Moon Gardening

Moon Gardening

by John Harris, Jim Rickards


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What gardener wouldn't want to increase their crop yield and grow healthier, better tasting food, while reducing work and forking out less on fertilizer? This seemingly impossible win-win is achieved by planting and reaping in tune with the phases of the moon. Lunar gardening has been around for as long we have pulled food from the soil. It was practiced by the Incas and the Native Americans, and is still followed by the Maoris and rural communities in Eastern Europe—because it works. But with the mass adoption of fertilizers achieving quicker results for a need-it-now-generation, these techniques had been all but forgotten by the modern gardener. Head gardener at Cornwall's famous Tresillian Estate, John Harris, has researched, studied, and put in to practice the principles of gardening by the phases of the moon for more than 40 years. The results he's achieved are nothing short of astonishing. He has never watered his garden, he only grows organically, and yet he's won numerous show awards and prizes for the size, abundance, and taste of his produce. Here he shows you how you can do the same by following a few simple principles. This book, written in his own inimitable style, is packed full of tips that improve results, anecdotes that inspire, and resources you can rely on. Its ultimate aim is to pass on John's treasure trove of horticultural knowledge to future generations, so that we can all get more from our garden. And before you ask, no: moon gardening doesn't mean you have to start digging at night.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784184155
Publisher: John Blake Publishing, Limited
Publication date: 01/01/2017
Pages: 238
Sales rank: 883,131
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

John Harris is head gardener at Tresillian House. Jim Rickards is the author of Out of Russia and a former editor for HarperCollins and BBC.

Read an Excerpt



My lifelong fascination with the moon might never have started at all had my father not died when I was so young. I don't remember a great deal about him, but the fragments that remain have shaped much of the way I approach life and the way I think now.

By all accounts, Thomas Lewis Harris, known to everybody as Lou, was a kind and thoughtful man. He was a lay preacher, a Methodist to his marrow, well respected by the community, and a bookkeeper for the now defunct Newquay Urban District Council. But these are simple facts, information I've been told at one remove. They fit with my own scant memories, but they don't really give a picture of what type of man he was, moment by moment. The things you see and hear for yourself are what really stay with you.

I was born in Newquay in 1941, and lived with my parents and two sisters in a small terraced house. As in most Cornish towns and villages during that era, everybody knew everybody, and everyone looked out for everyone. It wasn't because we were all especially kind or lived in a particularly nosey community. It was just the way things were done.

My father was a writer of beautiful letters, not just the sentences he created, but the art of the writing itself. He practised calligraphy when he had free time, putting everything to paper in longhand with a dip pen, in intricate, finely wrought and carefully planned copperplate.

Our house had a kitchen in the front, living room in the back. Father had a small desk beside the Cornish range, beside it a rack of pipes of all types: cherrywood, long clay things and ebony mouthpieces. He would place flecks of charcoal, one by one, into the pipe before he tamped in the tobacco from his favourite 'Africando' mix. When he smoked, to the consternation of Mother it filled the kitchen with a beautiful, sweet, multilayered smell of manna-from-heaven food from exotic coastlines – one that I could not equate with the astringent, bitter attack to the tongue I received the one time I nervously took a pipe from the rack and placed it in my mouth. (At fifteen, I was going to be a man and tried again with rolling papers. I nearly choked to death, chucked the pack away and never smoked again.)

In the way memory always simplifies events into neat slots, it seemed that every weekend the sun would stream in through the kitchen window, casting huge shadows on the walls, and Father would sit there in silhouette, bent over his desk, left arm flat on the wood, thumb keeping paper in place and right hand slowly working the letters. I used to sit in the kitchen sometimes just watching him dipping his pens into different-coloured inks, so quietly he would forget I was there. He always concentrated hard, forcing his focus to the task in hand. His desk was a special place for him – I think it felt like a sanctuary from the memories that plagued him from the Great War – and I liked just being there, to share that space with him. It was one of the rare times I could stay still. As a young child, I was forever needing to 'do' things – whether that was building dams in the brook nearby or climbing trees in the orchard, running errands for Mother or spearing flatfish with a bamboo and nail in the River Gannell.

