Last night, on September 24th, the Harvest Moon rose high in the sky. Though there were certainly a few clouds that obscured the view, those that were lucky enough to see the full moon last night were treated to a lovely sight. You can see a video of the moon’s rising in Massachusetts here.

So, why do we call this moon the “Harvest Moon” and what does any of this mean? Isn’t it all just astrology and new age mysticism? Actually, it isn’t.

Lunar traditions are deeply rooted in our native peoples and in historic agricultural practices. Carroll County being the site of much of Maryland’s agriculture, you may find this to be of interest. Let’s take a look!

So, What is the Harvest Moon?

The Harvest Moon is the name we give to the full moon that rises closest to the Autumnal equinox. Thus, it usually occurs sometime in September, though it can also rise in October. This year, it came on September 24th.

Traditionally, the Harvest Moon was used by ancient farmers to tell when they needed to go out and harvest their summer crops. Using the bright light of the moon, they could extend their work days by a few hours. Part of what makes this moon interesting requires a little bit of background information.

As the year progresses, the moon rises about 50 minutes later as each day passes. However, near the Autumnal Equinox, the moon rises about 30 minutes later. Though the difference is only 20 minutes, the visual effects are noticeable. The moon rises more brightly, appearing large a pumpkin-like in the style. It’s delightfully appropriate for the season.

Lunar Traditions Within the Farmers’ Almanac

Back in the 1930’s, the Farmers’ Almanac began to publish Native American, folkloric names for the months as well as the various full moons throughout the year. The following moon names come from this source.

  • Janurary: Wolf Moon
  • February: Snow Moon, Hunger Moon
  • March: Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Sap Moon, Lenten Moon
  • April: Seed Moon, Pink Moon, Egg Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon
  • May: Milk Moon, Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon
  • June: Mead Moon, Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon
  • July: Hay Moon, Buck Moon, Elk Moon
  • August: Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Red Moon, Grain Moon
  • September: Harvest Moon, Full Corn Moon
  • October: Hunter’s Moon, Blood Moon, Sanguine Moon
  • November: Beaver Moon, Frosty Moon
  • December: Oak Moon, Cold Moon, Long Night’s Moon

Most of the names denote either what is happening around the land at the time of the moon’s rise or what is coming. The Beaver Moon, for example, rises at the time that ancient tribes would put out beaver traps in hopes of harvesting enough fur to get them through the winter, according to The Old Farmers’ Almanac.

The Strawberry Moon rises around the time that strawberries are ready for harvesting. The Sturgeon Moon signals the time when the sturgeon fishing around the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain are at their best.

Historically, we’ve named our full moons to keep us on track for survival and though we now have modern technology and proper calendars, it’s still fun to think about. For more information about the full moons throughout the year, check out The Old Farmer’s Almanac for more information about each of them.