The FARMER'S ALMANAC is full of interesting information. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

The FARMER’S ALMANAC is full of interesting information. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Colorado weather makes it a good idea to wait until after Mother's Day to plant.

Colorado weather makes it a good idea to wait until after Mother’s Day to plant.


If you get impatient for color, you can hand baskets of artificial flowers in your trees.

If you get impatient for color, you can hang baskets of artificial flowers in your trees.

When you spend several days sitting in a hospital room, you look for interesting reading material. I found the 2014 OLD FARMER’S ALMANAC. Talk about an education!

If you’re interested in the weather forecasts for 16 regions of the United States (with apologies to our non-American friends), or information about the sun, moon, stars, and planets, or articles on beeswax candles and natural pest control, The Almanac is your go-to publication.

Here’s some quaint gardening advice reprinted from 1892 folklore.

1)    To make a plant grow, spit into the hole you have dug for it.

2)    Never plant anything on the 31st of any month.

3)    Plant corn after the first woodpecker appears.

4)    Flax will grow tall if you show it your buttocks.

5)    It’s time to plant corn when your wife comes to bed naked.

At our Colorado Springs altitude of 6,100 feet, it’s risky to plant anything before Mother’s Day…even if you show the crop your buttocks or come to bed naked. If you decide you’d rather go fishing, here’s how to know if it’s a good time: watch cows. If they’re up feeding, fishing is good. If they’re down resting, don’t bother.

If the folklore printed in the Almanac isn’t strange enough for you, maybe this writing contest will do the trick. THE WRITER MAGAZINE and Gotham Writers Workshops are sponsoring a “Tell It Strange” Essay & Story Contest.

Annie Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for THE SHIPPING NEWS, and wrote other highly successful novels, including CLOSE RANGE and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Writers should respond to one of Proulx’s quotes, using it as a prompt to get you motivated.

“We’re all strange inside. We learn how to disguise our differences as we grow up.” ~ this is from THE SHIPPING NEWS.   “There’s something wrong with everybody and it’s up to you to know what you can handle.” is from CLOSE RANGE.

If either of these prompts inspires a strange story or essay idea, the contest deadline is May 31, 2014. Prizes are $1,000, $500, $250. You can submit online, and WRITERS FROM EVERYWHERE are invited to submit, as long as you’re not affiliates of THE WRITER or GOTHAM WRITERS. 1,000 words max.   For full details go to


Spitting in holes might be great planting practice. Writing contests are definitely great writing practice. You can enter the contest; you can write for the contest but instead of entering it, submit it to an anthology, a magazine, an online publication. Making yourself think, plan, write, edit and meet the deadline is excellent writing discipline. Can’t think of a “strange” writing idea? Really? Go back and read #4 and #5 above. Or just pay attention to what’s going on around you. The world is strange enough to give you plenty of writing ideas.

Cover of my favorite writing journal.

Cover of my favorite writing journal.

Write on a computer, on a tablet, on a typewriter...but write!

Write on a computer, on a tablet, on a typewriter…but write!


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, gardening, writing, writing contest with cash prizes


  1. Blimey Marylin, if I were reading a magazine in a hospital waiting room I’d be worried if their most up to date info came from 1892. I hope the Doctors and Nurses are a bit more up to date with their reading.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • They’re very up-to-date, David. I found the Almanac in the magazine rack and was reading it in Mom’s hospital room. She was a farm girl, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to read #4 and #5 to her, not while she was hooked up to an IV line.
      Hugs to you, David, and little Reuben, too.

  2. I love how you pack such disparate elements into a cohesive whole: Colorado photos, The Farmer’s Almanac, and a writing contest. It’s been a while since I’ve thought of Annie Proulx. I remember how moved I was when I read Shipping News. I wonder if the one quotes I recorded in my journal include the one about differences you cited. And the George Eliot quote–wow. I am so glad that George was really Mary Ann. 🙂

    Another thought-provoking post, Marylin.

    • I love how you love my disparate elements, Marian. It’s how I think best, seemingly random but then somehow finding common threads. It must be my bias, but I only became a big fan of George Eliot years ago AFTER I learned she was a woman writer named Mary Ann Evans! There were just so many men authors and so few women.