But in the kitchen with Father I could just be. There was an absorbing calmness in watching him work. The only things that ever distracted me in that room were the motes dancing in the sunlight. I often wondered if they'd ever settle on the ground.

Sometimes, Father would not look up from his letters for an hour or more. When he did, it would be to uncurl his spine and crick his neck back into place, then he'd lean back over until the job was finished. That was the level of care he put into what for him was both a passion and a duty. For it was due to his mastery of a craft that he was asked to write numerous letters within our community: official letters, personal letters, letters of condolence and of reference. The end product was always a thing of assured beauty, always fitting to the subject matter, and it taught me, even at that young age, that enthusiasm coupled with serious engagement to something could create great things. It's an easy, pat phrase: 'If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well.' But, if you live by this, you get your rewards – and so do the people around you.

For as long as I remember, Father suffered from ill health. It could have been shrapnel or shellshock, I never found out. All I know is it took its toll on him. Which may explain why he was a man of contradictions (maybe we all are): as a lay preacher he was a strict disciplinarian, yet would go out of his way to be kind and offer warm thoughts; he also seemed to be a reserved, removed man, yet he was known by everyone. In the end he was simply my father and I loved him unquestioningly as any young son would.

When he wasn't bent over his letters, he'd sit quietly in his chair by our Cornish range and read the Bible. Sometimes he'd quote from it to raise a point and he'd expect us to listen and take heed. He was a Methodist minister, after all; it was what he did. I can't say my attention didn't wander when the mini-sermons began to build – I was just a child, whose thoughts buzzed everywhere, and I fear God was not always the guider of their direction. But I knew my father was very straight, dependable and honest, and I looked up to him.

Although, after the war, people did have a strong sense of community, and although Father was widely respected in Newquay, it still, in the end, didn't bring the money in or guarantee food on the table. In the late forties, the world was a harsh place for the weak. We'd defeated Nazism, but, for many working-class and rural families, that was simply the first battle won. The war of 'making ends meet' drew us into everyday skirmishes with the taxman, the tallyman and the savings pot under the mattress, and it seemed to offer no prospect of a final and decisive victory. So Mother had to go out all hours to take on menial jobs. She juggled keeping house with helping out in the kitchen of a stray auntie's café down the road. In the evening she'd bring out a great heap of clothes from neighbours and start darning, determined to fix our world stitch by stitch. Which meant, my two sisters, Mena and Hilda, and I needed looking after or we'd be running wild.

Now, we wouldn't have minded that – though we had little in material wealth, there was an enormous freedom that I think is lost to the modern child. We had dangerous, exciting worlds to explore and, once out of sight of adults, few rules to abide by or fears to check us. Unfortunately, nowadays, with the great privilege of mass communication and endless knowledge comes the sad balance that children are forced to grow up too early, instilled with worries by parents who understandably care for them and love them almost too much.

Though my sisters were more stay-at-home than I was, I'd tempt them out every now and then. We'd spend all day picking blackberries and come home with our faces purple. And, if they were too nervous to join me, I'd team up with my friends and we'd nick apples from the local orchards (orchards I'd later help revive beyond all recognition). We didn't think we'd had a proper day out unless we'd been chased by angry farmers over hedgerows. We loved it. Getting dirty, being naughty and wondering only what adventure the next day would bring.

That said, my family called in the troops when it really got too much for them to look after us – aunties and uncles we never even knew we had. Auntie Rene down the road was no blood relation (we called everyone Auntie and Uncle) but she would shout for us to come over to her house and we'd help her make bread and cakes and devour saffron buns as big as tea plates. Her husband, Uncle Jack, was also kind, though in my very early years he didn't make much of an impression on me – at least until my father died.

