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Farmers Almanac
The 2015 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

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A Fond Farmers’ Almanac Farewell

A Fond Farmers’ Almanac Farewell

Yesterday we said goodbye to a long-time Farmers’ Almanac employee, Dick Plourde. Dick has been our graphic designer for over 20 years, and he has decided, upon putting the finishing touches on the 2016 Farmers’ Almanac, he would retire. Now that the edition is at the printers, we had to say our goodbyes.

Dick started working at our parent company, Geiger, in 1971. He worked in many capacities including pre-press, press, graphics, and then the Farmers’ Almanac. He was instrumental in helping us bring the book into the 21st century, taking care to design the contents within — the calendar pages, stories, and weather forecasts  — for our readers. Dick was also responsible for single-handedly designing our very first web site back in 1997 and bringing us a presence on this crazy thing called the World Wide Web.

Dick was one of the most easy-going, great-to-work-with team players and we enjoyed looking back on 44 years worth of fond memories, funny sayings, and happy times we shared with him.

Dick he has spent the last two months turning over files, notes and many trade secrets to our new graphic designer, Corinne Mockler, who has now grabbed the baton and hit the ground running.  But Dick will be greatly missed, and we wish him the very best as he embarks on this new journey in his life.

 

Photo: Managing Editor, Sandi Duncan, left, with Dick Plourde (center) and editor Peter Geiger at Monday night’s retirement celebration.

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How “Guerrilla Gardening” Is Taking Root

How “Guerrilla Gardening” Is Taking Root

Step aside graffiti artists, and make way for guerrilla gardeners dropping seed bombs! City-dwelling gardening enthusiasts, tired of looking at abandoned lots and gaping potholes, are filling in those spaces with green things.

Actually, this kind of grass-roots greening isn’t new. In the early 1970s, some groovy gardeners living in New York City’s Lower Manhattan were tired of the urban decay they saw all around them. They threw seed “green-aids” over the fences of vacant lots. They planted sunflower seeds in the center meridians of busy streets and flower boxes on the window ledges of abandoned buildings.

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My daughter helping to beautify the city streets of Brooklyn.

Soon they established a community garden, growing vegetables, sharing skills and resources, rallying people to reclaim urban spaces, and sparking a movement. That original community garden on Bowery and Houston is still thriving; it’s a treat to pass by when you’ve been pounding the pavement. Those rebellious gardeners are now a well-organized group called the Green Guerillas. And today there are over 600 community gardens in New York City.

New York City also has a program called MillionTreesNYC, an adoption program for young city trees. You can request a tree to plant or adopt an existing tree. They even provide training and grant money for planting flowers in the tree plot. My daughter and I have done it together for the last couple of years. Showing kids how things grow — in a city where there is no green grass to be found for blocks — is a pretty big deal. And New York City understands that.

But while one city has learned to embrace this kind of “civic disobedience,” others are slow to follow suit. And so guerrilla gardening (basically gardening without permission), is a “growing” trend. Now it’s becoming cool to garden.

On The Other Coast
Ron Finley planted a garden on the 150-foot-long curbside strip outside his house in South Central Los Angeles. He grew herbs and flowers and vegetables free for the taking. What started as a project to keep busy, turned into a crusade. Finley received a citation from the city; he had failed to purchase a $400 permit to grow vegetables on an otherwise neglected plot of city land. In a neighborhood that he calls a “food desert,” plagued with fast food and folks dying of diet-related diseases, growing vegetables for a community clearly in need had become a crime. Finley fought back.

By circulating a petition and bending the ear of a receptive city council member, Finley convinced the city to leave his garden alone. And then he helped found an organization called LA Green Grounds, dedicated to installing free vegetable gardens in curbside medians, vacant lots, and other properties in blighted areas.

With slogans like “It’s Your City. Dig It,” and “Let’s Fight the filth with forks and flowers,” guerrilla gardeners around the world are changing the urban landscape, one city block at a time. Some of these gardeners work in groups after dark, planting gardens in city parks or even private property that has been abandoned. There are books and blogs giving advice about how to plant and maintain a garden clandestinely.

