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Spanish Secrets: Moonstruck

…The importance of the lunar calendar to locals is undeniable but it’s practiced more as a farming tradition than a horticultural science. What I was keen to know was whether these ancient superstitions had any basis in fact. My search began…

Craig Briggs investigates the effects of the moon’s phases on horticulture – and on other things besides.

To share more of the delight that Craig and his wife Melanie derive from their new life in Galicia please click on Spanish Secrets in the menu on this page.

Lunar planting – hocus pocus or scientific fact?

Not for the first time this mystical question was challenging my curiosity. Its resurrection followed a social call from our neighbour Mellie. Whatever topics we chat about, one thing is certain, it will eventually lead to discussing the state of the weather.

Mellie presented herself at the house looking like a Dickensian Bag-Lady. Layer-upon-layer of tatty winter-woollies kept out a cold and damp February afternoon.

Taken at her word, a visitor to the area might think that these cold and miserable conditions are a constant feature of Galician winters. Of course this would be quite untrue. This winter has been relatively mild, with several warm and sunny afternoons and, best of all, very little rain.

The subject matter moved seamlessly on from the weather to the allotment, planting and pruning. Here in Galicia such important issues are strictly governed by the waxing (crecimiento) and waning (menguando) of the moon.

The importance of the lunar calendar to locals is undeniable but it’s practised more as a farming tradition than a horticultural science. What I was keen to know was whether these ancient superstitions had any basis in fact. My search began.

The earliest recorded comments on lunar agriculture were written by the Roman author Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 -79). Better known as Pliny the Elder, his encyclopaedia, Naturalis Historia, notes the practice in great detail. These so-called superstitions even merit a mention in the “Good Book”.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and time to die: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.
Ecclesiastes, 3:1-2

It’s likely that these farming methods were introduced into Galicia when the Celts settled here in the 7th and 6th century BC.

The lunar cycle begins with the new moon. A waxing moon is one that is increasing in size; it’s identified by the moon’s dark side being on the left. A perfect sphere signals a full moon. This is followed by the waning, when the dark side is on the right of the bright crescent.

The scientific basis for lunar agriculture revolves around water. As well as controlling the world’s tides, the moon also controls the moisture content in soil.

This soil moisture is at its highest when the moon is waxing. This is when planting should be undertaken. Conversely, when the moon is waning plants should be pruned as there is less sap rising in shrubs and trees. The latter flies in the face of Galician thinking and leaves me with a puzzling conundrum.

Here in Galicia grape vines are always pruned during the waxing moon. Dare I break with tradition and follow the rules of science. If I choose the former my research will have been in vain.

For the moment I have time to ponder this enigma along with other suspicious lunar superstitions.

1. For strong, healthy hair have it cut when the moon is waxing.
2. To maintain that style for longer have it cut when it’s waning.
3. For strong nails, always clip them when the moon is waxing.
4. It’s unlucky to give birth whilst the moon is waning.
5. Pointing directly at the moon will bring hard times for its inquisitor.
6. Sleeping in moonlight can lead to blindness.
7. Seeing a new moon through a window will bring bad luck.
8. Washing your hands in moonlight cures warts.
9. Being moonstruck is a mild form of madness.
10. A wish made whilst staring at the moon will come true before the end of the year.

On that note I leave you to complete next week’s lotto numbers. All donations gratefully accepted.

email address
craigandmel@msn.com

Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs


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