  3. What a coincidence–I woke up early this morning, began reading a new novel. Right after I read about the character who carries a farmer’s almanac in his pocket, I went to my computer to check posts/emails, etc… and here you are, talking about the farmer’s almanac.

    I love synchronicities! (Lovely post!)

    • It’s that time of year, Tracy. If the setting in your novel is farmland in late winter, early spring, the farmer would be double checking the planting guide. I am really enjoying reading your book, Tracy. You are a wonderful writer.

      • I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!

      • Tracy, TOWARD DAYLIGHT: Becoming A Writer Despite Everything is a wonderful combination of everything personal, professional, and “writerly.” I just finished “Trial By Ice,” only a few chapters after “Trial By Fire.” Your honesty, talent and open-hearted sharing make this book a joy to read. Brava!

  4. Hi Marylin! I laughed out loud at the buttocks and naked to bed lines! Hilarious!
    And interestingly enough, I have been subscribing to an email newsletter for writers and did see a contest I am doing my best to go for. It is a Hay House contest (and I review their books sometimes) and you know, after reading this post, I am going to try harder to get it done.
    Thanks for the kick in the buttocks 😉
    xo Joanne

  5. This was great, Marylin! I used Farmer’s Almanac, monthly in my 2013 posts! I find their quaint and helpful suggestions quite fascinating! I used it to find out about the moons, too! Great post, love the colorful hanging ‘fake’ planters to add color to the branches of the trees! Smiles, Robin

    • Thanks, Robin.
      My mom grew up on a farm, and her parents consulted the weather and planting sections regularly, so Mom often had an Almanac on the kitchen counter at our house. She would have had a good laugh at the buttocks and naked wives, so it’s a shame that her dementia has moved her past the point of understanding things I read or tell her.

  6. I think the 1892 Farmer’s Almanac might be a best seller. I’m not sure all of the advice would work in HK. Writing is good therapy and it’s a shame more people don’t indulge. Does the Almanac tell us the best time to write?

    • Not this copy of the Almanac, Andrew. But when Ben Franklin was publishing his Poor Richard’s Almanac, there were supposedly many references to legal, philosophical and personal writing.
      You might try the planting advice in Hong Kong and create a new generation of interested growers!

  7. I’ve always been fascinated by weather, Marylin. The 1892 folklore from the Farmer’s Almanac is hilarious! Numbers 4 and 5 are great, but I’m wondering the reason behind number 2.
    I’m currently finalizing a contest entry. I hope to have it finished by the end of the weekend. I might take a peek at The Writer Magazine contest…thanks!
    I hope your mother is doing well.

    • You know, Jill, I remember an elderly friend of my parents who lived in the Ozarks. I found her “tales” fascinating, and I remember something about how the months that have 31 days are there to to remind us to rest on the extra day, which of course would mean no planting. Give the earth a rest, too.
      I check with Mom’s caregivers, and the best report was yesterday. It was a warm day and the young caregiver took Mom on a “field trip” and drove her to the park. She watched the ducks and smiled, and leaned her face to the sun and smiled, and she ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She is definitely on the wind-down, Jill, but days like yesterday are still so good for her.

  8. Marylin, you’re “write” again. The hilarious items you quoted from the Almanc are great story starters. I hope you enjoyed your visit with your mom. 🙂

    • We’ll be going back again before Mother’s Day, or earlier if she needs me. But as I wrote in my comment to Jill, she’s responding well and enjoying the warm weather there and little trips to the park.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the Almanac, Tracy–it made me laugh, too.

  9. Interesting – your Farmers’ Almanac looks very like the ones produced in the tiny Swiss canton Appenzell, which have forecasts for the weather based on the past hundred years, details of the zodiac indicating days to do various tasks, and all kinds of other weird and wonderful information. I wonder if the American one was introduced by Swiss emigrant farmers?

    • I don’t know; the two sound really similar, don’t they? I do know that Ben Franklin put out his own POOR RICHARD’S ALMANAC with many of the same forecasts and articles. But the Swiss emigrant farmers could have influenced that, too.

