The synodic cycle

On the days of the full Moon, something colossal is taking place on Earth.... these forces spring up and shoot into all the growth of plants, but they are unable to do so unless rainy days have gone before.  R Steiner 1924




The most obvious lunar cycle is the 29.5 day 'synodic' cycle. This is the rhythmical waxing and waning of the Moon's visible aspect marked by the full moon when the Sun and Moon are either side of the Earth (opposition), and new moon when the Sun and Moon are to the same side of the Earth (conjunction or occlusion). The Moon takes 27 days to orbit the Earth but since the sun has moved on by 27 degrees in this time the synodic cycle is 2 days longer.

Most calendar years have 12 full moons. Indeed this defines the Muslim year. The Jewish year, without 'intercalation' would also move 11 days a year through the seasons. 'Synodos' is Greek for 'meeting'. It also means 'copulation' suggesting links to fertility (Cutler, W., 'Lunar and Menstrual Phase Locking'. American Journal of Obstetric Gynaecology, 1980, 137. 834) (and makes me cheerful when I hear of the General Synod of the Church of England). This synodic rhythm dominates traditional lore and much modern research concerning biological processes.

Romans considered that growth and vitality could be promoted by using the waxing phase, whilst the waning phase assisted drying and curing. So grafting, planting out by the growing moon encouraged a good 'take', and food to be consumed fresh would be best harvested in this phase. Pruning, timber felling, and harvesting for storage was considered appropriate in the waning phase, particularly just before new moon. Pliny considered that ants chilled out in the new moon phase but worked through the night when the Moon was full.

Axiomatic has been that above ground crops should be planted in the waxing phase, roots and tubers in the waning phase. Contradictory opinions exist.

Lily Kolisko's experiments (Kolisko, L.. The Moon and the growth of Plants Anthroposophical Press, London, 1938, 1975 (1933. in German)) showed that germination and first shoots were promoted by sowing and planting in the days before the full moon. New moon gave the slowest responses. This was confirmed by M Maw at Canada's department of Agriculture. (Maw. M. G.. 'Periodicities in the Influences of Air Ions on the Growth of Garden Cress. Lepidium Sativum L.', Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 1967, 47, 499-505. )

Padua university demonstrated that growth as well as germination reflects the synodic cycle . Giogio Abrami measured stem lengths of various species, and applied corrections for daily temperature differences. (Abrami. G.' 'Correlations between Lunar Phases and Rhythmicities in Plant Growth under Field Conditions', Canadian Journal of Botany. 1972 No. 50. 2157-2166.)

Metabolism, water absorption, fertility and germination all are reported to respond to this synodic cycle (Graviou, E.. 'Analogies between Rhythm, in Plant Material in Atmospheric Pressure and Solar-Lunar Periodicities'. International   Journal of Biometeorology, 1978. Vol. 22, No.2.). North-western University in Illinois demonstrated 35% higher water absorption in beans just before full Moon compared to new Moon. (Brown, F., & Chow, C., 'Lunar-correlated Variations in water uptake by Bean seeds', Biological Bulletin, Oct., 1973, 145, 265-278. ) Confirmation of this was attested by Dr Jane Panzer of Tulane University. (Panzer. J. J., 'Lunar Correlated Variations in Water Uptake and Germination in 3 Species of Seeds', PhD. U. of Tulane. 1976) Interestingly these remained in a diminished form if the pinto beans were sterilised, and further diminished by pasteurisation. Germination also showed this monthly rhythm in her studies

Over a million hours of potato oxygen-absorption (proportional to matabloism) was monitored by Professor Frank Brown. (Panzer. J. J., 'Lunar Correlated Variations in Water Uptake and Germination in 3 Species of Seeds', PhD. U. of Tulane. 1976) Potatoes and carrots were kept in the dark in controlled temperature, moisture and pressure. The daily maxima were at the Moons rising and culmination, and waxed and waned with the synodic cycle.

T.M Lai observed potassium and phosphorus absorption by corn seedlings. (Lai. T. M., 'Phosphorus and Potassium uptake by plants Relating to Moon Phases'. Biodynamics (US), Summer. 1976.) Phosphorus (root nourishing and acidic) was absorbed maximally at full Moon and minimally at new Moon. Potassium (flowers mainly and alkali) were absorbed minimally at full Moon and maximally at new Moon.

Harold Burr at Yale University School of Medicine recorded the electrical potential in tree trunks. (Burr, H. S.. 'Diurnal Potentials in the Maple Tree, Yale Journal of Biology & Medicine, 1945,17,727-734) He found that fluctuations were the same for all trees in a large area, and these were unrelated to changes in the atmospheric pressure, humidity or weather. For 9 years he then monitored a single Beech and showed the synodic rhythm peaking at full and new Moons. This rhythm was complemented by a weaker sunspot response. (Burr, H. S., The Fields of Life: Our Links with the Universe NY. 1973.)

M Oehmke in Franfurt installed counters on beehives. Traffic increased 100% at new Moon compared to full Moon. (Oehmke, M.G., 'Lunar Periodicity in Flight Activity of Honey Bees', Journal of Interdisciplinary Cycles Research. 1973.4. 319-335.)

At Lyons University, DR E Graviou showed that even apparently dormant tomato seeds use some respiratory oxygen in controlled light and temperature. (Graviou, E.. 'Analogies between Rhythm, in Plant Material in Atmospheric Pressure and Solar-Lunar Periodicities'. International Journal of Biometeorology, 1978. Vol. 22, No.2.) The Maxima were at new and full Moon.

Mather at the John Innes centre showed a consistent 15% crop increase in 1940. (Mather. M.. 'The Effect of Temperature and the Moon on Seedling Growth'. Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society. 1942. 67, 264-270. ) However, he remained sceptical about his own results.

Kollerstrom' own experience have been underwhelming as concerns moon phase effects on yield. Maria Thun says in Results from the Biodynamic Sowing and Planting calendar, 'The influence of the Full Moon, throughout all the years of our research, only brought higher yields when these had been forced by mineral fertilisers or unrotted organic manures.'

An interesting side of the synodic cycle is that the Moonrise, the point at which the Moon appears on the horizon, happens in the daytime during the waxing Moon in the UK. Kollerstrom is an advocate of the Moonrise as a time of powerful activity and so, sort of by default, of the waxing Moon.

DNA structures were found using X ray analysis at the University of Paris to change over the synodic cycle.(Rossignol M. et al.. 'Lunar Cycle and Nuclear DNA variations in Potato callus'. Geocosmic Relations (Ed Tomassen. Pudoc, Netherlands 1990). 116-126) A carbohydrate storage structure was more developed at new Moon and a flowering and growth structure was emphasised at new Moon.

Nick Kollerstrom concludes that amongst all this research, 'there is little reliable evidence that sowing at any particular point in the lunar-phase-cycle will influence the final yield.(Kollerstrom, N. (2000). Planting by the Moon A gardener's Calendar. Prospect Books 1999) Seedling germination and growth may increase in and around and especially just before the Full Moon, but such effects may not show up in the final crop yield. Much of the confusion of traditional beliefs may have arisen from such a confounding of different aspects of plant growth.' (Do not despair, crop yield, it would appear, might have more to do with the elemental assignment of the sidereal cycle. This is the 'Thun effect' or 'element cycle'.) Some say that the synodic rhythm will manifest itself even in inorganic and poor soils, but the Thun effect requires a 'decent living soil'.