LAST Sunday the moon was full. It flooded the fields and spilled light into the windows of high-rise apartments. And all over the country, moon gardeners were planting by it — corn, pole beans, sweet peas — because they know that a full moon will make corn grow tall and pull a vining bean right up the pole.
“When I was 4 I’d go out with my grandmother, and we’d always try to plant potatoes on the full moon,” said Michael Petitt, 25 years old, who grew up in the hills of Kentucky. “And we’d plant pole beans and corn and grasses on the full moon, for faster germination.”
Mr. Petitt is an extension agent for Boyd County in Kentucky. He is working on his master’s degree in horticulture. But he still plants by the moon.
“I think that geotropism — the effect of gravity on plants — is greater on the full moon,” he said. “But I think it also affects some biochemical process. Of course I’d never say this to a client on the phone.”
Moon planters believe that the same gravitational force that pulls the tides, the same cosmic rhythms that draw a horsehoe crab ashore to mate, also cause crops, especially those that bear above ground, to leap right out of the earth. And conversely, when the moon is on the wane and its light and gravitational pull are on the decrease, the earth’s gravity kicks in again, and roots burrow happily into the ground.
But don’t plant anything when the moon is absolutely dark. That’s when plants should rest, and a good time to kill weeds because they won’t grow back.
The world of hard science hasn’t tried to study this stuff. “It’s mythology,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig, an agronomist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan. “There has to be a physical reason why the moon’s different phases would affect soil properties, soil temperature, moisture content, precipitation, which are the actual physical factors that make seeds germinate. And that isn’t documentable.”
Her colleague Frank Abramopoulos, an astrophysicist, agreed. “The tidal force — the gravitational pull of the moon — would be there, but at a level smaller than would affect any biochemical processes,” he said.
There was a long pause when he was asked if the moon, passing through the signs of the zodiac, could affect plants.
“The moon is 238,000 miles away from us, which is very close,” he said politely. “The nearest star is four light-years away, and that light would not have an effect on plant life.”
Scientists are so literal. That’s why they’re scientists.
They should look into it, Mr. Petitt said. But his people have never worried about proof. It was there on the table, in a mess of beans. In turnips bigger than grapefruits.
“We never said why; we just knew,” Mr. Petitt said. “We didn’t question. The people who did question, they didn’t have a crop.”
There’s a lot you can do if you read the moon right.
“Me and my grandpap, we’d cut locust for fence posts when the moon was three-quarters full,” Mr. Petitt said. “We’d cut them green, leave the bark on and put them right in the ground. Then Grandpap would pour about a gallon of water on them. And a month later those posts would be sprouting. That’s no lie, ma’am.”
Mr. Petitt said people would come to look at those posts and ask how it was done. “But if they didn’t do it on the three-quarters moon, it wouldn’t work,” he said.
Now the moon is on the wane. “Flowering bulbs and vegetables that bear crops below ground should be planted during the DARK of the Moon,” says the 1991 Old Farmer’s Almanac. “That is, from the day after it is full to the day before it is new again.”
Corda Kindall, 92, the sole resident of Olga, Mo., said that’s right: “Anything like radishes, onions, that grow underneath the ground, why you plant them on a dark moon, and then they’ll grow larger and not be all tops. If you plant on the new moon, they’ll grow tall and bloom, but the radishes won’t be good. Same with potatoes. Plant them on the dark moon and they won’t all go to top.”
Mrs. Kindall planted her morning glory seeds, which had been soaking in a jar, just before the moon was full. “And I’m going to go out tomorrow and plant me some beans,” she said.
It’s not good to question these things too closely. The contradictions, for instance: Mr. Petitt plants potatoes on the full moon, Mrs. Kindall on the dark.
But that’s the way it is with moon gardeners. You can hardly find two who plant the same way. And they all think they’re right, because whichever way they choose, it works.
