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DUCHESS OF DIRT: And in a blink, summer is over

By Leslie Cox
John Cox captured an array of fall colours on a hike to Paradise Meadows.

By Leslie Cox

Special to the Record

September 22 at precisely 6:03 p.m. PDT.

That is the exact time of the autumnal equinox and it occurs at just that moment in each time zone. That means my cousins in Calgary celebrate the equinox at 7:03 MDT, my cousins in Quebec celebrate it at 9:03 EDT and my cousins in the U.K. will celebrate the fall equinox at 2:03 a.m. BST (British Summer Time) on Sept. 23.

Some may think it is an all-day affair like a birthday or Christmas, but no. There is just a single moment in time when neither the North Pole or the South Pole are tipping away, or leaning toward the sun. A blink of the eye, actually.

We often believe we experience equal hours of daylight and darkness on this date but if we are really paying attention, we would notice this is not strictly true.

Why? Because of the nature of Earth’s atmosphere. The sun’s rays are bent upwards to the extent there are a few extra minutes of daylight at both sunrise and sunset.

You also have to factor the twilight hours into the equation. The light just before dawn and nightfall add useful time to the overall day-length hours. A fact many in the agricultural business take into account.

But the advent of fall also signifies farmers must get the harvest in and gardeners are fast running out of daylight hours to get through those autumn chores.

Speaking for our garden, there is a list of plant relocations we would like to implement now in order to benefit from fall rains to settle them in. But looking at the extended forecast, where is the rain? Certainly, one to three millimetres of rain is not enough, especially since the ground is quite dry.

Oh well. The wait for the rain means I have a chance to harvest the last of the rhubarb and process it into chutney and jams before freezing the last bit for future pies. Hopefully, I can also squeeze in a few batches of aronia berry jelly. The robins should be arriving soon to tell me the berries are ready. (Thank goodness the zucchini plants have stopped producing! I have quite enough put up for winter use.)

In spite of the preserving chores that are keeping me close to the kitchen, I do get outside periodically. And one day recently, I was astonished to see how many crane flies were flitting about the grass tips in the field across from our garden. Dozens of them. Not good.

The crane flies in our neighbourhood all look to be the European crane fly, Tilupa paludosa. These are a pest to a host of plants besides grass. Grains, berries, lettuce, mints, potatoes, carrots, legumes, willow, brassicas, and many ornamental plants.

I started seeing a few adults in late August, early September but there are definitely many more of them right now… all busy mating and laying their eggs. About two weeks from now, the larvae (leatherjackets) will hatch and immediately begin feeding on plant roots. They will continue feeding until the temperatures dip to 5 C at which time the larvae lie inactive. This means any time the winter temp warms up a little above zero, the larvae will “waken” and resume feeding. At their last instar stage and about four centimetres long, the larvae migrate closer to the soil surface where they pupate for two weeks.

My eyes will definitely be peeled for the pupae and any larvae when I start making my plant relocations. (Check my website for photos of this crane fly.)

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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