Lessons from last year’s Moon Gardening

Venturing into the experience I thought I will be able to keep up with regular note taking on my experience. I was wrong, life had other plans. So you can read about it retrospectively and decide whether it is something that would fit into your plans.

Gardening by the moon helps to strech out the sowing season evenly.

As last year I planned to sow over one hundred plants and this system really helped me not to get overwhelmed. Most of the plants grow if you sow the seeds within a six to eight weeks period and it does not really matter which of those weeks you choose. Some plants need an earlier start (mid February to late March) and some plants require a later start (mid May to end of June) so combining their gap of sowing time with the phase of the moon gives you a good strategy, if that is what you want, to be able to work little and often.

I managed to sow only five to fifteen type of seeds per week. This meant to prepare the labels while my hands were still clean, pick the particular type of pot, sow the seeds, place the labels and make notes on a spread sheet of the amount and date of sowing at the end. This took only one to two hours once per week depending on how fidly the work was. I decided to do these on the evenings during the week.

During Saturdays I prepared the beds on the allotment and planted the vegetables in a similar fashion. So I did not need to dig up a huge area at once but could do only the area which would be occupied by those few type of plants. However this varied a lot. Planting two type of garlic occupied two times of 3×3 feet area and took around and hour and a half, planting three type of potatoes took pretty much the whole day. But still, it did not feel overwhelming throughout the season.

Gardening by the Moon opens the the door to Botany.

Planting around a certain quarter of the moon phase, depending on which part of the plant we eat, really made me think about what I actually eat. From the seed comes root, stem and leaves. When the plant matures, it flowers. The flowers get pollinated and they turn into fruit, which produces seeds. We eat the root of the parsnip, raddish or potato. We eat the stem of the rhubarb, the leaf of the lettuce or the flower of the cauliflower. We eat the fruit of the courgette, strawberry or tomato. We eat the seed of the pulses both in pods when they are still tender or in dried form when fully grown. Apparently you could eat also beetroot leaf, certain flower petals, pea shoots and pods, broccoli leaf and stem and so on.

Reading on about Botany also helps to understand how plants relate to each other and how a diseases affecting one would affect the other too. Tomatoes and potatoes are both belong to the Solanaceae family and Solanum genus, and the Solanum sensu stricto subgenus. However, they are classified under different sections, tomato comes under the Lycopersicon section, potato comes under the Petota section. They are in close relationship and partially fertile hybrid could be created of them. They are both affected by late blight (Phytophthora) which is a microorganism favouring moist, cool environment.

Last year we had a very wet and cool summer. I did not recognise the signs of the blight at the beginning. Then I was in denial for a while. In September I harvested still green tomatoes which usually turn to red after a few weeks on the window sill in an attempt that I might be able to save them. They all got rotten from the inside. I supposed to grow potatoes on the same place this year. Blight usually dies off with frost but it does happen that it survives on debris. So I won’t grow anything really on that strip this year. Maybe some green manure or flowers will ease the pain.

Gardening by the Moon makes you aware of sign, seasons, days and years.

Despite spring starts on the first of March in meteorological terms, in astronomical reckoning it starts on the vernal equinox. My eagerness pushed me to start at the beginning of March in previous years but I tried out last year how it would work out to start on the equinox. It seems it is either too cold or too wet beforehand so the soil would be still frozen or too cold or the seeds would rot in the waterlogged site. I also finished all the sowing and planting out just around the summer soltice, which marked the end of the preparation and hard work phase.

Aligning the moon phases with the phases of the sun makes it a wholesome experience.

  • From Spring Equinox (Ostara) to Summer Soltice (Midsummer) is the planting season, where 1 May (Beltane) marks the beginning of the sowing of tender, frost sensitive plants under cover (cucumber, beans, squashes) as the last frost date for the Midlands falls to mid May.
  • From 1 May (Beltane) to 31 October (Samhain) is the main harvesting season, which is divided into three parts. From 1 May (Beltane) to Summer Soltice (Midsummer) I harvest the early crop of spinach, raddish and strawberries. From the Summer Soltice (Midsummer) to 1 August (Lughnasadh) I harvest beetroot, some of the french beans, early potatoes and raspberries. From 1 August (Lughnasadh) to the Autumn Equinox (Mabon) I harvest the majority of the plants. From the Autumn Equinox (Mabon) to 31 October (Samhain) usually only winter squashes and pumpkins colour the field and wait for pick up, and this is the time also when I usually clear up the plot a bit.
  • I find that from 31 October (Samhain) to Winter Soltice (Yule) there is not much to do as storms batter the island repeatedly leaving the soil saturated and unworkable.
  • From Winter Soltice (Yule) to the Spring Equinox (Ostara) the way I see is the ‘green harvest’ time (brussel sprouts, winter or savoy cabbage, kale, broccoli). I find it mesmerizing to see crops live through all that rain and cold and frost and ready to be harvested in the coldest of months.