Others work in the light of day, rallying neighbors and local businesses to spruce up their blocks with flowers and reclaim vacant lots by planting vegetables. They offer resources and training, they’re inspiring people to take pride in their communities and teaching kids how to grow things that are good to eat. Mostly, but not always, city officials turn a blind eye on ordinances.

One of the simplest and fun ways to do some guerilla gardening is to drop seed bombs. These are balls of seeds encased in clay, thrown or dropped in barren or abandoned lots. The clay protects the seed from critters and eventually breaks down as the seedling grows. It’s not a new concept; it’s the ultimate way to plant without digging. You can even make them with your kids. Here’s how:

How to make a seed bomb
Before seed bombing, choose your site (the sunnier the better) and choose your seeds. Different types of seed may be combined to make a seed bomb but check that they can all be sown at the same time of year.

Best flowers for seed bombs:
For sunny areas, annual meadow flowers including poppies, cornflower, marigold; Californian poppies; cosmos; hollyhocks; nigella; verbena bonariensis; viper’s bugloss.
For shady areas, use a woodland seed mix; foxgloves, tobacco plant, honesty.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Flower seed
– Potter’s clay powder, from any craft shop
– Peat-free compost
– Water
– A bowl
– A baking tray

Instructions:
Mix the seed, clay, and compost together in a bowl to a ratio of three handfuls of clay, five handfuls of compost and one handful of seed. Then add water slowly and gradually, mixing it all together until you get a consistency that you can form into truffle-sized balls. Lay them out to bake dry on a sunny windowsill for at least three hours.

Have you seen this kind of gardening where you live? Tell us in the comments below!

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The Surviving Snow Pile in Boston

The Surviving Snow Pile in Boston

When all is said and done, those of us living in the Northeast will agree that the winter of 2015 was one to remember. For people in Boston and Bangor, and dozens of other cities, the record snow accumulation will be part of the stories we tell our grandkids.

I visited Boston on May 19th and snapped this photo of what remained. In this shot, there is snow under the pile, but the rest is bottles, plastics, and everything else that accumulated with the snow. When clearing the streets, the city picked up whatever was in the plow’s path, and had to dump it somewhere. This was the last of the “white stuff.” Hardly white at all, and quite an eye sore.

A radio DJ this morning (on June 26th) indicates the pile, complete with some remaining snow (which has obviously been insulated by the debris), is still there!

 

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Explore The Outdoors During The Great American Campout!

Explore The Outdoors During The Great American Campout!

Camping is an American tradition. For many people, heading to a natural setting is a way to recharge their spiritual and mental batteries, and reconnect with family and friends. As a way to encourage people to soak up the outdoors, everyone is invited to be part of the Great American Campout sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation starting on Saturday, June 27, 2015.

In its tenth year, the Campout is held on the fourth Saturday in June, and participants are encouraged to sign the camping pledge on the National Wildlife Federation website (www.nwf.org) to be part of this enormous group effort.

David Mizejewski of the NWF says for each person who signs up, private donors will give the organization a dollar, up to $100,000, that they can use for educational and conservation projects. And while the event kicks off on June 27, the event lasts all the way until Labor Day.Enjoying an eveniing around the campfire.

The primary goal of the NWF is to encourage people to return to nature since we’re becoming increasingly disconnected. “The average school age kid spends a little over 7 ½ hours a day indoors. That’s a little bit out of balance,” he says. “And research looks at the negative impact on the child’s health.”

Studies indicate that children who spend time outdoors are more physically fit, and the increased level of Vitamin D from sunshine improves overall health. It’s also emotionally and mentally beneficial, as being involved in this type of unstructured activity enhances social skills, creativity, and critical thinking.

And you really don’t have to go far to enjoy the benefits, Mizejewski says. “The fact is, nature is all around us, sometimes literally out your back door. You don’t have to skip off the Yellowstone to have the experience.”

