Lunar lessons in gardening
As I have written before, I have something of a fixation with how history and folklore tie into gardening. My favorite gardens tie into history, like English herb gardens, or colonial cutting gardens. But recently I became aware of a gardening technique awash in folklore and history: gardening by the moon.
As much as I wanted this to mean gardening by moonlight while listening to Stevie Nicks, it does not. Gardening by the moon is a practically ancient method that follows the cycle of the moon, dividing garden tasks accordingly. Although gardening by the moon was not started by The Farmer’s Almanac, it has long been popularized and published by it. With the new Farmer’s Almanac having just been released, I thought it would be fun to explore this theory in gardening.
First, here is a little background on The Farmer’s Almanac. The almanac ties astronomy and folklore in a fun and uncomplicated way that is easy to read. With this being the first edition of The Farmer’s Almanac I have purchased, I was excited mainly for the long-range weather forecast and figured I would not read much else. I ended up reading it cover-to-cover and have referred back to it several times.
The Farmer’s Almanac has been continually published since 1818 by the Almanac Publishing Company in Lewiston, Maine. Although it is not the only Almanac published, it is the most widely circulated. The almanac predicts the weather by a secret formula that combines astronomy, astrology and climatology.
While the forecasts are often reliable, the almanac for 2012 was notably far off in its winter predictions. One of the first features in the 2013 Farmer’s Almanac highlights that they were indeed wrong about last winter “This past winter (as much as we dislike admitting it) threw a knuckleball at our long-range calculations forecast a winter of ‘clime and punishment’ …” Although, the freak snowstorm in New England over Halloween 2011 was predicted by the almanac.
The almanac has predictions for everything. The best days to fish, bake bread, get married, plant potatoes, butcher a chicken, sell a car, etc. The recommendations for gardening rely heavily on the cycle of the moon.
A major theme in gardening by the moon is that when the moon is waxing, or from the new moon until the full moon, above-ground crops such as tomatoes, peppers, corn, eggplant, berries, etc. should be the focus. Then, the period from the full moon to the new moon is the ideal time to focus on root crops like carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic. However, in the span of those times, there are certain days that are more favorable than others — and some that are considered “barren” altogether. These days are good for killing noxious and invasive plants, or clearing gardens. Also, there is to be no planting on the actual days of the new or full moon. Those are all generalizations, but if you would like to read the specific forecast, I have a link posted on our Delaware County Master Gardener’s Blog (mgdelco.blogspot.com) to the Farmer’s Almanac website.
A few highlights that apply to us here in Delaware County:
• Today is considered a barren day. So if you didn’t feel like facing the crowd today at the nursery, just as well. Today is a better day for chores like weeding or tilling the soil in your vegetable garden to prepare for planting fall crops.
• Sunday, however, is an excellent day to plant flowers, and the best days for transplanting are Sept. 28–30.
• Plant your onions Oct. 3–4 or 7–8 — Oct. 5 and 6 are barren.
• Plant spring-blooming bulbs Oct. 14–15.
While I may have my doubts about this concept, it is a lot older than any of us. So who knows — maybe there is something to it? If you have followed the guidelines of gardening by the moon, I would love to hear your thoughts!
A few other random facts I enjoyed learning in the almanac:
• The average lifespan of a Canada Goose? 33 years.
• Peak dates for autumn foliage in Ohio? Oct. 5–21.
• Average first frost date in Columbus? Oct. 13.
And according to the long-range forecast, the likelihood of a white Christmas is promising. If only I could look back at the plants I’ve failed to grow and check the dates — maybe I planted on “barren” days and it is not my fault!
Stephen Jones is a OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.