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The Dilemma of the Almanac
Just as we say that spring has sprung come April, we can say that fall has descended come late September. Fall is generally the time when the autumn colors of hardy chrysanthemums begin to pop-up on the nursery shelves, it is the time of vibrant Indian Summer, and also, when ubiquitous political placards begin to emerge on the front lawns. Fall is also the time of the publication of the various almanacs for the coming year.
The word almanac derives from the Greek word almenichiaka, which means calendar. The earliest almanacs were calendars that included agricultural, astronomical, or meteorological data. An almanac is an annual publication that includes information such as weather forecasts, farmers’ planting dates, tide tables, and tabular information often arranged according to the calendar. Astronomical data and various statistics are found in almanacs, such as the times of the rising and setting of the sun and moon, eclipses and other astronomical events, hours of high and low tide, stated festivals of the Church, and so on. In former times, before the emergence of electronic communications these almanacs held a special place, not only for farmers, coastal mariners, and other outdoorsy types but for common folk in general. Their place in the past was much like the place of our annual calendars that we hang in the kitchen. They were a practical household reference for important information that may have been vital to wellbeing.
Almanacs have been around in some form or another since Old Testament times in a myriad of civilizations ranging from the Persians, to the Greeks, and on to the Hebrews. Essentially, they are sets of informational tables based on experiential history, which is, based on common human experience of various cycles of nature. While little more than curiosities and quaint knowledge to modern urban and suburban dwellers, for the small-holding homesteader and backyard gardeners they still offer a wealth of information from which garden, husbandry, harvest, and other activities benefit.
I’m sure we’ve all seen various publications of the “Almanac” but most of us don’t realize that here in the US there are at least four such publications: Farmer’ Almanac, published by Almanac Publishing Company of Lewiston ME; The Old Farmer’s Almanac, published by Yankee Publishing Incorporated, (also publishers of Yankee Magazine), of Dublin, NH; Harris’s Farmer’s Almanac, published by Harris Publications, of NY, NY; and finally, Blum’s Farmers and Planter’s Almanac, published by Blum’s Almanac Co., of Winston-Salem, NC.
Since no two products are ever quite the same, over the past few years I’ve bought all four publications to see which most suits my particular needs. However, at approximately $6 per issue buying each almanac can get pricey when one is on a budget. Below is my review of each starting with my own favorite proceeding to least favorite; giving the reasons why I favor or dislike each.
Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac – This is quite a user friendly almanac that has tabular information centralized in summary on the weather forecast pages by month. In addition, they have the fishing forecasts provided in a separate table. This almanac although predominantly geared to a more Southern readership is by far the most rural. While some tables are skewed to a more southerly climate, us Yankees can appropriately compensate. Like the other almanacs there is advertising but it is minimal and more geared to the rural, small-holding constituency. One of the better features is that the calendar is arranged according to the old liturgical calendar and illustrates the whole concept of Catholic Rural Solutions of living an agrarian life based on the Sacraments of the Church. For me this is by far the better of all the other almanac publications. It is not as readily available here in New England, and I suspect even in the northern Mid-Atlantic States, but it is easily found in large book and magazine outlets like Barnes & Noble or from a direct subscription.
Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac – This is a runner-up to my favorites and took considerable time and study to separate as my second favorite. Overall it is not as intuitive as the Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac but it comes close. It has all the features of the other almanacs and like Blum’s it is more appealing to rural small-holding homesteaders. Again, while there are fewer ads they are more directed to a rural and serious homesteader. If you elect to get two different almanacs Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac would be a good secondary subscription.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac – Here we have my third choice for almanacs largely because it begins to step away from the purist rural aspects of almanacs. It begins to get a little trendy, in my humble opinion, as can be seen in the ads. It tries to straddle the fence between serious small holding homesteading and pop-culture types of magazines, but captures the flavor of neither. It has all the features of the other almanacs though not arranged to may liking. It, like all the others, has great articles, but that doesn’t cut it in my book.
Farmer’s Almanac – Here is the granddaddy of all the old almanacs, nominally the oldest in publication, but I suspect it has come a long way from the useful fare of the frugal New England Swamp Yankee farmer. It is by far the hippest of the almanacs and features “hot & trendy” topics and articles; just what you’d expect of Yankee Magazine publishers. Its target market seems to be the stylish and trendy yuppies and back-to-land wannabes. Like the other almanacs it has many of the same tables and in that respect is quite useful, but if money is a consideration go for Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac or Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac first.
At the end of the day, my money is on Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac. It has all the bells and whistles but is arranged more handily. Its target market would seem to be serious frugal homesteaders, though there is overlap with some of the trendier-types finding some appeal to it. Basically, it is folksier. As a comparison, I liken the Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s to the original Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine as was published under the original Rodale family members, as compared to the renamed Organic Gardening magazine. Much like the original Mother Earth News compared the recent issues found today, I believe their original mission, purpose, goal, and target market has changed the latter two almanacs on my list are like the new Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening.
Essentially, as in most of life’s endeavors, we must find our niche in order to survive. Each of the above, though all almanacs, appeal to a different target market and each seems to have settled into their own market niches rather nicely. For the serious homesteader, though, Blum’s is the one to buy. All are now on newsstands as this is written.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.