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Moony Gardening

This year’s first frost occurred right on time –September 21—the last day of summer. This isn’t an arbitrary date chosen by Hallmark, the Earth’s very clock details the precise time of the Equinox. Twice a year our world receives twelve hours of sunlight, twelve hours of dark. Twice a year our sun appears (forget for a moment that it is our spinning that brings the sun into view) to rise exactly in the east and set exactly in the west. Besides the spinning and the going around, our world also tilts, and thus we get seasons.

Just recently—I am a slow learner—I have noticed that the moon also rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west during Equinoxes. But only during that point of equal day and equal night does the moon precisely follow the sun’s path. Until the following solstice, the moon seems to dance away from the sun. The December full moon rises in the same place as does the June sun. After the winter solstice, the moon and sun coyly approach each other, meeting briefly during the spring equinox. The do-si-do seems to last longer, then the couple again split, this time the sun moving north and the moon sliding south.

Observing this natural clock was essential to humankind’s’ success. Understanding, then predicting, the cyclical movement of the sun and moon gave humans an edge. Knowing how animal prey adjusted to cycles made humans better hunters. Hunters who understand that animals are influenced not only by the seasons, but also the daily dance of the sun and moon will be better fed.  Hunters who can predict migrations will wear more furs.

 Learning when to plant and when to harvest lead to nothing less than life as we know it.

Most of this sky world knowledge has become subconscious. The old pagan religious holidays celebrating the significance of sky movements have been re-consecrated as Christmas and Easter.  But to fishermen, hunters and gardeners today, sky movements are still important.

Accepting that the moon has a gravitational pull upon earth’s waters, it is understandable why ocean tides are the strongest when the new moon is precisely aligned with the sun during Equinoxes. The tides are controlled by the moon’s movements, but when aligned with the sun’s weaker gravitational pull, the year’s highest tides will occur. Anyone making a serious living from the ocean pays attention to tidal cycles or else the ocean makes a living from them.

During the new moon waxing phase, while the moon is closely following the sun and thus gleams in the western sky at nightfall, moisture is drawn upward through the soil; fluids are pulled through a plant.  From the full moon to the left hand sliver of an old moon, ground moisture is drawn downwards.

I will probably never be convinced that the constellation of stars forming the fantastical outline of a crab or scorpion has any effect on human character or personality. But as a gardener, I cannot ignore moon phases. We start pepper, tomato parsley, celery and basil seeds inside during the waxing moon around the Spring Equinox.  April’s new moon, we plant peas in the garden and cosmos, zinnias, marigolds inside. During the waning moon, we plant potatoes, beets, onions, carrots. 

This year’s garden season was perfectly bracketed by the Spring Equinox planting and the Autumnal Equinox killing frost. After six months of plant care, we are ready to put down our hoes and shovels and pick up axes. How, we wonder, do folks in year-round growing locations ever get a break?

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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