For many, autumn means fresh apples, too much squash, crisp leaves, and The Old Farmer's Almanac. Where else can someone find, "besides the large number of astronomical calculations and the farmer's calendar for every month of the year, a variety of new, useful, and entertaining matter?"
The Old Farmer's Almanac is full of breezy, bright articles and proverbs as well as plenty of important and accurate information. Many farmers, backyard gardeners, sailors, fishermen, and just plain traditionalists read the almanac regularly.
"I like the predictions," says Stephen Cooper of Boston, a perennial reader. "I get a kick out of them, although I don't take the magazine that seriously." He was amazed that some people do follow the almanac's advice to the letter.
Penelope Turton of the Stearns Farm in Framingham, Mass., is one of them. She believes the moon has such a profound influence on all forms of life that every good farmer needs a moon calendar.
"The pull of the moon brings the seedlings right out of the ground," Miss Turton states defiantly.
"In the first quarter of the moon, I plant all my leafy vegetables," she says. "These plants need all the pulling power the moon has got. In the second quarter, I plant all the seed-pod foods, such as squash, cucumbers, and corn. In the third quarter, roots are planted; and in the fourth quarter, you're supposed to do your chores. I'm doing them all the way through and I still can't get caught up."
Don Wilson of the Wilson Farm in nearby Lexington is an almanac reader by tradition.
"It has nice stories, a good thing to sit around the fireplace and laugh about. But you can't run a retail operation according to a joke. If the almanac predicts a frost on Sept. 15, you might be more aware of its possibility , but you aren't going to bring in the whole crop early because of it."
How do the writers of The Old Farmer's Almanac feel about the credibility of its contents? Judson Hale, the editor, emphasizes that all information is scientifically derived.
"Everything you read in the magazine is seriously, accurately compiled," Mr. Hale says. "The weather section is written and researched by Dr. Richard Head, a scientist who was on the Mercury space program. Our writers are competent and knowledgeable."
Mr. Hale also maintains that "everything is affected by the moon. It raises and lowers huge bodies of water daily. How can anything on earth escape such an influential force? Everything ebbs and flows." Therefore, it is almost as important to know the position of the moon as that of the sun.
The Old Farmer's Almanac includes:
* Weather: General weather conditions are predicted for 16 regions. However, no one, according to Mr. Hale, should follow the predictions 100 percent. In other words, don't plan an outside party for 400 guests in New Jersey on April 17 because the almanac says it will be warm and clear.
* Astronomy: These pages, the backbone of the almanac, provide times and facts about sunrises, sunsets, tides, and the moon which are absolutely accurate.
* The fun part: Informative articles, such as this year's piece entitled "You might have a fortune on your bookshelf." Amusing articles include "Why and how do kitty-cats purr?"
* Self-help pieces: Recipes for such delicacies as potato cake with peanut butter frosting, fishing tips, gardening hints, and a conservationist's dream on "new uses for household items you would ordinarily throw away" are a few of the more helpful features of the almanac.
* Unique advertising: A beginner's guide to dowsing, a book explaining how a horse's mind works, miracle youth nutrients, and a skin revitalizing cream made from cucumbers are a few of the latest ads.
The Old Farmer's Almanac is differentiated from other farmers' almanacs by the word "old." It's been around since 1792 -- and in its 189th edition.
Historically, the almanac was followed closely. The average farmer would use it to structure the day, knowing how many hours of daylight would be available for planting, harvesting, and general tending. For a successful crop such hints as "If cabbages begin to crack, bend the stems over to break the roots on one side," or "Tie tomatoes to stakes or other supports, pinching back to no more than three stems," are as useful today as they were in the 18th century.