The most important thing in any family is having stability, an anchor. If you have nothing in life to hold you in place, you're like a ship at the mercy of the tides: you could end up drifting anywhere. And that would have happened to me, if it hadn't been for a packet of lettuce seeds.

The war took its toll on Father and I believe, really, that was what finished him off. When I was eleven, he finally succumbed to the illness he'd been struggling against for years. When you're young, you don't really realise when someone's sick, how bad they really are. Until, one day, you wake up and Father's gone. And then you cannot accept the fact, because you barely appreciate what day it is, let alone something as permanent as death.

I remember being taken upstairs. The curtains were drawn and the bedroom was dark and smelled musty. Father was lying still in bed. I thought he was sleeping and went to shake him awake and Mother said, 'Leave him be, John. He's dead.' And I just said, 'Why's he dead?' She hadn't an answer to that. No one had.

I could not accept it, because I didn't know what the word meant. Children weren't expected to go to funerals, but I went. I watched him being lowered into the ground and all I was thinking was, Why have they done this to my father? I didn't know who 'they' were, just that they were responsible. It was the lowest point of my life.

With my father's death, my carefree days in Cornwall came to an abrupt end. Mother was left to care for all of us, and she was simply unable to manage. It was 1952 and the prospect for children who couldn't be looked after properly was terrifying: life in an orphanage, where little ones seemed to be punished for not having parents! Mother, bless her heart, tried her best, but she just couldn't cope.

An official came round and declared, 'The children will have to be put away.' I remember hearing this prim and proper lady with a particular accent talking about us like inanimate objects, as though we weren't there. My world felt as if it was caving in. I became empty and isolated because I feared I'd be taken away. And, when you're little and no one is telling you any different, that fear multiplies a thousand times over.

The innocence of my previous life disappeared the day Father was buried. But behind my fear was an edge of defiance. I could be a determined little bugger when I chose, and I immediately decided I would go out to be the breadwinner of the family. I began doing odd jobs in the hope that it would help keep my family together and me and my sisters away from the orphanage. All the defiance in the world wouldn't have helped without adult intervention, though, and my saviour came in the form of Uncle Jack. He was Rene's husband and he was a big man (probably because of all the huge saffron cakes). He wasn't happy with what was going on, so he stepped in and said, 'I'll look after the boy.'

I don't remember the detail, but the authorities backed off for a while and suddenly life took on another gear. Uncle Jack would knock on my door on a Saturday morning and say, 'C'mon, boy,' – it was never 'John' – 'you're going to football today.' I started visiting different places. I'd get on the steam train to St Austell, St Blazey and Truro with a pasty and a bag of buns and cake. I'd lean out the window, the coal dust in my face and the steam blowing by. It was so exciting and it seemed as if the whole world was opening up again. But, more than anything, it was the kindness and absolute patience of this gentle giant of a man that helped me through a dark phase of my growing-up. His simple, straightforward, want-nothing-back generosity of spirit in a very uncertain world had a profound effect on me. It made me resilient and it made me believe that not only was the world worthwhile, but that I had a meaningful place in it, too.



One crisp morning, quite soon after my father had passed away, Uncle Jack turned up on our doorstep wearing wellies and tatty trousers held up with braces. He was holding a Cornish shovel. I looked up at the handle, which was towering above me. 'I hear from Aunt Kath you like flowers.' (In between feeding myself cake from Auntie Rene, I had often ended up at Aunt Kath's little detached cottage surrounded by rose bushes and chrysanthemums. It was a rare place of calm that drew me whenever the chaos seemed to be building too much. She had a florist's in Newquay and had taught me the bare basics of floristry, after I'd shown an interest in the different varieties.)

'Well,' Uncle Jack said, 'let's get you growing things, instead of just cutting them dead at the stems.' He thrust the spade into my hands. 'This is yours now. A bit big, though. We'll have it cut down.'

Right up to 1954, food was rationed. However, the Dig for Victory campaign that had helped feed the nation during the war also left a strong legacy of self-sufficiency, especially for families in rural areas, where living off the land had pretty much always been essential anyway. People had chickens in their back gardens and barter was often the best currency. Swap a hen for a bag of potatoes, fix my leaky tap for a dozen eggs. The difference for us now was that it was government-encouraged.

