Robert B. Thomas, founder of this Almanac, recognized that the way to win the favor of readers was to provide them with information that is immediately relevant to their needs and interests. Here are a few of the ways that he did that—and now we do. Any good nuggets here?
When Out in the Garden
The 1794 Almanac included instructions to use “fresh dung water” mixed with garlic, laurel berries, leaves of an elder bush, and a handful of thistle roots on plants infected by insects “which, then, will soon perish or forsake the place.” In more recent years, we reported on a scientific test showing that gardens cultivated on cloudy, moonless nights produce 78 percent fewer weeds. The ensuing editions of the Almanac, as well as the pages at Almanac.com/gardening, comprise a veritable storehouse of advice for gardeners of all skill levels.
From Soup to the Kitchen Sink
Because the Almanac was initially written for farmers rather than farmers’ wives, our present-day editorial emphasis on quick, easy, and delicious foods and recipes was slow to evolve. In the early days, it was probably assumed that women didn’t need any cooking advice, particularly from men. The only food-related features during the 1790s, for instance, were those such as “The Art of Making Cheese” or “To Refine Sugar.” The first specific recipe didn’t appear until 1800. After describing “how to roast a piece of beef,” it provided instructions for making an onion sauce (“Put them into clean sauce-pan with a good piece of butter, a little salt, and a gill of sweet cream; stir them over the fire …”). From then on, food and recipes became more and more an integral part of each issue’s fare and, since 1995, that of Almanac.com/cooking.
For Carefree Childhood Years
In 1867, the Almanac advised that every young boy ought to know how to harness a horse, plow a field, milk a cow, “reckon” money, whitewash a wall, and swing a scythe. In the same edition, a young girl was told that she should be able to sew, sweep carpets, knit, make bread, write letters, nurse the sick (without fainting at the sight of blood), trim lamps, and entertain visitors. Obviously, “childhood” was not so carefree during the early days of the Almanac. It wasn’t until the 20th century that children were allowed to be children. That’s why we’ve endeavored to perpetuate childhood with The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids—a book of fun facts, activities, and useful information. Just released this summer and available in stores and on Almanac.com is Volume 7!
About Marriage, Family, and Career
All of the Almanac’s editors seem to be in agreement that young people facing marriage, family, and career need advice—even though it has always been apparent that this particular age group is least likely to take it! At any rate, in many editions, readers—especially the young—have been advised to work hard, pay off all debts, plan ahead, avoid procrastination, be cheerful, practice thrift … and on and on. But also cited are the propitious days for specific tasks and chores—the Best Days—that harken to tradition … with no small measure of success!
In Retirement and Golden Times
Retirement was not a problem in the early days of the Almanac. You just found yourself sitting on the porch more and more, while your children and grandchildren did the work on the farm more and more. It was a gradual thing. In recent years, however, retirement for both men and women has become one of life’s major milestones. At this stage of life, the point is to be happy. But remember Montesquieu’s warning from the 1801 edition: “If we were content to be happy, that would not be difficult; but we are ambitious to be more happy than others, and this is difficult because others appear to be happier than they really are.” We feel certain that a dose of amusement now and then will make you happier than most, especially this kind of humor; it has worked for centuries.