Then and now a sign for everything
“In January, I decide when to start planting,” he said.
That decision is determined by looking at the almanac’s spring astronomical calendar and a certain sign of the zodiac (moon’s placement in the constellations).
That sign is Aquarius.
“It has to be there three days in a row,” Robeson said.
He explained that the three consecutive signs of Aquarius in March, April, or May indicate two weeks of wet weather.
“I’ve been going by this sign for 35 years,” he said. “There have been only four or five years out of the 35 that the sign hasn’t predicted the rain within a day or two.”
With this information, he said he knows if he has a long season or a short season to plant, and he knows when not to plant.
He learned this formula from Cliff Joyce, who worked for the former Soy Seeds, now Select Seeds.
“There’s only been about five years in the last 35 that the sign wasn’t there,” R o b e s o n said.
This year is one of those years.
“So I tell people I don’t know when to plant,” he said, smiling. “Guess I’ll have to go by the wooly worms.”
Robeson said he also looks at the Aquarius sign in the fall, but it’s not as accurate.
“It could be off by as much as two weeks,” he said.
Robeson has a stack of farmers’ almanacs of various kinds from past years. He said they are published by different companies, but they have pretty much the same calendar for the year.
“The first one I ever got was from the old Camden State Bank. They were handing them out at Christmas,” he said.
Although he consults the farmers’ almanac, Robeson said the best thing to do in trying to predict the weather is to use everything available to you – almanac, weather charts, and listen to the weather reports. He said if they’re all saying the same thing, it’s a pretty sure thing.
Steve Nichols, who will be retiring soon as Ag educator with the Purdue Extension Service, said farmers used to pay more attention to the almanac and did things “when the sign was right.”
He said now, a few generations later, most farmers don’t know how to read the signs.
“Some use the signs and don’t even know it,” Nichols said.
He added that with bigger operations, farmers have a schedule to keep, and following signs might not fit that schedule.
Kim Black said his grandpa taught him about the signs, but he’s forgotten most of it.
“I didn’t write any of it down,” he said. “I’ve wished a hundred thousand times that I had.”
Black said he used to use the almanac when he started farming, but he hasn’t at all in the last 10 years.
“Every generation gets farther away from it,” he said.
Bethellen Richardson says she consults the farmers’ almanac for the right sign and best days to wean their family’s 4-H calves. She said she learned this from her father, who learned it from his father.
“The calves don’t cry as long, and they stay healthier,” she said. “I don’t know for sure if it helps, but I don’t want to go looking for trouble.”
Andrew Lavy used to raise cattle.
“One year we sold some meat and they said it was tough,” Lavy said. “I didn’t butcher it in the sign.”
Lavy said after that, they always butchered in the sign, and never had any complaints.
He said he thinks one time he unknowingly killed Canada thistle in the right sign, because it never came back up.
Susie Dyke said she remembers her grandmother, Emma Weiland, talking about killing thistle in the sign of the heart (Leo or the Lion).
“She also said to plant top crops in the sign of the head (Aries or Ram), and root crops in the sign of the feet (Pisces/Fish),” she said. “I weaned my kids under certain sign, and it worked. They didn’t fuss or anything,” she said.
Dyke said she knows from her own experience that the phases of the moon influence cutting hair.
“ I’ve cut hair for years,” she said, and I know this is true. If I cut it on the increase of the moon (from first quarter on up), the hair grows faster. If I cut it as the moon goes down in size, it doesn’t grow as fast.”
Orville Berkshire says he goes fishing in Minnesota, and he uses the signs to tell him the days he is most likely to catch the walleye.
There are signs for the right time to do just about anything. Using astrological signs, almanacs predict the best days to quit smoking, start a diet, go to the dentist, potty train children, and make sauerkraut.
They may still be called farmers’ almanacs, but today’s publications include a lot of general interest information to appeal to women and the general public, such as recipes, tips, trivia, old remedies, and modern trends.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac, published since 1792, says its readership includes slightly more women than men. Fiftyeight percent of its readers live on one acre or less.