“The mechanics may appear complex
but the premise is simple.
and everything on it,
is an integral part
of both the solar system and the cosmos:
every last blade of grass
is affected by the whole.”
-The Biodynamic Association of India
“Biodynamic agriculture works from two poles—the cosmic and the earthly. Understanding and using the rhythms of the cosmos for sowing and planting in conjunction with the practice of soil fertility, makes organic farming truly work.”
“Lunar gardening is fun.
It will increase both your pleasure
and profit. Who knows?
You, too, may have a green thumb!”
-Louise Riotte, Planetary Planting
Yes, we are now officially living “off the rock,” and it’s about time I sit down and write more, as promised, about gardening with astronomy and lunar rhythms—“planetary planting” as Louise Riotte might say. What’s more, I’ll show some pictures here detailing what kind of planning and methods helped us grow tomatoes and peppers in a northern coastal garden this past season.
good old paper and pencil method …
In my first post on this topic, Biodynamic Gardening Simplified Part One, I explain some of the background to this practice that gardeners have followed for thousands of years without necessarily calling it “biodynamic.” But here’s a quick recap: it’s based on the idea that every planetary body in the universe affects its surroundings through the pushes and pulls of gravity that occur as these bodies move through space.
A website called Lunar Organics gives a nice summary:
“Humankind started farming in the Nile valley over 10,000 years ago. Our ancestors watched the rhythms of the heavens, and made connections between the patterns in the night-sky and the effects of the moon, planets, and stars on their bodies, the oceans, and on their gardens.
Over the centuries as farming spread, they determined the best times to plant and harvest their crops, as well as for animal husbandry, beekeeping, and timber felling. This knowledge was handed down through the generations in oral and written tradition.”¹
In other words, you only need to pick up a farmer’s almanac from a grocery store these days if you want proof that gardeners and farmers have long been observing nature—including the sky, stars, and planets—so by now, methods exist for working with nature to achieve the best growing results whether you’re sowing lettuce, drying garlic, or even cutting timber.
It’s not essential that you fully understand the astronomy of biodynamic growing in order to practice it for yourself. You can simply buy a good calender (the ones on the Lunar Organics site looked nice! I think they are in the UK. Keep in mind you may need a different calendar if you’re in the southern hemisphere). You can just follow the timing on the calendar and learn more at your own pace if you choose. This point brings me to the calender I drew up for our project here in Newfoundland, but let me add that you do not need to draw your own version of the calendar to use it! Sorry the images aren’t more clear:
I based this calendar off of one I bought; I needed something more colourful (easier for everyone involved to read) and also that gave more space to write daily tasks, so I copied the information onto large poster-board paper for each month.
I love following the lunar planting method for it’s merits alone, but in truth, my favourite part of using a biodynamic calendar is the way it helps when organizing and planning garden tasks; I find it way easier to garden by assigning specific tasks to specific days.
It may be true that depending on the time of year, what’s in your garden, and what stage of growing it’s at, you don’t need to think too much about when exactly you’re going to weed the carrots or thin out the spinach. When it’s Spring, you just plant the seeds, right? It seems pretty straightforward … and yet many a seasoned gardener would add that it’s not always that simple … but don’t be daunted. Experimenting and having fun is still what it’s all about in my books, so there is no right or wrong method. Your approach to gardening can be as unique as you choose. But for someone such as myself who does not come directly from a farming background or have ten years of gardening experience, and even for the expert gardener, there will always be questions to ask, options to weigh, considerations to ponder …
“Should I plant a batch of spinach greens now or next week, or in the next couple of days?”
“What can I do to minimize the harm from transplanting for these tomatoes?”
“Why didn’t more of these onion seeds germinate?”
Having a calendar of any kind will help to organize tasks in a way that suits your schedule before the growing season arrives, making gardening so much easier. Your schedule might be full of other commitments, but with the biodynamic method you usually have at least 2 – 3 days of “buffer time” to work with for each task. For example, sowing spinach in early April might occur anytime from the 11th to the 13th … or from the 20th to the 25th) You get a guideline to follow, and you get the added bonus that you’re taking natural rhythms into account and improving the success of your crops. It’s very motivating! In my opinion it adds to the joy of gardening, so although it may seem complex at first, it’s simply another tactic under your belt for achieving the results you want in your garden.
That said, “you don’t have to follow this approach blindly—it’s a methodology, not a recipe.”² If you can’t fit something into your schedule reasonably, you do it when you can, and things will still turn out okay. Nobody’s perfect! Additionally, I’ve never heard of a biodynamic practitioner so hard-lined about these methods that they discouraged constructive questioning, trials, and objective assessments of the method’s validity.