  10. This was fun Marylin – both topics! I was telling Family Law students just this week to use requests for psychological evaluations of their client’s spouses sparingly (for custody battles) – because one will be requested reciprocally of their own client. Nobody comes out unscathed from those things. If it comes out too ‘clean’ it could reflect dishonesty in the responses. We’re all wierd – it’s just a matter of degrees! Thanks for the chuckles today!

    • Shel, it sounds like you have a wealth of information–and the perfect “characters” (with changed names and identities) to use for the STRANGE writing contest! You know, John Grisham didn’t hold back on using what he learned from trials and clients and juries to become a best-selling author!
      And you’ve got a great name for the cover of a novel: by Shel Harrington
      I can see it now!

  11. juliabarrett

    Oh, Marylin, go for it. Spitting in a hole is a classic. But I like the naked wife. I’ve heard – never plant during a full moon. And always plant during a full moon. I just plant when the worst of the rains stop and the soil is somewhat warm. you have to deal with snow.
    Annie Proulx prose is amazing.

    • When I was growing up, Julia, a classmate said that her brother peed in the holes his mom dug to plant bulbs, but I don’t think she was happy with it or the bulbs did any better.
      It was so “strange” reading the strange planting rules and then reading the Annie Proulx book quotes as an introduction for writing a “Strange” essay or story.
      It helped the time pass in the hospital, and now I’m coming up with ideas for a story. It’s a win-win.

  12. Marylin, you find such delightfully eccentric things to amuse us and inspire us! I can’t imagine how people would think of such things as showing their buttocks to encourage plants to grow! But writing competitions and submissions definitely encourage us to grow as writers – it was winning my first prizes that really motivated me to become a better writer.

    • You and I are on the same writing page, Andrea. Some of my contest-winning stories really pushed my writing efforts and successes forward. And I had two that did not win, but I immediately submitted them to magazines, and both of them ended up selling, too.
      My philosophy is that anything that makes us think in a new way or asks for specific topics/lengths/themes and makes us take a risk, makes us better writers.
      So, Andrea, are you going to write something “strange” for this contest? I’ve almost go my entry finished.

  13. Lord, they were so funny Marylin, thanks for that. If I were to show the plants my buttocks Ishbel would place her boot in it but probably not before a) saying, they don;t need any more help to die, your tender ministrations already take car of that and b) something would be lurking there to bit me in the bum anyway

    And as for spitting my Mum said you should never spit. I know this as I was walking up the street one day, playing hookie (wild child) didn’t know she was behind me when I spat (but it was in the gutter) and I got a slap on the back of the head and told it’s never nice to spit, you can imagine what else I got for not being where I should have been…..

    Almanacs are always a good source of material

    • And there’s also a c) possibility, Tom. Someone would snap a picture of you harassing the plants, and your buttocks would be on the front page of the paper!
      Jim got sent home for spitting in grade school (he was AT school). His Mom set him down on the sofa in the TV room but wouldn’t let him turn on the TV. She gave him a bowl and told him if he was such a good spitter, he could fill it.
      Moms are such wise and creative thinkers!
      Hugs to you, Ishbel and the grandkids (who really shouldn’t be reading #4 and #5, or you’ll be catching them imitate those, too!)

  14. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Those are hilarious guidelines, Marylin. I also heard, “Good Friday is the time to plant potatoes.” Just FYI!! 🙂

    • That’s great news, Nancy. I’ve tried planting Blue Taos Potatoes the last two seasons but had no luck. Now I know why–I didn’t plant them on Good Friday! Thanks, Nancy; I’ll try again this year.

  15. Planting sounds lovely even if I had to spit into the ground. Air is over 80 and we hunted umbrellas and tree replacements today. However…..it is to be 29 here by Tuesday night! Yikes. I am so ready to be outside for real. You certainly turned over some gems while sitting in the room reading!

