March and April are good months for planting garlic in temperate to warmer parts of Australia. This year we are going back to growing the ‘Italian White‘ variety as our winters are becoming too mild for the hard-necked varieties. ‘Italian White‘ is a soft-necked garlic more suited to warmer areas. Cloves are slightly smaller than the purple hard-necked garlic but it has a lovely flavour and keeps longer than the hard-neck varieties.
We will sow ours in the middle of April (during Full Moon phase), after separating the knobs into individual cloves. The larger cloves from each knob will be planted, flat end down, just below the surface into soil rich in compost with a pH close to neutral. We usually plant our cloves 15 cm apart in rows 30 cm apart so that the canopy formed by the leaves helps to keep the mulched soil cooler. Garlic needs regular, deep watering (not a daily sprinkle) and hates competing with weeds. Green Harvest has a range of garlic for planting, and their garlic page will help you to decide which variety is best suited to your local climate and needs.
If you want to grow a small quantity of garlic from knobs purchased from your greengrocer, make sure it is Australian garlic. Imported garlic is treated with methyl bromide, a nasty gas that has been banned in Europe and may prevent cloves from growing.
Garlic takes 6 to 8 months to develop a bulb depending on the variety and climate.
Some gardeners may not be sure whether they are in a Temperate or Cool climate and, where frosts occur, the position of a property within a neighbourhood (the microclimate) can affect how much frost may affect your garden. The diagram below indicates where frost is more likely to affect parts of your garden.
The position of garden beds can also have a marked effect on the amount of plant damage that frosts cause. Cold air, like water, always flows downwards; anything that blocks the downward flow will result in frost damage in that area. Buildings, solid fences and shrubbery, and flat land at the bottom of a slope can all allow cold air to pool, and plants in these areas are more likely to be damaged by frost.
In temperate climates areas that can be affected by frost, gardeners may find it helpful to use the guide for ‘cool climates’ in autumn and winter and use the ‘temperate climates’ guide in spring and summer because the world’s climate is changing and we have recently experienced harsher winters and hotter summers. It appears that the standard climate zones may have to be adjusted slightly in future. If unsure about what to plant at a particular time of year, a reputable local nursery will have suitable plants in stock and be able to advise you on what is best for your local microclimate. Be cautious though when buying seedlings from Australia-wide nursery chains, as some tend to send the same seedlings to stores in all climate zones.
By the way, advice to orient beds in a north/south direction to allow plants to receive ample sunlight comes from northern hemisphere gardening practices and only applies to very cool climates in Australia. Most areas of Australia get more than enough sun to ripen crops. In fact, plants can benefit from some relief from harsh afternoon sun in warmer climates during summer months. It is more important to position beds across any slope in the ground to ensure that all plants in a bed have equal access to water. Avoid placing vegetable garden beds under trees, as trees are very competitive for both moisture and nutrients.
As some readers know, I have been kept very busy this year writing the Organic School Gardens program for the Biological Farmers of Australia to teach children how to garden for a sustainable future.
This program is unique, as it is provided free to all schools across Australia – it is non-commercial – it features practical and easy-to-use online resources and lesson plans suitable for Australian schools, plus a separate set of lesson notes for teachers, and
– it is the only Australian school garden program written in line with organic standards.
BFA’s program is designed to be adaptable to all schools, including children with special needs and schools with very limited resources, and it is designed to integrate with other subjects in the curriculum, making learning fun and more meaningful for students.
Gardening expertise is not necessary to conduct this program. In going through the lessons and supervisor notes, teachers and volunteers will learn how to garden organically themselves.
The last three lessons in the program will be available to schools at the beginning of October in time for the next school term, and from later this month I will be able to spend more time writing posts for my blog. I’d like to thank all of you for your patience while I have been working on this project.
It is not surprising that some people don’t take moon planting seriously when TV commercials make statements like “the increased light of the Full Moon has hastened maturation of cauliflowers”.
All vegetables are exposed to light from Full Moons. Maturity times for different varieties of cauliflower vary from 11- 26 weeks, so the slower growing ones would be exposed to more Full Moons than the faster-growing varieties. In fact, radishes, which are sown after the Full Moon, can mature in a month, and would be exposed to the least amount of Full Moon light.
I thought the statement may have been based on the Moon being in Perigee (closest part of its orbit to Earth) and the reflected light from the Full Moon being slightly stronger. However, the only time the Full Moon was near perigee this year was back in January. Cauliflowers require cold weather to form the curd, and the coldest weather normally occurs when the days are shortest and the plants are exposed to less sunlight. It is more likely that the cooler temperatures this year have assisted the early maturation of cauliflowers, and that TV ad doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
As it is Full Moon phase, later this week I will have to brew up some manure tea as a supplementary fertiliser for my lettuce, silverbeet, and spinach seedlings because they have a high nitrogen requirement. Manure tea can also be applied to flowering annuals, cabbage, celery, leeks, also Brussels sprouts that were planted out in February, or earlier.
