This Week's Post: An Updated 'Moon Phase' Page for your Garden Book (repost)

This weekly blog post and its host website cover a wide variety of Fred Montague's environmental commentaries, gardening topics, and wildlife/art activities.  Please browse the website and the blog archives for topics you are interested in. 

This Week's Post: An Updated 'Moon Phase' Page for your Garden Book (repost)

It's still planting season! 

If you own a copy of Fred’s Gardening: An Ecological Approach, the page with the moon phase table (p. 72) is nearly out of date.  The original page covered 2009-2014.  A revision in 2011 provided tables for 2011 – 2016.  The updated page (below) covers 2016 – 2021. 

Feel free to download the page (right-click to save) and paste it over the old one to make the only time-sensitive aspect of the book useful for another six years.


This Week's Post: Gardens and the Environment

This weekly blog post and its host website cover a wide variety of Fred Montague's environmental commentaries, gardening topics, and wildlife/art activities and shop.  Please browse the website and the blog archives for topics you are interested in.


We face many difficult challenges.  These include addressing our own activities that threaten climate stability, soil fertility, biological diversity, resource availability, and general environmental quality.  In fundamental ways, our lives depend on rapid, responsible, and widespread solutions.

While we are waiting for the right leader or poem or song (or disaster) to motivate people to act, there are some things we can do as individuals, families, or small groups to begin.  It seems logical to me that if our difficulties have arisen from many people engaged in (or tacitly promoting) unsustainable activities, then we could quickly turn things around if many people incorporated nature into their worldviews and nature-friendly activities into their lifestyles. 

If you have a small space (e.g. a yard) or have a neighborhood that has some small spaces (churchyards, schoolyards, etc.), then you can begin today.  You don't need a leader, an advanced degree, a government grant, or a permit.  You simply need a shovel, a hoe, and a few packets of seeds.

A small garden provides multiple benefits to the gardener, the landscape, and the global environment.  Gardens provide fresh, healthy, organic food for those who tend it and to those with whom they share.  Gardens recycle unused nutrients from the kitchen, yard, and garden itself via the compost pile back into the next crop.  In the process, organic matter accumulates and some carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the ever-increasing fertility of the soil.  In this way, food can be grown without synthetic fertilizers.  With organic matter in the soil and mulch on top, moisture is conserved and efficiently used.  As gardeners save seeds from their best vegetable plants and trade them with each other, plant diversity is maintained, and sometimes increased.  Diverse organic gardens with food plants, flowers, grassy strips, little rock piles, and odd (weedy) corners provide habitat for beneficial insects, songbirds, and other animals the make the home site interesting and biologically functional.  Furthermore, food produced in places where we have already displaced Nature helps to preserve the "real Nature" that still exists. 

And, while we are tending the beets and the kale and contemplating the compost and the lilting morning song of the house wren, we may be able to think of additional approaches to living sustainably in a neighborhood on a finite planet.

Environmental Commentary: Diet Matters

The table shown below is a part of the handout I use for my "Global Imperative for the Local Garden" presentation. 

As you examine the information, pay particular attention to the amount of grain (and therefore land) that the typical American diet requires per person per year. It is about four times that of a mainly plant-centered diet typical of many developing countries. 

For the time being, the Mediterranean diet seems to be a wiser choice, from a health, longevity, and sustainability perspective. 

An exclusive plant-centered diet, for most of humanity, is an economic necessity. It would also be the model if we were trying to see how many humans we could support (probably temporarily) on Earth. 

The Mediterranean diet is diversified, healthier, and more easily satisfied by what can be grown by an individual or family in a backyard garden. 

Diet Choice Impacts. A handout from Fred's "The Global Imperative for the Local Garden" presentation.

Diet Choice Impacts. A handout from Fred's "The Global Imperative for the Local Garden" presentation.

Gardening: Reasons to Garden #5

The fifth "reason to garden" is an appeal (originally to students in my wildlife and environmental science classes) to save wild places and wild organisms.

Wilderness preservation and wildlife conservation are daunting tasks, and the challenge seems overwhelming. But, the simple act of tending a small garden, has the potential to begin to address the challenge.

To Save Wilderness

The Earth's human population currently exceeds 7 billion people, and it is increasing by more than 200,000 people per day!  To feed the expanding human family, modern industrial agriculture is causing serious environmental impacts.  Ironically, agriculture may not be sustainable as it is currently practiced. Furthermore, to propose that we must plow every square food of remaining wild land to feed the additional three billion people on Earth by 2050 is a plan of desperate human arrogance. Such a plan is the ultimate condemnation of everything that is wild and free on this oasis planet. W may be able to save wilderness by grow an increasing share of our food in places where people already live-- cities, towns, settlements, neighborhoods. Here,gardens offer the graceful possibility of living with, rather than to the exclusion of, the other five million species of organisms with which we share the planet.

Illustration from     Gardening: An Ecological Approach .  © Fred Montague

Illustration from Gardening: An Ecological Approach. © Fred Montague

Gardening: Reasons to Garden 1

In the preface to my book, Gardening: An Ecological Approach, I offer five reasons to grow a garden. Of course, there are as many reasons as there are gardeners. My list is biased by my interest not only in human health, but also in ecology, global environmental issues, and wildlife/wilderness conservation. 

