(First published in issue 14 – Autumn/Winter 2001 – edition of “Weleda review” and reproduced with the permission of Weleda UK)
In Weleda’s gardens we ensure the quality of our medicinal plants in every way we can. We grow them organically using biodynamic sprays and preparations, and we are also guided in all our garden work by a biodynamic star calendar called Planting With The Stars. Produced each year by Maria Thun in Germany, it is based on over forty years of research into the influence of planetary movements on the growth of plants.For example, for non-woody plants and vegetables she has found that the quality and yield of the crops is affected by cultivation done when the Moon is in front of certain constellations of the Zodiac.
As the Moon, as seen from the Earth, passes in front of each of the 12 constellations during the course of a month, so a different part of the plant is affected:
Moon in Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn – root
Moon in Gemini, Libra and Aquarius – flower Moon in Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces – leaf
Moon in Leo, Sagittarius and Aries – fruit/seed
Thus for the best onions and garlic, for instance, sowing, planting and harvesting should be done on the most favourable days for roots. It is particularly noticeable how much difference harvesting even a day away from a Root day makes to whether an onion crop will store for six months, or go soft after a week. The exceptions to this scheme are plants grown for their leaves such as Borage (used in medicines for blood circulation) or Lettuce (used in medicines to help sleep): while these are best sown on Leaf days, we avoid these days for harvest as crops collected then will soon rot.
The Calendar is only a guide and obviously we have to work according to weather and soil conditions. Many people notice the luminosity and vibrancy of the flowers we grow, particularly Calendula, and ask us where we obtain our seeds. But I believe their quality is due to using appropriate cultivation times according to the Calendar, as well as using our own or Demeter seeds. Demeter seeds have been raised and selected following the same biodynamic principles.
Everyone notices the waxing and waning of the moon, but not everyone is aware that during the course of every month, the moon’s arc across the sky ascends for two weeks until it reaches Gemini and then descends for two weeks to Sagittarius.
The descending time is referred to by biodynamic growers as the Northern Planting Time. At this time, sap rises little in the plants. This makes it the best time for transplanting and taking cuttings, since roots spread more readily into
the soil. The low level of rising sap also makes it a good time for pruning, cutting hedges, felling timber and incorporating green manures and compost. Ascending times, when sap rises more strongly, are best for grafting and collecting fruit.
For longevity of perennial plants, shrubs and trees, sowing and planting times are also influenced by the rhythms of the other planets. For best results, these have to be taken into account. In the Calendar there are also indications of
ideal times for bread-making, working with bees, dealing with insect pests and weeds, and even grass cutting. If you like mowing the lawn, do it on Leaf days as the grass will grow quickly, and if you don’t want to mow often choose Flower days so it will be slow to re-grow!
From late August to October we sow alternate rows of Vetch and Grazing Rye to cover any bare ground for the winter. The Vetch will fix nitrogen, adding fertility to the soil when it is finally dug in. The Rye will improve the texture of the soil while stopping any ‘run off of nutrients which can happen whenever bare soil is very wet. It too is dug in later. As Rye reduces the germination of any seed sown on that land for a month after the Rye has been dug in, we make sure we leave some time before sowing a new crop. It’s worth it as Rye does have a dramatic effect on soil condition.
The Autumn is also the time when we incorporate compost and manure. By putting in then, it is assimilated into the soil ready for the plants in the Spring. Once the growing season starts, only very well-rotted compost should be used. One of the bonuses of growing with the stars is that you have an excellent excuse to spend time looking at them. Until recently, the stars were everyone’s familiar nighttime companions. Now the level of light in cities at night can make it
hard to see the stars, so if you can find a dark area, you may find it extra rewarding. And if you want to try growing plants by the stars, now is the time of year to start.
“Working with the Stars” (annual calendar) and “Work with the Land and the Constellations” by Maria Thus (a guide to using the calendar) are available from Amazon and others.