The moon has been associated with many different effects on people and animals throughout history. There are countless old-timey sayings about the moon and its use on the homestead. Learn about its phases, how to use them on the homestead, and the old-timey sayings associated with them.
What Are The Moon’s Phases?
The phases are caused by the changing angles between the Sun, Moon, and Earth as they revolve around one another. This results in a daily change in the amount of sunlight that reaches our eyes as it reflects off the Moon. We all know the Moon does not generate its own light, right?
The part of the moon we can see, known as its disk, darkens and brightens, then darkens once more. This is known as a lunar cycle or lunar month. On average, this cycle lasts 29.53059 days.
The four primary phases of the moon are New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon, and Last Quarter. The four secondary phases are Waxing Crescent, Waxing Gibbous, Waning Gibbous, and Waning Crescent.
The primary phases take place at a precise moment over the whole planet. Because the Moon may not have risen in your region yet, you may or may not be able to observe the start of a phase. The secondary phases represent a period of time rather than a precise moment.
The Meanings of the Different Phases
- New Moon
The New Moon occurs at the start of a new lunar cycle. This is when the Sun and Moon are as close together as they get, on the same side of the Earth, i.e., Sun->Moon->Earth.
The Moon appears completely dark to us because we’re facing the moon’s shaded side, which doesn’t receive direct light from the Sun. If we were able to see the side of the Moon that is facing the Sun, we would see it is completely lit.
When the Moon is in the correct position between the Sun and Earth, it will block part or all of the Sun’s light causing a solar eclipse.
- Waxing Crescent
The waxing crescent Moon appears between the new Moon and the first quarter phases. In the Northern Hemisphere, we can see a narrow, crescent-shaped moon on the right at the start of this phase.
The Moon gets brighter each day. It starts out being dark on one side, but it slowly becomes lighter until it is completely lit on one side. This happens on the right side for people in the Northern Hemisphere, and on the left side for people in the Southern Hemisphere.
- First Quarter
This phase is called First Quarter because the Moon has traveled one-quarter of its orbit. But it’s confusing since from our perspective, one-half of the Moon’s surface is lit.
The term “half-moon” refers to the first and last quarter phases. During the first quarter in the Northern Hemisphere, the right side of the Moon is illuminated; in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the left.
- Waxing Gibbous
Waxing Gibbous occurs between the first quarter and the full Moon. The Moon is slightly more than half-lit. As the days go by, the light gradually moves from the right to the left side of the Moon. This happens until there is a Full Moon. In the Southern Hemisphere, it happens from left to right instead.
“Gibbous” comes from a Latin term that means “humpbacked,” alluding to the curved shape of the area that is lit.
- Full Moon
We call it a full moon because we see the whole visible surface fully illuminated. The Sun and Moon are said to be in opposition during this phase. This means they are the farthest apart in the sky as they get and on opposite sides of Earth, i.e., Sun->Earth->Moon.
Sometimes, the Moon lines up just right with the Sun and the Earth, and it goes into the Earth’s shadow. This cuts off some or all of the sunlight that is usually reflected off the Moon’s surface causing a lunar eclipse.
- Waning Gibbous
The waning gibbous phase happens when the moon is more than half-lit. In the Northern Hemisphere, we see a narrow strip of darkness on the right side.
The illuminated area gradually decreases from right to left until the Moon’s last quarter phase is reached. This is when the left half of the Moon is lit while the right half is in shadow. In the Southern Hemisphere, things are reversed, and the light fades from left to right.
- Last Quarter
This is also called the Third Quarter because the Moon has traveled three-fourths of the way around its orbit. The left side of the Moon is illuminated in the Northern Hemisphere and the right side in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Waning Crescent
The Moon passes through this phase between the last quarter and the new moon phases. In the Northern Hemisphere, the entire left side of the Moon is almost completely illuminated, with only a small portion of the right side in darkness as this phase begins.
The illuminated portion of the Moon decreases each day until it appears as a narrow crescent on the left side. When the visible surface is in darkness, it will be a New Moon and a new lunar cycle will have begun.
The same thing happens in the Southern Hemisphere as it does in the Northern Hemisphere, but backwards. The lit area starts on the right side and shrinks until only a thin crescent is left on the right.
What is meant by the Moon’s Age?
The phrase “Moon’s age” refers to how many days have passed since the last New Moon, not how long it’s been since the Moon was created. It’s measured from new moon to new moon.
The Full Moon and Lunacy
When I first graduated from nursing school, many moons ago (pun intended), the nurse who was training me told me to eat fast and be ready for some strange things to happen. When I asked her why, she said, “Well, darlin’, it’s a full moon tonight. You’ll learn!”
My experiences in 25 years of nursing proved her to be right. I know there are many skeptics and naysayers, but I’m a believer.
Across the millennia, many a person has remarked, “There must be a full moon out there!” in an effort to rationalize weird occurrences at night. Indeed, the Roman goddess of the moon was named Luna, from which our term “lunatic” is derived.
Not to mention the folklore about werewolves and the full moon! Many people still believe lunar powers cause mental illness, hospitalizations, suicides, homicides, emergency room visits, traffic accidents, fights, dogs howling, and a slew of other odd events.
According to some studies mental health professionals hold this view even more than the average person. Several police departments in the United Kingdom add extra policemen to the duty roster on full-moon nights in an effort to manage the rise in crime that’s experienced.
Homestead Chores and the Moon’s Phases
The age-old custom of doing certain farm work based on the Moon is based on the basic idea that the Moon governs moisture. Gardening by the Moon is an excellent approach to planning your garden.
