Planting by the Signs: What does light and dark moon mean?

By Philip Case/State Journal Columnist Published:

Of late I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the light phase and dark phase of the moon and exactly what these terms mean. Since there are all kinds of myths running around out there about these terms and what they mean to planting, I want to address that today.

First, as my associate Chase Sewell astutely pointed out when we were discussing my plans for this story: “Light and dark of the moon have nothing to do with the amount of light in the night sky!”

Perfectly put, Mr. Sewell!

The terms are about the moon’s gravitational pull on all things on the Earth, not just the oceans’ tides and potatoes on Good Friday but all things that have water in them, all the time.

Here’s the question that got me thinking this subject needs to be addressed again. It came from a reader in northern Kentucky:

Is the dark of the Moon when there is no Moon out and the Light of the Moon when it is visible and shinning?  Someone told me that a New Moon was the dark of the Moon and I did not think they were right.

I honestly don’t know where this information comes from, but it’s sort of like people thinking for thousands of years the world was flat until Christopher Columbus came back after discovering the New World! Old stories just get perpetuated.

Let me try to set it straight – again – remembering Chase’s statement that light and dark moon having nothing to do with the amount of light.

And as an aside: If you plant “in the moon,” as some say, that doesn’t mean you have to plant your garden at night, in the dark. Remember: The terms have nothing to do with the amount of light in the night sky – nothing!

14 days of each

We all know there’s only one month in our year of 12 that has 28 days, the rest have either 30 or 31 (remember the rhyme?) – and once every four years even February has 29.

So, the number of days in a calendar month has absolutely nothing to do with the moon since the “moon’s calendar” is 28 days – 14 when it’s in the light phase and 14 in the dark phase.

Now, let me try to explain “light of the moon” and “dark of the moon.”

Light and dark moon

Light of the moon: The phase of the moon we call the “light phase” is from the time of the new moon – and when the new moon comes into force there is no moon at all visible in the night sky – until the full moon: 14 days each month when the moon is “waxing” or “growing.”

Dark moon: Conversely, the “dark moon” is the time from the full moon until the next new moon: 14 days each month when the moon is “waning” or decreasing.

And here’s the common question that leads to observations like the one from my reader: How can I tell what phase the moon is in?

Let me tell you first how you can’t tell: You can’t tell by looking up in the night sky on a clear night!

Do you know by looking, for instance, if there’s lots of light from the moon in the night sky if it’s coming toward the full moon – which would make it the light phase – or on the other side of the full moon, which would make it the dark phase, waning toward the new moon?

The answer is No, you don’t know!

So, how do you tell?

You must consult an almanac, a calendar with moon symbols on it, a newspaper, weather television station – or my column! All these have somewhere along the line taken the information from an astronomical table – not from “naked eye” observations or listening to a well-meaning but ill-advised neighbors or friends!

What is done when?

Each time I write my column I tell you if the moon is in the “light phase” or the “dark phase” and when it’s due to change – just as I have in the companion piece here today. I also tell you that it’s time to plant veggies that produce beneath the ground in the dark phase  (like potatoes) and those that produce above the ground when the light moon is in force (like tomatoes and beans – but not right now because it’s too cold for these crops!)

And it all has to do with the moon’s pull on this planet and us. As I mentioned, if the moon affects the tides then why shouldn’t it have an effect on the lowly spud growing beneath the ground?

But I’m not going to complicate things with more verbiage now. I want those of you who are interested in this – and more and more are – to read this and then ask questions for clarification.

I understand it and I try to make it understandable, but sometimes that doesn’t work and what I think I’ve made plain, I’ve only complicated!

So let me hear from you here at Your Hometown Newspaper, 227-4556 or e-mail me at


This week's signs and moon phase

If you’re planting in your spring garden, here’s the information for this week.

Please remember that while the weather of late has been pretty delightful (except for Thursday!), we’re still a little less than a month from the all-clear day for planting summer crops when the statistical last-danger-of-frost day passes. My benchmark is Mother’s Day, which is May 9.

The moon

The moon is in the dark phase now but that will be changing at 8:29 a.m. Wednesday when the new moon comes into force. Through Tuesday plant only those veggies that produce beneath the ground from the list for Spring gardens and then beginning Wednesday afternoon and until the next full moon at 8:18 a.m. April 28 only those that produce above the ground.

The signs

Today we find Pisces (the feet) in force, one of the four most fertile signs. It continues to rule Monday and Tuesday, too. If the ground’s dry enough – and likely it will be – all three days you can plant anything from the list that produces beneath the ground since the moon’s still in the dark phase.

All planting should cease Wednesday and Thursday when the sign moves to Aries (the head). Reserve these days for any gardening activity but planting.

Outstanding planting returns Friday and Saturday with the sign moving to Taurus (the neck) one of the four most fertile signs. The moon will be in the light phase so plant above-ground producers from the list on either of these days.

Next Sunday and Monday, April 18-19, are ruled by Gemini (the arms) the bean sign. While it’s still a couple of weeks early for bush or pole beans – unless you just want to take a chance on a few and maybe have the earliest bean crop – you could plant peas on either of these days.

Spring gardens

Here’s the list of veggies that do well in the spring. If you want to plant, consider if what you eat from these veggies grows above or below the ground and from that select either light (above) or dark (below) moon.  Then try to pair that up with a fertile sign (and definitely not a killing one) and if your ground’s ready and dry then plant.

Spring veggies: beets, Bibb lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, onion, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, turnips and turnips for greens.

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