There’s also no rule that you have to rough it. Erin Doyon and her husband Greg of Great Falls, Montana, make it a point to take their 4 children out in their camper to enjoy the beauty that’s practically in their backyard, from early summer well into the autumn. Doyon says when they first started camping as a family, they tried the tent option. But between having to haul around a tent large enough for all 6 people, and being crowded when they were inside of it, it wasn’t that fun. “We decided we’re going to buy a used camper,” she says.

Now they have more space and sleep in comfort. Plus, Doyon prepares all of their food ahead of time so she’s not the camp cook for their entire outing. “I cook for 3 days before we head out. Everything is prepped and ready to go,” she says. When they’re out, she can relax and enjoy the time with the family.

The benefit of being out as a family is invaluable. “We can totally detach ourselves from responsibility,” she says. “We wake up in the morning and play games or ride bikes. We just really enjoy family time and doing nothing.”Everything tastes better in camp.

When you’re camping, whether you’re roughing it in the backcountry in a tent, or stepping outside of your RV with the smell of breakfast cooking on the stove, the point is to experience the natural world.

And while many cherish the thought of no cell service or WiFi, for others, staying connected is just part of who they are, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Mizejewski says, “Technology can be your friend.” He points out, there are apps for star gazing, frog songs, bird identification, and practically any natural history topic you can imagine. Spending time outdoors, even with a smart phone in hand, is a way to integrate the knowledge into real world experience. What better way to learn?

Take the time to have fun. Play games the entire family enjoys, read, go for a hike, catch fireflies, or simply stare into the fire. Use a guidebook, or app, to see who can identify the most flowers in your area. There are limitless ways to open your eyes to the wonders all around you.

Mizejewski also says many families use this time to gather together for an impromptu reunion with siblings and cousins. It’s a terrific way to build memories.

The ultimate goal of being outside is to gain an appreciation for nature. We should all work together to preserve it so that future generations can enjoy the benefits. As Mizejewski points out, “You only protect what you love, and you only love what you know.”

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Learning Every Day

Learning Every Day

June 19th is National Summer Learning Day!  What does that mean? In some parts of the U.S. there is year-round education, but for most, the school bell has rung for the last time and children are “free” for the summer. We know that children who are inactive during the summer can lose a months’ worth of learning which sets them back in the fall.

Other children who are engaged in activities (summer camp, sports, summer school, reading) can mitigate the loss and come back in the fall ready and raring to go.

So, take advantage of all there is to do. For ideas go to www.summerlearning.org and make this summer a time that your children, grandchildren and young friends put fun in every learning adventure.

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15 Fascinating Facts About The Statue of Liberty

15 Fascinating Facts About The Statue of Liberty

On the Calendar Pages of your 2015 edition of the Farmers’ Almanac (page 128), you’ll see that on June 17, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York City after nearly a year’s journey by ship from France.

As we celebrate the 130th anniversary of Lady Liberty’s arrival in the U.S., here are some facts about her you may not know:

  1. In 1865, a French politician named Edouard de Laboulaye proposed that a statue representing liberty be built for the United States to honor our centennial of independence, and friendship with France. French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (August 2, 1834 – October 4, 1904) supported the idea and in 1870 began designing the Statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

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    Craftsmen working on the construction of the Statue of Liberty in Paris. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, Statue of Liberty National Monument.

  2. Bartholdi used his mother, Charlotte, as the model for the Statue of Liberty. Some say he also used the Roman Goddess of Liberty.
  3. Construction of the statue officially began in Paris in 1876.
  4. After the Statue was presented to the U.S. Minister to France in Paris on July 4, 1884,  it was disassembled and shipped to the United States aboard the French Navy ship, Isère.
  5. The Statue arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885, and was met with great fanfare. Unfortunately, the pedestal for the Statue was not yet complete and the entire structure was not reassembled until the next year.
  6. Once the pedestal was completed in 1886, the Statue was reassembled quickly by a fearless construction crew, many of whom were new immigrants, without the use of scaffolding.

