MUSKOKA — When was the last time you read a Farmer’s Almanac? I haven’t read one in years but this year I ended up with a copy thanks to a friend.
WORTH MOONING OVER.
The moon’s phases influence ocean tides and groundwater tables, making it worthwhile to consider when it comes time for gardening.
Most of you will be familiar with this classic little magazine that’s been published every year since 1792. It’s packed with the kind of information that gardeners love: growing tips, neat facts, handy charts and, of course, the weather predictions for the year.
When the book was first published it was mostly an agrarian society and the information the almanac contained became a basic necessity, second only to the household Bible. It contained — and still does — astrological charts, moon phase charts, tide charts and last frost date charts to help gardeners choose when to plant and when to harvest.
I remember when I read my first almanac, I thought that the moon and astrological charts were quaint, homey ideas held over from those agrarian times. I didn’t take them seriously until one of my aunts told me that she always planted her vegetable garden by the phases of the moon. She had a large, wonderful farm garden. I always left her house with baskets of veggies and berries. It was time to reconsider the facts.
Fact: the moon influences the ocean tides. Fact: the moon influences the groundwater tables. So at the times when the moon is pulling water toward the surface of the soil (full moon and new moon) seeds will absorb more water causing them to sprout faster. This movement of water through the soil with the phases of the moon can influence the effectiveness of all kinds of gardening tasks.
Would you believe that mowing your lawn in the waxing moon phase (the moon is moving from new to full) will encourage more growth and mowing your lawn in the waning phase (moving from full to new) will slow down growth? I know which one I’d choose. But then again, I don’t remember the last time I had to cut the lawn. That’s my hubbie’s job.
More useful to me is the fact that during the last quarter of the moon, when the water table has dropped to its lowest point, there is less moisture in the soil and it’s easier to dig. The vegetable garden is my job, though I’ve been known to persuade my husband to help with the heavier digging.
The moon has four phases, or quarters, that last about seven days each. There are specific tasks suited to each quarter.
First quarter: moving from new moon to full moon or waxing period, the period of increasing light, is a good time to sow seeds or set out plants that produce yields above ground, such as leafy vegetables, or produce seeds on the outside, such as annual flowers, herbs or broccoli.
Second quarter: when the moon is about half full, the gravitational pull is less but the moonlight is strong, especially just before the full moon, and leaf growth is good. It’s a good time to plant annuals that have seeds that form inside a fruit, such as tomatoes, beans, peppers or cucumbers.
Third quarter: moving from full moon to new moon or waning period, the moisture is high but heading down to the roots. It’s a good time to transplant and to plant biennials, perennials, bulbs, shrubs, trees and all root vegetable crops. Since the water is retreating, shrubs will have less sap flowing from pruning cuts.
Fourth quarter: when the moon is half full again, is not considered a good time to plant anything. It’s supposed to be the time to do weeding, cultivating or pest control. There is an old belief that weeds pulled at this time will not grow back. Now that’s worth a try!
It may seem like a lot to absorb. If you want to keep it simple, just remember this: plant crops that set produce above ground in the waxing period and root crops in the waning period.
I’d like to be able to say that I’m a dedicated moon planter but I have to admit that I usually plant when I find time around my busy schedule. Still, I keep it in mind and sometimes I get it right.
Elaine Vida is a horticulturist and a landscape designer with an Ontario Diploma of Horticulture from the University of Guelph. She works as a designer with Brackenrig Landscaping, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.