In agriculture, the harvest is the process of gathering mature crops from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper. The harvest marks the end of the growing season, or the growing cycle for a particular crop, and this is the focus of seasonal celebrations of many religions. On smaller farms with minimal mechanization, harvesting is the most labor-intensive activity of the growing season. On large, mechanized farms, harvesting utilizes the most expensive and sophisticated farm machinery, like the combine harvester. Harvesting in general usage includes an immediate post-harvest handling, all of the actions taken immediately after removing the crop—cooling, sorting, cleaning, packing—up to the point of further on-farm processing, or shipping to the wholesale or consumer market.
Harvest timing is a critical decision, that balances the likely weather conditions with the degree of crop maturity. Weather conditions such as frost, rain (resulting in a "wet harvest"), and unseasonably warm or cold periods can affect yield and quality. An earlier harvest date may avoid damaging conditions, but result in poorer yield and quality. Delaying harvest may result in a better harvest, but increases the risk of weather problems. Timing of the harvest often amounts to a significant gamble.
Before the 16th century, harvest was the term usually used to refer to the Autumn season: in fact the word comes from old English hærfest, which meant Autumn (the German word Herbst has the same origin and still means Autumn). The word is a compound word (hær + fest) and its first part has Indo-European roots in *kerp meaning to gather, pluck, harvest. Compare it with the Latin verb carpere meaning to cut, divide, pluck ( Carpe diem). So hærfest indicated originally the joyful celebration of finally being possible to gather the mature crops; it extended afterwards its meaning to the all period beginning with the harvest (autumn). Recall also the expression harvest moon which is recorded since 1706 and indicates the full moon within a fortnight of the autumnal equinox (21 of September). However, as more people gradually moved from working the land to living in towns (especially those who were literate), the word came to refer to the actual activity of reaping, rather than the time of year, and the terms Fall and Autumn began to replace it in the latter sense.
The word harvest commonly refers to grain and produce, but also has other uses. In addition to fish and timber, the term harvest is also used in reference to harvesting grapes for wine. Within the context of irrigation, water harvesting refers to the collection and run-off of rainwater for agricultural or domestic uses. Instead of harvest, the term exploit is also used, as in exploiting fisheries or water resources. Energy harvesting is the process by which energy (such as solar power, thermal energy, wind energy, salinity gradients and kinetic energy) is captured and stored. Body harvesting, or cadaver harvesting, is the process of collecting and preparing cadavers for anatomical study. In a similar sense, organ harvesting is the removal of tissues or organs from a donor for purposes of transplanting.