Some U.S. Farmers Insist on Planting by Phases of the Moon

Karen Owen
Lexington Herald-Leader
June 14, 2001
OWENSBORO, Kentucky—While most gardeners cast a wary eye to the sky
before planting their gardens, some are as concerned about the moon as
they are the rain clouds.

Wilbur Duncan, 81, cultivates his garden in the afternoons with help from his mule, Sid, and his dog, Hannah. He still consults his almanac for the moon's phases before planting his half-acre garden each spring.

"A lot of people don't believe it. That's because they don't watch," he said.

A few traditionalists think the phases of the moon are a critical influence on gardening and other activities.

"I never did know what the difference was," said Woody Abney, 89, a retired farmer from Calhoun, Kentucky, who spent decades timing his farm work by the moon and astrological signs. "We thought it was pretty good."

"My grandfather, he watched the signs," said Duncan, of Yelvington, Kentucky. "I've been watching for 40 years. There's really something to it."

Ancient Origins

Astrologers have been charting a relationship between heavenly bodies and human endeavor since at least 1300 B.C., according to The Foxfire Book, edited by Eliot Wigginton.

Ancient astronomers noticed that several bright constellations of stars were evenly spaced in a band along the sun's yearly path across the sky, the book says. The band can be divided into 12 constellations, called "signs."

Each day of the month is dominated by one of those 12 zodiac signs. Each sign is associated with a particular body part and an element of nature, such as air or fire.

The monthly waxing and waning of the moon make a difference, too, say followers of the signs. In their view, crops that produce above the ground should be planted on days leading up to the full moon.

Root crops should be planted on days, followers of the signs say, between the full moon and the new moon. "They claim if you plant by the dark of the moon, it makes more taters," Abney said. "If you plant in the light of the moon, it makes more vine."

Greg Comer, an agriculture extension agent, said he has not had good luck with growing potatoes in the past. His plants produced pretty, leafy tops but no potatoes. People have told him it was because he didn't plant by the moon. "I think it's a different issue," Comer said.

"It seems like in this county, everybody plants potatoes on Good Friday," said Greg Henson, another agriculture extension agent. Easter is determined by a lunar calendar, Henson noted.

Broad Influence

The signs also are used to figure out the best days on which to cut weeds, plant flowers, pick apples, can vegetables, cut timber, set fence posts, wean infants, castrate animals, bake or even lay building foundations.

May 20, for instance, was an advantageous time to quit smoking, according to the Farmers' Almanac. May 26 was a lucky time to go fishing. Anyone who wanted to retard growth of vegetation should have mowed on May 21.

Charlie Ward of Philpot, Kentucky, doesn't garden by the signs, but he does consult the moon's status when it comes to weaning calves. "If you wean them in the right moon, they'll never bawl," Ward said. At the wrong time of the cycle, however, "they'll stand in the light and bawl and bawl and bawl."

Some people, such as Duncan, also try to time dental work or medical procedures by the signs. They think a body part governed by a particular sign will be more sensitive or vulnerable when the moon is in that sign.

Many gardeners and farmers—not to mention doctors—don't buy all this.

"I'm a horticulturist," said Ray Russell, who managed a beautification program for the city of Owensboro before he retired. "I don't plant by the moon. I plant by the sun."

Even when the signs were supposedly right, "I've seen it when it was 35 degrees outside and the garden was so wet it wouldn't do you any good," said orchard owner Billy Reid, who also is not convinced that the moon's phases play a role in agriculture.

His family has been in the orchard business for 130 years and has never planted by the moon, Reid said. "We plant everything by the weather. It's all got to do with the right weather," he said. Soil temperature, moisture in the ground, and the length of the day are the crucial variables, he noted.

Importance of Weather

Two weeks' difference in a planting date, Henson said, can make a huge difference in the kind of weather a developing crop will face down the road. What growers think is the influence of the moon actually could be the weather, he said.

"I would say the weather is most important," said Duncan, adding that his garden has been limited this year because of the lack of rain. When the weather has forced him to plant his crops on the wrong day astrologically, though, "I know I didn't get as good results," he said.

"If those things were true, it would be noticed in experimental data," said Richard Durham, a consumer horticulture specialist with the University of Kentucky's Cooperative Extension Service.

"The moon does have an obvious effect on the earth," such as the tides, Durham said. Certain animals reproduce according to the phases of the moon. When it comes to crop productivity, however, "there's no evidence either way," he said.

Henson worked in agriculture research several years ago and recalls sellers of soybean seeds saying they could tell a difference in seed-germination rates according to the moon's cycle. Even in a controlled storage environment, the researchers also could detect some subtle differences, Henson said.

Reid admits he has noticed a difference in the damage caused by the last freeze of spring depending on the moon's phase at the time.

April, when peach and apple trees are in bloom, is a critical time in his business, Reid said. If the temperature dips to 28 degrees when the moon is waning, fewer blooms are nipped and less fruit is lost as a result. "I've been watching that for about 10 years," he said.

"I tend to believe the long-term observations by farmers," Henson said. "All ag research does is confirm what you know. You do some things year after year, you begin to see relationships in different ways."

(c) 2001 Lexington Herald-Leader

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