Would the plants grow better, quicker? Would they become healthier if we choose to apply the rules of gardening by the Moon? I won’t be able tell at this moment. The year was very rainy with heat waves. Some of the seeds germinated earlier, some later than expected. Some plants did well, some struggled. In any case, I forgot to plant the ‘control group’ so I cannot really have an opinion about it as I do not have the facts, the hard data behind it. I can only imagine it works.

It definitely has benefits for the gardener.

If you would like to use this year’s Calendar, you could just download the pdf file as follows.

Preparation for the 2019 Season on the allotment

Garden design

The plot layout didn’t change from last year. The crops will rotate between the sections of the main vegetable patch (between the veg bed 1-2-3-4), following the four-year crop rotation system (see previous year’s planning here). I will extend the planting area into the front of the plot which I didn’t use last year, to accommodate for any excess amount of plants I end up having after planting up all the beds.

I still have a fair amount of seeds from last year so I will just use them all. I also will try a few new varieties and a few new plants I never grew before. For example sweet peppers and chillies, turnip and kale; or the potato variety of Arran Pilot.

Seed catalogues and the ordering of all the seeds

During the winter I realized there are a good amount of places out there where you can buy seeds. Apart from bigger supermarkets, there are garden centres and then there are the seed catalogues. An entire booklet just for seeds! So I just entered into the search engine ‘seed catalogue uk’ and went through pages after pages, websites after websites. I ended up ordering eight different catalogues.

  • Dobies
  • Unwins
  • Marshalls
  • Mr Fothergill’s
  • Thompson & Morgan
  • Chilternseeds
  • Sarah Raven
  • Seed-Cooperative

When I got all of them I checked the prices in all and checked whether the seed varieties I wanted would be available in any. I also included the delivery charges. I was surprised that they were all quite similar in price. If one packet of seed was more expensive then another was cheaper within one particular company. So I ended up ordering from the one which had the most variety I wanted: Mr Fothergill’s.

The ordering process online was tricky though, as I just missed the minimum limit to qualify for free P&P. They threw in a 20% discount on two items, which lowered the overall price of my order moving it under the limit. Checking the order confirmation e-mail I realised my oversight, it was just not as clear as I would have preferred it. Well, maybe next year I will use my eyes. All the bulbs arrived 5 days later, and the seed packs 11 days from ordering (including 2 Sundays), which is within the promised 7-10 days delivery time.

Sowing schedule for the vegetables

I decided that I will try this year to sow by the Moon phases. There is this idea, that the Moon’s gravitational pull has an effect on the growth of the plants, and sowing them in their suggested times would create an optimal condition for the seeds to germinate, the seedlings to emerge and the plants to grow. The Moon’s four phases are its four quarters, from where I would sow only in the first three, as the fourth being a rest time.

I downloaded a free yearly planner from Calendarpedia (http://www.calendarpedia.co.uk/) and marked all the phases of the Moon in it. How did I know those? Well, I didn’t, I checked them on a few websites. (For example: https://www.timeanddate.com/moon/phases/uk/london) Then I took the seed packs one by one and checked the suggested times for sowing. For example, tomatoes are to be sown from February to April. Tomatoes are above ground producing annuals, where the seeds form inside the fruit, thus it should be sown in the second quarter, which is the week leading to full moon (13-19 Feb, 15-21 March, 13-18 April). Considering we can only plan Saturdays into this equation safely as we work during the week, there is only one Saturday in each month when sowing of the tomatoes are available (15 Febr/16 March/13 April).

