Category Archives: Gardening with the Moon

A Column by Elen Sentier

“Planting with the Moon” is quite well known but, in biodynamics, we use more than the phases of the moon.

Biodynamics is using a set of eight preparations (the BD preps) made from vegetable/herbal, animal and mineral compounds to enhance the soil and the plants.

Gardening with the Moon: North & South – Hemispheres

As above so below is a watch-phrase for all esotericists … it works for biodynamic gardeners too … well sort of !!!

In the first article I talked about the rising and falling arcs of the Moon. These are the arcs she makes as she travels across the sky each night, for the first half of the month her arc rises higher and higher each night, for the second half it goes lower and lower. I said it’s a journey like that of the sun but where the sun takes the whole year to do its stuff the Moon only needs 28 days (a moon-th, month).

And … when it’s winter here in Britain it’s summer down there in Australia.

What’s down for me here is up for them there J. And that applies to the Moon’s rising and falling arcs too. So my sowing and planting time is Australia’s time to harvest and work with the parts of the plant above the ground.

  • This means that the sowing/planting times reverse depending on which hemisphere you’re in.

Through this period – 13 to 24 June – in the NORTHERN hemisphere – that’s all of us above the Equator, in Europe, Asia and North America – the Moon will be descending through the constellations of …

`abcde … that’s Twins, Crab, Lion, Virgin, Scales and Scorpion.

Each day, for us, the Moon’s arc gets lower and lower in the sky. This descending arc is when plants take root more easily, seeds spring to life better, transplanting plants, trees and shrubs is easier on the plants.

For you guys in the SOUTHERN hemisphere – that’s everyone below the equator, in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, South America and parts of South-East Asia – the Moon is still going to be in front of the same constellations I said above, but will actually be making a rising arc. So you will all be doing your stuff with the parts of the plant above the ground while I’m working on the root and soil stuff.

This reversal means it’s really sensible to get a Star Calendar that refers to the hemisphere (at least) where you live. It’s far less confusing until you get the principles under your belt and into your auto-pilot.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Gardening with the Moon: Moon Cycles

No, really, the title’s not a new form of green transport J, it’s part of the basic way biodynamics works, and it helps to explain why this column with is fortnightly (bi-monthly). I work with the cycles of the Moon.

Biodynamics – apart from being a very long word – is about juicing-up your already good organic practice with the help of 8 animal/vegetable/mineral preparations.

To use these most effectively it’s best to work with the cycles of the Earth, Moon and the 12 constellations that circle us and have been used since humans first saw them in the sky. The old stone circles of Britain were partly used as agricultural calendars, showing the seasons by means of alignments between the stone and the stars, including the Sun which is also a star, and the Moon which reflects sunlight onto the Earth during the hours of darkness. We no longer have to know how to work the old stone circles to get our calendars straight as we have paper books and even on-line star calendars to help us. The first to produce a modern star calendar, from her own experiential research, was Maria Thun. I still find her calendar the best and easiest to use but all the biodynamic associations around the world produce calendars done to fit the time zone they are in – I’ve put up a list of web sites in References.

So … Maria Thun does the astronomy and puts together the Star Calendar. What for? So that we can use those 8 preparations in time and tune with the Earth, the solar system and the Constellations. The light-energy of constellations is reflected and amplified to the Earth by  the Moon. She acts as a lens, focusing the star-energy onto the Earth for the 2-4 days she is in front of that constellation – between the Earth and the constellation.

The Moon’s Arcs

The Moon rises higher and higher in the sky each day for the first approx 14 days of her cycle, rising from her nadir to her zenith. She then takes the next 14 days to rises lower and lower in the sky each day, going from her zenith to her nadir.

  • It’s the Moon’s rising and falling arcs that make a big difference to the plants not how much of her we can see from the Earth at any point in the month.
    • As the arcs get higher so she draws the energy upwards, out of the Earth, pulling the growing juices up through the soil, leaves, flowers and fruits. You can see this from the way the sap rises at this time of the month. Our ancestors knew it, we still have the phrase “the sap is rising” meaning the upper part of the plant fills with sap and vitality. They called it “moon riding high” in the old almanacs.
    • As the arcs get lower so the Moon draws the energy down through the plant and into the soil. You can tell this from the way the sap doesn’t rise so well but plants take root readily and settle well into the ground so it’s good for sowing, plating and transplanting. Our ancestors called it “moon riding low” in the old almanacs.

Think of it like the sun. At midwinter the sun crawls up over the horizon, eventually, at a late dawn, travels in a very low arc from south-east to sink again at an early sunset in the south-west. It doesn’t make it all the way from due east to due west, which is part of why the days are so short. And the sun doesn’t rise very high in the sky even at midday, that’s why we have that beautiful, low, slanting winter light, so much less strong than it is in summer.

From midsummer to midwinter the sun’s arc gets lower and lower in the sky so, at midday in midsummer it’s way up there right overhead, but at midwinter it’s hardly halfway up the sky. From midwinter to midsummer the sun’s arc goes up and up.

The moon does the same sort of journey as the sun but, instead of taking 6 months, she does it in 2 weeks. After all, she does have a lot less far to go, around the Earth, than the Earth does around the sun J.

I expect you’re beginning to guess that as the Moon draws the energy down into the soil it’s a good time to sow seeds, plant and transplant, cultivate the parts of the plant below the soil, like the roots. And as she draws the energy upwards it’s a god to time to work on the parts of the plant above the soil, like the leaves, flowers and fruits. Yup … that’s the beginnings of it. Maria Thun thought about this and tried it out in experiments, she began working on it in the 1950s so she’s got half a century of experience to draw on. She’s still working on it all now, along with her son, and refining her ideas.

