Each year we plant the flowers and the vegetable garden as close to Mother’s Day weekend as we can. So, we have been getting our pots, tools, seeds and anything else we need ready to go. When we thought we had everything, I started for the house as I remembered the most important item. Jim grimaced because he knew exactly what I had forgotten. “Not again this year!” he moaned.
I gave him the look. He knows I would never put one seed in the ground without first consulting the almanac. This is pretty serious business, either you’re a believer or you’re not.
There are different publishers of almanacs, with The Old Farmer's Almanac being the most popular, and it is also America’s oldest continuously published periodical, being in print since 1792. Whether you choose Old Farmer's, Baer's Alamanac, or a number of different publications, each almanac provides essentially the same information such as helpful gardening facts, best planting dates, astronomical information, stories, anecdotes and more.
The basic premise is that the 12 astrological signs affect various parts of the body. Each month is divided between the 12 signs with Aries, the first sign, attributed to the head and each of the other signs associated with the other parts of the body ending with Pisces at the feet. Gardeners and farmers use these as guides as to which days are the best to plant root crops, crops that bear above the ground and ones raised for flowers.
For example, if you plant garden produce in a sign associated with flowers, the plants will flower profusely but produce very little fruit or vegetables. If you plant potatoes, radishes, carrots or other root crops in a sign such as Aries, representing the head, the plants will produce all leaves and no crops underground.
OK, I can almost hear some of you snickering and calling this nonsense. To each his own, but let me tell you a couple stories that I probably would not have believed if I had not seen myself. One year we did plant the garden all at once, so everything was planted in the same above ground sign. Every single root crop we planted including potatoes, beets, carrots and onions produced only little nubbins but the plants above ground were big, leafy and had the showiest flowers.
Being raised on a hog farm, we did our own castrating (not me personally, that’s one job I always opted out of). Dad strictly went by the almanac for this chore because if the sign was in the heart, it would be bad for the pigs. All the years he farmed, he never lost a hog except for the one time he got behind and castrated when the sign was in the heart. That time he lost three hogs, with no apparent other reason. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.
Origins of some of our other beliefs or myths, depending on what you believe, are also attributed to the almanac. The “dog days of summer” is the sultry period of summer that typically runs from July 3 to the middle of August. It is so named after Sirius, also known as the “Dog Star” because it is in the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog). Sirius rises during this period and is the brightest star in the night sky.
Opposite of “Dog Days” is “Cat Nights,” which dates back to days when people believed in witches. Legend has it that a witch could turn into a cat and regain herself eight times, but on the ninth time (August 17) she couldn’t change back. Hence, the saying “A cat has nine lives” was born.
Ember Days may not be familiar to many people, but the almanac marks it as the four periods during the year observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches for prayer, fasting and ordination of clergy. Folklore has it that if any unwanted trees or shrubs are cut down during these periods, they won’t grow back.
I have to admit, I am a staunch believer in the almanac, especially for planting. We farmers and gardeners have enough odds stacked against us growing a good crop. We can’t control the amount of rainfall, when we get it, the temperatures nor the winds. So, if someone else has compiled all these facts from various tables, charts, etc., and figured out when the best time to plant is, who am I to argue? After all, even if at the very least the almanac doesn’t help, it certainly can’t hurt to follow.
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