The concept of seasonal gardening is an ancient practice that follows the cycles of the Sun and Moon. Awareness of the seasons and what planting tasks are best suited for which time is a tool for gardening success. The Farmer’s Almanac, Biodynamics and the Hawaiian Moon-Planting Calendar are all examples of seasonal gardening that utilize natural light cycles. A balanced system can be created by understanding how light cycles are effected by the sun, moon, gravity and water as well as the specific ways plants react to them. Ideal planting and harvesting schedules can be developed by tracking the natural reactions and effects of water, light and growth. This schedule varies based on location and is used more as a guideline than a science.
Seasons can be categorized as winter, spring, summer and fall but the season can also be be broken down into cycles. Cycles of light, cycles of growth, cycles of planting and harvesting. Knowing what type of crop correlates with each season and their light cycles is vital for optimum plant growth and successful harvests.
The common belief that summer is warm so plants grow and winter is cold so plants are less fruitful is only partially accurate. While temperature does play a roll, a more relevant factor is sunlight. After the summer solstice on June 21st the Sun sets earlier and rises later, shortening each day throughout winter. Plants store their energy during this time and don’t grow as vigorously. Once the December 21st Winter Solstice passes the light cycle reverts; the days begin to get longer. The increasingly long hours of sunlight correlate with the plant vegetative growth cycle. Light is instrumental in plant growth and in the transition of seasons.
Types of plants can be broken into warm weather and cold weather crops. Crops like corn, cucumbers, melons, peppers, and tomatoes require higher temperature soil and air for vigorous growth and therefore are labeled warm weather crops. Cold weather crops, or crops that require cooler soil and air temperatures include many plants with edible roots and leafs like carrots, onions, beets and potatoes.
After the Summer Solstice warm weather plants begin flowering and producing seeds because there are fewer hours of light each day. The light shift is a signal to plants that they are at a half way point in their life cycle. The sunlight available for photosynthesis has decreased, this shift tells them it’s time to flower and make seed.
In temperate places like San Diego it is never too late to plant but generally best results happen when you plant according to the season. The Sun is the more obvious seasonal gardening guide but the moon is also a large factor to consider. The moon cycle reoccurs monthly and is especially important to consider if you are planting “off-season”. During the full moon there is significantly more light and just as the ocean tides are effected by the moon’s magnetism- all water reacts (even water in the ground and in plant roots). For off-season planting success, be sure to follow the moon cycles and plant during the ideal time of month (a few days before the new moon and the full moon) as to maximize the water and light effects of nature. Properly planted and moistened seed’s can’t help but germinate a few days before the moon is at it’s fullest because of the relationship between the water and moon. Rain is also more common around the full and new moon so by transplanting just before this time, your plants experience less shock..
Timing is always an important factor to keep in mind so that you are prepared and planting with the season. Every move you make should be for the following year which means it’s time to start thinking about what the upcoming season offers. It’s important to fall into the rhythm of nature’s seasons for best gardening results. For instance, from December 21-June 21 is ideal for sowing warm weather seeds and planting your garden beds so the plants can absorb the increasingly long sunlight rays going into summer. While moving through the late summer months and into the early fall is typically a time for harvesting and planting cold crops and perennials such as herbs, flowers, and leafy greens like lettuce and kale. Depending on your location the seasons may vary or seem invisible.
Seasonal growing is a natural balance that is not meant to be conquered but is an intuitive and natural tool. Think of the process as the movement of the ocean; fighting it is an uphill battle. Fall into the pattern of the Earth’s flow and success will surely follow.