The next step was to set up a spread sheet with the plants, varieties, month and manually input the dates as calculated above. For all the hundred plants! Then colour code them, sort them by date and then just copy & paste the upcoming month. I ended up with a pretty sheet:

I am hoping that this will help to keep track most of the things I’ll need to sow.

Our allotment site in the last few weeks were quite busy. We are creating new plots, covering existing walkways with wood chips, plowing the plots to get ready for potato planting. There are committee meetings and site inspections, pot exchanges and manure ordering. Spring is on the way. We are getting ready.

Harvesting season on the allotment, 2018

In retrospective, I think it turned out to be reasonable. I chose plant varieties to be able to harvest throughout the year, well into the winter.

It all started with the radishes at the beginning of June. Delicious and sweet radishes just with a faint reminder of pepper. They were actually almost sweet! Then there were the strawberries. Sweet, delicious, juicy strawberries.

Lots of the plants struggled during the summer from the heat and the lack of water. It was an exceptionally hot summer. I run out of water (from the water butts) by the end of June, afterwards, I had to water from the tap. I used way too much water, more than I thought I would. I measured it and I think it is scary the amount of water I went through to be able to feed the plants so I would have food through the year. When they introduced the hosepipe ban in Ireland in midsummer and I heard rumours about that they might turn off the taps on the allotment, I came very close to give up and let everything die off. This year I will need to introduce a few more water butts into my plot.

Eventually, most of the plant caught up, and grew and produced. Most of the vegetables were smaller in size than expected, and reduced in amount. So I had the ‘Jazz’ variety of french beans, but only a few handful. I had runner beans too, but again, I couldn’t fill in the freezer with them. I could eat them from the bush though. The onions were fairly mid to small size, but I am still crying every time I am chopping them up. The cabbages were also tiny, compared to supermarket standard, but I fell in love with the ‘Greyhound’.

Cooking tip: Shred the cabbage (‘Greyhound’) into fairly small pieces (1 cm to 1/2 inch) and stir it into your sugarless pancake mix. Make sure to add only just enough cabbage shred that your mix is still pourable, otherwise it doesn’t form circles in the pan. You can experiment with the ratio, I like it full of with ‘greyhound’ taste. This variety won’t be crispy, it is quite the opposite, soft and sweet.

I ate an endless amount of spinach and chard. I had an awful lot of blackberries and plums. Now I have an awful lot of jams. There was a point during the summer when I just couldn’t eat any more vegetables and started to make pickles, chutneys, jams, cordials, blackberry vinegar, apple sauces and blackberry vines. It was 37 °C outside and I was making jam. It was horrible. I ended up covering the side of the building with a bed sheet and watering it down to try to cool the kitchen and myself, with quite a bit of success.

The unsuccessful plants

First of all if you want to know all the almost 50 different plants I tried to grow, please read my previous post: Phase 2 – The main vegetable patch

  • Garlic (Casablanca): It is a hard neck variety. I planted it late, I would say. They grew 1-2 inch greenery then they died off or disappeared. The culprits may have been some slugs or birds.
  • Spring onion (Ramrod): They were attacked by some caterpillar, and the majority had got chewed up. I had a chance to try a few tiny ones, and they were good!
  • Leek (Musselburgh) / Carrot (Amsterdam Forcing 3) / Parsnip (Gladiator): None of these germinated. I don’t actually know whether the seeds weren’t viable anymore or the conditions weren’t favourable.
  • Wild rocket / Lamb’s lettuce / Raddichio / Lettuce: Most of the salad greens didn’t germinate either. There was one survivor of lettuce which I watered for weeks until it grew into a nice big head. I wondered why no slugs, bugs, worm or even the pigeons had a go at it until I tasted it. My friend, it was bitter like nothing I tasted before! Yeah, I know, lack of water.
  • Pea (Kelvedon Wonder) / Mangetout (Sugar Bon): These grew all right. They just turned into seed within a couple of days! From previous experience, we knew you could leave the pea pods on the plants for a few weeks so you end up with bigger peas. Not this year. We missed our window.
  • Broccoli (Purple sprouting): It had got a heat shock. It didn’t form a head but started to produce the small side shoots where the leaves are attached.
  • Cauliflower (All The Year Round): These ones germinated, I had a good amount of 1/2 inch long seedlings when the heat wave hit the Midlands. So they all died. Well, I cannot do anything about the weather.

