Ever bundle up in anticipation of another brisk autumn day only to walk through the front door and find the temperatures hovering near 80 and calling you to ditch the sweater and the office for a bathing suit, a day outside and one last blast of summer before the cold winter winds move in? When those unseasonable highs stretch on for up to two weeks at a time, that’s what we call an Indian Summer.
Don’t let the changing color of the leaves fool you into putting your shorts away too early, an Indian Summer can come on anytime between mid-September and early November.
For gardeners, this can be an important seasonal change to recognize. This surprise heat wave often comes as the last chance to harvest the more delicate late summer and fall crops before crippling frosts. In fact, the name itself probably comes from the settlers recognizing that the Native Americans used this period of warmth as sign from Mother Nature to the bring in their crops in and move to winter grounds.
That, however, doesn’t mean that an Indian Summer is a weather phenomenon limited only to North America. In Western Europe the seasonal warming is called ‘St. Martin’s Summer,’ while in Russia they call it, ‘Old Ladies Summer,’ in Bulgaria they call it, ‘Gypsy’s Christmas’ and in China they call it ‘A Tiger in Autumn. Shakespeare mentioned it in his plays and It even shows up in the Southern Hemisphere. The Brazilians call it, ‘The Little Summer.’
Whatever you call it, it should be a time when gardeners beware. So, the next time you start shedding jackets and scarfs like the autumn trees shed leaves, think about your last tomatoes, those melons you’ve be waiting on and the potted peppers you have out back, because it’s the last chance you’re going to get.
Max Webster, 2012 AmeriCorps VISTA