Column: Farmer’s Almanac advice doubtful

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I’ve never taken the Farmer’s Almanac seriously even though its annual weather predictions and gardening counsel have reportedly been 85 percent accurate since the publication was born in 1818. The other day, however, I picked up a copy of the 2014 edition on a whim.

Frankly, I’m skeptical. This winter in Indiana is supposed to be milder than normal with temperatures 3 to 5 degrees above average, with less precipitation than normal. So far record snowfall and double-digit below zero temperatures have cast a slight pall of doubt.

The almanac also publishes month-by-month gardening schedules. In January I was supposed to harvest winter vegetables, test the soil and prune and spray my cherry trees.

If I’d had any vegetables left in my garden in January, they would have been buried under eight inches of snow, and with temperatures below zero I would have needed a jackhammer to dig them out. Dynamite would be needed to get a soil test. I don’t have any cherry trees, and the apple trees that were here when we bought the house in 1981 died soon after of unknown causes.

In February I’m called on to build raised beds, firm down soil lifted by frost, plant peas, look for slugs and add mulch where needed. So far February is looking a lot like January. There is still a lot of snow on the ground so I can’t even see the soil, much less do anything to it. Plus, it’s still solid permafrost, which means planting anything is pure fantasy. My mulch pile is frozen solid and, presumably, so are any slugs still hanging around.

Something else bothers me. The almanac is published in Lewiston, Maine, an area that is buried under four feet of snow much of the year. How do they even know what a garden looks like?

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