Friday, April 13, 2018

Lunar Gardening - Fact or Fiction?

Living in New Hampshire for the last year and half, I find we are much more in tune with the natural world around us. We watch the weather daily, not only the forecasts, but from our house at 1500ft overlooking Newfound Lake we can see weather systems come and go.  We monitor the various conditions with our weather station recording rain mounts, wind speeds, barometric pressures and temperatures but the flag still provides the quickest signal for which way the winds are blowing. Technology has the tendency to remove us from the nature.

Centuries ago, mankind listened much more to the natural world and the signals it was giving them. We know the ancient mariners figured out how to navigate via the stars. In prehistoric times, the moon ruled everything.  Observing the natural world around him, first century historian, Pliny, the Elder wrote volumes about the natural world around him in the History of Nature in which he discusses the relationship of nature and the heavens and how they should be observed.

Pliny, The Elder
The sun, the moon and the stars have been a source of mystery to the ancients who first recorded their observations, trying to understand the world they lived in.  Some gardeners of this time listened and observed the world around them and let that dictate the timing of when to do certain things on the farm or in the garden, while others paid no heed to the signs that nature and the cosmos were delivering.

“The person who do not take notice, consequently of the phenomena of Nature, while others lay too much stress upon them and hence these refined subtleties and distinctions only add to their blindness.”

Pliny, goes on to say,
“…the observation of the heavens plays a very important part of operations of agriculture; and Virgil, we find gives it as his advice, that no less the mariner, should regulate his movements thereby.”
He recognizes the importance the heavens can play to the gardener much like the mariner and backs his argument by saying Virgil makes the same comparison between the two as well. But Pliny also believes people can go overboard, placing too much emphasis, perhaps getting too caught up in the heavens, making them as blind as those who pay no attention at all.

March 2018 blue moon
Blue Moon
Lunar gardening is not a way of planting on the moon or late at night by moonlight. Lunar gardening or gardening by the moon has been practiced by many different cultures for centuries. A controversial method which uses the cycles of the moon as a tool in helping decide when to plant and seed. There are a couple of different methods of lunar gardening, one more complex than the other which I believe was part of what Pliny warned about – getting too complex.  The basic method of lunar gardening simply focuses on the moon and what stage it’s in. The moon’s gravitational pull changes with the various cycles affecting ocean tides.  But what about groundwater?

Groundwater makes up a very small percentage of the overall water on the Earth, only 1.69% compared to oceans and seas at 96.54%, but is much closer to the 1.74% of rivers and lakes.  Bodies of water like rivers and lakes, unless it’s one of the Great Lakes, are too small to feel the effects of the moon’s gravitational pull. In 1991, NASA Goddard scientist, Frank Abramopoulous said, “tidal force – the gravitational pull of the moon would be there, but at a level smaller than would affect any biochemical processes.”

Many scientists have found it difficult to discount the other factors involved in the environment and the effects the moon many have on them, such as bug activity during the different phases and how that may play a part.  It’s impossible to isolate, and that’s what science likes for the most part, being at to look at things in a vacuum.
“It’s mythology….There has to be a physical reason why the moon’s different phases would affect soil properties, soil temperature, moisture content, precipitation which are physical factors that make seeds germinate. And that’s not documentable.”
– Cynthia Rosenzweig, Agronomist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (1991)
However, by 1997, there was good evidence that moonlight affects plants directly via stomatal activity and indirectly via insect activity. The stomata are the tiny little openings on plants that allow them to exchange gases needed for cellular processes like photosynthesis.
Klaus-Peter Endres and Wolfgang Schad in Biologie des Mondes: Mondperiodik undLebensrhythmen (1997) said they found some plants to show a small connection in their growth and reproductive behavior, although it wasn’t consistent as to which phase. While other plants were not at all affected. Some reacted to the full moon, others the new moon and still others, to the waxing or waning quarter moons.The inconsistencies is what

Many subscribers to the practice of lunar gardening point to the research of Dr. Frank Brown, at Northwestern University in the 1950’s. Reports of his studies of plants for over a decade found that overall plants absorb more water during a full moon and least during the new moon phases. It was around this same time in 1956, when scientists, Frau Dr. Kolisko and Maria Thunfound maximum germination of seeds occurs on the days preceding a full moon. As the new moon grows, seeds swell with water and burst into life more quickly. Thun’s experiments with planting of seed potatoes supports Dr. Brown’s theory that plants absorb more water during a full moon, as her seed potatoes planted at the full moon did overwhelmingly better than those planted during the new moon.