    • Reading can be a good distraction and sometimes a much needed laugh, too, which is a blessing when you’re sitting in a hospital room.
      I saw your forecast, Claudia; Ft. Scott’s is pretty much the same. In Colorado we’ve had three days in a row of sunshine, clear blue skies and temps in the high 70s…so of course we’re predicted to get cold winds and 3-5″ of snow tomorrow…!

  16. Excellent Marylin! I thoroughly enjoyed your post this evening. I grew up the the Farmer’s Almanac…so fun..and interesting. I am going to contemplate the writing contest, but it is lacrosse season and with three kiddos playing plus additional activities, I’m not getting much work done for me these days. Where oh where does the time go? I wish the Almanac had the magic answer to that.
    Much love to you and Mary. I hope she is going OK and that you are hanging in there and taking good care of yourself! XO

    • Thank you so much, Robyn.
      Entering writing contests with my mother before her dementia kept us both busy, and we had a bet: the won who didn’t at least try to write an entry took the other to the diner for coconut cream pie during my next visit. This was during my dad’s last years with Alzheimer’s and it was a good way for us to keep the pen moving and focus on happier things. I think writing during hard times is for me what photography is probably for you, Robyn, a good way to keep moving and doing creative things in spite of the hard times.

  17. Thank you for this timely post Marylin. I have been prioritising my writing piles (or trying to), which means that my blogging schedule has been interrupted. Your wise words have given me a kick up the buttocks (will that grow any plants, I wonder?) to get my submissions edited and out there. While I have some time off due to the Easter break, I will definitely get down to it!

    • You and I are both on the same determined path, Jenny. Two days I finally unloaded my writing pack, and I found three deadlines–two contests and one submission–that I’d forgotten about while I was with my mother. All three are due within the next two weeks! It was better to find them NOW instead of after the deadlines! Just setting them out and tagging them with their rough drafts and comment stickers and making a plan how and when I would work on each one…that’s got me at least pointed in the right direction to get back on the path!
      Good luck to us both!

  18. Spit/saliva is powerful stuff so perhaps it does help plants grow…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saliva I have used spit (my own!) to help remove small spots of car grease from my clothing. As for number 5; in New Zealand corn would be planted after the first frosts were over, so by then (Oct, Nov, Dec) the weather might be warm enough for anyone to go to bed naked. Interestingly, Dec is a time of great fertility for humans and plants, as we can see by the statistic that Sept 28th is the most common birthday in New Zealand http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/pop-birthdays-table.aspx However this theory doesn’t really work for the US because the most common birthdays are also in Sept in the US. You have lots of ‘fall’ babies, whereas we have lots of ‘spring’ babies. As for number 4…? I wonder if our present almanacs will seem odd a hundred years from now.

  19. Gwen Stephens

    I love those words of wisdom from the Farmer’s Almanac! My mom has always said Memorial Day weekend is ideal for planting in the Great Lakes region. By then the threat of frost is most definitely behind us. I get antsy though, and usually find a nice weekend in mid-May. You’re right about writing ideas. They are everywhere. We just need to observe and let the imagination do the rest.

    • In the Great Lakes region, you plant even two weeks later than we do in the Rocky Mountain region, Gwen. On Mother’s Day I’m out there digging and planting…and hoping!
      Writing ideas are everywhere. Some of the best ones come to me when I’m sitting in a coffee shop or standing in a line or waiting for an appointment. It’s just the waiting and watching that does it sometimes.

  20. Jim

    Marylin, the weather this Sunday morning in our part of Colorado surely supports your rule-of-green-thumb in the caption under your snowy picture of the park behind our house–“. . . wait until after Mother’s Day to plant.” Earlier this week everyone in Colorado Springs was hiking, biking and doing yard work in shorts and summer shirts. “Yippee, spring is finally here!” we all thought. Now this morning as I write this and you are still asleep, it is overcast and getting colder by the minute as we expect three to six inches of snow in town today and tonight, while the mountains west of us could get up to a foot of more snow. I wonder if our friends out of state and abroad know that April is Colorado’s 2nd snowiest month, while March is 1st? Yep, our gardening tools will stay put for a few more weeks.

