As early as the ancient Babylonians, our ancestors looked to the sky to discover the best times for planting and harvesting crops. The Moon, a long-time symbol of the life force, growth, and reproduction, was the primary celestial indicator. As we now know, the Moon's gravitational pull affects the tides of the oceans. Composed of a high percentage of water, plants are similarly strongly influenced by the Moon.
Only in relatively recent history has planting by the Moon fallen out of favor. With the Industrial Revolution and the ascendance of modern science over traditional practices, farmers began to rely on machines, fertilizers, and pesticides rather than natural rhythms. Now, as people have become more aware of the environmental impact of modern agricultural methods, interest has been rekindled in organic farming and traditional ways of synchronizing with nature. Paying attention to the Moon's phases and signs is one of the simplest and most effective ways to pinpoint the best planting days.
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Lunar phases -- the cycle of the Moon's waxing and waning -- correlate to the amount of moisture in the soil. It is at its peak at the New Moon and Full Moon, just as the tides are highest at this time. The Moon's gravitational pull causes moisture to rise in the earth, encouraging germination and growth.
The Moon takes approximately 28 days to complete one cycle through the phases, and this cycle is divided into four quarters, lasting about seven days each. The Moon is waxing -- increasing in light -- during the first two quarters, and waning -- decreasing in light -- during the last two quarters.
The general rule is that plants that produce their yield above the ground should be sown during the Waxing Moon, while below-ground plants should be sown on a Waning Moon. The Waxing Moon is generally a good time to encourage plant growth and proliferation, while the Waning Moon is a useful time to control plant growth and manage garden pests.
The first quarter begins with the New Moon or Dark of the Moon, when lunar gravity pulls water up, causing seeds to swell and burst. This influence, combined with the increasing moonlight, promotes balanced root and leaf growth. This is the best time for planting above-ground annual crops that produce seeds outside the fruit, such as lettuce, broccoli, and grains (with some exceptions to that rule).
During the second quarter, starting about a week after the New Moon, the gravitational pull is diminished but the moonlight is strong, encouraging vigorous leaf growth. This is generally a good time for planting, especially above-ground annuals that produce seeds from inside the fruit, such as squash, beans, tomatoes, and melons.
The third quarter begins with the Full Moon, when the gravitational pull is high, causing increased moisture in the soil. However, since the moonlight is now decreasing, the energy draws down into the roots. Therefore, this is a favorable time for planting root crops, such as potatoes, onions, and carrots. Because of the active root growth, this also can be a good time for planting perennials, biennials, and bulbs.
The fourth quarter, when both the gravitational pull and moonlight are decreasing, is considered a time for rest. While generally not recommended for planting, other gardening activities are suitable: cultivating, harvesting, fertilizing, weeding, and pruning.
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The Moon's signs
As the Moon waxes and wanes, it travels through the 12 zodiac signs, which correspond to the four Astrology elements and whose qualities resonate with certain plants and gardening activities. This cycle takes approximately 28 days, as the Moon spends a little over two days in each astrological sign.
The Water signs -- Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces -- are considered the most fertile, and therefore the optimal time for planting most above-ground annuals. Since water promotes leaf growth, these signs are especially appropriate for planting leafy vegetables and plants. Not surprisingly, it's best to water your garden, lawn, and houseplants when the Moon is in a Water sign.
The Earth signs -- Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn -- are also generally fertile and good for planting. Earth corresponds to the root, so these are especially good for planting root crops, or for transplanting to promote root development. The exception is Virgo, which, although an Earth sign, is often considered "barren" and unfavorable for planting.
The Air signs -- Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius -- are generally considered barren and dry and not appropriate for planting. The exception is Libra, which is semi-fertile and favorable for planting flowers (Air is the element in Astrology associated with flowers), flowering herbs, and some vegetables. Gemini can be used for planting melons. Harvesting and cultivating are good tasks for when the Moon is in an Air sign.
The Fire signs -- Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius -- are very barren and dry and generally unfavorable for planting. Since Fire rules seeds, you could plant crops grown for their seed during this time. Weeding, harvesting, and cultivating are good activities during a Fire Moon.