The agricultural year began with the rains which softened the soil and made it plowable. Plowing and sowing were carried out simultaneously. Therefore the season was called by one name or the other. Different factors determined the length of the season: the type of soil, the optimal sowing time for different crops and varieties, the local climate, the availability of the animals and the human workforces, the failure of the seedlings due to different natural hazards, which made it necessary for the farmer to resow his land. However, the crucial factor were the rains, their distribution throughout the season, their strength, and their quantity. For the farmer it was a matter of luck and good judgment as to whether he should sow the seeds or use them as food. Therefore, this period was one of anxiety for the farmers. In this vulnerable situation, the farmer looked for external signs of nature, such as the appearance of stars, the migration of birds, etc., which would "help" him decide what to do/how to act. Essentially, though, he had to rely on his own judgment. One way to deal with failure, was to spread the sowing season over weeks or even months; thus there were farmers who began sowing even before the rains, in order not to miss the first rain. The sowing even continued after the optimal period, at a time when the seeds' development was slowed considerably due to the cold weather. The farmer's dilemma appears widely in the different Jewish literary sources such as proverbs, fables and in Halakhaic discussions. Because of the importance of this season, the name harish/zera' is applied to describe the entire rainy period (winter).
During the rainy season, the appearance of the grass, the wild plants and the green crops was very significant for the domestic animals. The natural breeding cycle of sheep and goats was adapted to this period. This time, when the grass was fresh and green, was the main grazing season. It provided digestable food for the young and also plenty of milk for the sucklings. Similarly, it was possible at this time to reap the fresh grass as fodder for enclosed domestic animals. The Bible describes this season with many superlatives and many synonyms pertaining to the word "grass". In the Second Temple composition, "Rule of the Community", this period is named in general deshe', as it is in Mesopotamian sources and by the Arab fellah (farmer). It is plausible that two divisions mentioned in the Gezer calendar express the two main activities of this season: lqs (the main grazing season) and 'zd pst (the time of preparing the fodder).
In the rabbinic literature, this agricultural season is not mentioned, even though the extent of the grazing activity and the domestic animals did not decline and even increased. The Sages' attitude to the subject of grazing and shepherds was negative. Possibly, due to this ideological outlook, the name of this agricultural season was passed over by them. Though, without any doubt, this season remained an important one for the economy, also during the Mishnaic and Talmudic Periods.
Another agricultural season which runs parallel to the deshe' season is 'et hazamir This activity (possibly mentioned in the Song of Songs 2,12 ) refers to the pruning of the grapevines, which was essential for their growth. The pruning was done in the winter season before the awakening of the buds of the grapevine. It was an activity equal in importance to sowing, according to the Jewish sources.
The grain was the most important agricultural product in the ancient economy. Jewish sources give special emphasis to the qazir Season. It was a prolonged season which, (because of its importance) included sub seasons which had varied characteristics. One type of subdivision was based on the different times of the harvesting of the two main types of grains, barley and wheat. Other sub-divisions are connected to the climate, to the stage of development of the grain and to the different types of agricultural activities carried out during this season.
The first grain to ripen was the barley. It was easy to grow because it needed neither much water nor rich soil. Thus, it was advantageous during barren years. During the Biblical period, barley was highly valued. Therefore the barley had symbolic importance as well and was brought as an offering during the waving of the 'omer ceremony. Towards the end of the First Temple period and during the Second Temple period, and the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, the value of barley as a human staple decreased because of its low quality in comparison to wheat. However, it was still important in animal feeding. Even at later dates, when the barley's economic value declined, it was still used in the 'omer ceremony. It is possible that because of the barley's symbolic significance, the Sages continued to refer to the Barley Harvest Season as part of the annual pattern of the agricultural seasons.