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    “Toes of Miss Liberty.” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  7. The seven “spikes” radiating from the statue’s crown are meant to be a halo, also known as an aureole. Each point represents one of the seven continents and Seven Seas.
  8. When the statue first arrived from France, she was the color of a shiny new penny. It took roughly 20 years for Liberty to develop the greenish-blue patina she wears today.
  9. The Statue of Liberty resides on Liberty Island, which, until 1956, was known as Bedloe’s Island.
  10. The star-shaped Fort Wood, which now serves as part of the statue’s pedestal, was home to military families from 1818 until the mid-1930s.
  11. On October 28, 1886, the Statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World” was officially unveiled to some one million New Yorkers in attendance.

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    New Yorkers posing next to the Statue of Liberty as its unpacked.

  12. Tourists were once able to climb up to the torch until 1916, but that ended after the Black Tom incident —  on July 30, Black Tom, once an island in the New York Harbor, was rocked by the explosion of two million tons of war materials. The blast was the equivalent of a 5.5 magnitude earthquake, and shrapnel flew across the sky and embedded itself in the statue. The Statue of Liberty’s torch was closed, partially due to infrastructure damage from the blast and partially just out of concern for terrorism. It’s been closed ever since. However, you can still get a view from it: Click here to see the Statue of Liberty’s many web cams, including one from the torch!
  13. The current torch is a 1986 replacement of the original, which is now in the lobby. The new torch is made of copper, covered in 24 k. gold leaf.
  14. The Statue stands 305 feet, 1 inch (about 93m) from the ground to the tip of the flame. It is the equivalent height of a 22-story building and was the tallest structure in New York in 1886.
  15. The tablet she is holding reads, “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” – July 4, 1776, the date of American Independence.

For more information, visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument site here.

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Maple ‘Copters Everywhere!

Maple ‘Copters Everywhere!

Helicopters, maple ‘copters, whirlybirds, twisters or whirligigs – no matter what you call a maple seed, they’re still an endless source of fascination. Many of our Farmers’ Almanac readers and Facebook fans have been asking about the large number of “helicopters” they’ve been seeing, and does it mean anything?

First, the technical term for this winged seed is samara, which refers to a specialized fruit that is designed to travel long distances from the parent tree. Some ash and elm trees also produce samaras, although the maple’s samaras are the very best at flying.

Maple trees that are healthy sometimes skip a year in seed formation, either due to poor pollination or to an exceptionally good growing season the year before. An over-abundance of samaras sometimes means the tree experienced some sort of “stress” the previous year, so producing a bumper crop of seeds is the tree’s way of carrying on the species, should that stress continue and that particular tree not survive.

So why do maple seeds fly? One reason is that among trees, maples have some of the largest, widest canopies. That means for a seedling to grow, the seed can’t simply fall to the ground beneath the tree like a nut or a fruit. And, since only a few animals eat the seeds – mostly turkeys, finches and on rare occasions, squirrels and chipmunks – there is very little chance that wildlife will pick up the seeds and carry them elsewhere. To get around these obstacles, maples developed winged samaras as a way to transport their fruit to sunnier, more hospitable places.

A natural lesson in aerodynamics
Maple seeds are one of those natural wonders that feature a nearly perfect design. In fact, scientists are using what they’re learning from these flying seeds to develop micro flying machines and even tiny helicopters that can be used for space exploration or to learn more about the atmospheres of planets like Mars.

It all starts with the shape. With a long wing that balances the weight of the seed, maple seeds are perfectly designed for flight. Since the seeds don’t fall away from the tree until they’re dry, they’re very light, which helps them travel farther.

If you examine a maple seed closely, you’ll notice that the wing gets wider further away from the seed. When the seed spins, the air moving over the wide end of the wing moves faster than the air closer to the seed, which gives the seed the lift it needs to stay aloft. Then there are the veins on the leading edge of the wing, which generate just enough turbulence to help it cut through the air.

Those are the basic ideas behind flying maple seeds, but when scientists dug a little deeper into the aerodynamics, they found something interesting. While observing the seeds in a smoke-filled wind tunnel, researchers noticed that they actually form a small vortex – like a tiny tornado – atop the wings. That vortex lowers the pressure above the seed, generating even more lift. Insects and hummingbirds rely on the same kind of vortex to hover in one spot.

Single winged seed or samara of a silver or swamp maple (Acer saccharinum) isolated against a white background

Single winged seed or samara of a silver maple.