To understand lunar planting, it helps to know the different cycles of the moon. Focusing on the moon phase is one of the systems of lunar gardening which focuses on the increase or decrease in the moonlight and gravitational pull at each cycle.

[the moon] “replenishes the earth when she approaches it, she fills all bodies; while when she recedes, she empties them.”
-Pliny, the Elder
Pliny, may not have known about the concept of gravity, but he describes the moon’s effect on the natural world vividly.

The 8 Phases of the Moon
1.     New Moon – “dark moon” when the moon is nearest to the sun
2.     Waxing crescent
3.     First quarter
4.     Waxing gibbous
5.     Full moon – the moon is closest to the earth
6.     Waning gibbous
7.     Last quarter
8.     Waning crescent

Lunar gardening believes that the closer the moon is to the Earth’s surface, the more nourishment it possesses and delivers to the Earth. The ancients were much more in tune with nature and sought a harmonious relationship with it than man does in today’s modern times.  They also believed that understanding the cycles of the moon could help them to determine when to plant in order to improve their yields.
“The old-time gardeners say ‘with the waxing moon, the earth exhales.’ When the sap in the plants rise, the force first goes into the growth above ground. Thus, you should do all activities with plants that bear fruit above ground during the waxing moon. With the waning moon, the earth inhales. Then the sap primarily goes down towards the roots. Thus the waning moon is a good time for pruning, multiplying, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, and controlling parasites and weeds.”
_Ute York, Living By The Moon

The old-time farmers also say a full moon makes corn grow tall and pulls vining beans right up their poles – perhaps reaching for the brightest light of the moon. But these sound like tall-tales, folk-lore that's been passed down from generation to generation. But if they didn't work, would they have survived through the centuries as they have?  

Science knows that the same gravitational force that affectsthe tides are the same cosmic rhythms that draw horseshoe crabs ashore to mate. Geotropism is the effect of gravity on plants which science has proven to be greater during the full moon, in that plants will absorb the most water at this time, as do seeds. The moon is a powerful force of nature leading lunar gardeners to naturally see the connection of the moon’s gravitational force, swelling the water content in the soil, causing moisture levels to increase, thereby, encouraging growth and germination It’s understandable that planting seeds during the phases of increasing light and gravitational pull (the cycles between the new moon and full moon) would increase the success rate of germination and overall health; ‘sap flow is drawn up’. During the waxing phase there is an increase in the speed of water spreading throughout the plant’s bodies; activating and facilitating the delivery of nutrients and phytochemicals throughout the plant; all factors of health, development and growth.

As mentioned earlier, the days preceding the full moon, science has agreed presents the most optimum conditions for successful germination, upping the odds for success of seeds of vegetables that fruit above ground – leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers etc… During the waxing phases, lunar gardeners focus seeding these vegetables as well as transplanting annuals and biennials, harvesting leafy vegetables, use liquid fertilizers, pruning and grafting with the understanding that increased sap flow can equate to new quick growth.

