The Harvest Moon — given the name by American Indians because it is the full moon closets to the autumn equinox — arrives Sept. 14. Farmers, before the advent of electricity, took advantage of the Harvest Moon’s light to harvest later in the night.
Ancient Celts marked the Harvest Moon with great harvest parties to thank their gods for refilling their food stocks. A mostly forgotten superstition holds that if your wallet is empty, its owner should go outside under a full moon and say “filler her up’’ nine times and within a few days, you will come into money. (I’ve tried that a few times without success.)
The Harvest Moon has no importance for most. However, it is a sign for some that nightfall might bring a frost that brings the growing season to an abrupt end.
“It would be a disaster if a killing frost came in September,’’ said Ed, who has farmed all his adult life. It would be the case in 2019, when crop maturity lags because planting was delayed. Farmers who planted shorter-season corn varieties, while sacrificing yield potential, may have made a good bet this time around.
There is no scientific link between a September full moon and frost, but that doesn’t stop the connection from being made. The Oct. 13 full moon is closer to the average first killing frost of fall. September killing frosts occur once in a blue moon, a name given to a second full moon that appears in the same month. It happens once every two or three years.
My favorite weather-predicting legend involves woolly caterpillars and winter. A lighter and narrower brown belt around the caterpillars’ mid-section predicts a warmer winter and a wider and darker belt foretells a harsher one.
Squirrels supposedly bury nuts deeper, acorns have thicker shells, bees build hives higher in trees, corn husks are thicker, and fall foliage brighter if the winter will be harsh.
All such should be taken with a grain of salt or most likely an entire block of it. That was Dad’s expression when a braggart’s words had run their course. Farmers, he said, whose crops yielded well and whose cows milked good didn’t talk about their success — the ones who bragged the most harvested the less.
Modesty has its effective limits. It was common a while ago for farmers to also sell corn and soybean seed varieties. One couldn’t expect to be successful if the seller couldn’t convince a potential buyer one brand was better than the others.
My brother was a seed salesman with most of his success coming in 1976, which was the nation’s bicentennial. He sold for Jacques, which had introduced the first corn hybrid seed in 1935 and hence was among the most popular seed sellers at the time. The firm quickly lost market share to well-heeled competitors, but remains a viable business based in Prescott, Wis.
The red, white and blue Jacques hat — with its “Farmers Feed the World’’ slogan on the front — was a gem. The vintage caps are still sold via the internet, with one site offering them for $55.99, which exceeds what a bag of corn seed sold for then. The Jacques hat seemed flasher than Dekalb’s corn ear with wings or Pioneer’s logo.
My brother had an entire box of Jacques’ hats, which were to be given to buyers and not to his younger siblings, who would quickly bend bills pressed against a cow’s flanks.
The bicentennial was a great marketing opportunity for many agribusinesses. Case, for example, produced its 1570 Spirit of ’76 tractor in red, white and blue motif with stars. I wish I had had the wisdom to acquire one years ago.
Despite my great hopes, my brother never gave me a Jacques cap — perhaps on the grounds that I would have ruined it. It’s unlikely that any of us will be around to celebrate the nation’s 300th birthday. However, if we are, I’ll do all that I can to wear a tricentennial Jacques cap.