The Farmer's Almanac: a guide to planting by the moon (among other things)

David Floyd • Oct 4, 2015 at 5:32 PM

Most people would probably put the Farmer’s Almanac on the same playing field as landlines and video rental stores — they’re just a little bit outdated.

However, there are still many individuals — including several master gardeners — who still use the book as a reference tool and stand by several of its more obscure recommendations — particularly planting by the phases of the moon.

“People still go to it for the same kind of information,” said John Hamrick, an agriculture extension agent at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Extension Office. “Weather forecasts, planting by the signs, harvesting, doing things around the home, people even manage their personal health based on the time the Almanac says to do things.”

Hamrick said the content of the Farmer’s Almanacs has changed a little bit since the publication of the first almanac in the 18th century.

“To attract a broader audience, they have added more trivia and items of interest to attract more people to purchase and read them,” Hamrick said. “But there are still a lot of people out there who garden and farm by the signs.”

Valerie Hyrne, a gardener and featured speaker at multiple Master Gardener Association programs, still resorts to the time-tested technique of planting by the phases of the moon, a practice that the Farmer’s Almanac has consistently championed throughout its lifespan.

“God gave back in the Bible specifics that there’s a time and a season for everything,” Hyrne said. “So very originally (planting by the phases of the moon) came from the Bible as far as God’s guidance on how we’re supposed to raise and harvest and keep our crops.”

For example, Hyrne said potatoes are one crop that benefit from this method and recommends that they be harvested in the old of the moon — from the full moon to the new moon — to prevent them from rotting in long-term storage.

Despite Hyrne’s belief in the effectiveness of lunar planting, Hamrick said some people have a fickle relationship with the Farmer’s Almanac’s teachings.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Hamrick said. “So the times that it works everybody says it’s a benefit and the times that it doesn’t they say, ‘Who reads the Almanac?’”

Hyrne understands that there are many people who are doubtful of some of the book’s suggestions and encourages skeptics to experiment with some of its techniques.

“Try planting some of your above-ground crops — your lettuce and beans and corn and tomatoes — plant those again on the increase of the moon and plant some on the decrease of the moon and compare and contrast how they do,” Hyrne said.

The Farmer’s Almanac appears to be a spiritual predecessor to Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” which Franklin published under the pseudonym “Poor Richard.” His almanac was originally devised as a means to inform citizens about prudent business tactics and behaviors. The publication lasted for about 25 years.

Today, the Farmer’s Almanac exists in several iterations — including “The Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac” and “The Old Farmer’s Almanac.”

Hamrick said the teachings offered in the almanac are often passed down through generations.

“It’s still looked at by people as a serious tool,”Hamrick said. “That kind of comes through the family, I guess. If the parents or grandparents did it then younger generations are aware of it and will follow it as their families did.”

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