Jack took me down to the local allotment, where he had a plot. Throughout my childhood, I'd seen men leaning on shovels and admiring bonfires and talking about things I didn't understand. But I'd never been allowed in – until now.

'You've got your spade. Here's your patch.' And he gave me a piece of his garden, just like that.

Even after it had been cut down, when I held the shovel upright it was still the same size as I was, but I soon tamed it and started digging. I found I liked it. Turning the soil over, the initial resistance, then with a bit of effort you could transform a weedy, unpromising little scrap of nothing into a lush land of potential.

That's the romantic take on it. There was also the money. Though I'd always give most of my odd-job money to Mother, like all normal children I kept a little tucked away for occasional treats (especially after sweet rations were lifted in 1953). So, when Jack gave me my spade, I had tuppence spare that I'd saved for a rainy day. This time, instead of sweets, I used it to buy my first packet of lettuce seed – 'Unrivalled' from Suttons Seeds. Under Jack's patient guidance, I tenderly placed the seed in an admittedly slightly wiggly row.

'Don't do 'em all at once, boy.'


'Two reasons. First, if you mess up you've still got more seed to try again and take learnings from your mistakes. Second, a man, no matter how hungry, can only eat so many lettuces at a time.'

So I saved half the pack for the next planting.

I watered and nurtured and watched them grow into a dozen great beauties. I heard a few rumblings from others on the allotments: 'beginner's luck' etc. Jack congratulated me on the crop. 'You'll be a rabbit by the end of the week with all that lot.'

I liked my greens, but not that much. I had other plans for my produce and I sold my first crop of lettuces fresh for a few pence. I'd already made my money back and there were loads more coming. The man I sold them to was Mr Sleey, who had two fruit-and-veg shops in Newquay. When I left him the first time, he said, with a smile behind his eyes, 'If you've got any more bring 'ey down but try cutting 'ee from the bottom rather than halfway through.'

I felt like a millionaire. The miracle of tiny seeds turning into great big greens was matched by transforming pennies into silver! All for just watering the ground and listening to the advice of someone I admired anyway. I reinvested the money in more tools and seeds. Then I kept pestering Jack for more space, until I pushed the pestering up the line and badgered the local council to give me a full plot to work. They agreed, keen to encourage young growers, and, before my eleventh year was out, I had my very own allotment.

The old boys were thinking, Who's this young whipper-snapper? But I didn't want to annoy them. I just wanted to get on with things. So I offered to be their gofer, fetching water and tools and running down to the shops and supply centres for them. They soon realised I was serious about this gardening game. And I was. I saw it as an escape and an adventure. And, to make the most of it, I had to grow up overnight. My mates were still out playing, still being chased by farmers, and they kept asking me to join them. But now I was getting my hands dirty for a reason, for an end result, growing stuff that could feed my family – and other people's.


Excerpted from "Moon Gardening"
by .
Copyright © 2016 John Harris and Jim Rickards.
Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prelude: New Moon

Armed with a hoe and an open mind … xv

Part 1 My Lunatic Life and Learnings: A potted history from beginnings to now

1 There's Methodist in my Madness 3

2 Spades and Alchemy 13

3 Meet the Head Gardener 23

4 Moons and New Orbits 31

5 Rex the Rogue 37

6 'The Clearance' 43

7 The Green Lady 51

8 Tresillian Today 53

9 So, to Moon Gardening 59

Part 2 Harnessing the Power of the Moon in Your Garden: How to grow more and better for less effort and cost