Basically, these fortnightly rising and falling arcs give us our planting times, the basis within which we apply the preparations and do our gardening work – as far as possible. The darn things aren’t written in stone, the sun won’t fall out of the sky if you can’t manage it some of the time. I’ll be giving hints and tips how to work it when life doesn’t follow the plot, how to do your best in spit of everything J.

This column will follow the planting times, the Moon’s cycle of rising and falling arcs, so I’ll be writing at or just before the beginning of each planting cycle.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Alchemical Gardening

One of this month’s themes is gardening … it’s nearly the end of the month but I’m getting there with it :-).

For me, this month has very much been about alchemy. I’ve got a workshop coming up at the middle of June on the alchemical wedding so it’s not really surprising Otherworld is whispering in my ear, nudging me, pointing things out. Now they’ve suggested a whole load of alchemical stuff on gardening.

Some of you already know I garden biodynamically but … that’s one helluva long word with a fog-index of at least 9000 J, so what the hell does it mean? And what on earth has it got to do with alchemy?

Hmm! Well I managed to get in the Lowerworld (hell) and the Middleworld (earth) there, now I’ve got to get Upperworld in … and I can feel a lot of hot breath on the back of my neck as various of the Celtic Powers lean over my shoulder to see what I’m writing and make I sure I get it right. All very well, but I do wish they’d give me a bit of space!

Alchemical gardening … biodynamics … yes, same sort of thing different names.

Biodynamics is the oldest organised form of organic gardening. It was concern about the worrying trends developing in agriculture that led farmers to ask Rudolf Steiner to give his ‘Agriculture Lectures” in 1924, on which the biodynamic agricultural movement is founded. The farmers’ concerns were …

  • increasing mechanisation of agriculture
  • a sense that nature is becoming degraded and losing its vitality
  • pollution of the environment
  • signs of illness in trees and
  • violent changes in the weather

It seems nothing is new.

The farmers’ concerns resulted in the series of eight lectures that Steiner gave at the house of his friend Count Keiserling. The lectures began a movement which now spans the world. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Europe, Ireland, the UK and the USA all have very strong biodynamic movements and I’ve even had enquiries from Japan. It seems Poland has now chosen to make its government-supported agriculture biodynamic. Biodynamics wine-making is all the rage and experts like Oz Clarke say biodynamic wine is the best wine they have ever tasted.

Biodynamics can appear very strange to outsiders – full of practices that almost sound like black magic, eg putting oak bark into a horse’s skull, in running water, for a year to make one of the preparations, or cow dung into a cow’s horn and burying from autumn to spring … and then seeing how the dung is completely different. Umm! Those could almost be shamanic practices 🙂 … and maybe they are.

But my goodness! The difference they make to the garden is phenomenal. I’ve been working this way for the best part of 20 years now and attest to its efficacy.

It’s true that we may not be able to explain everything about it as fully as we can, say, bread-making or steel production but … have you ever tried to say “why” (not how) electricity works? And physics comes up with wonderful apparent paradoxes like “is light waves or particles?” We seem quite able to cope with not having a complete knowledge of these things in science. Perhaps experiencing the pleasures of biodynamics, seeing the beautiful plants, eating the good food, drinking the excellent wine, will help us overcome our doubts and fears of this well established form of growing.

And alchemy? There’s lots of things we do in biodynamic gardening that have alchemical connections, perhaps one of the most obvious is the Cow.

Apart from being the totem of the goddess Brighid – Lady of the three faces, Smith, Healer and Poet – the cow is found throughout the world as a sacred beast. Cattle have been “wealth” in so many societies, including Celtic ones. The cow is a mother-figure in many traditions. But cows are also very special and have a particular alchemical property … they have 4 stomachs, 4 chambers, 4 vessels, through which matter passes as they process it to gain energy for themselves and to give goodness to the Earth.

Ruminants' Stomachs

All ruminants have 4 stomachs – that’s animals like sheep, goats, deer and cows. The word ruminant means

any even-toed, hoofed mammal of the suborder Ruminantia, being comprised of cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing quadrupeds, and including, besides domestic cattle, bison, buffalo, deer, antelopes, giraffes, camels.

The ruminant digestive system is fascinating – as I said, it’s comprised of 4 stomachs. If you’d like to become a “ruminant anorak” follow the link, it’s technical and interesting, if mind boggling! A less mind-blowing version can be found at Wiki, with a good diagram of the stomachs.

These 4 stomachs are like the 4 processes of alchemy – as Rudolf Steiner also said – the Nigredo, followed by the Albedo, followed by the Citrinato and culminating in the Rubado. Steiner said that the four stomachs did the four alchemical process to the food as the cow processes it through her body … resulting in the alchemical gold of her dung which we can compost and use on our land.

I find making these links fascinating … but I also garden very practically, to put food into my and my husband’s bellies. So, while my mind may be luxuriating in staggering cosmic connections my hands are deep in the earth, the soil, getting grubby and doing the business J.

I’ll talk some more about biodynamics, alchemical gardening, gardening by the moon as some folk call it in a little while … when I’ve finished weeding the bed I’m on at present, in between diving indoors to do a blog !!!

And I’m just on the final edit of a “how-to” book on biodynamics for gardeners and people who don’t know much about it. I hope to have it in the shops for Midsummer, so not long now.

And … Scarlett has been suggesting to various people about having a daily column. I just might do one on gardening by the moon, to help people get to grips with it. It is magic, it is alchemy, and it is easy … anyone can do it, and it doesn’t cost the earth nor take up all your time either :-).

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
My Blog
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Alchemy workshop …