Astrology is unique among disciplines in that it applies to virtually every aspect of human life.
One of the first concerns was how the heavens related to the success or failure of crops, a matter of survival to our early ancestors, who depicted their celestial observations on stones, cave walls and in impressive murals and other works of art.
From towers called ziggurats Babylonian and Assyrian astronomer/astrologers mapped planetary movements and made predictions on the weather, the harvest, states of war or peace, and the lives of kings. Their precise record keeping showed them to be highly intelligent observers who regarded the celestial and the earthly worlds as a unity. Cuneiform tablets still exist which contain predictions based on the rising and setting of Venus and other planets. 1
Over time a form of natural astrology developed, which advised planting, harvesting, and tending animals in harmony with the cosmos, particularly with the moon’s position by phase and zodiac.
Astrology was almost universally accepted up until the time when new scientific discoveries helped usher in the ‘Age of Reason’. References to astrology abound in the Bible and in literature. Pliny the Elder and the poet Virgil were among the earliest writers on the subject, advising on rules for predicting the weather and for planting by the sun and moon.2
With the printing press came almanacs advising on optimum dates for planting, harvesting and activities such as pruning and weeding. Some such as The Old Farmer’s Almanac are still printing. Throughout the world there are still many staunch practitioners of lunar gardening, and the lore is replete with tales demonstrating the superior results of doing so. The late Louise Riotte, author of many informative books including Astrological Gardening, Planetary Planting, and Carrots Love Tomatoes, recounted how she once planted corn in “a sea of mud,” followed by rain, because it was the right sign and phase. While her neighbors’ corn crops were dismal failures that year, hers managed to produce healthy corn despite the early setbacks. 3
In addition, there are correspondences between plants and zodiac signs. The principle is to plant and harvest in a phase and sign most favorable to the type of plant. Plants which produce leaves above the ground are favoured by a waxing moon (from new to full moon) while root crops prefer a waning moon (from full to next new moon.) Certain signs have an affinity for particular plants. For example, Libra is good for flowers and Taurus for earth crops. The water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces) are considered the most fertile; Taurus and Capricorn are also good for sturdiness. Air and fire are the barren signs; Leo is considered to be the most barren of all (sorry, lions).
The four parts of the plant are believed to be associated with the elements: roots – earth; leafy shoots – water; flowers – air seeds and fruit – fire.
Adherents say that using this method produces stronger, faster growing plants. Appearance and flavours are said to be improved as well. There’s a wealth of more detailed information, including planting calendars, online. The (Old Farmer’s Almanac) 5 and http://gardeningbythemoon.com/6 are just two sources. Deluxe Moon 7 is another very useful site (and phone app) with comprehensive, location specific moon data.
FOLKLORE OR SCIENCE?
Anecdotal evidence is intriguing but doesn’t cut it in the “show me the proof” world of modern science. Is there actually proof of celestial influence on plant life?
Throughout history curious minds have sought to find out. Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the great Francis Bacon conducted many experiments planting and observing seeds during different moon phases. He concluded that sowing immediately after the new moon produced the healthiest plants.8 A full review of the large amount of research which has been since done is beyond the scope of this article but here are a few examples.
- Frank Brown and his team at Northwestern University performed meticulous research over a ten-year period. He found that plants absorb more water at the time of the full moon, even in a lab without direct contact from the moon. He also monitored over a million hours of potato oxygen absorption (proportional to metabolism) and found daily maxima were at the moon’s rising and culmination, and waxed and waned with the synodic cycle. He found solar and lunar rhythms to be depressed at the new moon and most active at the full moon. This concurs with the observations of Pliny the Elder remarked on the listlessness of ants during the new moon and their high activity at full moon. (Brown also did a well-known study which showed that oysters adjusted the opening and closing of their shells according to the moon even when relocated and kept in a dark room far inland from the coast.)9
- After conducting extensive experiments on the electrical fields of corn and trees, Yale professor Dr. Harold Burr said, “Of all the external factors examined, the phase of the moon seems to be the only one showing any degree of correlation [with tree growth].”10
- The Agricultural Research Service in Iowa found a link between weed germination and exposure to light. They determined that tilling the soil (bringing weeds to the surface) was best done at night by a new moon. Tilling in the dark led to less weed seed germination. 11
Researchers of the biodynamic method of agriculture developed by Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner conducted thousands of experiments. Lily Kolisko and Maria Thun found that root crops did best when planted a couple of days before the full moon. They also claimed root crops were best planted when the moon was passing through an earth sign and worst in a water sign.12 Attempts to replicate these results have had mixed results.
In addition to moon phases and location by constellation, Steinerians also look at:
- The points in the moon’s elliptical orbit when it is furthest from (apogee) and closest to (perigee) earth.
- Whether the moon is ascending in the sky (good for plant vitality) or descending (better for rooting and harvesting.)
- The daily rotation of the earth on its axis, said to create a rhythm which affects plants: from about 3 am until midday sap rises; from 3 pm until the middle of the night the lower parts of plants are influenced. 13
- Planetary aspects, particularly between Moon and Saturn.
It is to be noted that the biodynamic method uses the sidereal positions of the planets rather than the tropical zodiac upon which most garden lore has developed.
Curious, I decided to carry out some very basic experiments. Here might be a way to see astrology in action in the natural world. No issues around self-attribution or the Barnum effect to worry about. Plants were plants.
The first project was to observe what would happen when organic fenugreek (a medicinal herb originating in the Mediterranean) seeds were sprouted under varying moon phases and zodiac signs. Would there be any noticeable differences?