Wings aren’t just for flight
The wings give maple seeds another huge advantage. Once a maple seed lands, the wing helps it stand upright between blades of grass or other foliage. The upright seeds have a better chance of embedding themselves into the soil below. Once pressed into the soil – whether by a passing foot, the weight of snow or something else – the wings break away so that the seed can germinate more easily.

Now that you know more about the maple’s flying seeds, you’ll be even more fascinated by the hundreds of them you see swirling towards the ground each year.

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10 Unusual But Effective Ways To Use Coffee Filters

10 Unusual But Effective Ways To Use Coffee Filters

Even if you aren’t a coffee drinker, you might want to pick up a pack of “basket-style” paper coffee filters on your next trip to the supermarket.  Not only are they inexpensive (a standard pack of 100 basket filters is about $1.00, and even more economical in larger quantities; unbleached can cost a little more), but they can tackle many household tasks and perform double duty in a pinch. Try any or all of these clever ideas:

  1. Make your own dryer sheets. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil, such as lavender, to a coffee filter to make an economical dryer sheet. Your clothes will smell great, and your homemade dryer sheets will even reduce static.
  2. Spice bundle for soups or stews. Placing whole spices and/or herbs in a coffee filter, then tie into a little pouch with a piece of kitchen string and you have an easy way to flavor soups or stews without having to fish out bay leaves, cloves, stems, etc.
  3. Polish shoes. Coffee filters are great for applying shoe polish, or leather conditioners, as well as buffing shoes to a high shine.
  4. Fill with baking soda as an odor fighting sachet. Tie 1/3 cup baking soda in a coffee filter and secure with a piece of string or a twist tie, and you have a deodorizing sachet to place in your fridge or freezer. It works better than leaving the whole box in there, because the air circulates all around the filter.
  5. Wrap delicate items. Filters are an inexpensive way to protect fine china, glassware, and fragile items like Christmas ornaments.
  6. Filter cooking oil. Remove impurities from used cooking oil after deep frying by straining the oil through a coffee filter.
  7. Instant drink coaster. Protect your furniture from rings by using coffee filters as coasters. Condensation wicks rapidly into the filter paper and away from your table tops.
  8. Wipes to clean mirrors, car windshields, etc. The absorbent paper of coffee filters is great for lint-free windows, windshields and mirrors. Use with or after your favorite glass cleaner. Can be cheaper than paper towels.
  9. Skin care. Coffee filters absorb sweat and skin oils well, and can be used 
to de-shine simply by blotting the face. Or to remove make-up, simply apply make-up remover or cold cream and use a filter to gently wipe it off.
  10. Whiteboard or blackboard erasers. Coffee filters are great at cleaning dry marker ink off of whiteboards, or when dampened, chalk from chalkboards.

Do you have a clever way to use paper coffee filters? Tell us in the comments below!

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The D-Day Anniversary

The D-Day Anniversary

June 6th marks the anniversary of D-Day, when in 1944, World War II Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France.

The 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach.

More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, which was also code-named Operation Neptune. The number of casualties that have been cited for many years are approximately 2,700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6,603 Americans, although those numbers are estimated to be higher. The greatest number of casualties occurred on Omaha beach.

The movie “Saving Private Ryan,” among others, shows a very realistic account of the horror these Soldiers endured upon landing on that beach. It’s difficult to watch.

We will always honor their heroism and sacrifice, which allowed approximately 130,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard trek across Europe to defeat Adolf Hitler’s troops. The Normandy landings have been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.

Where Did The Term D-Day Come From?
Many people think the “D” stands for designated day, decision day, doomsday, or even death day.  But none of these are what it actually stands for: the “D” is simply derived from the word “Day.” “D-Day” means the day on which an important military operation begins.

For military planners, the days before and after a D-Day were indicated using plus and minus signs: D-4 meant four days before the event, while D+7 meant seven days after a D-Day.

The term “D-Day” has been used for many different operations, but it is now generally only used to refer to the Allied landings in Normandy.

Listen to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s D-Day radio message here:

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.