fair amount of anecdotal confirmation for the moon's affecting more than the tides. Former race-horse owner Suzanne Robinson routinely used the moon's phases to determine when to neuter her horses.
"They had a lot less pain, and there was less blood when you neutered them on the waning moon," she says. "We once had a vet who insisted on neutering one horse in the off-time, and the poor thing was miserable. It didn't happen when we went by the moon."
It's a stretch, but not an illogical one: blood flow, the motion of liquids, the pull of the tides - but planting? It matters what the moon's doing when you put a seed into the ground?
Old farmers' wisdom
Two generations ago, gardeners and farmers alike gauged planting by the moon's phases. Although most of us plant between carpool, work and the few hours of sleep we snatch rTC from the jaws of hectic schedules, there are some highly successful gardeners who still plant only when the moon is in the most beneficial phase.
"My father would turn over in his grave if I didn't plant by the moon," says Tom Bedwell of Betterton. Bedwell maintains a large vegetable garden, carefully timing both the tilling and the planting by the moon's phases. "You always work ground when the moon is going to full," he continues. "Grandfather always said if you dig a post hole on the decrease, you'll have to haul dirt [to fill the hole], but if you dig it on the increase, you'll have an abundance."
Bedwell acknowledges that the practice may strike some as, well, strange.
"It sounds weird," he says, "but it works."
Robinson agrees. Although she no longer rears trotters, she now plants a large garden. Her husband plants one of his own. "He does his his way, and I do mine by the moon," she says, adding, "I think mine produces better."
What goes in when
"You always plant anything that grows on top of the ground, like beans, tomatoes and peppers, when the moon is building up toward full," Bedwell explains, "and the root crops you plant when the moon is on the decrease."
In her book "Gothic Gardening," garden writer Alice Day offers a more specific schedule. Day suggests planting vegetables whose yields are aboveground and whose seeds are produced outside the fruit, particularly leafy plants like asparagus, spinach, celery, endive and cabbage, during the first quarter, or the time from new moon to about half-full.
During the second quarter, from half-full to full moon, plant vining vegetables that produce their seed inside the fruit, including squash, eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers. She says that melons, garlic, hay, grains and cereals do well if planted during either the first or second quarter.
The third quarter, when the moon is waning from full to half-full, put in biennials, perennials, bulb and root crops - onions, potatoes, rhubarb, grapes, winter wheat and berries, as well as plants that will yield the following year, like trees and shrubs.
During the fourth quarter, cultivate, pull weeds and destroy pests.
For those who are really into moon-phase planting, there is the additional complication of coordinating the zodiac sign. Jerry Parsons, a horticulturist in south-central Texas, has compiled a moon-planting guide for 1998 that is available on the Internet at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/PLANT answers/web.html.
Bedwell uses both Random's Brownie Calendar, a general farmer's planting calendar, and the Hagerstown Almanac to determine the moon's phases for each year.
"Planting by the Moon: On Life in a Mountain Hamlet," by Peter Stillman (1995); "Planetary Planting: A Guide to Organic Gardening by the Signs of the Zodiac," by Louise Riotte (1998); "The Lunar Garden: Planting by the Moon Phases," by E.A. Crawford (1989)
Pub Date: 9/06/98