Gardening

Rediscovering ‘The Old Farmer’s Almanac’

 

McClatchy-Tribune

There’s a hole punched in the corner of The Old Farmer’s Almanac for 2014. It’s a nostalgic remnant of the homestead where it hung on the outhouse wall for reading material and toilet paper.

This is the very same annual that guided early American farmers, and it’s still just as important today, but for a whole new audience. Now backyard food growers can learn how to link sun, moon and stars, seasons and cycles and folklore into tending the sustainable home garden.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is useful because it reminds you of planting dates and other important times in the agricultural year. It’s a primer for new gardeners to discover the older, less expensive ways to get things done. Moreover, this annual details how astronomical happenings, such as moon phases, governed the tasks of the gardener-farmer’s world.

Why, you ask, is this important? That farmer used the old time methods of using phases of the moon to govern his work, and that helps gardeners too. It dictates the kind of tasks he performs in the waxing moon or a waning one, when the moon is full or there is no moon at all.

The Almanac utilizes very old symbols for celestial goings on from day length to the sun’s position with signs of the Zodiac and many things other similar publications lack. The symbols were essential for illiterate farmers who could not read text but recognized the signs and knew what they mean.

The farmer’s monthly cycle is broken into four moon phases. The new moon is called “the dark of the moon.” Soon after, the first sliver of moon appears, called the “fingernail” moon growing nightly until the first quarter is complete. This signals it is on the increase or “waxing” incrementally larger each night. This continues through the end of the first quarter into the second, which ends in the full moon. Then the moon “wanes” or grows smaller each night until the third quarter is completed. In the fourth, you come around to the new moon again.

An old farmer’s rule is to plant crops that fruit above the ground while the moon is waxing. Then under a full moon all crops are planted. It was believed that the strength of the moon is greatest when full and would therefore bring more growth energy to seed germination. As the moon begins to wane planting continues through the third quarter, but only those plants which produce below ground such as turnip or potato.

The fourth quarter of the moon is a time of destruction, and planting is forbidden. This is when the farmer cuts his fence posts and firewood. He ploughed the fields and pulled weeds. Harvest also occurred in the dark of the moon.

Among other important information is sunrise, sunset and tides for every day of the year. Woven into these factoids are useful tips, handy examples and folklore from early farming practices that still ring true today. This year’s feature stories include an excellent primer on crop rotation in the home garden.

While buying my new issue, I noticed other publishers are getting on board with similar versions of the Almanac that lack the age-old wisdom and 21st century data. Look for its iconic yellow cover, and note the various geographic editions.

Mine is the Western Edition where the info is skewed to local astronomical happenings and regional gardening needs of the west coast. There are other regional editions (including Southern) as well as editions for a national audience and one for Canadians. You’ll find the almanac and a useful wall calendar version at www.almanac.com .

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is one of the best books for new backyard food gardeners. Learn planting dates, get on the fast track to the age old forecast of seasons, planetary positions, moon phase and weather forecasts that are just as useful today as they were centuries ago.

Read more Home & Garden stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
This impressive and rather rare vase was made in England by a company that was founded in 1820 to make utilitarian items out of stoneware.

    Treasures

    How old is this vase from my great-grandfather?

    Q: Attached are photos of a vase that once belonged to my great-grandfather. It is marked “Coulton, Burslem” and is decorated with painted poppies and a three-dimensional dragon. It is marked with an emblem with a crown on top and the number 1922. It is 221/2 inches tall. Would it be possible for you to tell me how old it is and the approximate value?

  •  
A native ladybug on a firebush in Terri Stephens’ yard.

    Gardening

    The gardener and the ladybugs

    A citizen-scientist documents the ladybugs in her South Dade yard for a research project.

  •  
This Wellworth two-piece elongated dual-flush from Kohler comes in a right-side flush option.

    Ask a plumber

    Looking for the ‘right’ flushing toilet

    Q: Our toilet is in the corner of our bathroom very close to a wall on the left hand side of the toilet. I have always been frustrated that the flushing handle is on the left side of the toilet, in a tight spot next to that wall. We’re planning to replace this toilet. Can I get a new toilet with the flushing handle on the right side of the toilet?

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category