In our case, we used the poster-board calendar as a starting point to map out the tasks for the season, and to get an idea of what we would need done by when (ex. places to transplant seedlings into, such as cold-frames or the greenhouse, by March or May.)
greenhouse in progress ^^
cold frame early Spring ^^^
Then we completed the tasks; we sowed seeds and transplanted seedlings on days that closely corresponded to the days recommended by the calendar and at the times said to be most ideal for that particular task or variety of plant.
(If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, keep reading and/or read Part One)
This method can go even further such as into harvesting, storing, and drying times, and there’s even biodynamic fertilizer preparations you can learn to make. I didn’t go that far with it last season, but we did follow the calendar for mostly everything related to seedling or transplanting. It also helped that we had a south-facing window to start seedlings in, that we bought healthy, high quality soil mixes for seedling starts, that we mulched manure with newspaper underneath the beds to encourage worm activity, and that we had some pretty decent weather.
It was by no means a formally controlled experiment. I didn’t do any scientific-type trials to compare seedlings, for example, such as comparing cabbage sown under a leaf/water sign with cabbage sown under a fruit/fire sign. But in short, I believe that this method is a useful supplementary approach, and I would not doubt that it had some effect on our plants.
Other planning techniques involved companion planting and ideas from books about year-round growing.
(Vegetables & Their Companions)
To continue with the theme and carry on from where I left off last time, biodynamic gardening works largely with these four influences:
1. Moon Phase
Is the moon waxing or waning?
2. Moon Path
Is the moon ascending or descending?
3. Moon Constellation
Which constellation is the moon passing in front of?
4. Plant Aspect
What type of plant are you growing and what part of the plant do you intend to use?
As for the last two, Moon Constellation and Plant Aspect, I covered these in some detail in Part One (the idea is that if you want to plant a root crop such as carrots, you aim to plant them on a day—of many during one month—that corresponds to a root/earth constellation.) So, that leaves Moon Phase and Moon Path to delve into!
Although they have similar influences, Moon Phase refers to the way the moon looks from the earth (full, crescent, etc) whereas Moon Path refers to how the moon ascends and descends in the sky (also visible across the horizon.)
Moon phase, also known as the synodic cycle, takes roughly a month to come full circle—no pun intended. There are four quarters and each quarter is about a week long depending on the month. Each week marks a phase of the moon as it goes from new to full and back again. There’s about two weeks from the time between new and full moon, and again about two weeks for it to go back to a new moon again. Here’s a representation of that using the calendar:
The first quarter begins on the day of the new moon, when you cannot see the moon from earth. Start of first quarter and new moon marked here:
During the first and second quarter, the new moon becomes more visible from earth each day. It is waxing, and the second quarter ends when the moon is fully visible from earth (full moon, roughly two weeks later) marked here:
The third quarter begins on the day of the full moon, and throughout the third and fourth quarter, the moon is waning as it becomes less and less visible from earth daily.
There are countless sources that mention how the cycles of the moon affect life on earth, and gardening in particular. To include a few examples relating to the full moon:
There’s more moisture in the soil 48 hours before a full moon and the growth of plants increases; during the full moon, seeds germinate quickly and vegetation that is mown or cut will regrow quickly as well; in warm conditions, the added moisture can contribute to fungal growth (add anti-fungal cinammon to the soil and/or keep soil well-aerated if planting seedlings around this time); insect activity increases; absorption of liquid manure is better; there is an increased tendency for rain.
The new moon, on the other hand, seems to indicate less moisture content with flow of water and sap in plants reduced …. etc
I especially kept track of the fourth quarter on our calendar (coloured in the day numbers with a blue marker) because if you read about planting by the moon, you’ll come across advice that this quarter is an unfavourable planting time—about a week before the new moon. I read about this “barren” phase after already sowing a batch of onions during the fourth quarter. I’d been disappointed and actually thought the seeds, despite being nearly brand new and from a good source, were not very viable. But when I planted a second batch of the same seeds during a different quarter, the germination rate was much higher. This happenstance was my only (albeit accidental and admittedly unscientific) test of the method, but it was enough for me. I didn’t see any other factors that would have influenced the germination rate so strongly, didn’t even know while seeding the first batch that it wasn’t a good time, and was relieved to see that the seeds weren’t “duds” after all. From then on I didn’t plant any seeds during the fourth quarter.
