Autumn, the season that’s not quite what you think

I love Autumn. Not that weird thing people talk about where all the leaves fall off trees. They always say that season starts and ends in the wrong place, and anyway, even where we do have colourful deciduous trees such as Acers planted instead of our local evergreens the “fall” bit doesn’t happen until winter here. Some of the native eucalypts *do* shed in autumn, but being evergreens it’s their bark and not their leaves that comes down.

Autumn to me, and in the six-season calendar, is maybe a little over two months long give or take. The local indigenous name for it is Djeran. It follows secondsummer or Bunuru and comes before winter or Makuru.

I always think of autumn as starting with the first rains after the autumn equinox. This year that was on the equinox itself, March 21st. We don’t get rain in secondsummer as a rule, though there’s usually one random summer storm (which I’ve seen arrive as anything from barely-drizzle to a superstorm that flooded the entire ancient catchment of the Avon and made rivers run where they hadn’t for decades). When rain does threaten in secondsummer, it’s usually barely-drizzle, not much more than a lessening of the sun’s pressure. The rainbelts are still crossing the continent too far south. But around the autumn equinox the first of them finally makes it up this way. Most of them are still too far south, but statistically one will be north enough. And then another. And eventually another. Most of Djeran still tends to be dry – the onset of the real rains is the start of winter or Makuru – but we get these occasional rains that start getting the ground wetted, seeds wetted, hydrophobia breaking down. Not a lot of water, but enough given the darkening days.

That’s the other thing about autumn. The days are short, and shortening. This is the thing that makes this climate able to grow anything at all. We have a water deficit, or evaporation profit, I forget what the real term is. Basically there is more sunfall here – and more potential evaporation – during a year than there is water landing on the ground. Everything would die, except for one little fact: most of the rain arrives when the sun isn’t strong enough to evaporate it. So while our net sunfall is too large for survival, the timing is *just* that little bit skewiff – and we slide in on the edges and make a niche for ourselves in the gap between probability curves.

Autumn to me is a planting time – the soil’s still warm, though it’s cooling down, and the sun’s not strong enough to melt seedlings in their first hour outside. I still have to water semi-regularly but I can forget about it for a week at a time (with the exception of any new seedlings). It’s a good time for transplanting, root development, and the best time to plant and transplant my local natives. I do a lot of work in zone 1. Zone 4 becomes about weed control and any prep for that I need to do. Zones 3A and 3B get the most work, because they are the most seasonally productive – I’m getting the winter vegies on the go and working on this season’s food plants. I also prepare for the big rains of winter – I clear out the gutters, I loosen or lighten mulch that’s become impenetrable to water, I make borders to help me remember where beds stop and paths begin when the weeds take over in a month or three’s time. I also start wearing shoes out into the garden occasionally first thing in the morning, because autumn is also the season where we start getting dew again and my feet start getting muddy. Even if the rains haven’t come and are late this year for some reason, I call it autumn if we’ve had two or three days of early morning dew in a row.

Autumn ends when winter begins, when the temperatures have dropped to winter cold and the rains begin to arrive and stay, not just drift by in a day or two. That’s usually somewhere in late May or early June. I do find autumn a glorious season here, because the sky is so blue and the sun so bright – but not burning bright, more pleasant on the skin. It’s during this season we start to seek the sun instead of hiding from it. Water up, sun down. It’s one of our beautifully livable seasons.

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