In 2004 we bought an old farm which still had a few old plum trees on it, but they produced very small fruit. A neighbouring farmer offered to come along and show us how to prune them to improve the yield – but insisted that he could only do it during the appropriate phase of the moon. He needed to prune the trees as the moon was waning because the sap would be falling and the tree would be less likely to weep where it had been cut. The following year our prunes were bigger and better than before – was that his skill at pruning or the power of the moon?
Before we moved to France I had never grasped the importance of the power of the moon to some growers and, while it does not govern how I garden, I understand why many people feel that following a lunar calendar contributes to productive plant husbandry. Here, in France, it can be taken very seriously, especially by growers who practice biodynamic methods or those who wish to garden in tune with nature’s rhythm. Is it all new-age nonsense or is it a proven method of gardening? I have outlined, below, some of the beliefs behind the system.
There are three basic principles which underpin the theory – the moon’s gravitational pull, which varies over a period of approximately 28 days; the variations in the level of light reflected by the moon as it waxes (gets bigger) and wanes (gets smaller) and finally the importance of the 12 constellations of the zodiac as the moon passes in front of them each month.
We all know that the gravitational pull of the moon creates tides and that there are more extreme tides when the moon is full because the gravitational pull is believed to be greater. This principle can be extended to other liquids including the sap in plants, the level of moisture in the soil and even to human hair, with some people taking a haircut or dying their hair according to the phases of the moon. The sap in plants is believed to rise more quickly as the moon is waxing and to drop back when it is waning. We also know that bulbs know which way is up even though they are underground and in the dark. A bulb planted upside down will attempt to push the baby shoot upwards. Similarly, the roots will grow downwards – this behaviour is called geotropism and it is triggered by gravitational pull.
In conjunction with this there is the issue of varying light levels – a full moon reflects a lot of sunlight back to the earth, while a new moon reflects virtually none. This extra light at night is thought to favour plants which are principally above ground – such as leafy vegetables and annual flowers, so they should be planted while the moon is waxing. The waning moon favours plants which are largely below ground such as tubers, bulbs and perennials. A new moon (no light) is thought to be ideal for tasks like killing weeds or working on the compost heap. Moonlight is not as strong as sunlight and also differs qualitatively and some scientists believe that this qualitative difference may be important in modulating plant growth. Others believe that even though the moon has a gravitational pull the effect is too small to affect any biochemical process within the plant.
Finally – there is the theory that as the moon passes in front of the earth, fire, air and water signs of the zodiac its influence varies. Accordingly, when it is passing in front of earth signs (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn) then you should plant your root crops; leafy crops (spinach, lettuce etc) should be planted during water sign phases – that is Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces. The air signs (Gemini, Libra and Aquarius) are good for flowers and during the days when the moon traverses fire signs (Leo, Aries and Sagittarius) you should plant crops which bear fruit and seeds – such as onions, garlic and peppers.
When you add all of these factors together it is extremely difficult to calculate the most auspicious time to plant your potatoes, cut the lawn or prune the apple tree. To solve the problem many local newsagents here in France sell copies of lunar calendars at this time of year. Why not buy one for 2023 and see whether gardening according to lunar principles is a system which could work for you?