Ridiculed by the mainstream scientific world, the study of lunisolar impact on biological systems has struggled to overcome the unjustified skeptics.  However, scientists continue to explore the field with recent discoveries by Catarina Rydin of Stockholm University in Sweden who discovered a rare plant, Ephedra foeminea, whose pollination is dictated by the full moon. Peter Barlow of the University of Bristol looked at data from the 1920s onward and found that leaf movement in beans and other plants turned when lunar tides turn at the time and location of the experiments. [New Scientist, August 17, 2015]

The period of time from the full moon to the last quarter, the earth begins to “inhale drawing down the sap” into herself.  It’s best to focus now on sowing root crops and planting perennials. The moonlight is decreasing, and more energy is now drawn down into the roots. The 1991 Farmer's Almanac recommended to plant flowering bulbs and veggies that bear crops below ground during the this time from the day after the full moon to the day before its new again. But many believe from the last quarter to the new moon when the moon furthest away from earth and soil moisture levels drop, it’s best not to do any planting or seeding during this final quarter to the new moon. This quarter is best to simply focus more on soil maintenance by weeding, mulching, making compost and manure teas. This also the best time to turn a garden is when the soil is drier and the water tables low. If there is fruit to harvest ding so at this time lessens the likelihood of rotting, however, I find this to be true basically anytime.

(l. to r.) Fire, Earth, Water, Air
The other system of lunar gardening takes into the consideration of the moon’s location within the zodiac. Within this system, the most optimal time to plant is during the time of a water sign (Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces). Earth signs are recommended for root crops (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn). No planting is to be done during the Fire signs of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius, whereas the Air signs were seen as neutral. So considering that the moon passes through each zodiac sign for about 2 to 2-1/2 days and a water sign occurs every 7 days, you can see why Pliny was saying people perhaps can get too caught up in the details, “while others lay too much stress upon them…” Mainstream science doesn’t give credence to the science of Astrology, and it’s this method of lunar gardening which scientists understandably have the most difficult time with.

Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food and nutrition originally popularized in the mid-sixties by master horticulturalist, Alan Chadwick. Chadwick rose to the challenge to demonstrate biodynamics, also known as then as french intensive gardening on a 4 acre barren lot in Santa Cruz, Ca. His garden proved to be a tremendous success. The major principles of a biodynamic farm or garden is that its integrated, whole, living organism made up of interdependent systems. Farmers and gardeners work to harmonize these elements, supporting the health and vitality of the whole through managing them in a holistic and dynamic way. Today we hear biodynamics referred to more often as permaculture. Although there are many methods employed in creating a permaculture, biodynamic farmers carry on the ancients’ traditions of working in rhythm with the Earth and Cosmos. They, too, observe the rhythms and cycles of the earth, sun, moon, starts and planets in hopes to seek further understanding of the subtle ways the environment and wider cosmos influence the growth and development of plants and animals.  

For myself, I will listen to Pliny, the Elder to take notice but not so close. In a 1991article in the New York Times, Goddard agronomist, Dr. Rosenzweig admitted to believing a little, but not from the scientific standpoint at the time, saying “the ancient traditions are wonderful. And who knows: there are more things out there than are known by science.” At the very least lunar gardening provides farmers and gardeners with an organizational time line to follow which is how author, Linda Woodrow of Permaculture Home Garden initially got onboard.  Initially in the skeptics’ camp, she adopted the practice to for organizational purposes and became a true believer when witnessing firsthand the difference in the increased germination rate and overall plant vitality.

full moon
Super Moon January 2, 2018
So with that, I am planning on adopting the practice of lunar gardening this season where my focus will be on the ebb and flow of sap in tune with the phases of the moon. We will see how it goes.  It certainly does no harm to practice and at the very least it provides me which a guideline to follow to keep me organized in the garden. Who knows, perhaps I will find what others have found that my seeds germinate better and crops are more bountiful from healthier plants. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Citizen Science

Have you ever heard of the term citizen science? How about community science? No? Volunteer monitoring? Crowd-sourced science?  If you are like I was, you may be unfamiliar with these terms. In essence, citizen science is when scientific researchers use non-scientist, a.k.a. ordinary, everyday people, to help with their studies collecting data in quantities they could not do on their own.