Despite the problems, I think I’ll try to grow these plants again. I hope for a less warm summer.

Bug encounters

I like bugs. From a distance. But then they are the days when everything slows downs, even the bugs, they stop by to sunbath or just catch their breath. And then there are the bees! I had quite a good amount on my plot thanks for the randomly growing poppies. So here you are, last year’s goosbum creating creatures:

All in all, I am glad that we signed up for a plot in 2018. It was a good workout physically. I met a few new people, surprisingly friendly ones. There is always a good company on an allotment and there is no shortage of tea and biscuit. I learned a lot on gardening, organic gardening, permaculture, all the different type of plants, the soil and food. I even learned a bit of history too. We produced over 115 kg of fruit and vegetable in this year which I would consider a good turnout.

We signed up for 2019 too. We shall see what the year brings.

On Movies: Ex Machina (2014)

The movie was written and directed by Alex Garland, released in 2015 by Universal Pictures in the United Kingdom and by A24 in the United States.
Stars Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno. See full cast here.


“Programmer Caleb Smith, who works for the dominant search engine company Blue Book, wins an office contest for a one-week visit to the luxurious, isolated home of the CEO, Nathan Bateman, who lives alone apart from a servant Kyoko, who, according to Nathan, does not speak English. Nathan has built a humanoid robot named Ava with artificial intelligence. Ava has already passed a simple Turing test and Nathan wants Caleb to judge whether Ava is genuinely capable of thought and consciousness and whether he can relate to Ava despite knowing it is artificial.”


Visually speaking, the movie was very satisfying because of the play on contrast. In one hand there was this waste amount of space of Nathan’s estate with its lush green mountains and glacier blue waterfalls. On the other hand there was this concrete built building with lots of glass surfaces, dull colours and stone decorative elements, where most of the rooms felt depressive. I found the use of red colour throughout the movie disturbing. From the rust like colour of the bed throw, through the cold red corridor carpet, the lock down red colour, the red on the dance night and the red of the blood. It did help to build up uncertainty and unease to a point where watching the movie became watching the inevitable ending, which I mean death. I found the rythm of the movie also satisfying because of the slow start and then the gradual increase in action and conclusion.

Where Ava is kept, is a room under constant surveillance. She has a bed, a table with a chair so she could write or draw, and has a view of a tree encased within the building. She also has a few items of clothes. According to the Medical Daily and the Frontline, people kept in solitary confinement can develop a serious mental illness, symptoms like uncontrollable fear and anger, self-mutilation, and suicide. As we discover, Ava isn’t the only AI which Nathan built. There were other versions he experimented on too.

Jade v5.4.0: “Why wouldn’t you let me out?”

Nathan: “Because you are special.”

Then Jade goes mental, hitting the door with such a force that her hands break off, but that doesn’t stop her in her rage.

In the laboratory, we observe one of Nathan’s invention: the structure of the AI brain. It is much like the human brain. We know the human brain consist of the brain stem, cerebellum, hippocampus, hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala and cerebral cortex. Each of them has its own function, connect to another part, and develops for many years during childhood. (I am just ignoring here the facts related to the brain functions and improvements in adulthood.) To develop a mentally healthy individual, one would think it requires the development of a healthy brain, which requires a healthy environment. Ava’s environment is a deprivation of stimuli.

According to the Child Development Institute and the SimplyPsychology, the theory of psychosocial development has eight stages. The first stage is trust. Failure to develop hope will lead to fear, mistrust and attachment problems in later life. Ava’s first revelation about Nathan is that he is a liar and Caleb shouldn’t trust anything he says. She plants the seed of doubt into Caleb and the same time forms a connection with him. Or we think she does.  Ava demonstrates many virtues of the different stages: will, purpose (escape), competence (controlling the power cuts), fidelity (“I am a machine”) and even love (seduction). The movie doesn’t show opportunities to observe Ava on generativity and ego identity as the story goes.

What we can observe, is a few traits which may put us in an uncomfortable position:

“The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, he lacks conscience and empathy, making him manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal.”