10 The Rise, Fall and Rise of Growing Your Own 63

11 It's All About the Soil 67

12 The Four Quarters of the Moon: Overview and General Principles 69

The moon cycle 70

Why the rise and fall of the water table matters 71

The pre-winter dig 72

When to feed 73

When to sow: below-ground developers 74

When to sow: above-ground developers 74

When to plant out 75

When to prune 76

Harvesting: below-ground developers to be stored 77

Harvesting: below-ground developers to be eaten immediately 77

Harvesting: above-ground developers 78

Harvesting: fruit 78

13 The Four Quarters in Detail 81

The first quarter 82

What to do: plant crops below ground 82

Why it works 83

Case history: the 'humble' potato 84

First-quarter checklist 85

The second quarter 86

What to do: plant crops above ground 86

Why it works 86

Case history: the sweet pea 87

Second-quarter checklist 88

The third quarter 89

What to do: harvest 89

Why it works 90

Case history: autumn veg for storage 91

Third-quarter checklist 91

The fourth quarter 92

What to do: manoeuvre your soil 92

Why it works 93

Fourth-quarter checklist 93

14 Making Time for the Moon 95

15 Superpowering Moon Gardening 97

A quick aside on caring for your soil 97

Combining Moon Gardening with traditional and ancient techniques 98

Hoe, hoe, hoe 99

16 Crop Rotation 101

What happens if you don't rotate? 102

How much land do you think I have? 103

First principles 103

The four-year rotation cycle 104

Planning four years ahead 107

17 Make Your Bed and Grow In It 111

The deep-trench bed 112

How to create your first deep-trench bed 114

The shallow-trench bed 120

How to create your first shallow-trench bed 121

The single-dug bed 122

How to create your first single-dug bed 124

18 pH: the Power of Hydrogen 129

How do I work out the pH of my soil? 132

How do I know what pH my plants like? 132

When should I test my soil? 133

Balancing your soil after the test 133

19 Friends and Enemies (or the Secrets of Compatible Planting) 137

Plant these together 138

Keep these apart 139

20 Fertilisers, Manures and Feeds 141

Fertilisers 142

Which fertiliser to use, where? 142

Fish, blood and bone 145

Sterilised bonemeal 145

Dolomite limestone 145

Gypsum 145

Hoof and horn 146

Calcified seaweed 146

Seaweed meal 146

Rotted vegetable waste 147

The three golden rules of composting 148

My secret compost cheat 148

Potash 149

Manures 150|4 The best manure of all 151|4 Digging the waning moon 152|4 Bag it before you bin it 152

Feeds 155

The magic of comfrey 155

How to grow comfrey, step by step 157

Making comfrey stock, step by step 161

Feeding and watering with comfrey 162

Using nettle or dandelion feeds 163

Nettle tea 163

Dandelion lea 164

21 Stand Your Ground 165

Part 3 The Proof is in the Planting … and the pruning, and the trading, and the fishing

22 When We Stopped Moving, We Started Growing 169

23 How the Moon Helped the Maoris 173

24 Native Americans and the Three Sisters Method 179

25 Studies of the Moon's Effect on Plants 187

The 'Thun effect': Rudolph Steiner and biodynamics 188

UIf Abele and sidereal moon rhythms 189

How the moon influences the building blocks of life 190

Professor Frank Brown and lunar-affected biological rhythms 191

26 Studies of the Moon's Effect on Animals (Including Us) 195

'Moon madness': fact or fiction? 196

Professor Michael Zimecki 198

Surgery and amputations 199

27 Last Thoughts 201

Part 4 Appendices Grow What You Know, Know What You Grow: Develop deep-rooted knowledge, watch your garden nourish, share what you learn

Appendix I Useful Resources 209

Allotments 209

Colorado Moon Gardening 210

Composts 211

Heritage food 212

Heritage seeds - do you have any? 212

Moon calendars: online 212

Moon Gardening: scientific studies and articles 213

Moon-phase trading 214

Other effects - scientific studies and articles 214

Organic organisations and resources 215

Seed suppliers 216

Tresillian Estate 218

Appendix II Further Reading 219

Appendix III Frequently Asked Questions 223

Coda: New Moon 231

My 2016-2018 Moon Gardening Calendars 233

Acknowledgements 237

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