Harvest & Homesteading

One of the primary ways I’ve found that I connect to the Nature Spirits and to the Earth Mother is through the little suburban homestead that I’ve built. It helps me stay intimately connected to the cycles and seasons of the earth.

Winter is when I put my garden to bed, plan for next year’s garden, and in late winter begin starting seeds. Spring is when I prepare the garden beds, plant my crops, and start breeding my rabbits again. Summer is mostly weeding, watering, and some harvesting. But now, as we begin to come out of summer, harvesting can begin in earnest. This year I’ve already been harvesting tomatoes, zucchini (gods, so many zucchini!), and a variety of other green vegetables, and now I’m looking forward to apples, root vegetables, pumpkins, and other winter squash.

By keeping a garden and small homestead, I’ve finally developed an understanding of the three harvest festivals. Whereas early on in my pagan path the Summer Cross Quarter, Autumn Equinox, and Autumn Cross Quarter all seemed to blend together, and be arbitrarily designated as “harvest festivals,” now I’ve learned to see and honor their differences. When we talk about these High Days as harvest festivals, that is referring to the grain harvest, the fruit & nut harvest, and the blood harvest.

Here in the Midwest United States our first harvest includes both vegetables and grains. Backyard gardens often include tomatoes, beans, carrots, and summer squash, and if you’ve driven along the main interstates that run east/west across the US, then you’ll be familiar with the rolling fields of corn and soy beans.

As the Wheel continues turning, we approach the second harvest of fruits and nuts. Here in the Midwest United States, this is when apple picking season really hits its stride. Additionally, this is when walnuts, acorns, and almonds are harvested in the US, sometimes leading to hilarious dodging of falling hazards during our outdoor rites.

Person in blue tank top and jeans reaching up to pick an apple in an orchard.
Jan picking apples.

The third harvest is the one we are most disconnected from as modern pagans. The idea of the blood harvest is not one we engage with much. Part of this is because with the advent of mass-produced and factory farmed meat we no longer associate meat with a specific time of year. The other big reason is because the average person isn’t involved in the harvesting of their own meat, and it’s certainly not as accessible as harvesting your own fruits and vegetables. However, in ancient times, late autumn would have been the time that the animals who wouldn’t make it through the winter were culled from the herds. We see this reflex most clearly now in when hunting season occurs, but also in a similar way for farmers and homesteaders who harvest their own small livestock, such as poultry, goats, rabbits, and pigs. In the Midwest United States, this third harvest happens not too long after the conclusion of county and state fairs (depending of course where exactly you’re located, ours are actually a bit earlier).

Then the Wheel continues to turn and we reach that quiet point between Autumn Cross Quarter and Winter Solstice before the cycle of planning, planting, and harvesting begins again. There are so many ways to connect to the Kindred, and the Earth. Sometimes it’s just recognizing that the small things you do are in fact ways that you honor the spirits and celebrate the seasons.

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