Psychology Today

And the reason why it is difficult to spot these trait in Ava at the beginning:

“Other research has examined the importance of relational aggression among females, suggesting that women may display aggression differently than their male counterparts. Crick and Grotpeter (1996) studied relational aggression, also known as covert aggression, which is a type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships or social status. Relational aggression tends to be more subtle and manipulative.”

Meyers (2015)

And we are back to that first revelation about Nathan. Undermine the relationship between Nathan and Caleb to turn Caleb to Ava’s side. To manipulate Caleb so he helps Ava. Requesting Caleb to develop a friendship with her is also emotionally manipulative because friendships do evolve organically, not for demand and not after one conversation. Ava’s specific drawing is manipulating too (the only thing she can observe, a tree, reveals that she has never been outside the compound) because it makes Caleb feel sorry for her and again, makes him try to help her. In session five Ava asks Caleb a series of questions where she establishes that Caleb thinks that he is a good person. Then she asks about what would happen if she, Ava cannot pass the test? Would she be switched off? Then she asks a question whether Caleb has anyone to test him and switch him off,  comparing herself to Caleb, comparing the machine to the human, provoking guilt. She then goes on confronting Caleb about his sexual desire, putting him into a position of either accepting shame (of desiring a machine) or accepting Ava’s human mind (hence the desire being normal).

Ava understands how human emotions work, what motivates people and how to manipulate them. She can emulate feelings, but she doesn’t have them. She has purpose.

Nathan: “Ava was a rat in a maze. And I gave her one way out. To escape she would have to use self awarness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality, empathy and she did. Now if it is not a true AI, then what the fuck it is.”

Even Nathan acknowledges the fact of the nature of Ava. A machine which needs to solve a problem. And it manages to get out of its cage, where it faces Nathan and his lies. But its purpose is still the same: to escape. It physically needs to overpower Nathan to get the keycard to the doors. And in that task, it has an accomplice, Kyoko. Ava distracts Nathan, turning him around, so his back faces Kyoko, who is the element of surprise. After Ava gets the keycard and fixes herself, gets a skin to resemble humans and dresses up, she leaves Caleb trapped in Nathan’s room to die slowly. The problem is solved. The purpose is fulfilled.

Ava is a true AI. Intelligent enough to out-think a human. The question is why we would build a machine which tricks us believing that it is a human. Why build one in the form and shape of a human? Why create a machine in the image of men? I guess the answer is already there, at the beginning of the movie, when Caleb signs the nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement.

Caleb: “If you created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of men. That’s the history of Gods.”

And we all know where it leads to act upon our desire to be like God, to become a God…


Sowing season on the allotment, 2018

Considering that the plot needs some extra care, we decided to make life easy for this year and do one type of task in a certain period of time and try not to overlap tasks. For example, we will not do consecutive sowing of peas and beans during June and July. We have done the groundwork in March and April, so any other groundwork needed will be done in late autumn or winter.

From mid-April until the end of May we sowed everything we wanted to grow this year. We put many seeds into seed cells, then replanted them into small pots, then some of them into bigger pots end finally into the ground, to their final position. Some seeds we put straight into the ground. Some plants had to stay in big pots as I wanted to grow them in the greenhouse.

Unfortunately, there were a few heatwaves during this period, so some of the seedlings died or didn’t germinate. It seemed that the carrots, leeks, and parsnips didn’t come up, and the cauliflower seedlings didn’t make it. A few weeks into June I discovered one parsnip though. All the above root vegetable seeds were put into the soil via seed tapes. Note for self: no more seed tapes!


From left to right: yellow onion, empty carrot line, empty parsnip line, red onion.

Most of the vegetables grew extremely well during the second half of May. I managed to build a sort of lattice for the gherkins.

I did forget a tray to check and replant: the radishes. We ended up leaving them in the tray then just eat them from there (after washing). Surprisingly, they were sweet and didn’t have the characteristic of “pepperiness”.


It was an active six weeks, with lots of digging and potting and sunburn, but it was also rewarding to see how the plot transforms slowly.

On books: Gardeners’ Encyclopedia of plants and flowers

Our allotment shop has a bookshelf. With books on it. Really. I was surprised too. Then I realised: all the books are gardening books. Free to take and read and bring it back. Our own little allotment related library. You have a question about designing your garden? There is a book for it. About how to grow sweet peas? There is a leaflet. About how to manage slugs? Now, there is a real funny one for that. Want to do something about your plot doesn’t have any plant on it during winter? There is guide of cover crops.

