Grain buds period begins, the start of the summer harvest is here

This year’s Xiaoman (“Little Ripening”) or Grain Buds Day falls on Monday. It is the eighth solar term in the traditional Chinese calendar. Xiaoman begins when the sun reaches 60 degrees of ecliptic longitude, marking the time when summer gradually becomes the dominant season, and the grains are about to ripen.

Farmers work in a paddy field in Bijie, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, on May 13, 2024. Photo: VCG

Farmers work in a paddy field in Bijie, Southwest China’s Guizhou Province, on May 13, 2024. Photo: VCG

According to the “Collective Interpretation of the Seventy-two Phenological Terms,” compiled by Yuan Dynasty scholar Wu Cheng, Xiaoman falls in the middle of the fourth lunar month. A famous saying, “A heavy rainfall makes the river full,” highlights the increased precipitation during this time, filling rivers and providing a bountiful supply of fish and shrimp. It is also a critical period for farmers as crops in northern China begin to mature, while in the south, the rains swell the rivers.

As the sun moves closer to the Tropic of Cancer, days lengthen, temperatures rise, and plants thrive, signaling the onset of early summer. New fruits like plums, apricots, and peaches appear, pomegranate trees bloom, and dragonflies hover over lotus flowers in lakes.

Ancient Chinese divided Xiaoman into three pentads: the first marks the perfect time for vegetables, the second sees weeds withering, and the third signals the imminent wheat harvest. The diet during Xiaoman often includes bitter herbs, such as bitter cabbage, which flourish and are prime for harvesting.

During Xiaoman, the increasing sunlight causes shade-loving weeds to wither, and wheat grains to fill out, though they are not yet ripe. In northern China, crops like winter wheat approach maturity. The name Xiaoman advises farmers to wait a little longer before harvesting to ensure the crops are fully ripe. However, they must not delay too long, as harvesting after the Grain in Ear period (Mangzhong) could lead to overripe wheat shedding its ears. Farmers need to observe their fields closely and harvest during sunny days.

In southern China, Xiaoman involves bustling activities with three types of wheels: water wheels for irrigating rice fields, oil extraction wheels for rapeseed oil, and silk reeling wheels for silk production. The water wheels operate continuously, the oil extraction wheels are in full swing, and silk reeling begins in earnest.

Xiaoman is also a time to celebrate the birthday of the silkworm god. Families pray for a successful silkworm harvest by shaping dough into silkworm cocoons, placing them on straw, and making wishes for good yields. 

In central China, Xiaoman is marked by lively markets and fairs, akin to carnivals. Children enjoy the festivities, indulging in pancakes, fried dough sticks, buns, and spicy soup, creating lasting memories. Adults, preparing for the imminent harvest, take the opportunity to socialize and purchase seeds, tools, livestock, and summer supplies. Local opera performances in larger villages boost morale before the harvest.

Despite modern machinery replacing traditional tools, these gatherings remain a cherished custom, helping communities prepare for the upcoming harvest. Xiaoman symbolizes hope for a fruitful grain harvest.

During Xiaoman, most places in China experience average daily temperatures above 22 C. In this temperature it is important to avoid excessive consumption of raw and cold foods, especially for children and the elderly, who are more vulnerable to the heat.