Columnists
Let's Reminisce: The Old Farmer's Almanac
By Jerry Lincecum
Dec 5, 2017
Print this page
Email this article

The Old Farmer's Almanac has been published annually since 1792, making it the oldest continuously published periodical in North America.  I purchased my copy of the 2018 version last week, and already it has both enlightened and entertained me enough to justify the cost of $6.95.  The first edition, back in the 18th century, cost sixpence (about four cents) and it contained little more than weather forecasts, planting charts, and astronomical data.

 

Originally the Farmer’s Almanac (without the designation “old”) had a lot of competition (including Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack,), and the secret of its survival has been the addition of more interesting subject matter, including recipes and articles on a range of topics: gardening, sports, astronomy, and folklore. Nowadays the Almanac regularly features sections that predict trends in fashion, food and gadgetry for the coming year.  It also contains advertisements for some unusual products that are not readily available locally.

 

When I bent down to pick up the latest edition from the news stand, the slight pain I felt in my joints (due to arthritis) made we realize that if I were a farmer, I would certainly qualify as an “old farmer.”  I was not surprised to find that the first full-page ad in this almanac is for “Frank K. Wood’s Pain Relief Rub,” safe, natural and effective.  Order one jar for $16.99, and you’ll get a second one free.

 

To calculate his Almanac's weather predictions, the founding editor, Robert B. Thomas, studied solar activity, astronomy cycles and weather patterns, combining all his research to develop a secret forecasting formula that is still in use today. As a matter of fact, this formula is kept in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.

 

The USA is divided into 18 regions, with summary forecasts for each on a month-by-month basis, along with charts showing how each month’s predicted temperature and precipitation will compare to the averages of the past 30 years (considered “normal”).  We are in the middle of Region 11 (Texas-Okla.), and the prediction for Jan. 2018 is that our average temperature will be 49 (1 degree below normal) with precipitation of 3 inches (1 inch above normal).

 

As a gardener, the part of the Almanac that I pay attention to is their projection that in 2018 we can expect a growing season of 242 days, between the last killing frost on March 19 and the earliest fall frost on Nov. 17.  In recent years I have found that our growing season can be extended a bit by setting out my tomato plants early and using a frost cloth to cover and protect them against the few March frosts.  This year I actually set out my tomatoes in mid-February and only had to cover them against frost one time in March.

 

Similarly, I extend the growing season on the other end by watering and shading my tomato plants during the summer to keep them alive.  They go back to producing fruit in September and I cover them with the frost cloth to protect against the early frosts in late Oct. and early Nov.  I’m still gathering a few tomatoes now, and we dug our fall potato crop (Yukon Gold) on Thanksgiving Day.  So 2017 has been a banner year for the Lincecum garden.

 

Obviously I do not regard the weather forecast of the Old Farmer’s Almanac as gospel truth, even if it does come from a super secret formula that has been used for more than 200 years.  I probably wouldn’t buy the publication at all if it were not for the entertaining special sections and ads.

 

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories.  Email him at jlincecum@me.com.