Growing by the moon

At first sight the subject of our October meeting might have seemed a bit esoteric, possibly a bit ‘hippy-dippy’, but in fact gardening – more specifically, growing food – in line with phases of the moon has been in use for millennia: it was, for instance, done by the Romans.

It’s also done by two of our local gardeners, Mary and Dennis. Very, very effectively.

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They outlined the basics for us: a waxing moon (one going from new to full) is supposed to be good for flowers, annuals and above-ground fruiting veg; a waning moon (from full to new) is good for roots and for pruning. This is narrowed down to three days centred on the day of the full or new moon itself. And that’s why a copy of Old Moore’s Almanack was on the table – in amongst all the wild predictions is a single page which lists moon planting days. Several people remembered their grandparents working like this, too, as did our speakers: in their case, one grandparent used the system in the States, and another used it in the South Wales valleys. It works best when the garden is organic.

But how did Mary and Dennis come to this way of gardening themselves?  They were right in the middle of an appalling industrial accident in Michigan in 1973. A fire-retardant chemical was accidentally mixed into cattle feed, but it didn’t just poison the cattle: it also affected pigs and over 1.5 million chickens; 500 farms were quarantined and about 9 million people consumed heavily contaminated food before anything came – reluctantly – to light (it still affects people today). At this point they decided that ‘never again were we going to trust the food system’. They moved initially to the Isle of Man, and then to Harlech. They now grow their food on a plot of land between Dyffryn and Talybont, where they produce some very impressive crops.

But they were careful to stress that their success isn’t just about planting with phases of the moon, even though that can be very effective (seeds planted on one moon usually come up by the next one, and with a 90% germination rate too – I’ve tried this, and it worked). It’s also about caring for the soil, and they described our soil as the ‘best we’ve ever grown on’. That’s not to say it doesn’t need work, of course – manuring, digging up stones, warming it up with black plastic (which also helps with weed restriction). They follow a three-year cycle which matches their crop rotation: year one, lime for brassicas; year two, compost for peas and beans and year three ‘muck, muck, muck’ for potatoes.

Here are some tips:
* Moles can be problematic, but they hate castor oil. Make a hole in the mole hill with a cane, dribble a bit of pure castor oil down and it seems to make them go away.
* Working by the moon can have another advantage: it organises you. It gives a definite timetable, whatever the weather (‘that’s what they make waterproofs for’).
* Other things can be done when convenient: ‘I manure whenever I have time’.
* Manure from Welsh cobs is perfect
* Slugs don’t like wood chippings (or at least Mary and Dennis’s slugs don’t).

And the mystery green-and-white object in the photo? It’s a Chinese Melon. It’s not sweet but is rather like a watermelon inside – now you know!

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