It was in the most recent issue of Horticulture Magazine which introduced me and probably many others to the term 'citizen scientist' as part of their cover article, The Great Sunflower Project. This project focuses on pollinators by asking interested people to grow the same variety, specifically Lemon Queen. Once the flower has bloomed, scientist ask their citizen volunteers to simply sit for 5 minutes on three separate occasions and count the number of visiting pollinators to that one flower. 5 minutes, 3 separate times - a total of 15 minutes of your undivided attention towards a flower can tell researchers so much. The volunteer data comes from all over the country, helping scientists understand the number of pollinators that visits per hour, per flower, the same flower, all across the country.  Scientists and researchers would not have the money, time, or ability, let alone the manpower to record this type of data without the help of citizen scientists.

A Little History
Citizen science has been around actually for centuries. Before the late 19th century most scientists made a living some other way than science. Collaborations between researchers and scientists across the world has always been the norm way before the age of technology, as early as 17th century. It just took a lot longer for the things to happen.  Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who standardized the naming of organisms (binomial nomenclature) wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't collaborated with other amateur researchers helping him collect specimens.  Wine makers for centuries have kept records on grape harvests. Hunters and fisherman have equally recorded specific, valuable data about animals for generations.  All very important data to modern day scientists and researchers.  

How Can I Get Involved?
Today, anyone still can be a citizen scientist. If you're interested in gardening and nature, there are projects similar to the Great Sunflower Project, like the Hummingbirds At Home Project where people track, report and follow the spring hummingbird migration to better understand how climate change may be impacting hummingbirds.

What I've discovered about citizen science projects so far, is that whether it's a project being organized by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Smithsonian,, Scientific America, Zooniverse, Crowd & Cloud or National Geographic, there is an opportunity to get involved in a project that directly relates to your world.  Projects vary in disciplines including the arts, biology, climate, history, language, literature, medicine, nature, physics, and more...

While checking out the Scientific America's citizen science website, I stumbled across a project called Small World of Words. The goal of the project is to help researchers discover how the meaning of words is stored in memory. All I had to do was take a 5 minute quiz where they give you a word and all you have to do is type the first two or three words that word makes you think of. No need to even leave the house to become a citizen scientist. Another project that caught my eye is the Folger Shakespeare Library,, Oxford English Dictionary collaborating on the project called Shakespeare's World which asks participants to "transcribe handwritten documents by Shakespeare’s contemporaries to help researchers understand his life and times". A fascinating study, you can pick from either transcribing letters or recipes depending on your own interests.  
Lemon Queen

However, the projects which most interest me are the ones that require you to go outside and simply watch what's going on in the world around you.  In today's world, disconnecting from technology can be impossible, so I welcome the chance to take a few moments to tune out the technology and focus on nature.  Sure, I'll be reporting back my finding using technology but a pad and pen will do fine for counting the amount of bees that visit my Lemon Queen sunflower or how many hummingbirds visit my feeder.  I wish I had known about citizen science programs when my kids were little. What a great way to encourage children to be observant and perhaps gain a better understanding, interest and love of science.

There are projects for people of all ages, so anyone can be a citizen scientist, if they are interested. Technology and the internet have bridged the gap between university researchers and scientists stuck in labs - linking them with ordinary people who have similar interests in their research.

For gardeners, there are plenty of projects to get involved with from the Great Sunflower Project to the Citizen Science Soil Collection Project , aimed to help scientists at the University of Oklahoma study microscopic life in soil samples in search of new drug compounds. Or the Lost Ladybug project aimed to help entomologists better understand ladybug distribution across North America. Another project involving sunflowers is Turing's Sunflower project where volunteers are asked to grow sunflowers and put mathematical theories of Alan Turing and other researchers to the test. As a gardener, I always include sunflowers in our garden since I love the majestic beauty sunflowers bring to the garden and can't think of a better way to help contribute in some small way than helping researchers compile some data from something I was doing anyway.

