Niagara Gazette

April 10, 2013

BRADBERRY: Plant goodness, harvest blessings

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It’s coming up on planting season here again, but how do we know when is the best time to plant what?

I guess we can forget about the weather prognosticating skills of woodchucks, land beavers, whistle pigs, and groundhogs — let’s put our weather prediction faith where it belongs ... in the original Old Farmers’ Almanac, or in our big toes.

Originally introduced in 1792, the almanac was used to explain and predict just about everything including long term as well as daily weather forecasts and the arrival and passing of the seasons.

In some farming communities it was, and remains to this day, the absolute final word not only on daily and long range weather forecasting, when and how to plant which crops, it also offers some pretty good advice on healthy living though I must admit, it never totally supplanted some grandmother’s big toes as an uncannily accurate early weather warning system.

How do they do it? Check out their thoroughly modern website (, which offers this explanation:

“Our weather forecasts are determined by the use of a secret formula (devised in 1792 by the founder of this almanac, Robert B. Thomas), enhanced by the most modern scientific calculations based on solar activity, particularly sunspot cycles. We also analyze weather records for particular locales. We believe nothing in the universe occurs haphazardly; there is a cause-and-effect pattern to all phenomena, including weather. It follows, therefore, that we believe weather is predictable. Modesty requires, however, that we add this caveat: It is obvious that neither we nor anyone else has as yet gained sufficient insight into the mysteries of the universe to predict weather long-range with anything resembling total accuracy.”

As I have pointed out before, much more detailed scientific prediction of the precise sunrise and sunset schedule is also available at If you are interested and have the time, you can go to either website to see exactly when the sun will show up and then leave for the entire foreseeable future.

In more scientific terms, the changing of the seasons, also known as the equinox and solstice is actually a result of the tilting of the earth on its axis as it circumnavigates the sun, as I recall from my grade school days.

In fact, the changing of the seasons is so predictable that scientists can pinpoint them precisely, but of course, we know that weather around here never quite sticks to the calendar.

We’ve seen it snow here as late as May, and watched flowers bloom in December, but generally speaking it is clear enough that the seasons do follow some sort of generally predictable course.

In spite of the availability of amazingly accurate up to the minute information now accessible via smart phones, laptop and tablet computers from dozens of high-powered weather satellites, some people still prefer to rely on weather lore and old folk tales to predict the weather. I’ve even heard some claim that it is sacrilegious to even try to predict the weather, “That’s God’s business, no man can know what only He knows”.

I’m not sure how they got started, but folks have concocted some very interesting ways of predicting the weather, some of them actually work, so they say; for example, it is said that when cows are lying down in a field, rain is on its way. Here’s one from England: “If the oak flowers before the ash, we shall have a splash. If the ash flowers before the oak, we shall have a soak.” I have heard it said that if a squirrel’s tail is very bushy or they are collecting scores of nuts in autumn, a severe winter will follow.

And who has not heard: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.”

Some folks watch the insects, claiming for example that “when the gnats swarm, rain and warmer weather are coming,” “that a yellow butterfly flying in one’s face indicates sufficient frost within 10 days to turn the leaves the color of the butterfly” or that “wasps building nest in exposed places indicate a dry season and when hornets build nests near the ground a harsh winter is expected” or that stepping on an ant brings rain.

Of course we have our own unique weather here in Western New York where there is more than the usual spread of seasons. We have the tourist season which normally begins somewhere around Memorial Day, running all the way through Labor Day and beyond if the weather holds out.

We have our very own, albeit short construction season characterized by the buzzing of construction teams fixing up the roads leading into the city, the appearance of maintenance crews cleaning and fixing up the local parks and streets, and hopefully this year, continued clearance of vacant dilapidated structures.

Then, of course, the arrival of the usually stormy political season preceded by flurries of petitions, blasts of hot air, various forms of dancing, singing and brief tempests which when they finally die down, usually leave a pretty good mess for the next crop of politicians to harvest.

Regardless of what you believe or where you get your weather information, one thing is clear — the days are getting longer; the sun is rising about one minute earlier and setting almost one minute later every day.

It’s as good a time as any to start planting good ideas and good deeds; spring has finally arrived, and with it comes blossoms, blooms and for some, hay fever, but for everyone, a little more daylight, a little more time to do good, be good, and another chance to take advantage of another opportunity to make a fresh start.

Contact Bill Bradberry at