Note: This post is directed at those who live in the northern hemisphere; for my readers in the southern hemisphere, you can see my post on the Spring Equinox for activities appropriate to you!
Hemlocks entering the dark half of the year….
As the days shorten and we once again are faced with the coming of the winter months, we are reminded of the cycles that the sun provides to us and the promise, always, of new beginnings. Each season brings its own spiritual and sustainable activities–and the Fall Equinox is so full of many things to see and to do!
The Fall Equinox sits on the gateway between the light and dark half of the year and after the equinox, we are in the dark half of the year once more. It is at the moment of the equinox that the light and the dark are in balance–and we, too, can seek such balance. In my region of the world, the Fall Equinox happens just as the weather finally cools down, just as the leaves begin to change, just as the air has a bit of a nip it didn’t have even a few weeks before. The goldenrod and New England Aster are in bloom but may be on the decline–and these plants, with some others, are our last sources of nectar of the year for honeybees and wild pollinators. The nuts and apples are dropping from the trees everyone is scurrying to get to them before the snows set in.
I love the fall–I feel like I’ve been in a frenzy all summer with gardening and foraging activities, where there is always so much to do, so much to put by, so many things you don’t want to miss. As the cold comes in, the world slows down a bit and we slow down with it. This is especially true when you are actively homesteading, farming, practicing herbalism, wild food foraging, or doing any other kind of activity that involves working outdoors and in nature.
Given this glorious time, we have many sustainable and spiritual activities we can do to encourage balance, sustenance, storage, and community.
1. Spent time in (very) close observation of nature. Getting outside to see the amazing, incredible fall leaves and the quickly changing landscape is a must-do for this season. I would suggest that this is a good time to zero in on small details of the changing landscape–see the leaves individually, not just the whole forest or trees. One of the ways to get really close is to obtain a loupe (a small magnifying glass that is highly portable). If you take the loupe out into the land during this time, new worlds open up–you can do very close observation of fall leaves, flowers, and other things.
2. Hold an Eisteddfod. In the Welsh tradition (and consequently, in the Revival Druid tradition), an Eisteddfod is a celebration and competition of the bardic arts: poetry, music, song, dance, and so on. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the cool nights before the winter sets in. Getting some friends together, getting a big fire going, have people share stories and songs, offer some prizes, open a bottle of dandelion wine or pass some freshly pressed apple cider and enjoy!
Pressing Apple Cider
3. Press some apples. Apples are a tree that humanity has held a very long and sacred relationship with–and cider pressing is an important part of that legacy. After a Wassail in the winter to ensure a blessing, the harvest unfolds in September with an abundance of apples! Its great to go out seeking apples–don’t pay for them. Wild apples can be found all over the place: ask your neighbors for their windfall apples, collect them from parks, find them along the road, and more. You can get hundreds of pound of free apples just for looking and this will result in a mix of varieties and flavors. In terms of pressing, you can make your own press, buy a press, share a press with friends, or even ask a local cider mill if they will press your apples (many will for a fee).
4. Learn to Can. Fall is a very abundant time–September in my bioregion provides the largest part of the harvest, including the tomato crops, apples, pears, peppers, beans, eggplant, corn, and so much more. If you are new to canning and want to learn, I recommend you start by learning how to hot water bath can and leave the pressure canning till you have some hot water canning experience under your belt. The best way to learn is to find someone to teach you if possible. You will also want to get a book on canning, like the Ball Book of Canning. I use the Ball Book primarily for vegetable canning–their jam/fruit recipes are too high in sugar for my taste. If you want to can jams with honey, low or no sugar, also pick up Preserving with Ponoma’s Pectin by Allison Carol Diffy. Learning about Ponoma’s Pectin really changed the way I canned and made it much more appealing because its more fruit and less sweet.
5. Get to know your farmers. Spending time at a farmer’s market can have you score big in terms of the bulk fruits and veggie that you want to learn to can or put in a root cellar. Even with my enormous and productive garden at my Michigan homestead, I still purchased bulk potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers because these “nightshade” family crops in bulk would screw up my crop rotations–they are heavy feeders. Now in my transition period renting in PA, local farmers are even more important! This time of year, farmers frequently have reasonably cheap bulk produce at the farmer’s market. Its a good idea to get to know the people who are growing your food, learn their growing practices, and support them in their work.
