How to Use an Almanac For Gardening

Gardening almanacs can have a bit of a mysterious air. They’re a little old-fashioned; they’re a little mystical. With their hokey advertisements and talk of planting by the moon, they can be on the periphery of the legit for some folks. But stay with me – they have a valuable place on the bookshelf for average gardeners like you and I.

For one thing, I fully believe the almanac is going to give you the most accurate weather forecast around. Year after year the almanac proves accurate more often than not, when the television weather people get it all wrong. That’s pretty impressive when you think about the fact that a whole year’s forecast is established and printed in one fell swoop. Since one of the most important pieces of the gardening puzzle is the weather, the almanac always ends up being a useful tool.

The weather pages are fairly straightforward to use. The country is broken into geographic regions and each region gets a page. Each month gets a paragraph, which is then further broken into blocks of days. So for example, February 2015 for Zone 6 (Great Lakes) reads thus –

Feb 2015: Temp.28  (1 above average); precip. 2.5″ (0.5″ above average). 1-9 Snow, then snow showers, cold. 10-14 Sunny, mild, then flurries, cold. 15-17 Sunny, mild. 18-22 Snow showers, cold. 23-28 Showers, mild.

So that basically explains the average temperature for the month will be around 28 and the average snow/rain will be slightly higher than normal around two and a half inches. The first nine days of the month with have snow and be cold, the next four days will be sunny and mild, and so on.

And let’s talk about those funny charts and graphs that can look so confusing at first glance. In The Old Farmer’s Almanac (my almanac of choice; it’s the one with the yellow cover) these are “The Calendar Pages”. The first page in this section even tells you how to utilize the info, but I’ll give you the primer here to show you why you should give the almanac a try in the first place.

Each month of the year gets a two-page spread. The left hand page is the “Sky Watch”, or astronomical data. This identifies the phases of the moon, significant planetary movements and the sunrise/sunset chart. I find the sunrise/sunset chart extremely valuable, if for nothing else, than plotting when I’ll see daylight to and fro while commuting to the office. But it’s also really useful for determining how much daylight your plants are going to be getting, and when you can shut off the supplemental grow lights on your veggie starts, for example.

The right hand page is the calendar, highlighting holidays, significant astrological events (like eclipses), tide info, historical events and religious feast days that apply to the Christian faiths. A brief  weather synopsis is also provided. There’s also a “Farmer’s Calendar” sidebar with an anecdote about the weather or the season, which I personally find interesting.

Another useful chart is the one for frosts and the growing season. Knowing when it’s a good idea to plant, and how long your growing season is, is important info. This chart calls out the first and last frost dates for major cities across the country – just choose the one that’s closest to where you live.

There is also a ton of gardening reference info in almanacs – how to start seeds, plant bulbs, best planting times, pH preferences of a variety of plants, flowers that attract butterflies, and yes – even how to plant your garden by the phases of the moon, if you are so inclined. And there’s a lot of good  household info to – common weights and measures for produce, ingredient substitution, freezer storage times, which types of plastics can be recycled, and more. And while some of the articles can  be hokey, some of them are really great. This year’s almanac has some pretty good articles on DIY bath and beauty products (with recipes) and an article about quail.

In short (or maybe not so much) an almanac can be a really useful, and interesting tool for a home gardener. If nothing else, it can make you aware of the need to be more connected to the natural environment, which is as good a place as any to start.