Despite this past weekend’s heavy snowfall in many parts of the region, the thaw’s not too far off now. It’ll soon be time to think about putting in the early plants like kale or spinach. When’s the best time to plant and harvest? Well, you might rely on your own experience, dumb luck, or more likely consult an almanac. Llewelyn Moon Sign’s started up in 1935, and Farmer’s Co-op calendar’s been around for awhile. But the gold standard was, and still is, the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Originally known simply as ‘Farmers Almanac,’ it issued long-range weather forecasts, based on obscure interpretations of natural phenomena, long before any weather service existed, and generations of farmers have planted and harvested according to its advice. First published by Robert B. Thomas in 1792 (for the year 1793), it went on to outlast dozens of competitors. And like an early Reader’s Digest, it hasn’t tampered too much over the years with its winning formula of long-term weather predictions, planting schedules, astronomical tables, astrological lore, recipes, anecdotes, and sundry pleasantries of rural interest.
“One particular fascination I have observed since the days of my youth is how the elders of the community will gather and discuss the coming of spring and make plans around the farmers almanac. My grandfather was one of these people who always had the free Farmers Co-Op calendar hanging on the wall with all the important information printed on it. Things like moon phases, astrological signs, sunrise, sunset how much rain to expect and of course the predicted highs and lows for the day.
“Everybody seemed to have their own tried and tested sure fire method of beating Mother Nature at her own game. ‘Papaw’ seemed to be pretty decent at getting his crops out at just the right time of the season. He was a professional farmer you might say. This is what he did for a living back before corporate farming became the standard.
“Being an amateur weather man is just one aspect of being a farmer but it is a very important skill that is cloaked in secret and involves mysterious practices that can only be done in private and on occasion can involve a brotherhood of weatherman/farmers that must come together during a particularly difficult weather predicting season to pool all their resources and make decisions that have the potential to devastate and embarrass even the most weathered agricultural engineer. I’m not sure which would have been worse, a lost crop or the embarrassment of a bad weather prediction that didn’t hold water.”