Technology has allowed us the ability to easily record our observations with the use of our cell phone cameras and apps. Whether it's Project Noah or Nature's Notebook, there are more and more platforms like these that allow ordinary people to join the citizen scientist movement and get involved. In a few weeks on April 18th we celebrate Citizen Science Day #citsciday, hopefully making more and more people aware of how they can get involved with citizen science and perhaps attend a scheduled event near them.  Check out this PSA

I believe in order for us to live a sustainable life, we need to make these seemingly small contributions of data to the scientific world. The more data collected will help researchers further their understanding of the world we live in and help us to take batter care of it and ourselves for generations to come.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

In the Zone

In 1996, I was a young mother of two toddlers and a freelance graphic designer working from my house.  There were times when I would have my 10 yr old niece, Lauren come take care of them while I worked in the den. This usually only worked when the kids thought Mommy left the house - which I would pretend to do and then sneak in the side door and hope one of the dogs didn't give me away.  Otherwise, they would come banging on the door - MOMMY!!!  Most of the time, once they had been read to and tucked into bed, I would then "go to work" down in the den from 7pm to 2am. These were some of my most sleep deprived years of my life. 

I was fortunate enough to work on a couple of projects with my sister-in-law who had a small publishing company called High Tide Press. One in particular was the work I did on the book series The Zone Garden: A Surefire Guide to Gardening in Your Zone by Charlotte M. Frieze.  I'm credited with "keeping the hard drives spinning" since I was in charge of laying out all the books on my computer. the time, I didn't realize how much I would learn simply by laying out and editing information about gardening. Through all my work, I was learning all about "Knowing your Site", "Raised Beds", "Pests and Intruders" and so much more.  My sister-in-law was insistent on making a book that would be a comprehensive resource for gardeners. Remember, this was before the internet and Google. Separating out the zones into three books, the publishers were giving gardeners a resource book that was directly related to gardening in their specific zone that wasn't a huge over-weighted volume with more information that actually needed.  I find that many times, I will be reading a gardening article and find it's written for a different zone than my zone. We now are getting familiar with gardening in zone 5b, a change from my CT zone 6b. 

Who knew at the time that my graphic design career working on a gardening book would one day come full circle to my career today in helping people learn about growing their own healthy nutritious food and living a more sustainable lifestyle.  All my jobs throughout my life, although very different from one another, had something to do with the other, but not in the traditional sense. My first job in radio gave me valuable design experience since our stations' never had a budget, I was the in-house one person ad agency promotions director. I designed ads, promotions, logos, bumper stickers, bus stop signs -I even had a billboard on I95 in Norwalk, CT, a high traffic area outside NYC. I developed my portfolio and networked like crazy, eventually allowing me enough clients to leave the radio business and freelance and be a stay at home mom. My time as a freelance graphic designer eventually turned into a full-time job when the kids were in full time school. At first,I was simply designing the corporate material for my brother's start-up company, but then I ended up working there and for him, as a research analyst for the next 15 years.  Initially I covered media stocks and the food and beverage sector which grew into researching water and agribusiness sectors.  After years of reading about the state of our country's water and agriculture coupled with a mid-life epiphany, thanks to Dennis Hopper (a story for another time), I decided to help others learn how to grow their own food and live more sustainable lifestyles. That's when Mark and I started Homegrown Harvest. We wanted to show people that starting your own garden and growing some of your own food could be simple and rewarding nutritionally, as well as in so many other ways including financially, physically and psychologically.

As I look back through the pages of the books that I helped come to fruition, I see where I subconsciously learned about organic gardening back in 1996. I used the book as a reference guide in my own garden as my children grew and I juggled a full time career and single parenting. Eventually I became an accredited organic land care manager through CT NOFA in 2011 when I had made the decision to help others learn how to grow their own.

I have always told my kids that they will most likely have more than one career in their lifetime. I've worked in sales and promotion in the radio business. I was a freelance graphic designer. I was a research analyst for a hedge fund. I am an organic land care professional. I am a woodworker who manufactures cedar raised garden bed kits. I am an entrepreneur. I am an artist and a writer. I am a creator.

Just looking at this map makes me think cold! Brrr!

We're in zone 5b but at the top and surrounded by zone 5a!

Wish us luck!