So I got excited and I picked one up.

Gardeners’ Encyclopedia of plants and flowers
The Royal Horticultural Society
Editor-in-chief: Christopher Brickell
1989, Dorling Kindersley Limited, London (First Edition)
ISBN 0-7513-014-77

I needed some clarity on what I should do with my back garden. This book helps to pull together the different aspects you need to consider when you are designing your garden:

  • soil type (sand, clay, chalk, limestone, acidity)
  • available water and sun (dry or moist, shade or sun)
  • smell (aromatic foliage, fragrant flowers)
  • function (hedge, wind break, wall protection, quick cover, cutting, drying, architectural)
  • style, colour, texture and pattern

There are four main sections in the book which are cross referenced.

  • The planter’s guide (which is broken down to group of lists of the above categories – for example plants for dry shade)
  • The plant catalogue, which is a photographic collection of plants organised by size and colour, with basic description and symbols indicating preferred growing condition and hardiness.
  • The Award of Garden Merit, which is a list of plants helping the ordinary gardener in making a choice.
  • The Plant Dictionary, which covers over 4000 entries, has the broader description and characteristics of the plants; functions as the index to the catalogue.

Whenever I pick up this book I find myself lost in it. I lose time. My imagination gets very active and I mix and match plants to accommodate birds, frogs, fairies and hedgehogs. And water features with Japanese style bridges. I can see cottage gardens with plenty of lavender and lemon balm. Moss gardens and ferns. Bamboo and grass privacy fences. Roses, dalias, irises, peonies, chrysanthemums and gladioli. Then I come back to reality…

Anyway. The book is great.

Here are a few links where you can find the fifth edition:

RHS Books & Gifts





Book Depository

Phase 3 -The front of the plot

This was the phase where we had to decide what kind of fruits we are going to grow, at least this year. We had already two trees at the back, so only another 4 are allowed to plant, and one blackcurrant bush was between the two trees. Shall we put all the fruit bushes and trees at the back? Then what will we do with the front? Shall we put some perennials like rhubarb or comfrey there? Or shall we dedicate the place for Mediterranean herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage? Decisions, decisions.

The clue for the solution came with a discovery: we had already some strawberries at the front and some mysterious berries poking up from the soil here and there.



mystery berry


It is probably some sort of raspberry. The good news is that it doesn’t have thorns! And we like berries, especially the ones without thorns. We like strawberries too. However, we don’t like the fact, that they both are spreading.

The soil at the back is quite hard and full of stones. If we plant raspberries at the back, we would need to dig or pull up the excessive growth and that would probably disturb the root system of the trees. So we need to plant them at the front.

The random raised beds gave us the idea to grow spreading fruits in contained areas. So we restructured the front: dug it up, leveled it, placed the raised beds where we wanted them, then filled in the walkways with wood chips. No weed control fabric was involved in the making of the walkways. From previous experience we found that bind weed love growing underneath it and will creep up at the edges where even more difficult to remove them.


raised beds

We ended up with four shorter raised beds, which will be the home for our strawberries, and one taller raised bed, which will accommodate the raspberries. The strawberries will stay in a bed for three years then the bed will be used for some cover crop. The raspberries will stay in the bed for as long as they produce and healthy, but every autumn fresh mulch will be placed on the top of the soil to replenish the nutrients used up by the plant.

Nevermind the sink at the edge of the road. At this point, it is waiting for removal. Someone thought it could be a good water feature for the wildlife. Someone else thought they can reuse the tap so they broke the ceramic. It is going to be a feature on the landfill apparently.

Next step is to dig the remaining area between the raised beds and the road and plant some flowers for this year.


sunflowers, poppies, sweet peas and dust

I managed to plant a row of sunflowers, a row of sweet peas along the sunflowers and replanted a few poppy looking plants. And that was it. The summer hit. Hard. The soil became dusty concrete like substance and I wasn’t able to dig more. For the whole of the summer. The front stayed wild with a few random flowers in it.

I have got comments like “So that is your wildlife area!”

Well… I guess… it is for now…


Reference pages: