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Almanacs no longer tools in growers' toolbox

This Aug. 12, 2016, photo shows the 2017 editions of the Old Farmer's Almanac, left, and the Farmers' Almanac. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
This Aug. 12, 2016, photo shows the 2017 editions of the Old Farmer's Almanac, left, and the Farmers' Almanac. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) (Jim Cole / AP)

The "Old Farmer's Almanac" and the "Farmers' Almanac," often mistaken for one another; both receive accolades if they correctly predict a historic storm. But while almanacs can be entertaining, Carroll County farmers and gardeners say they are no longer relied upon because they are not scientific.

"I've never used an almanac because it's not science," said Marshall White, Lippy Brothers Farms' nutrient management consultant. "Agronomic decisions on the farm need to be supported by evidence, not fairy tales."

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According to "Old Farmer's Almanac" Editor Tim Clark, there was a time when more almanacs were published than newspapers. The publication is celebrating its 225th edition with its recent 2017 release.

When you are working on the last batch of the last thing you plan to can you know it also means summer will likely be ending soon.

"Everyone needed to use it to plant their various crops," Clark said. "The word 'almanac' comes from Arabic, meaning 'calendar of the heavens.' It's predictions of what's happening in the sky, how the sun and moon rise and set, the position of the stars, and when you're going to have eclipses."

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Clark said the content of the "Old Farmer's Almanac" changes each year and contains articles on historical events, farming and agriculture, fishing, beer making, love, astronomy, weather, and gardening and variety suggestions. Copies can be purchased at www.almanac.com.

Clark said the almanac traditionally claims an accuracy of 80 percent, but it is not a scientific claim.

For first time gardeners, it can be difficult to know when and where to start.

"We strive to be useful with a pleasant degree of humor," he said. "We do try to keep track of correct guesses and have an Accuweather meteorologist that makes predictions.

"We still believe in the solar cycle, and we think human activity is leading to global warming. Our forecaster tells us we could be in real trouble in 60 to 100 years because the solar cycle will be turning up. We should expect warmer temperatures."

Bryan Butler, extension agent with University of Maryland Extension Carroll County, said almanacs are "as much a tool in the farmer's toolbox as horoscopes and the tooth fairy."

Carroll County is ranked eighth in highest acreage of cover crop sign up. This year, 1,853 Maryland farmers visited the state's network of local soil conservation district offices to apply for grants to plant 691,743 acres of protective cover crops on their fields this fall. Cover crops have been shown to reduce nutrient runoff, control soil erosion and protect water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Butler said farmers and gardeners are driven more by planting conditions.

"We're more likely to use computers, radar, GPS and world market-driven factors than something like the almanac," Butler said. "People still buy it, but pretty much everyone has a smartphone, and they're watching radar and market prices, and looking for deals to get seed in advance."

Butch Willard, a Carroll County Master Gardener and leader of the Grow It, Eat It program, recalled that his great-grandparents faithfully used an almanac.

"My great-grandparents were pretty religious about it," Willard said. "[My great-grandmother] would only plant her crops that grew above the ground on a waning moon and her below-ground crops on a waxing moon. I have no idea why. Whether it makes a difference, I don't know."

Willard said he does have an almanac, but he uses it for entertainment more than education.

"It's interesting and probably many of its practices work, but when I plant, I go to University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden [Information] Center," Willard said. "Their info is based on [Maryland] Department of Agriculture research data and the average first frost and last frost in our area."

For more information, visit the Home & Garden Information Center at https://extension.umd.edu/hgic.

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