I usually brew this up during Last Quarter phase as it only takes about a week in warm weather. As the weather has been much cooler than usual for April, the brew will take a good twelve to fourteen days to mature.
Manure tea gets its name from the fact it is applied to soil around plants at weak black tea strength, and around young seedlings as very weak black tea strength because strong fertiliser solutions can burn delicate roots. As it coats the foliage when applied to very small plants, I always water the seedlings after application because it is better to feed the soil than the plant.
Manure, and other fertiliser “teas” are easy to make. For this brew, I place a shovelful of horse manure into an old bucket, and fill the bucket with water. Then I cover the bucket with an old plastic tea tray. The cover prevents loss of nitrogen to the air, and flies laying eggs in the mixture, but a tight fitting lid will usually “pop” because of the gases formed as the manure ferments. The mixture should be stirred every couple of days, will be ready to use during New Moon phase. Sap flow in plants increases as the Moon is waxing, and New Moon and First Quarter are good phases to apply liquid fertiliser because they plants use them quickly.
I strain some of the brew through a piece of old pantihose into a watering can and add enough water to achieve the correct strength for the plants I want to fertilise. After fertilising, the bucket can be repeatedly topped up with water, and the brew can be used until it is quite pale. The residue can be added to the compost heap.
Always wear rubber gloves when handling manure fertilisers. They not only prevent smelly hands, they will prevent the manure coming into contact with any cuts or scratches on your hands.
Traditional Moon Planting is an ancient agricultural practice that has been used by farmers for several thousand years and is still practiced today. It is based on the synodic period of the Moon from one New Moon to the next, an average period of 29.5 days.
Over time, farmers observed that all aspects of farming were affected by the interaction of the gravitational forces between the Sun, the Moon and Earth. These are the same gravitational forces that affect ocean tides around the world. Because the Moon is closer to Earth, its effects are more noticeable. These observations were handed down to younger generations as their community’s survival depended on getting the best results from their crops.
Scientists have more recently confirmed that variations in sap flow, biological functions in plants, and subtle changes in Earth’s electro-magnetic fields, correspond to the Moon’s gravitational pull. Scientists have also confirmed that the Moon has an influence on breeding and feeding cycles of many life forms on this planet. As plants contain a high proportion of water, it is not surprising that they would also respond to a force that can move huge bodies of water. And, when you consider that plants absorb nutrients as ions that carry either a positive or negative electric charge, you can see how changes in electro-magnetic fields can affect the growth of plants. The Lunation Cycle
Each lunation cycle the Moon passes through four phases – New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon and Last Quarter. The number of days between each change of phase can vary from 6 3/4 to 8, so to make it easier for you, the current moon phase and its duration can be found by clicking on the ‘Current moon phase’ icon in the menu bar. The Waxing Moon
During New Moon and First Quarter phases, the Moon is increasing in light. In these two phases, sap flow increases in the above ground parts of plants, and these are the most suitable phases for sowing and transplanting annuals (and biennials). Flowering annuals, grains, melons and spring onions do well if planted in either phase but, generally, New Moon phase is best for leafy annuals and First Quarter is best for fruiting annuals. Liquid fertilisers will take effect more quickly if applied during the waxing phases. Shrubs and trees can be pruned in First Quarter phase when you want to produce new growth quickly, such as pruning spring-flowering shrubs or summer pruning of roses. When pruned while sap flow is high, sap is quickly diverted to the lateral shoots. When sap flow is low, regrowth is slower and dieback is more likely to occur in some plants. First Quarter phase is also good for grafting and budding because these require a high sap flow for successful results. The Waning Moon
During the Full Moon and Last Quarter phases the Moon decreases in light and sap flow in plants is more concentrated in the root area. As sap flow gradually slows during these two phases, Full Moon phase is best for sowing and planting because germination is lower, and regrowth slower, during Last Quarter phase. Because sap flow is lower in the foliage part of plants, crops or seed harvested for storage or drying are less likely to rot if harvested during the Moon’s waning period.
Full Moon phase is best for the sowing and planting of both root crops and perennials (plants that live longer than two years). All trees, shrubs, vines (including fruit trees and vines), globe artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, herbaceous perennials, bulbs and lawn grasses are perennials. The reason that these plants are planted (or sown) in the root vegetable phase is that perennials have a different type of root system from leafy and flowering annuals. Roots of perennial plants have, like root vegetables, the ability to store carbohydrates and nutrients, and this type of root system is important for the longevity of perennials.