The Wheat Harvest season began just a few weeks after the Barley Harvest season. Sometimes, when the rabbinic sources refer to the Harvest Season, they refer to the Wheat Harvest Season only. The term qazir became synonymous with summer just as the term harish/zera'
The word 'aviv comes from the Hebrew word 'ev meaning "young". The 'aviv in the cereal is a certain physiological state. After the wheat ears have developed and flowered, the kernels begin to fill with water and "dough" (starch). When they contain the maximum amount of "dough" the 'aviv culminates. After this, the amount of water in the ears diminishes and the grain hardens, becomes golden and reaches full maturity. During the latter part of the this stage, it is possible to eat the fresh grain crushed as melilot, or roasted, which is called karmel. This stage was eagerly awaited, especially during famine. The'aviv (in the cereals) lasted three to four weeks, and the latter part of the stage, when it was possible to eat the grain, lasted about a week.
The importance and influence of this short season went far beyond its actual duration and its economic importance: The 'aviv stage of the barley was a few weeks earlier than that of the wheat. In the 'omer ceremony, the offering was taken from the barley in the form of karmel. It was a religious ceremony symbolizing the beginning of the yields and the beginning of the harvest season. In the Biblical sources, the date of the offering is not stated due to the dynamic changes of this particular agricultural season. But the wish to have a fixed date for this ceremony resulted in struggles amongst various Jewish groups during the Second Temple period (and later on as well). The Pharisees fixed the date as the sixteenth of Nissan. Others fixed it at different dates, resulting in factions. The fixing of this date influenced the lunar-solar calendar of the Pharisees and the Sages, their followers. A calendar, which is based on lunar months, needs to be adjusted by intercalating a month. In the month of Adar, in different parts of the country, the barley was examined in order to determine whether it would be at the 'aviv stage at the desired date. If it was determined that in most areas the barley would not reach this stage, this was one of the factors favouring an additional month.
During the ripening stage, especially of the wheat, there are sharp fluctuations in climate. This is a transitional season, which is characterized by hot, dry, southeasterly winds (shravim). The dryness and the rise in the temperature are important for the maturing of the grain. However, if the sharav dries out the grain before it has matured during the ripening stage, this results in blight. Also, the sharav can accelerate the grain's rate of ripening resulting in the dispersal of the kernels before reaping. In addition, farmers had to work under the intense heat of the sharav, and the Jewish sources mention even cases of death during harvesting. According to the ancients, the dews balance these hardships. This period also had other dangers such as fire or rain, which occurred rarely, but when they did, were devastating.
Also, this difficult agricultural period was characterized by the farmer by external signs - Jeremiah hints at this in his expression "fixed seasons of harvest" or "the appointed weeks of the harvest" (Jeremiah: 5,24). It was also written in Deuteronomy: 16,9-10 "Seven weeks shall be counted: start counting the seven weeks from the time when the sickle is put to the standing grain; then you shall keep the pilgrim feast of Weeks." The counting was a sign that after the fifty days were over, this difficult transitional season would end. These are what we now refer to as the fifty days of the Counting of the 'omer.
The sheaves are transferred from the fields to the threshing floor, a period which lasts for at least half the reaping period. This period may have been regarded as a sub-division of the Harvest season known as gadish season, meaning "Stacking". Following this period, the goren Season began.
The goren Season is the longest subdivision of the qazir Season. Its beginning and its length depended on the distance of the threshing floor from the fields, the quantity of the yield and the availability of the animals which were to work in the threshing floor.
Alternating conditions of dryness and wind were necessary for the threshing and the winnowing. These conditions changed during the day, keeping the farmer occupied in the threshing floor. In any case, farmers usually didn't leave the threshing floor for fear of theft, life therefore revolved around the threshing floor for several months. The length of the season indicates that during all these months the farmer was not afraid of possible rain. Because of its length the goren Season became synonymous with the whole Grain Harvest season.
The last activity, which is included in the qazir Season, is the measuring of the heaps of grain. After measuring, which was done in several ways, portions of the heaps were given as various payments and tithes. From the rabbinic sources, we can surmise how the threshing floor became the stage where the business transactions took place.
