Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Happy Homesteader Blog
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On a farmstead you have to wear so many hats and your day-to-day responsibilities of getting animals fed, meals cooked, and house cleaned can keep you bogged down in the moment, so you often don't think about the bigger picture. I especially find this true with gardening. This time of year I am taking inventory of my seeds, looking through the millions of seed catalogues that are coming in and dreaming of all of the perfectly wonderful veggies I am going to grow come spring. Then before I know it I have day dreamed too long and find myself rushing to get my seed order in so that I can start my transplants. During that time I become very narrowly focused on garden planning by scribbling a layout of what to plant where and what range of days I have to plant each one. I try to think about rotating crops from last year so that I can balance the uptake of soil nutrients and keep down pests, companion planting, succession planting and how long of a planting window I have on each veggie. If I'm lucky I get through the planning of the spring garden and almost always figure I'll plan the summer garden closer to the time! Well, things grow and we never have a shortage of fresh veggies, but know I can do better.
This year I am trying to be a better garden planner and am attempting to keep my focus on the bigger picture. I've always been fascinated with the idea of biodynamic farming even though I never knew exactly what it entailed. I've been reading about it and realize that you must have an eye on the big picture in order to be successful, so I think it's going to help me. A very brief summary of biodynamic farming is that it takes the idea of organic farming and adds a whole bunch to it. Most people have an understanding of organic gardening. Stated simply, you don't use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Instead you add lots of compost and manure, apply alternative approaches to pest management such as row covers and control weeds with things like black plastic. In this scenario you can still spray plants with organic pesticides, use hybrid seeds, plant monocultures, and truck in lots of soil amendments such as blood and bone meal. Biodynamic gardening takes many of these ideas but also incorporates using open pollinated seeds for saving, planting with crop diversity, including animals in rotation, working with and selling to a local market, following astrological schedules, and using fermented herbs and minerals as enhancements. This last one is something that I always thought of as too far out there when I heard about stuffing old cow horns with manure and herbs, then burying it under ground for months before using the contents to make a tea to spray on your plants. Well, I'm not convinced of that yet, but I do believe the medicinal qualities of herbs can be applied to our garden just as it can to our bodies. We know that stinging nettle is very high in vitamins and minerals and is good to eat, so why wouldn't it be good for plants as well? But it's the astrological planting that I see as the big picture to consider in this year's garden. I've heard of planting by the moon and constellations and am determined to give it my best shot this year!
Lunar planting is an old tradition that people used to put a lot of stock in. They didn't have a calendar like we know, so they couldn't look up a planting guide that tells them the last frost date in their area and the best block of days to plant a certain vegetable, so they used the moon and stars as their calendar since it takes a predictable schedule. They swore that certain crops would grow well or would completely fail if they were planted in different phases of the moon. To me, this makes perfect sense. The moon has a relationship with the Earth that we will never fully understand. In fact, I believe it has a relationship with all things living on the Earth as well. If it can effect the tide and water cycle the way it does, then why wouldn't it effect plants? We've heard the sayings passed from our ancestors about animals acting crazy during a full moon to women's monthly moon cycles but have become so disconnected to this that it's usually chalked up to lack of knowledge or science. Well, whether there is any science to back it up or not, I think these things all started from a common observation and I've just got to believe that the gravity and energy that surrounds us must have an impact far too delicate for us to fully understand.
I've decided to use the Old Farmer's Almanac as my guide. You may have seen it. It's a little book that comes out every year that most farmers or gardeners look at and say, "That's neat." Maybe you even buy one and it sits as a decoration on the shelf. I've even gone so far as to glance through it only to see lots of black and white charts that looked too forgein to understand. I've never actually taken the time to read it and think about the knowledge it is teaching. Well, this year I am going to do it! I'm going to read it front to back and am going to spend time planning my garden based on the phases of the moon and astrological signs. There is a ton to learn, but below is a summary of what I've learned so far. I hope it inspires you to read the almanac, research lunar planting, or just set a goal of better planning for your garden this year!
