The Casual Gardener: Biodynamics – planting by the light of the moon
For centuries farmers and gardeners have believed the moon influences plant growth but John Manley finds that debate continues to rage over the efficacy of the so-called biodynamic method
IN CASE you hadn't noticed, I'm a bit of a hippy when it comes to gardening. I use organic methods, I'm fond of recycling and upcycling, and I adopt an uninhibited, 'jazz' approach to planting and design. You dig?
One gardening method my bohemian sensibilities have yet to become attuned to, however, is planting by the moon. But rather than a sceptical aversion to what many scientists regard a crackpot craze, my failure to join horticulture's lunatic fringe is based on a lack of discipline. I'm arguably too laid back to successfully apply hippy methods in the garden.
Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner is regarded as the ‘godfather' of the so-called ‘biodynamic' approach to farming and gardening, encouraging large and small scale growers to look to the cosmos before planting and harvesting crops. A later advocate, who developed a gardener's lunar calendar, was Maria Thun, a German farmer who believed that the energy of plants can be affected by the energy of the moon, stars and planets.
One of the biodynamic movement's 21st century cheerleaders is Nick Kollerstrom, who every year publishes a lunar calendar to guide gardeners who wish to adopt his wholly organic methods. ‘Gardening & Planting by the Moon' (Published by W Foulsham & Co RRP £8.99). If the testimonials on Amazon are anything to go by, Kollerstrom definitely knows his stuff: “Fantastic item, great quality”, “I cant do without this at my allotment now”, and “Been taking this advice for years, and it works!”
In some circles, however, Kollerstrom is dismissed as a dangerous eccentric, though not, it must be said, because of his views on gardening and biodynamics. In the past, he has voiced controversial views about the scale of the Holocaust and has also written a book about the 7/7 bombings in which he claims those blamed for the suicide attack were not the true perpetrators.
Anyway, biodynamics is much bigger than Kollerstrom and has been around for millennia. It's essentially based on the premise that the moon's gravitational effects influence plant growth, in the same way they affect the tides. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that these same forces may affect the water in the soil and the sap in trees and plants – and even human behaviour. Seed germination and transplanting is recommended when the moon is waxing and moisture levels in the soil higher, while pruning is preferable as the moon is waning, when moisture levels are low and the plant is less likely to bleed.
The biodynamic calendar developed by Thun and adopted by Kollerstroim is not strictly about the moon itself and is as much about the constellations of the zodiac. Thun concluded that earth crops do best if sown when the moon is passing through constellations associated with the earth element (Taurus, Virgo or Capricorn), while leafy crops do best when the moon is associated with water signs.
Debate over the biodynamic method's merits has raged for decades, if not centuries. In 2003, Which? Gardening conducted a study, that used Kollerstrom's calender. The results then showed no difference at all in the yield of calabrese, beetroot or lettuce sown on “good” days and “bad” days.
Yet even the biodynamic method's gravest critics concede that it is harmless and therefore should be tolerated. However, as plant biologist, occasional Daily Telegraph contributor and biodynamic-sceptic Ken Thompson states: "So the next time you are pondering whether the relative positions of objects hundreds of light years away affects the growth of your parsnips, just bear in mind that's the first step down the slippery slope to believing almost anything, for example that Uri Geller really can bend spoons without touching them, or that there actually is a Nigerian out there who would like to make you a present of five million dollars."