The definition of a Harvest Moon is: the full moon closest to the fall equinox. The Harvest Moon was thus named because it rises within a half-hour of when the sun sets. In early days, when farmers had no tractors, it was essential that they work by the light of the moon to bring in the harvest. This moon is the fullest moon of the year. When you gaze at it, it looks very large and gives a lot of light throughout the entire night. No other lunar spectacle is as awesome as the Harvest Moon.
The Harvest Moon usually appears in the month of September. However, on occasion, it appears as a full moon early in October. This is the case this year, when the full moon closest to the autumn equinox will appear in the night sky on October 2nd.
I grew up in a rural area of southern Ontario. I well remember my parents and grandparents using lunar cycles to determine when they would plant and harvest the farm and garden crops. In Ontario, nothing much is planted before May 24th. The danger of frost is very real until after that time. My parents and grandparents, instead of relying on a certain date, relied on the phases of the moon. Nothing was planted before the full moon in May, better know to farmers as the "Planting Moon."
The Harvest Moon, when it falls in September, is also known as the "Fruit Moon." When it falls in October, it is sometimes called the "Hunter’s Moon." This is because October is the month when large animals, such a deer and moose are hunted for the winter’s meat supply. If taken before that time, it is said that the meat will taste wild or "strong." Hunting animals before the "Hunter’s Moon," also interferes with the rut.
As I’ve stated, the Harvest Moon rises as the sun sets. This occurs only in the Northern Hemisphere. This early rising and extra light allowed farmers to work long into the night in order to bring in the year’s harvest. In the Southern Hemisphere, the exact opposite occurs. There is a longer period of time between sunset and the rising of the moon. The south does not require the extra time to harvest the crops. In the north, if the crops are not taken in, they will be destroyed by frost, which can hit anytime during September or October. It is usually safe to assume there will be no frost, or only a light frost, before the Harvest Moon.
The Harvest Moon always hangs low in the sky. It seems to be larger and more beautiful than other full moons and often has an orange or pink cast. The reason for this is African dust storms and North American wildfires, which have filled the atmosphere with aerosols.
The human eye sees a low hanging moon as being larger than one that rides high in the sky. This is known as a “Moon Illusion,” because, in reality, the moon is always the same size.
I can remember working in the fields under the Harvest Moon as a child. Everyone from the youngest to the oldest pulled on a warm coat and boots to harvest squash, turnips, beets, parsnips and carrots. Pumpkins were last, as they could stand a bit of frost. Unless it was an especially cold fall, they were harvested on or near Halloween.
When gathering the crops under the Harvest Moon, the nights were often cool, damp and very still. That stillness was a sure sign that frost was possible; a strong breeze helped to protect the vegetables. Mangles, which was a root crop, used to feed livestock, was also harvested at this time.
Since time began the moon has held a certain mystique. It was the first calendar. Planting and harvest seasons were determined by the waxing and waning of the moon. Ancient civilizations knew they were affected by the moon and that the earth and seas were ruled by it also. There is a delicate balance between these planets that represent the cycle of life. The Harvest Moon marks the end in the Northern Hemisphere – the end of the growing season.