Because Full Moon phase favours root growth, this is also an excellent phase for taking cuttings, or for aerial layering, because root growth must form to support new foliage growth. This is also the best phase for dividing plants for the same reason. Prune dormant plants during Full Moon phase. Last Quarter phase is best for cutting back rampant shrubs and vines, – regrowth will be less vigorous. Fertile and Barren signs
Traditional moon planting uses the tropical zodiac that divides the celestial belt into twelve equal parts of 30 degrees, named after the constellations that were closest to them in the second century B.C., and ignores that fact that the actual constellations vary widely in size. The twelve segments were also given labels of ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. The equal divisions were basically markers for degrees of tension from the major permanent points of reference (the Solstices and the Equinoxes), which occur within 24 hours of the same days each year.
Negative segments are considered ‘fertile’ and the best days within a phase for sowing, planting, taking cuttings, budding and pruning to encourage growth. Positive segments are considered ‘barren’ and best days within a phase for collecting seeds, harvesting crops and for storage and weeding.
Does traditional moon planting work?
As someone who has obtained certificates in both astrology and horticulture and had been working in horticulture for some 40 years, I felt competent to test and assess the various moon planting and gardening guides available to the public. Over a period of eight years, I experimented with and compared different forms of moon planting against detailed records of sowing, germination, growth, harvesting and pruning.
Some moon or lunar calendars and guides advised readers to plant all plants that produce fruit above ground during First Quarter phase. This ignores the different root system of perennials. Other guides totally ignored moon phases and focused on the astrological signs. The tray below on the left was sown during Full Moon phase, which is an incorrect moon sowing phase for leafy annuals. The tray on the right was sown two weeks later during New Moon phase. Both were sown in the same seedling mix and received the same amount of care.
I found that most moon planting guides in women’s magazines are prepared by astrologers who have used the astrological ‘rulership’ of plants rather than moon planting methods that have been handed down through the centuries. These interpretations have produced some results that make no horticultural sense and must be confusing for readers.
The designation, by traditional moon planting farmers, of fertile and barren ‘signs’ varies slightly from the fertile/negative and barren/positive labels applied in astrology, and I feel there had to be a reason for this variation to remain constant through the centuries. Although there has been no scientific study into this part of moon planting, I believe it relates to the changes in the Earth’s electro-magnetic field and the absorption of plant nutrients, which must be absorbed as water-soluble electrically-charged ions.
Some moon or lunar planting guides will tell you to avoid watering your garden on ‘fertile’ days while others will advise to avoid watering on ‘barren’ days. A perusal of rainfall records will show that Nature doesn’t follow these rules. Gardens should be watered when they need it.
After comparing the various methods of Moon Planting, I came to the conclusion that the traditional moon planting method, although the simplest to follow, made the most horticultural sense, and it works best for us. The basic rules, or principles, are described below.
Traditional moon planting ‘rules’
1.Avoid sowing, planting or taking cuttings from 12 hours before to 12 hours after the exact change of moon phase.
The twelve hours immediately before and after the exact change of each phase is not a good time for sowing, planting, or taking cuttings. We have found that the increase or decrease of unfavourable energy is gradual and it will not have an obvious effect if you run an hour or so into this period when you have a lot of sowing or planting to do. While this is not a good period for sowing or planting, this time can be used to prepare beds or compost heaps, apply mulch, etc. 2. NEW MOON PHASE – the best time to sow or transplant leafy annuals(we eat the leaf or stem), and flowering annuals. Also sow annual grasses, green manures, and apply liquid fertilisers. Mow lawns to encourage growth. This is the second best phase to sow or transplant fruiting annuals. 3. FIRST QUARTER PHASE – the best time to sow or transplant fruiting and flowering annuals (we eat the fruit or seed bearing part), and grains. Also sow annual grasses, green manures, and apply liquid fertilisers. Prune to encourage growth and deadhead roses and flowering annuals. Carry out grafting and budding. Mow lawns to encourage growth. This is the second best phase to sow or transplant leafy annuals (we eat the leaf or stem). 4. FULL MOON PHASE – the best time to sow or plant out root crops and all fruiting and decorative perennials, including fruit trees. Also sow lawns or lay turf, harvest for storage, take cuttings, divide plants, prune dormant plants and apply solid fertilisers. Mow lawns to slow growth. 5. LAST QUARTER PHASE –no sowing or planting during this phase. This is a good phase for attending to your soil; weeding, applying mulch, making compost, preparing manure teas, applying solid fertilisers and digging or ploughing, if necessary. Prune to restrain growth, and mow lawns to slow growth during this phase.
A current, colour-coded, easy-to follow traditional moon planting and gardening calendar is available for purchase HERE.