Although The Zone Garden Series was an important part of my salad days of garden training --sorry, I couldn't resist -- the first book which I truly learned most about gardening initially was from the book, The Contained Garden: A complete illustrated guide to growing plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables outdoors in pots. This book spoke to me since back in mid-eighties when I first bought the book, I was a young twenty-something living in a small New York City apartment trying to bring as much greenery in my concrete jungle life. Growing up in the city, my mother would fill the few sunny windows we had in our apartment with tons of plants. It didn't matter that we were only on the third floor at least we faced southwest corner-facing apartment would fill with enough light to grow plenty of greenery.  So I, too followed in her footsteps, eventually filling my own windows and patios with plants, flowers and herbs when I could.  

My mother has always also been into researching. It didn't matter what she was researching -- although her bible was The Merck Manual - the hardback 10 pound leather bound version of before the internet. A book only registered nurses and doctors could have at one point. My mother only had hers because of her mother, a registered nurse. Hmm...I became a research analyst - weird how things work out sometimes.

Anyway, in that vein, and since I have always loved to own books, I have amassed quite the library over the years. I've listed the copyright dates where I could find them, I thought it interesting that they span the years from 1979, when I was a freshman in high school to 2014, just around the time I started to switch to reading my Kindle more often and started to buy less and less physical books. Here a list of books about gardening that are physically in my library. In a future blog post I will give a list of gardening/homesteading related books that are on my Kindle or a list of books I have on canning, but that's for another day. Until then, enjoy spring and get out there and garden!

Christine's Gardening Library
in no particular order
links to Amazon where available
no I don't get anything from Amazon
I wish. 

  1. Better Homes & Garden's Complete Guide to Gardening©1979
  2. The Edible Front Yard: The mow-less, grow more plan for a beautiful, bountiful garden by Ivette Soler, photos by Ann Summa©2011
  3. Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Food by Jean Ann Van Krevelen, Amanda Thomson, & Robin Wedewer ©2009
  4. Gardening with Herbs by Emelle Tolley & Chris Mead ©1995
  5. Week By Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook by Ron Kujawski and Jennifer Kujawski ©2010
  6. The New England Gardener's Year by Reeser Manley and Marjorie Peronto ©2013
  7. The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally by Jere and Emilee Gettle ©2012
  8. The Mix & Match Guide of Companion Planting by Josie Jeffery ©2014
  9. The Naturescaping Workbook: A Step by Step guide for bringing nature to your backyard by Beth O'Donnell Young ©2011
  10. What's Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? 100% Organic Solutions for all your Vegetables by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth ©2011
  11. The Contained Garden: A complete Illustrated Guide to Growing Plants, Flowers and Vegetables Outdoors in Pots by Kenneth Becket, David Stevens, David Carr ©1983
  12. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by Andi; Richmond, Katherine; Morris, Sallie; Mackley, Lesley Clevely ©1997
  13. Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy ©2010
  14. The American Horticulture Society's Encyclopedia of Gardening Editors Christopher Brickell & Elvin McDonald ©2003
  15. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening ©2002
  16. American Horticultural Society's Northeast: Smart Garden Regional Guide ©2003
  17. New England Gardener's Handbook by Jacqueline Heriteau and Holly Hunter Stonehill ©2012
  18. Northeast including Southeast Canada: 54 Landscape designs by Roger Holmes and Rita Buchanan ©2012
  19. The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan ©2009
  20. The Postage Stamp Kitchen Garden Book by Duane & Karen Newcomb ©1998
  21. The Zone Garden: A Surefire Guide to Gardening in Your Zone 5,6,7 by Charlotte M. Frieze ©1997
  22. The American Horticultural Society's Great Plant Guide ©2000
  23. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman
  24. Good Weed, Bad Weed by Nancy Gift ©2011
  25. Good Bug, Bad Bug by Jessica Walliser ©2011
  26. The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A complete Guide to maintaining a healthy garden and yard the earth-friendly way by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis and Deborah L. Martin ©2009