Seasonal Gardening: Almanac Planting, Tomato Transplant Yields and Fennel’s Beneficial Insects

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ILLUSTRATION: CLAUDIA TANTILLO
Does science support lunar folklore?

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.

Planting by the Moon

Every year, all the almanacs tout the best times to plant,
based on the moon’s phase and location in the sky. In
general, the guides say to sow aboveground-bearing crops
during the waxing moon and belowground-bearing crops during
the waning moon. The moon’s astrological sign is
supposed to make a difference, as well.

Does scientific research back such claims? Hard to say. In
L. Kolisko’s 1926-35 German trials, cabbage, lettuce,
beans, peas, tomatoes and cucumbers sown two days before
the full moon had better germination, more vigorous growth
and higher yields than ones planted two days before the new
moon. And after four years of work, Maria and Matthias Thun
concluded that radishes sown when the moon was in the
“earth” signs (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn) showed the best
root development, those sown in the “water” signs (Pisces,
Scorpio and Cancer) had the most abundant leaf development,
and those sown in “air” and “fire” signs tended to bolt and
seed well.

Other researchers have come up empty-handed. A. Becker in
1937-38 found no significant differences in crops planted
on “favorable” days versus ones sown on “non-favorable”
days. And K. Mather and J. Newell sowed various fruits and
roots two days before each moon quarter and also found no
correlation between plant growth and moon phase.

Why the contradiction? The problem may come from the fact
that no research (that we know of) has correlated both moon
phase and moon position with plant growth, in accordance
with the claims of the almanacs. In short, the field seems
quite unsettled. Perhaps we can organize an amateur
experimental group to help settle the issue of “lunacy in
horticulture.” Feel free to write us and join in.

Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs

Don’t buy precocious tomatoes. Ohio State
University scientists demonstrated that tomato seedlings
that are already fruiting when transplanted yield
poorly–even if the cute little fruits are
removed.

A little diversity goes a long way.
California entomologists compared plantings of all one
variety of broccoli to mixed plantings of four cultivars.
They found that the combination crops had fewer cabbage
aphids. So merely mixing varieties in a monocultural
planting may help reduce pest problems.

Sweet apple buds. West German
experimenters discovered that spraying fall apple buds with
a 10% fructose solution increased the following year’s
fruit yields 20%. Why not try it? Fructose is readily
available and (quite) nontoxic.

A very fruitful berry. The everbearing
Tristar strawberry (Burpee Seed Co., Warminster, PA) produces fruit from spring into mid-October. In
fact, its best berries come in fall. Total yields are two
to three times those of most typical berries. Because of
its small root system, though, Tristar does need some
pampering.

Why do the obvious? Agricultural Research
Service chemists in Peoria, Illinois, have become so
impressed with organic matter that they’ve decided to
imitate it. When they learned that microbes in healthy soil
produce complex polysaccharides that help bind the soil and
resist water erosion, they started making their own “soil
polysaccharides” out of cornstarch binders. They’ll spray
those on chemically farmed fields to help them mimic
organic ones.

Do seeds have ears? Bulgarian researchers
report that exposing pepper and cucumber seeds to 20,000 Hz
ultrasound (power unspecified) for three to seven minutes
resulted in better germination, growth and fruit yields. If
you try it yourself, wear earplugs!

So you do want cute little ‘maters? Try
growing cherry tomatoes in indoor hanging baskets. The
varieties Golden Cherry, Florida Hanging and Tiny Tim all
do well in 12-inch hanging baskets (two or three plants per
basket).

The Winner? Fennel! Hilde Maingay
carefully studied eight flowering herbs–dill,
caraway, fennel, toothpick weed, spearmint, yarrow, rue and
wild carrot–at the New Alchemy Institute to see which
ones attracted the most beneficial insects. She concluded
that “fennel had the greatest insect attendance and,
furthermore, it had large attendance of ‘good’ insects.”
She also noted that fennel is easy to grow (start it
indoors).

Working women’s gloves. Womanswork gloves
are made of brushed pigskin and really fit. Send a tracing
of your hand and $14.95 (for unlined gloves) or $18.95 (for
a pair lined with Thinsulate) to Karen Smiley, South Berwick, ME.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Greg and Pat Williams raise most of their own food on a small farm and publish HortIdeas, a fine newsletter on gardening research and products (available for $10 a year from G. & P. Williams, Gravel Switch, KY).