    • I know, honey, and you and I were among those out in the sunshine during the last couple of days, hiking, working in the yard, welcoming Spring. This happens to us almost every April, though, the warmth before the snowstorms, but this time we’re ahead of the Almanac. Today–and the next few days–were supposed to be warm and sunny. But look at the snow!
      You’ve got to love the Rockies…especially you third generation natives of Colorado!!!

  21. I’m so glad that your mom was able to enjoy the warm weather via a “field trip” Marylin.
    Like Marian, I’m in awe of your ability to weave such seemingly unrelated topics into a very cohesive, and very intriguing, article every week. Great job! Love the quote by George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Hope it’s true for everyone!

  22. I remember the Farmer’s Almanac and wonder if my Mom used it to guide the planting of the crops we had: tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, etc. Some mighty strange wisdom and fun facts. Thanks for sharing, Marilyn.

    George Eliot’s quote: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been” offers some encouragement to this procrastinator. Best wishes to you, your Mom and your family.

    • Thank you, Judy.
      We’re back in Colorado now, snowed in and glad to be off the roads. I do all my checking in via calling my mother’s caregivers, and they are wonderful. If it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would be planning her garden and laughing at #4 and #5, but she’d be willing to try the spitting thing.
      And she’d think it strange to have a Strange writing theme for a contest, but if this were years ago, she’d probably jump in with some unusual story she heard about or experienced many years ago. Before the dementia, she never seemed to think in terms of being too old to follow dreams or try new ideas.

  23. Oh Marylin, everything has conspired against me to keep on top of my blogging and writing this week and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get over here! Thanks so much for this link, I LOVE the sound of this challenge (although I want you to know I haven’t forgotten about the Aubade!!) so I am really looking forward to having a bash at this. Strange is my middle name, after all, lol!
    I laughed out loud at the buttocks – how on earth does flashing your buttocks at flax make it grow tall? I would love to know where that came from! Also the wife coming to bed naked and corn growing…well, that has to be everything to do with fertility I’m guessing 😉
    I remember the Farmer’s Almanac. Thanks again Marylin for a super post, I’m smiling all over 🙂

  24. I must admit i skipped over the details of the book until I got to the lst bit of your post which said to re-read points 4 and 5. Now THAT made me laugh!. Yes, you can write about anything. perhaps I have more talent than I thought.
    Great way you found of passing time in the hospital room.
    And I will dig that typewriter out 🙂

    • Elizabeth, if waiting day after day in a hospital doesn’t motivate you to look for interesting articles and contests, nothing will. And The Farmer’s Almanac is full of fascinating and unusual information!

  25. Diana Stevan

    Very cute, Marylin. I used to love looking at Farmers’ Almanacs when I was a kid. I was always surprised at the gems I’d find.

    • I did the same thing, Diana. I don’t remember these kinds of “risque” gardening tips, though, but when they posted old-time recipes, Mom and I sometimes tried one or two. I remember I learned how to make buttermilk by adding vinegar to regular milk, and supposedly that would work in baking recipes. But I didn’t think it worked very well at all.

  26. Farm wives went to bed naked in 1892? I have a hard time imagining some of my ancestors following this bit of advice! 🙂

    • Me, too. But back then–with no television or evening entertainment, and no air conditioning on stuffy nights–who knows what attire wives chose? 😉
      The Almanac carried a variety of informational tidbits!

  27. Great post. I, too, savor the way you weave together many disparate elements into a cohesive, inspiring whole. Some of the Farmer’s Almanac wisdom reminded me of something I once read about how we clock-watching 21st century human beings have forgotten that there are other ways of telling time. Before mechanical time pieces entered our lives, we’d tend to notice other natural/seasonal connections, such is “it’s time to pack up and move to the fishing camp when the oak tree leaves are the size of a gray squirrel’s ear” or “it’s time to plant corn after the first woodpecker arrives.”

  28. Jane Thorne

    Great post Marylin and I love the tidbits from the Almanac. I alwasy learn something new from your posts and I kept the email in my Inbox till now, as I waited for a story to float up on ‘Strange’. It has and I’m going to have a bash at it. Thank you so much for this. Love to you all. Xx

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