Many members of TFL Community practice the old-timey way of planting their fields and gardens by the phases of the Moon for healthier, more productive crops. In truth, it’s a way of working with nature’s rhythms for the best outcomes.
- One old-timey saying is “The full moon rising in the evening brings fair weather.” This harkens back to the notion that the waning moon is dry.
- The waxing phases, the new moon and first quarter, are said to be fertile and wet.
- The light phases of the new moon and first quarter which occur in May and June, are ideal for planting above-ground crops, laying sod, grafting trees, and transplanting seedlings and other plants.
- The dark moon phases, from the full moon through the last quarter, are said to be the best time for clearing land, weeding, thinning, pruning, mowing, timber cutting, and planting below-ground crops.
- The time just before the full Moon is regarded as particularly wet, and it’s ideal for planting in a drought.
What Is Gardening by the Moon?
Gardening by the Moon is based on the theory that the cycles of the Moon influence plant development. The gravitational pull of the Moon causes moisture in the soil to come to the surface.
As a result, seeds absorb more water causing the seeds to swell, allowing for increased germination and stronger plants.
When gardening, you should consider the Waxing Moon (the time between the New Moon and the Full Moon) and the Waning Moon (the time between the Full Moon and the New Moon). Some types of plants do better when planted during the waning phase and other types during the waxing phase.
The Moon affects plant growth because of a process called geotropism. This is when plants grow in response to gravity. Roots grow down, where the gravitational pull is strongest. And stems grow upwards.
Guidelines for Planting by the Phases of the Moon
- Annual flowers and fruits and vegetables that bear above ground crops, like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and okra, should be planted in the Waxing Moon. Begin planting from the day the Moon is new to the day it is full. As the moonlight grows brighter each night, plants will develop healthier leaves and stems.
- Flowering bulbs, biennial, and perennial flowers, and fruits and vegetables that bear crops below ground, like carrots, beets, turnips, and potatoes, should be planted in the Waning Moon. Begin planting from the day after the moon is full until the day before it’s new again. As the moonlight decreases each night, plants will grow.
If you’re interested in learning more about this method of gardening, check out the Old Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar for your best planting dates. You will be able to get estimated dates based on the average last frost dates and Moon phases for your zip code in the U.S. and Canada.
Old-Timey Moon Folklore
Given our close ties to the earth and her natural rhythms, farmers and homesteaders are especially well-versed in folklore. These are some of our favorite sayings.
- Cut rail fences during the dry, waning Moon so they will stay straighter.
- Fence posts should be set in the dark phases of the Moon to resist rotting.
- Fence posts should be placed as the tree grows, according to Ozark old-timers. A short-lived fence is one with the root end placed up.
- Don’t start weaning when the Moon is waning.
- Wooden shingles will lie flatter if cut during the dark phases of the Moon.
- For juicier meat, slaughter when the Moon is waxing.
- A Full Moon is best for crabbing, shrimping, and clamming.
- The best days for fishing are between the New and Full Moon.
- Castrating and dehorning animals when the Moon is waning results in less bleeding.
- For the best flavor, dig your horseradish when the moon is full.
- Set eggs to hatch on the Moon’s increase, unless there’s a south wind blowing.
There are real and tangible effects of the moon’s phases on life here on Earth. Ask any nurse, police officer, or farmer.
There are four primary phases of the Moon:
- New Moon
- First Quarter
- Full Moon
- Last Quarter
There are also four secondary phases of the Moon:
- Waxing Crescent
- Waxing Gibbous
- Waning Gibbous
- Waning Crescent
Many homesteaders and farmers plant their gardens and fields and perform other chores based on the moon’s phases. These range from cutting fence posts, sowing, transplanting, and butchering, to weaning and pulling weeds.
Do you follow these old-timey ways of homesteading or farming?
You can read more old-time ways and sayings on TFL.
As always, we’re here to help.
Tessa Zundel says
I’d read about Biodynamic gardening before but I had no idea that it had anything to do with gravity – that’s neat! Thanks for clearing that up!
Tessa, It’s always great to hear from you. Thank you for stopping by and sharing with us and for supporting TFL!
This is great information! I had no idea there was that much thought in the moon.
Thank you, Leigh, for stopping by to let us know you enjoyed the article. We’re glad you are a part of TFL Community.
Absolutely interesting information! My dad used to take the Farmer’s Almanac every year and check it for best times to plant, but I never realized what it was all about. I’m going to have to print this article out so I can put some of these to the test! I’m super fascinated by this now!!
Thank you, Patrick, for stopping by to share with us. Let us know how your “tests” turn out! Thanks for being a part of TFL Community.
This was an excellent explanation of the phases of the moon, including the eclipses!
I heard about gardening by the moon a number of years ago and did some more research, printing out the calendar from the online almanac for my area. I did attempt to do some of my planting based on what I was understanding, but some websites info was confusing to me. So I can’t say that my gardens did better as a whole, but that year the one crop I knew I planted at the correct perfect time was peas; and they did great that year. I may have messed up other timings.
I think the confusing thing on some websites was the very specific quarter or even specific day in the cycle for doing certain things. I may try again with your simplified “plant these during this half of the cycle & those during the other half of the cycle” concept.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge & experience
Jenny, I must apologize for the delay in replying! I was certain I had but my assistant brought it to my attention that my reply failed to post. Again, I apologize. Thank you for your kind words. I am so glad you enjoyed the article and that it was helpful to you. The article was written in hopes of clearing up some of the confusion so thank you for letting us know we had succeeded. We have found there is a lot of truth in doing things with the moon’s cycles. Keep us posted on your experience! We’re glad you are a part of TFL Community.