Gardening by Moonlight

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Have you ever gardened by moonlight? This past week, I have found myself gardening in the dark more than once. As a homeschool mother, there are certain times of the year that my workload is especially heavy. In December, it’s the demands of the Christmas season on top of school that nearly put me under. In the spring, it’s the demands of the farm.


Weeding the strawberries

 All at once, dormant winter bursts into spring and with it the demands of the growing season. The grass grows so fast you can practically see it getting taller. The weeds grow even faster. And the vegetables should have been planted yesterday!

This year, the spring avalanche was worse than ever. Spring here in the Shenandoah Valley usually begins in early March. But this year, winter just wouldn’t give up. It was April before spring appeared, but even in May overnight temperatures left a frost on the ground multiple nights. The result? Other than hardy, cool weather plants, most crops couldn’t be planted outdoors until the second half of May. That’s a full month later than usual.

I had purchased several tomato plants from my local farmers’ market since my own seedling were still so small it seemed unlikely they would produce any fruit this season. But with frosts still a treat, I held off planting them in the garden. After losing a couple of basil plants to frost, I wisely moved the tomato plants to the greenhouse. Not so wise was then forgetting about the tomato plants. (Out of sight, out of mind!) The next time I remembered the plants, they were parched and dead.

So, I bought some more plants and started playing catch-up. (A never-ending game, by the way.) I had already weeded the garden beds once in April when I thought I’d start planting. A month later, I have to do it again. But soon after I begin to weed and loosen the soil, the clouds start moving in threatening rain. It’s muggy and the air is still: a good time to burn a brush pile.

Piles of dead Russian olive bushes dot my landscape (as they have for most of the five and a half years we’ve lived here) in an on-going effort to clear brush. But since a forest fire swept through a nearby mountain earlier this spring (I could see the flames from our property), I’ve been hesitant to burn a brush pile. Still, the weather conditions are perfect for burning.

I grabbed my new toy: a Weed Dragon. It’s basically a propane-fueled blow torch for weed control. But it also was helpful igniting the burn pile.

With the pile burning nicely, I tended the fire—keeping a garden hose handy just in case. But an hour into the burn pile, it started burning out. Only the cedar in the pile had burned; the majority of the brush was still too green. Then my nearby potato bed started calling my name, so I grabbed my shovel and sprouting potatoes and began weeding, digging holes, and dropping the potato seed in. Meanwhile, the fire completely burned out.

Somewhere in between the burn pile and potatoes, I ran down to the house and passed out chores and instructions to my kids for making dinner: black bean and corn soup with cornbread muffins. I assigned Tennyson the soup and Maggie the muffins. Clancy and Clara Belle were given some house cleaning chores. By the time I finished the potatoes, the kids had cooked dinner, eaten, and cleaned up—mostly. (I keep telling my kids that there is no such thing as a pot-cleaning fairy so they may as well finish the job themselves.)

Now it’s dusk, and I light my weed dragon again and hit a patch of weeds taking over the driveway. There’s something rewarding about watching the dandelions wilt beneath the heat of the flame. Then Clancy comes out to take over the weed torching, so I return to where I started: planting tomatoes. It’s getting dark quickly now. I plant and transplant, pulling a few miscellaneous weeds along the way. It’s dark and I grab my watering can. Using the light of the moon, I soak each plant as insurance against the heat of tomorrow’s sun.

Nighttime from Rockspring Farm