The Moon's Phases:
- Every 29.5 days the moon completes one cycle (new moon, first quarter, full moon, last quarter).
- During the new moon, the moon is darkened and the energy is considered to be less. This is like a quiet period where nothing much will happen in a plant, so don't expect growth, etc. Also, since energy is relatively low it's not the best time to harvest for strong nutritious vegetables.
- During the first quarter we see the right half of the moon illuminated and becoming more and more illuminated as it works its way to a full moon. We also call this the waxing phase. The energy is considered as building up. Research has shown that water content above ground in plant parts and fruits is higher during this time and that a plant's water intake is increased. Therefore, watering your garden during this phase would be beneficial since plants can utilize it better. Also, fertilize during this time as plants are actively taking things up from the soil. It also means though that the water content in a vegetable will be higher, so if you want to store the vegetable for long periods then this is not the best time to harvest or else the water will cause spoilage. However, if you want to eat a nice juicy tomato right away, then harvest it during a waxing phase. Also, since the energy is focused above ground, it is a good time to plant things that grow mostly above ground like leafy green vegetables. If you have any repotting to do, then do it during the waxing phase since plants are actively growing and in need of more room.
- During the full moon we see the moon at its brightest and this is the peak of energy. Plants have their highest water content and most growth during this phase. You can use this to your advantage if you are in a drought by planting seeds as close to the full moon as possible so that the seeds can have full water intake and energy for growth. If you are not in a drought though, it may be best to plant just after the new moon because then seeds get a longer period of water and energy during the entire waxing period and full moon.
- During the last quarter we see the left half of the moon illuminated becoming less an less illuminated while it slowly works down to the new moon. This is also called the waning phase. Water content, intake, growth and energy all slow down. This means harvesting fruit and veggies for storage would be good because there is less water to spoil it. It is also a good time to plant root crops and bulbs because the energy is directed under ground and focused on the roots. Also, transplanting during this time would be good because the energy is being directed to the roots which will give them what they need to take hold in their new home. Watering and fertilizing during this time does not work as well since plants are not actively drinking it up. Also, since it is not a high growth stage and because there is less water and sap in above ground plant parts, then it is a good time for chores aimed at retarding or controlling growth such as pruning. And, since energy is concentrated in the roots, then cultivating weeds during the waning phase will cause more severe damage to weed you are trying to eradicate giving a more lasting result rather than allowing the weed to re-root.
The Zodiac Signs:
- To add another element of sophistication, the moon passes through different constellations every few days. You can combine this with the phases of the moon to tell you even more about what will be successful or not. If the moon is in the wrong phase for your task at hand while in a certain sign, then you should wait until the next time it comes around to the sign because by then it will be in a different phase.
- There are 12 constellations in the zodiac belt and these are given names or signs such as Aries, Leo, Capricorn, etc.
- The zodiac signs are broken up into 4 categories: Earth, Water, Air, Fire. Earth and Water signs are said to be fertile signs while Fire and Air are barren signs.
- Earth signs: Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. When the moon is in these signs it is a good time for planting and transplanting to encourage root development and planting root crops.
- Water signs: Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio. When the moon is in these signs it is a good time for planting things you want to encourage growth of above ground parts, such as leafy annuals.
- Air signs: Libra, Aquarius and Gemini. When the moon is in these signs it is a good time to harvest and cultivate. Barren signs are a good time for maintaining the garden, such as weeding, tilling, and pruning.
- Fire signs: Aries, Leo and Sagittarius. Since these are barren and dry signs, when the moon is in these signs then it is a good time for maintaining the garden and also harvesting fruit and vegetables intended for long storage. Usually planting is not done during barren signs, but it is a good time to plant things that are intended for seed saving.
- Void of the moon is said to be when the moon is transitioning from one zodiac sign to the next. You shouldn't really do anything in your garden during this time.
If any of you use the lunar calendar to plant, then I would love to hear more ideas and techniques. Please share them in the comments below!
~ Daisy, The Happy Homesteader
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