Here's reason #1:

To Grow Food For Health

"People in developed nations (like the U. S.), where food is grown, processed, and distributed industrially, are subjected to a counterfeit form of nutrition where mass production efficiency and corporate profitability are most likely the driving forces in food production. That people acquiesce to this situation is evidence of the persuasive power of advertising, the 'busy-ness' of people's lives, and the general failure of education at all levels to make people aware of the incontrovertible link between food, diet, nutrition, and health" (p. xi).

A personal garden, or a personal plot in a community garden, is one of the most economical, reliable, and satisfying ways to provide oneself with safe, nutritious, organic food.

Learn more in Gardening: An Ecological Approach.

Gardening: The Garden Book

Whether you are planning your garden, starting seeds in trays on the windowsill, building raised beds and compost bins, or physically staking out the garden, you will find useful information in my gardening handbook-- Gardening: An Ecological ApproachReaders appreciate the book both for its wealth of gardening information and for its aesthetic value. The book is hand-lettered and features detailed pen-and-ink illustrations throughout. Its unique approach includes valuable information on ecology and environment applied to gardening as well as a hands-on guide to preparing soil,  planning a garden, starting seeds, and caring for specific crops. 

"Starting seeds", an illustration from the hand-lettered and hand-illustrated book   Gardening: an Ecological Approach  . © Fred Montague

"Starting seeds", an illustration from the hand-lettered and hand-illustrated book Gardening: an Ecological Approach. © Fred Montague

Gardening Notes: Seeds or Seedlings?

This is the time to begin planning the season's gardening activities. One set of choices we have involves whether we buy, trade, or save seeds and plant them or whether we buy seedlings ready to transplant from the local garden center. Here are some considerations.

Planting your own seeds indoors to set out as transplants later.

Advantages:  There is a greater choice of varieties from seed catalogs and even from the hardware store seed rack; buying seeds is more economical than buying seedlings; your seedlings will be available at times when commercial seedlings might not be; and there is a sense of satisfaction in the whole operation. Some garden plants, of course, can only be planted as seeds (carrots, beets, etc.) because they are difficult to transplant.

Disadvantages: Growing seedlings from seeds requires an appropriate space, patience, and attention (which may not all be disadvantages).

Buying seedlings at the garden center.

Advantages: You have "instant plants." You don't need a seed-starting work area nor do you need to do the work.

Disadvantages: The choice of varieties may be limited, the expense may be greater than if you grew them yourself; you may not have seedlings (for succession or fall planting) when you need them.

Refer to the "Deciding What to Plant" section (pp. 174-175) of my book Gardening: An Ecological Approach.

Gardening Basics: Starting Plants I

I made this quick ink sketch of a 6-pack of lacinato kale seedlings last Sunday (January 27). I started with a rough pencil sketch, refined the best lines with ink, and then erased all of the pencil lines. 

A six-pack of kale seedlings. © 2013 Fred Montague

A six-pack of kale seedlings. © 2013 Fred Montague


I "started" these seedlings (that is, I planted the seeds) on December 17th, 2012. This pack, along with five others (broccoli, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and Swiss chard), has spent the past month in a flat under a bank of florescent lights in my greenhouse-- a humble lean-to structure along the south side of the garage/print shop.

I usually "start" this set of plants every four weeks, during the waxing crescent moon. Whether or not there is scientific evidence for moon-phase planting, the moon's magic does provide a convenient and regular prompt for planting activities. I plant two seeds per cell (with a pair of forceps). Germination is usually not 100%. In the pack I've illustrated, nine seedlings germinated (75% germination rate). And you can see there is some variability in the time of emergence and in the rate of growth of the seedlings.

Some of these seedlings will be transplanted progressively to larger pots in the greenhouse, then to the greenhouse beds and to 5-gallon buckets.  Some will find their way in early spring into the cold frame and then into the outdoor garden beds. These varieties, along with spinach and a variety of leaf lettuces, are the core plants of our 12-month kitchen garden.

There is another tray of six 6-packs under the lights now with the seeds I planted on January 17th.  And, we are currently harvesting food from greenhouse plants that were sown as seeds last September and October. Succession planting (regularly repeated planting) and sheltered growing spaces (cold frames, greenhouses, sunny kitchen windows, etc.) are key elements in growing food year-round (in temperate climates).

Gardening Basics: Testing Seeds for Viability

A good winter project is to sort through the caches of seed packets and vials that have accumulated over the years. However, depending on the variety and the age of the seeds, there may be some question whether the seeds are still viable.

Here is a simple way to determine the viability and germination rates of old seeds rather than risking making a fruitless spring planting. This hand-lettered excerpt is from my book Gardening: An Ecological Approach.

Excerpt from Fred Montague's  Gardening: An Ecological Approach . © 2009/2013

Excerpt from Fred Montague's Gardening: An Ecological Approach. © 2009/2013