The Targum's interpretation of the term 'et hidrikha, mentioned in Jeremiah 51,33, possibly hints at the period of the preparation of the Threshing Floor before threshing and winnowing. This may have been considered a separate agricultural season, as we see in various Mesopotamian sources.
In the Land of Israel, fruit trees had important status. Two agricultural activities, which gave their names to agricultural seasons, were connected to the grapevine and the fig - the bazir Season and the qayiz Season. Their time of harvest was parallel and they appear in the literature as a pair. Because of their importance, this particular time is referred to by both names. Of the two, the grapevine is considered more important. Therefore, there are more references to the bazir Season than to the qayiz Season. Since the picking and processing of the fruit continued over a long period, many farmers moved to live in the vineyards and the fig groves during this time.
The activities of the bazir Season consisted of all the stages between picking the grapes up to filling the wine jugs. The climatic conditions prevented separating the different stages. The treading of the grapes in the wine presses was accompanied by cheers of encouragement. The Vintage Season was considered a time of dancing and rejoicing, which could be the reason why the Gezer Calendar refers to this season as zmr (Singing). The Vintage Season was also sub-divided: bikurey 'anavim (the days of the first fruits), the bazir (the main vintage), 'olelot (late grapes), gat (wine- press), etc.
The qayiz Season also refers to all the activities from the fig picking to the end of processing the dried figs - for the same climatic reasons previously mentioned. Since the Hebrew word for summer is also qayiz, it isn't clear whether the name of this agricultural season gave its name to the climatic season (summer) - or vice versa.
There are many expressions describing the season of the ripening figs. Here are a few of the variety: bikurot (early figs), qayiz
(main fig season), seyfot (the late figs). There are a number of reasons for this: fig trees may have several annual fruitations, the ripening period is prolonged, different strains have different ripening times - all these factors gave rise to special terminology.
This season refers to the activities of gathering and storing the produce at home and in the storehouses of the secular and religious authorities. The gathering lasted a long time. As the Sages say, "Each one and its gathering time" (Mekhilta of Rabbi Simeon Ben Yohai, 23). The main reason for the ingathering was the approach of the rains - also there was no point in leaving the produce outside unprotected from pests and thieves. As the Biblical and the rabbinic sources indicate, during the Succot Festival - the 'asif Festival (the Ingathering Festival), the process of ingathering was not yet complete. The Sages remarked that when deciding whether to add a leap month, it was advised that at Succot most of the yield should already have been gathered (Sifra, Emor, 12). We can assume that by this time all the grain had been gathered, whereas in the winepresses - all the wine had not yet been collected. In parallel cultures to Israel, this period was characterized by wine celebrations, probably the "young/new wine". Also, this period was probably characterized by various payments and tithes, which were paid to the creditors and the authorities straight from the field and the groves.
The autumn equinox occurs during the Ingathering Season. That time of year served in various cultures, including that of the people in the Land of Israel, to mark the beginning of the official New Year (one of the two - the other being at the spring equinox). The New Year, as well as this particular agricultural season, marked the physical and mental preparations for the new agricultural cycle.
The masiq Season occurs both towards the end of the summer season and the beginning of the rainy season. It is the final harvest of the agricultural year but, in fact, it also parallels the beginning of the new agricultural year - Plowing/Sowing. Because the farmer physically and mentally was engaged in preparing himself for the new agricultural year at this time, the masiq Season, despite its immense economic importance, is hardly ever mentioned as an agricultural season.
The annual pattern of the agricultural seasons is based on two main physical features of the Land of Israel. Firstly, all the agricultural activities, that were chosen to represent the seasons, belong to rain-based agriculture (ba'al agriculture) only. Therefore, these activities are dependent on the dual climatic conditions of the rainy period (winter) and the long dry period (summer). Secondly, the annual pattern is limited to mountain agriculture alone. Despite these limitations, this annual pattern was so entrenched in the culture of the Jewish people that it reached far into various aspects of life - such metaphoric use in the language and literature, in the Jewish holidays, as well as in the formation of the Jewish Calendar.