Garden Lifestyle

Autumn is here: Let us celebrate the harvest season!

Wednesday, September 22 we celebrate the autumn equinox, and Thursday the 23rd is the full harvest moon.

Autumn still life, farmhouse windowsill, Old Sturbridge Village. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.  
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Wednesday, September 22 we celebrate the autumn equinox and Thursday the 23rd is the full harvest moon. The fall equinox is when day and night are equal in length—both 12 hours.  Back in June on the summer solstice, we had the shortest night and longest day (over 15 hours of light) and now we are headed into shortening days and longer nights. This is the seasonal rhythm that we go through every year; the end of summer allows us to say farewell to hot weather and welcome fresh air and cooler temps. It also signals the slow down of garden produce—it is a time to be thankful for a bountiful harvest—and make ready for the cold weather to come. 

Across the nation, folks are bringing in the last of the garden harvest—and preserving it by canning, drying and freezing. We are supporting our farmers’ markets, going to farms to pick-your-own and attend fall festivals, and stopping by roadside stands to pickup colorful mums, apple cider, apples, pumpkins and other seasonal delights. If you notice, even the squirrels and chipmunks are frisky and jumping about busily gathering nuts to store.

One of my favorite brief essays on autumn is one I read every year at this time—it is from 365 TAO Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao, Harper 1992, Day 258 ‘Cleansing’:

“Autumn is coming. The air becomes fresh and crisp. The fruits of summer are being harvested; the heat of labor is beginning to cool. There is a more relaxed feeling in the air: The fiery activity of summer is replaced by the celebrations of autumn.

In spring, we all had to struggle to make the ascendancy of the year. In summer, we reveled in the glory of fire and vigor. Now, we can begin to let things relax. Just as the pumpkins are beginning to fill out, the squash is hanging heavy and golden on the vines, and the leaves are starting to hint of warm colors, so too can we look forward to mellowness and quietness.

This is the time for harvest. But every planting and growing season also leaves behind excess and inevitable waste. The dust of summer still lingers. The stubble in the fields will have to be burned. We must harvest fully and then clean up fully. Harvest is also the time of cleansing and taking stock.”

Isn’t that just perfectly written? Let’s just breathe deep. I still feel the warm sun in the day, however when it sets, it is feeling chilly at night. Last evening I was admiring the color combinations of nature—the golden rod alongside the purple asters—the near-black pokeberries hanging from red-purple stems with bright green foliage, and those delicate yellow orchid-like blooms dotted with orange dangling from the jewelweed. I am soaking it all in, enjoying these autumnal moments as I go about observing the ever-changing landscape around me, harvesting, doing garden chores. 

We’ve taken down the shade cloth from the greenhouse that helped keep out the summer heat, in order to let more light in. Soon, I will be moving tender perennial and herb plants that have been outdoors all summer, back into the greenhouse before ole’ Jack Frost comes to visit. The intensity of summer garden responsibilities are lessening, yet there is still much to do. As we harvest herbs, we need to keep in mind pruning techniques and as we gather the last of our tomatoes, chiles, etc., we need to think about cleaning up as we go—removing dead plants—stacking tomato cages and pulling up stakes. Cold-weather greens, brassicas and some of the newly-sown salad greens will need to be covered with floating row cover to protect them and keep them going as long as we can.
“Gather the last glowing flowers,
turn inward.
Celebrate the growing dark
and the harvest
we’ve been blessed with.”
   —Kiva Rose, 

This weekend, I will be going into Washington, D.C. to attend the Plant Literacy Festival at the United States Botanic Gardens in conjunction with the Library of Congress’ Annual Book Festival. There will be all sorts of events going on as well as educational, horticultural displays and hands-on projects celebrating the Thrive! From the Ground Up Display Gardens. I will be demonstrating how to make Za’atar: An Exotic Spice Blend with herbs from the Za’atar garden there; attendees will get to create their own blend to take home and sample flatbreads with za’atar. The gardens and conservatory are beautiful this time of year—see them before the outdoor display garden is dismantled in October! Stay tuned for an upcoming Za’atar recipe, which you can make yourself from your own garden herbs! Meanwhile Happy Fall Equinox and Full Harvest Moon!

More for your fall reading pleasure: Check out John Keats Ode to Autumn at

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