6. Establish a Pantry. In the earlier part of the 20th century, every household had a pantry, although today, keeping a pantry is a skill largely forgotten. Traditionally, a pantry is a place where we can store bulk dry goods and canned goods. There are lots of good reasons to start a pantry: first, a pantry allows you to buy dried goods in bulk to save on costs. Second, a pantry allows you to safely store things away when they are abundant—this allows you to live and eat closer to the seasons and live more sustainably. Third, a pantry gives me food security, where I have a good amount of food in my house in case of emergency, disruption in shipping lines, big winter storms, and so on. For more information on how to establish a pantry, see this article.
7. Build a Root Cellar (or Root Cellar barrel). The compliment to the pantry, is of course, a root cellar. Root cellars take many different forms–I used five-gallon buckets sunk in the earth while I was in Michigan and also helped a friend build his own earthbag root cellar (which was quite a feat, but completely awesome when it was finished). Storey Publishing has an excellent book on different options for root cellars called Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar. The other option for a root cellar is a basement root cellar, where part of a basement is converted. You can also find a wealth of information available online on any of these three root cellar designs.
8. Convert your lawn. I’ve been a long-time advocate of converting lawns to anything that isn’t lawn: vegetables, herbs, perennials, wildflowers, orchards, and more. Fall is a perfect time to begin a lawn conversion process because many of the materials that are useful for sheet mulching can be found in the fall (like leaves, dead material, etc). I have numerous posts on the subject to get you started, including a discussion of why to convert a lawn, a great example from Nature’s Harvest Permaculture Farm which was a fully converted front lawn, how to sheet mulch (two ways), and broader discussions of the need to regenerate our lands (which lawn conversion helps us do).
Anything is better than a lawn!
9. Adopt and begin to regenerate an abandoned site. In addition to beginning to work on our own sites, consider adopting another site–especially a site that has been neglected or that nobody else cares about. We have so many sites like these–places nobody wants to be, spaces abandoned and damaged–and one of the things we can do as a spiritual and sustainable practice is work to make that site just a little better than we found it. Scatter seeds, add nutrients, understand the history of the land and create a plan! (More on this practice in upcoming blog posts!)
10. Make some Acorn Bread. Another really fun thing to do this season is to gather up some acorns and make some acorn bread! I haven’t yet posted my recipes for acorns, but there is a great PDF from the California Oaks Foundation called Acorn and Eatem. It has recipes, how to prepare acorns, and more!
11. Explore rocket stove technology. Consider building yourself a rocket stove for fuel-efficient cooking (indoors or out). I have built several of these over the years, and they always make a great meal–and a great project. I’m amazed by how little resources they take to do any cooking, and in a time of resources that are growing more and more scarce, rocket stoves are a smart idea.
12. Go Mushroom Hunting. Some of the most tasty mushrooms of the year, at least in my bioregion, can be found in the fall. The Hen of the Woods (miatake) is a wonderful mushroom that only appears in the fall–it has both medicinal qualities and is a fantastic edible. Others include late Chicken of the Woods, Puffballs, Cauliflower mushrooms, Honey Mushrooms, and more. If you are new to foraging, check out my two posts on how to get safely and ethically started.
13. Make some Smudge Sticks. As the plants die off and the cold sets in, you can make smudge sticks using up any remaining plant matter that you have locally available. Its a wonderful way to create some sacred smoke and a great craft to do with friends.
Amazing early fall harvest day!
14. Seek balance. The Fall Equinox is a time where the light and the dark are in balance–and we can seek balance in our own lives in a number of ways. One of the things I like to do during this time is to create a list of the things that I enjoy the most and that bring me the most satisfaction and benefit (being in nature, gardening, foraging, writing, reading, etc). Then, I keep track of how much time I spend on those activities, and find ways of building more time for those things I love the most. This kind of activity keeps me in balance. Other simple activities include hot baths, learning how to say no, or even just taking time each day to enjoy a quiet cup of herbal tea.
15. Make some ink. With pokeberry, buckthorn, walnuts and many other berries and dye plants now available, its a great time to make some ink! I have instructions here for how to do so.
16. Prepare for the dark half of the year. A lot of people aren’t fans of winter and actively oppose it, but its going to come whether or not we like it to. Given this, approaching the dark half of the year as as much about mindset as it is about physical preparation. One of the ways to make it enjoyable is to ritually and mentally prepare yourself for the coming cold–make some plans for good “stay at home activities” like reading books, writing, artistic projects, learning instruments (for that Eisteddfod!) and more.
I hope that these suggestions are helpful as you celebrate the Fall Equinox. Happy Alban Elfed!