Can the moon help tomatoes grow big and juicy? Are the corn stalks being pulled by its gravity, stretching up into the night sky?
Some professional farmers and home gardeners seem to think so.
Like those who tilled the soil before them, they’re following the folk traditions laid out by their forefathers, planning their outside chores by the phases of the moon.
Michael McMullan, who operates a fifth-generation farm in Hartwell, says planting according to the correct moon phase means a “great harvest.” Doing otherwise? Then you can expect zilch from the back forty.
McMullan has been planting by the moon for more than 15 years. He uses the calendar in the Old Farmers' Almanac, first published in 1792, in order to follow two basic rules. After the new moon, McMullan plants his above-ground, fruit-bearing vegetables. After the full moon, he plants his root crops.
Weeding is done any time, although McMullan says during the phase of the new moon is best. If he wanted to organize all his chores, the almanac provides a handy guide for the right time to compost, fertilize, graft, harvest and even dig post holes.
Denise Everson, a Cooperative Extension agent in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, said using the moon cycles simplifies her life in the garden.
“By using the Farmer’s Almanac, I can look at the schedule and see when I need to plant, trim, etc.,” Everson said. “There is some flexibility, and you do have to use some common sense to avoid frosts. But for the most part it is a very simple guide to follow. Once the dates are on my calendar, we just make a plan and let the magic happen in our garden.”
And because she used the moon and the almanac last year, Everson said she had a great spring and summer crop at her Athens home, better than most of her friends.
Was it the magic of the moon? Everson said she thinks hard work and commitment were the more likely causes.
“I attributed our success to the Farmers' Almanac,” said Everson. “I think it may actually encourage us in some way to take better care of our gardens — sort of a sense that things will grow because we planted at the right time, so we have to take care of our plants.”
Even though Everson relies on the almanac more extensively than McMullan, she doesn’t follow all of its directions. Most significantly, she doesn’t plan according to astrological signs, which some believe is the best way to pinpoint the right time for gardening and farming activities.
According to Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac, the moon’s position in the sky “determines more precisely what times are best suited for certain tasks, even though the general link to waxing and waning cycles remains the same.”
In this method, the 12 signs of the zodiac are divided by their “barren” or “fruitful” properties. Aries, Gemini, Leo, Virgo, Sagittarius and Aquarius are barren. On the other hand, Taurus, Cancer, Libra, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces are promising and fruitful.
So, if you want to plant simply by the moon phase in April, then no annual vegetables should be put in the ground after the 28th, specifically no later than 7:18 a.m. on that day, which is exactly the time the moon becomes full.
If you want to go a step further and use the zodiac as well, then the only remaining dates suitable for planting in this month are April 26, 27 and a portion of 28. During that span, the moon is still waxing and sits in the fruitful sign of Libra for two days before moving to Scorpio.
The rules for planting can be even more complicated, as some traditions call for only certain kinds of vegetables, such as greens, to be planted during certain times. Of course, not following the almanac to the letter does not guarantee failure. The key to using an almanac seems to be common sense and understanding your own physical limitations.
While there is no scientific proof of the moon’s benevolent effect on plants, the tradition of using the almanac continues. Maybe it’s just that in a field such as gardening or farming, where so much success depends upon the invisible mystery of life, it’s better to cover all your bases.