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Earth’s original satellite guides good gardening

By Terry Kelley
University of Georgia

The sky is filled with satellites, ones for weather, spying, communicating and even for ones for finding directions to the store. Many gardeners and farmers rely on a more ancient satellite - the moon. Farming and gardening by the signs, or phases, of the moon goes back to the days when dinosaur bones were tillage instruments.

However, the practice of gardening by the moon, unlike those bones, has not become a relic. Planting by the signs is still popular among old-timers and newcomers. If you know the signs, you’ll know when to plant, cultivate, fertilize, water or harvest.

The lunar month is divided into four phases or quarters. The light of the moon is the 14-day period (first and second quarters) when the moon is growing from the new moon to the full moon. The dark of the moon (third and fourth quarters) is the following 14 days - from the full moon to the next new moon.

Some folks even like to get more specific and plant by the moon’s signs, which change every two and a half days.

Almanacs are based on particular time zones. So, even with one, it may be hard to tell exactly when the signs change. Remember, they change every two and a half days. As a general rule, most people skip the first day of a sign just to avoid this confusion.

So what are these phases and signs used for and how do you use them? The signs are associated with the zodiac. For instance, Leo is a barren sign. Cancer is a fruitful sign. Signs that are fruitful are used for such practices as planting. Those that are barren are used for such practices as cultivation.

Soil preparation and cultivation are recommended during barren signs. Soil preparation should be done in the light of the moon and cultivation in the dark of the moon.

But why should soil preparation be during the light of the moon in a barren sign? Well, the theory is that in the light of the moon, the moon is growing and this will cause the soil to remain loose and is easier to turn. Also, the barren sign indicates a period when weeds are vulnerable to attack and more easily killed.

All fertilizer should be applied during a fruitful sign. Chemical fertilizers should be applied in the light of the moon and organic fertilizers in the dark of the moon.

Irrigation is recommended during one of the water signs, Scorpio (the secrets) or Pisces (the feet). Always water in the light of the moon, this is when the moon is growing larger - since you also are watering to make your fruits and vegetables grow larger.

It’s best to plant crops that produce fruit above ground in the light of the moon and crops that produce fruit below ground in the dark of the moon.

The first quarter is best for planting crops which produce seed outside the fruit and the second quarter for crops which produce seed inside the fruit. The third quarter is best for planting crops that grow below ground. Avoid planting in the fourth quarter if possible. Plant during a fruitful sign.

It is really quite easy to coordinate the signs and the moon's phases to follow the proper timing for your farming or gardening practices. Whether you believe following the original satellite will help grow a better crop may be best decided after you've tried it.

(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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