As I considered this more observation than official experiment, I did not have a particular hypothesis. Since no soil was involved, the sprouts did not fit into the usual categories of being an above or belowground crop, though closer to the former as they were visible and growing in the air. This should favor the waxing phase.
The procedure was to soak a couple of tablespoons of seeds in water in a Mason jar for about six hours, starting around 8 am. (In the next round one tablespoon was soaked overnight instead.) They were then drained through a covering of cheesecloth or another type of sieve (e.g. fine screening), and put inside a dark cupboard, at a tilted angle for draining, until they began to sprout. At this point the bottle was moved into a spot with bright indirect light and rinsed and drained about every six hours throughout the growing process.
Room temperature was kept consistent though there was some minor variation in light, depending on weather.
By the fifth day most batches had grown to what looked to be optimum for consumption. Each batch was photographed on that day. The four batches were:
- Waning moon in Pisces
- Waning moon in Aries
- Waxing new moon in Taurus (two days after the exact NM)
- Full Moon in Scorpio
While all the batches produced sprouts which would be welcome in any salad, there were visible differences. The new moon in Taurus was the clear winner. To my amazement the seeds began sprouting only two hours into the soaking process. Waning Pisces and Aries had not appeared until day three, while full moon Scorpio made its debut on day two. The results are pictured below.
In terms of appearance, Taurus and Scorpio (new and full) both looked full and vigorous; Pisces also looked very healthy while Aries (along with Leo considered a ‘death sign’ in gardening terms) was the least developed and appealing. The second round was done as a collaborative venture with several members of our regional astrology group, the Atlantic Professional Astrologers’ Association (APAA). This time the four plantings took place at the new and full moons and at the first and last quarter moons (in signs Scorpio, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces). All four of these points cause higher tides, with the quarter moons bringing neap tides, higher than normal but smaller than new and full periods. In theory you would expect stronger results with the new and full moons.
This time just one tablespoon of sprouts was soaked overnight; the following day counted as day one. Other than this the procedures were the same as in the first experiment. Notes were kept and photographs were taken on the fourth day. While it was fun sharing notes and photos on-line, there were problems with this joint approach. For one, the varying locations meant the environment was not constant. But mainly, life got in the way of intentions (a new job, travel, etc.) preventing some participants from completing the cycle. had insufficient data to draw definite conclusions. Nevertheless some observations could be made.
Once again, the Taurus-Scorpio new moon had very successful results. But the full moon in Gemini-Sagittarius was disappointing, less healthy looking than the Scorpio full moon of the first round in 2017. The third quarter Pisces moon did well, while the first quarter Virgo was the slowest to produce its first shoots.
Lest you think that sprouts just can’t fail, not so. On July 16/18, with waxing moon in Virgo, I began a batch. Tiny shoots appeared two days later, but over the next few days they barely developed, eventually becoming soggy and bitter to the taste, and had to be composted. On wondering why, the only potentially negative aspect I could see was an opposition to Neptune in Pisces. For biological correspondences of Moon-Neptune, Ebertin says, “A paralyzed blood circulation, an overbalance or an over accumulation of water in the tissues…”14
In contrast, the batch I began on July 12, the day before the Cancer partial solar eclipse, flourished and was perfect for consumption by July 15. The eclipse or the oppositions to Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn did not hamper it. Of note is that on the 13th the moon was at its closest point to the earth in 2018 (a ‘super-moon’), which creates exceptionally high tides. This would appear to be beneficial to growing plants.
Rex Bills (The Rulership Book) and Louise Riotte consider tomatoes to be ruled by Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune.15 I decided to compare new and full moon plantings. Due to space limitations, I sowed just six Big Boy seeds at the April 30/18 Taurus-Scorpio full moon and again at the May 15 new moon. One week after the seedlings of each batch appeared, the full moon plants were significantly taller and sturdier than the new moon plants
The moon’s effect on the growth of plants seems indisputable, especially at its full and new phases. If nothing else planting at the full moon should enhance results. The tropical zodiac important role, though it would be interesting to compare results with sidereal methods.
The simple experiments I have presented have obvious flaws, for instance small sample sizes and analysis methods which could be improved (by weighing results, for instance.) I plan to make such improvements in future.
Another consideration is the possibility of the experimenter subconsciously affecting results, as psychologist Carl Jung noticed. Those with the proverbial green thumbs may tend to get better results.
Certainly, much more research is needed to determine which parts of the lore stand up and which don’t. In the absence of large-scale studies, individuals and small groups can contribute by observing and recording results. I hope that more people will avail themselves of the riches of information available (far more than mentioned here) and do their own experimenting to see what works best for them in their own region of the world.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
Links valid as of July 2018.
- Bobrick, Benson, The Fated Sky: Astrology in History. Simon and Schuster, 2006.
- Bobrick references Pliny the Elder’s Natural Astrology.
- Riotte, Louise. Planetary Planting. Simon and Schuster, 1975.
- Riotte, Astrological Gardening, Storey Communications, VT, 1989.
- . Ibid.
- West, John Anthony. The Case for Astrology. Viking, 1991.
- Riotte, p.9. http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/about-us/37-our-solar-system/ the-moon/the-moon-and-theearth/151-does-lunar-gardening-really-work-beginner
- Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher. Secrets of the Soil: New Age Solutions for Restoring Our Planet. Harper & Row, 1989.
- Ebertin, Reinhold. Combination of Stellar Influences. American Federation of Astrologers, 1972, p.106.
BIOGRAPHY: Deborah Clahane is a retired educator, writer, and editor who has studied and worked with astrology for close to four decades. She is a member of the Atlantic Professional Astrologers’ Association and is based in Nova Scotia, Canada. She may be reached at [email protected]