Mark has had A Revelation. If he turns around three times in an anticlockwise direction in front a pot of fresh sown seed, the seed germinates and grows more rapidly. He is fairly sure this has something to do with channelling cosmic energy and just to prove it, he is going to sow two pots at the same time but hide one around the corner so it can’t see his actions. He is confident that the seed that has received the special attention will grow better and this experiment will give conclusive scientific proof.
Silly? Of course.
We have been looking at planting by the moon, in an attempt to see if there is any independent evidence to back up the claims. We are seeing lunar gardening being featured ever more widely in this country, almost to the point of becoming mainstream. Is there any scientific foundation to it? Not that we could find. Well, there is the work by Nicholas Kollerstrom but there is a bit of a credibility gap with him – he being best known as a leading Holocaust denier. Beyond that, it is all affirmation, testimonial and anecdote.
We could comprehend the theory that the times when the moon’s gravitational pull is at its strongest are the best times for plant growth. I don’t say we believed, but we could understand it. What we failed entirely to get a grip on was why this meant you could ONLY plant at this time for best results. Some seeds can take a long time to germinate. If you planted them two weeks early (when the gravitational pull is weaker), what is to stop them just sitting there waiting until the time is right? Why are they allegedly so disadvantaged when compared to seed planted 14 days later at the right phase of the moon? Logically, should not the gravitational pull be a deadline, not a tight time frame? We also failed to get to grips with the differentiation between the positive forces of a waxing moon and the negative forces of a waning moon when the gravitational pull is roughly equal at various stages.
There is a fair amount of wiggle room. There does not seem a definitive source of guidance so beyond the principles of gravitational pull and the lunar influence on tides, most other interpretations appear to be flexible. Some claim that you should only water on a waxing moon, others that if you mow your lawns or clip your hedges in the last quarter, you will slow regrowth. This might be termed residual effect? It appears that timing is everything and we can indelibly affect the long term behaviour and subsequent performance of plants based simply on the exact timing of planting, pruning and other gardening activities.
It didn’t get any better when we delved further. Fertile and barren days are apparently linked to the zodiacal belt. You know, the signs of the zodiac. That is astrology and you have to be of a certain ilk to take astrology seriously in your daily life.
We came to the conclusion you have to be a believer. Planting by the moon in modern times has more to do with pagan moon worship than scientific fact. And it arouses great passion and devotion amongst followers, a sense of belonging and a belief that all will go well – as long as you follow the rules.
Ancient practice alone is not validation. We are so selective in our use of history. Fortunately we no longer think that sacrificing the odd virgin or two will bring better harvests. In the days before calendars and clocks, it is likely that the ancients did indeed use the moon’s phases to determine planting times, along with other factors like day length, temperature change and seasonal rainfall. Productivity and harvests have long been wrapped up with religion and both the moon and the sun were objects of veneration. How curious that moon worship has persisted in this form and remains a major source of spiritual inspiration.
And yet, just as the outcome of biodynamic practices can be sound organic land management no matter how flaky some of the underpinning rules appear to be, so too can planting by the moon have beneficial outcomes. As far as we can see, it is the perfect tool for people who need deadlines to get themselves organised and motivated. “You must plant this carrot seed within the next three days or you will have to wait another month by which time it will be too late.” You obediently follow instructions. Whereas the non believer procrastinates and delays, thinking there is still plenty of time, so often doesn’t get around to planting the seed at all. Lunar planting is your own personal organiser but, as far as we can see, it does not actually have anything to do with the moon’s gravitational pull.
Organics, biodynamics, permaculture, planting by the moon – these are all ways of encouraging sound gardening practices which enhance the environment rather than harming it. I just wish some of the proponents and their devoted followers didn’t feel the need to use pseudo science to try and justify what are sometimes faith-based gardening systems.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.
Photos for this article here have been sourced from Wiki Commons. Photo credit for lunar eclipse time lapse: A. Skorochod.