“I always plant potatoes on Good Friday, because an older gentleman taught me to do it that way, and he’d always done it that way, and I always get more potatoes than anybody else, so there,” said Miriam Dunlap, who farms 80 acres outside Des Moines. “My husband’s family always said, ‘Good seed, good potatoes, Good Friday.’ I swear it’s just a reason to force you to get out there in the mud to plant.”
Maybe that’s basically what it is: a ritual of chores, a giant almanac as old as the Pyramids and the rising of the Dog Star, which has marked the onset of spring, and spring planting, since the first man, or woman, first put a seed in the ground.
Virgil said farming was no less tricky than navigation:
Nor must the ploughman less observe the skies
When the Kids, Dragon, and Arcturus, rise,
Than sailors homeward bent, who cut their way
Through Helle’s stormy straits, and oyster-breeding sea.
Plant beans and clover, he said,
When with his golden horns, in full career,
The Bull beats down the barriers of the year,
And Argo and the Dog forsake the northern sphere.
Pliny the Elder gave similar advice in his 37-volume “History of Nature,” which instructs farmers how to garden by the stars and is as full of contradictions as a fertile full moon sailing across a barren dry sign.
When the ancients looked up at the sky, seeking information from the heavens, they saw the gods’ footprints in the stars.
“I think that when people looked at the sky in those days, they weren’t seeing dots for the Bull and the Ram, like we do,” said Sherry Wildfeuer, a biodynamic gardener in Kimberton, Pa. “They had an inner experience, and they described the quality of what they were experiencing, whether it was airy or fiery or watery. But most people don’t experience that anymore.”
Ms. Wildfeuer is a follower of Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher of the 1920’s who began the biodynamic movement by urging farmers to cycle nutrients back into the soil and to regulate their plowing and sowing and reaping not just to biological rhythms, but to cosmic ones as well. She writes and publishes The Kimberton Hills Agricultural Calendar, a biodynamic guide to gardening by the moon and stars and an outgrowth of her own planting by the signs 20 years ago in Switzerland.
“I still remember the carrots that were planted in sync with the earth sign,” she said. “They were beautiful, perfect, the ideal carrots. And the yield was much better than in the other patches.”
Ms. Wildfeuer grew up in Rockville Centre, L.I., “where I thought gardeners were people who raked leaves and couldn’t speak English,” she said. Now she helps run Pemberton Hills in Pemberton, Pa., a community for disabled people that supports itself with a 430-acre biodynamic farm.
Even the gardener in Dr. Rosenzweig, the Goddard agronomist, believes, a little. “Even though I don’t believe it scientifically, I think the ancient traditions are wonderful,” she said. “And who knows: there are more things out there than are known by science.”
She has farmed in the Tuscany region of Italy, where, she said, “they plant by the zodiac, too, but their knowledge of the land is so deep, it’s a whole combination of everything, of centuries of doing it right.”
Back home, the help line at W. Atlee Burpee & Company is besieged by knowledge-seekers whose numbers seem to wax with the full moon.
“A lot of people who call us with problems want to know something specific,” said Chela Kleiber, a Burpee horticulturist. “But often there isn’t a specific answer. So they like to have another answer, like planting potatoes by the moon. And if it works, they feel happy. They feel there’s more meaning to it. It gives them more of a sense of knowledge: ‘The reason it worked was because I knew that was the time to plant.’ ”
Maybe gardeners are trying to get back to something they have forgotten. “These things like planting by the zodiac and the phases of the moon were based on close observations of periods of chill and clouds and exposure to light and the ups and downs of barometric pressure,” said H. Marc Cathey, the director of the National Arboretum in Washington. “But they were damped out by sprinklers and fertilizer and peat moss and tomato seeds that germinate so well, every dadgum one comes up.”
Dr. Cathey’s Ph.D. is in plant physiology, but his grandmother gardened by the signs in North Carolina. “And she was a tremendous gardener,” he said. “But all our high-germinating seeds and pesticides have damped out our ability to read the signs.
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s0urce : nytimes.