Alberta has been ‘Harvest Mooned’

Last night’s Harvest Moon in Calgary – with snow on our pines!

Usually the Harvest Moon is appreciated by farmers. It heralds the cool night that may put the first frost on the pumpkins. The cool weather sweetens apples and brings on the colours of fall. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the first day of fall, and that’s what we had a couple of nights ago. Sometimes the sun is just setting when this moon rises. Since it is equinox time, the moon is a lot brighter. This means a little extra time in the field for the farmers’ harvest. This year, Alberta was mooned in an unusual way. The weather turned nasty with a record snowfall (half a metre, or 19 inches, in places). The snow crushed unharvested wheat and buried drying canola. First estimates are that yesterday’s snow will cost farmers tens of millions of dollars. For many of them, what was shaping up as a nice crop is no more.

Not a good day for being leafy

 Branches on deciduous trees were snapped throughout Calgary. Mayor Naheed Nenshi sent out a dozen crews of arborists, teamed with workers from city parks, city roads, and some sanitation engineers. They were assigned to a 24-hour emergency plan. The mayor warned us that we may be woken in the middle of the night as those crews with their chain saws worked to clear the roads. Chain saws at 3 a.m.?? Well, this isn’t Texas, so we weren’t worried. Folks here were making snacks and coffee for the chain saw guys. The city estimated that about a million branches were broken. Power was out most of the day for 30,000 people. Our electricity died; the local schools were closed. We lit the fireplace. Got cozy. An hour later, power was back on.

Deciduous vs conifers. Although leafy trees were damaged, the pines were not. They just whispered jokes about all the broken arms among their neighbours. Most deciduous trees can’t stand the weight of heavy snow. Their gangly limb structure can’t take the strain. It made me think about the way these different trees evolved. It took a long time. In the early Devonian (420 million years ago), no plants were even shoulder height – you could see over the tallest of them, if you had been around then. (But you’d be pretty old today, so it’s better that you missed that.) But 60 million years later, tree-things were 30 metres (100 feet) tall. By the Carboniferous, when most of our coal beds formed, trees reached 50 metres. All that in just a few hundred million years of competition and natural selection. It was an arms race, each plant trying to grab rays of sunshine while shading its neighbours to death.

Conifers as we might recognize them today developed around 250 million years ago. Leafy, flowering trees only 100 mya. Flowering plants have a faster maturity, more genetic diversity and mutations, and have been slowly pushing conifers aside almost everywhere – except where heavy unexpected snowfall gives the conifers an edge. Here in Calgary, in an act of retro-evolutionary defiance, the needles beat the leafies yesterday. How does a storm like this affect bees and beekeepers? Well, bees didn’t gather much nectar during the past few days. And after the storm, the sky cleared and the temperature plunged – we had a light frost. So, serious nectar collecting is done for the year. Beekeepers are reluctantly dragging the last honey boxes back to their shops and preparing their bees for winter. They are working long hours. Even beekeepers appreciate the light of the Harvest Moon.

Five Minutes of Harvest Moon with Neil Young

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeeping.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
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