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This coming Wednesday, the 22nd, is the first “Official” day of autumn—for some of us, anyway.
Eight hundred years ago, people basically thought of three seasons–Summer, Winter, and Harvest. Spring was sort of glossed over as a “pre-summer” period known as Lenten. The word “Harvest” comes from an old Norse word “Haust,” meaning “to gather.”
As more people began to leave the farms to work in the cities, they began to talk about “the fall of the leaves,” rather than harvest. Today, Fall is used in North America, whereas in England, they still prefer Autumn. Autumn comes from the Latin word “auctumnus” meaning harvest.
In North America, fall begins with the Autumnal Equinox and ends with the Winter Solstice. For meteorologists, however, we’re already fall—because fall is comprised of September through November. In Australia and throughout the southern hemisphere, they’re just starting to enjoy spring.
For me, as a gardener, fall means the passing of tomato/cucumber season into broccoli/lettuce season as well as an abundance of fall leaves to mulch my perennial beds with, add to the compost pile, or otherwise removed from where I don’t want them.
Why do the leaves turn color and fall? As the days get shorter, trees begin to get ready for a winter rest. Photosynthesis slows and then stops. The chlorophyll which gives the leaves that rich green color begins to fade.
As the green fades other colors that have been camouflaged by the chlorophyll, begin to show through. Our pretty yellow, orange, and gold leaves have always been yellow, orange, and gold—just hidden by the intense chlorophyll green.
In some trees, maples, for example, the glucose left in the leaf when the chlorophyll fades turns the leaf red. The intensity of fall colors can vary from year to year depending on the weather. Warm sunny days combined with cool nights provide the most intense colors.
To ancient farmers, autumn was a time of harvesting, and festivals were held to thank the gods for their bounty. It was also a time of storing up the harvests for a long winter ahead.
Now autumn is a time to celebrate summer show re-runs are over and football season begins. Retailers view autumn as a time to sell rakes and leaf blowers and have pre-season sales on space heaters and artificial Christmas trees. Ever notice how we go looking for Halloween decorations and find Christmas merchandise instead?
So does that make it “Happy Fall/Halloween/Thanksgiving-mas?”
Whatever name you like to call the season, it is the season to stop by the Great Big Greenhouse to get your fall planting supplies.
Taking care of your garden now ensures you’ll have a beautiful spring garden after winter weather gives way to the vernal equinox in March.