We can easily observe the phases of the moon, but what does the ascending or descending moon look like? Well, have you ever noticed that the moon is not always rising to the same height in the sky? Or that it sometimes seems lower on the horizon than you’ve seen it before?
We live in a three-dimensional world, so when we consider that the moon is moving through the sky across a path of constellations, we must remember that this path is not just a two-dimensional circle somewhere above our heads like a space halo. The sky is not a piece of paper; it has many more potentials, so the path the moon travels is at an angle, allowing the moon to travel both sideways as well as up and down. There’s an end point to this ascension, when the moon is highest in the sky along that path; and to the descension, when it’s at its lowest point in the sky and can only go back up again. You can observe this path, otherwise known as the sidereal cycle, by making a mental note each night of where the moon sits on the horizon: you’ll notice that sometimes it is at a higher or lower point.
Now, how is this path related to planting a garden? A variety of sources explain that as the moon ascends over several days like this, the gravity of it moving through space creates an upward pull on any body of water, causing the water to rise higher (as with the tides of the ocean). The reverse happens when the moon is descending; any body of water becomes lower. For example, sap—and moisture in all plant life—slowly and perpetually rises during an ascending moon. If you really pay attention, you can also witness the effects an ascending moon has on plant growth—it is a time of “pulling up” and growing, so sowing seedlings is said to be more effective in these ascending weeks as well.
One source—that also includes a list of farming activities for ascending and descending moons—explains with an analogy from Rudoft Steiner, renowned biodynamics scholar, that the upward and downward cycle of the moon path is comparable to the rhythm we use for breathing.³ The inhalation, or “drawing inward,” happens during the moon’s descension, when growth potentials focus more on the soil itself than on the above-ground plants. Plant sap and water is also more concentrated below the surface at this time, so it is ideal for pruning or taking cuttings (it harms the plant less to prune at a time when sap is not high and flowing through every limb). The descending moon, according to prominent researcher Maria Thun, is the ideal time for transplanting and the best time to encourage root growth.
I’ve found that not all calendars take into account both Moon Phase and Moon Path together. In fact, the calendar I bought said nothing about the transplanting times I’d read through Maria Thun’s work, so I marked them on the calendar with a red-shaded number for the date to indicate the best time to transplant:
(note that April’s transplanting time is at a time when the moon is waxing; this demonstrates how moon phases (waxing vs. waning) and path (ascending vs. descending) do not necessarily correlate. Their influences, like so many factors, occur independently of one another.)
In order to do this marking, I read Maria Thun’s calendar from the year before (I’d seen it on a farm on Saltspring Island and had pictures of a few pages) where she explains that the descending period begins when the moon stands in the highest part of the zodiac, which is the entry into the Gemini constellation. From that point, the moon is descending until it reaches the transition between the Scorpio and Sagittarius constellations, the lowest point, and goes back up again. Every biodynamics calendar will tell you what constellation the moon is in on any given day, so marking the transplanting time was not too difficult … that is, once I got it through my head that the ascending and descending (sidereal) was a completely different influence than the moon’s phases (synodic).
None of the tomatoes we transplanted into the ground had a problem establishing roots and growing into full-grown plants although the soil was dry and lifeless and at one point experienced an ant invasion. We also put comfrey water in the holes and gave them tomato-specific organic liquid fertilizer regularly, and there was manure (nitrogen), newspaper (carbon), hay (carbon), and wood chips (carbon) buried under this lifeless topsoil to attract worms. Here’s an example from another gardener who benefited from paying attention to the moon’s path, but for pruning rather than transplanting during the descending moon:
“Over the summer we did a test where we pruned half our large camomile patch on a descending blossom day and half on a random ascending day. The patch cut on the descending blossom day continued to grow and send out more flowers for months. The other side completely turn[ed] up its nose and died.”4
There is much more information out there that you can reference on the gardening conditions for each moon state and on recommended times for different garden activities. This post and it’s predecessor (posted back in June 2013) are my own contributions, and hopefully may serve as somewhat of a one-stop compilation of the basics, based on the sources I’ve seen, with the intention of sharing an understanding of biodynamic methods. There are a variety of calendars to choose from when planning your garden, so if you’re going with a biodynamic one, you may now have a general idea of how to use it and what you might want included in the version you choose.
For more information, the links below are also some great places to start. Comments and suggestions are always appreciated. And by the way, there are also a lot of articles online about cutting your hair with the phases of the moon too!
Cited in Post:
Planetary Planting, Louise Riotte
Maria Thun’s 2012 Biodynamic Calendar