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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Category — Blog

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed

March 11th marks the 170th anniversary of the death of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Many of his loyal followers have marked this date as Johnny Appleseed Day in honor of the legendary American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to many parts of the country.

Chapman was born in Massachusetts on September 26, 1774 (which is why sometimes September 26th is celebrated as Johnny Appleseed Day). His father, Nathaniel Chapman was a Minuteman who fought in the Revolutionary war, and served with General George Washington. John’s mother, Elizabeth, died shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Nathaniel Chapman remarried after the war and had 10 children.

John and his half brother Nathaniel, Jr. journeyed west around 1792, just about five years after the Constitution was ratified. They lived as vagabonds, living off the land and taking odd jobs. Their father and siblings joined them in Ohio in 1805 where they started a family farm.

Johnny Appleseed’s legend begins when John Chapman left the family farm and signed on as an apprentice orchard man for an orchardist named Crawford. After that, fact and fiction become intertwined.  There are anecdotal reports of “Johnny Appleseed” appearing here and there over the middle Atlantic states, with key sightings in Pennsylvania. It’s likely that Chapman had combined his love of itinerant travel with his skills as an apple orchardist, and roamed the young United States looking for opportunity, locating landowners interested in planting apple orchards or starting cider mills.

While the legend depicts Johnny Appleseed as a barefoot vagrant, cooking pot on his head, and roaming the landscape strewing apple seeds randomly, it is far more likely that he was more of an eccentric but skilled professional, establishing nurseries of apple trees, and selling his services progressively westward to landowners interested in planning orchards. He’d teach his clients how to establish an orchard, how to keep deer and livestock at bay, and once the nursery was thriving, he’d move on to the next person interested in planting orchards. If he had to stay in one place for any length of time, he’d erect a teepee like structure and live humbly on the bare ground.  It is said that his only possessions were the clothes on his back, a bowl and a spoon, and a cooking pot for his gruel.

When it came to getting paid for his nursery work, it is said that Chapman charged based on what his clients could afford.  Richer landowners would pay cash for young apple trees, whereas he might accept used clothing or food from poorer settlers.

Later, Chapman began to mix the gospel with his nomadic lifestyle. He was a follower of what is known as the Swedenborgian faith, begun by Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Chapman was a dynamic speaker, and local residents would gather to hear him speak. This too, may have been another way he made money while traveling. But it’s clear that he was a man of deep faith, and believed that traveling across the country, preaching and setting up orchards was his path to salvation.

His obituary in the Fort Wayne Sentinel, on March 22, 1845, gives some insight into this unique American character:

On the same day in this neighborhood, at an advanced age, Mr. John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed).Johnny-appleseed-grave 2

The deceased was well known through this region by his eccentricity, and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years. He was a native of Pennsylvania we understand but his home—if homehe had—for some years past was in the neighborhood of Cleveland, where he has relatives living. He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself almost the common necessities of life—not so much perhaps for avarice as from his peculiar notions on religious subjects. He was a follower of Swedenborg and devoutly believed that the more he endured in this world the less he would have to suffer and the greater would be his happiness hereafter—he submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter.

In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60. He always carried with him some work on the doctrines of Swedenborg with which he was perfectly familiar, and would readily converse and argue on his tenets, using much shrewdness and penetration.

His death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous.

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Why do we call it that?

Why do we call it that?

Ever wonder where the names of the dozens of branded products — from packaged foods and beverages to personal care items and cleaning products— we use and buy came from?

Many of these product names are now a part of the American lexicon, but why did someone call a bar of soap Dial and how did Listerine come to be a synonym for mouthwash? Some names are a window to the history of a product while others provide a snapshot of the times in which the product was invented.

Listerine was named after Joseph Lister, a British physician who pioneered the now obvious idea of using disinfectants in hospitals and during surgery. The pungent liquid named after him was first sold as a general-purpose antiseptic for surgical use in 1879. In 1895, it was marketed to dentists. It wasn’t until 1914 that Listerine was sold over the counter as a mouthwash. It was also used to clean wounds on the battlefield during the First World War. So next time you gargle, thank Dr. Lister for killing your germs.

Formula 409:
Product names that include numbers are often a source of speculation. Some believe Formula 409 was named for the area code where it was invented or an April 9 birthday of the inventor’s daughter. But the official website of the product explains that the name was the result of extreme persistence. The two scientists in Detroit who invented the cleaning product weren’t pleased with it until the 409th batch.

Heinz 57:
Another confusing number can be found in Heinz 57 Varieties. While riding in a New York City train in 1896, Henry Heinz, founder of the H. J. Heinz Company, saw a sign advertising 21 styles of shoes and he thought using a number was a clever sales tactic. Although his company was manufacturing more than 60 products at the time, Henry thought 57 was a lucky number. Today the company produces thousands of products, but still uses the number 57.

Lego is synonymous with small plastic interlocking bricks that kids play with. The name is formed from the Danish words “LEg GOdt” meaning “play well.” Ironically, in Latin lego can mean, “I put together.” For smaller kids LEGO makes Duplo bricks. Duplo comes from the Latin word duplus, which translates literally as double and Duplo bricks are twice the size of Lego bricks.

Dial Soap:
Now that we have digital clocks and touch screen phones, we don’t think of dials much. But when Dial Soap was introduced in 1948, clocks had dials, and since this was the first soap to contain an antibacterial ingredient, the name “Dial” was chosen to emphasize its “Round The Clock” deodorant protection.

This story was featured in the 2015 Farmers’ Almanac.

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Best Days To Set Eggs in 2015

Best Days To Set Eggs in 2015

According to Moon lore and Almanac tradition, for best results you should set eggs (place eggs under a hen or in an incubator) during specific phases of the Moon shown on the dates below.

A chick usually takes about 21 days to hatch.

January:   3, 4, 11, 12, 30, 31
February: 7-9, 27
March:  7, 8
April:  3-5
May:  1, 2, 10, 11, 28, 29
June: 7, 8, 24-26
July:  4, 5, 31
August: 1, 2, 28, 29
September:  24, 25
October:  3, 4, 21-23, 31
November: 1, 27, 28
December:  24, 25

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Nothing to fear?

Nothing to fear?

Today, popular Sirius-XM radio show host, Phlash Phelps, brought up on the air that March 4th marks the anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous “Fear Itself” speech, which was delivered at his 1933 inauguration.

The normally jovial Roosevelt always peppered his speeches with humor and optimism.  But his first inaugural speech was unusually solemn.  And understandably so: it was the height of the Great Depression.

Here is the famous sentence of that speech:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

You can listen to the speech here.

Phelps asked his listeners what it was that they feared?  As editor of the Farmers’ Almanac my fears are much like others, fear of heights, fear of spiders (big and black), fear of snakes (any and all kinds), and my biggest: missing a giant storm in my most always-accurate weather predictions. We get most right (80%) but I have a fear of missing the really big one.

So, this is a different world than when FDR delivered this speech.  What do you fear each day??

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Editor On The Roof

Editor On The Roof

No question that this has been a winter to remember. So many roofs collapsing and almost nightly stories about people shoveling them off to avoid the risk of damage. I finally succumbed and tackled the horrors this weekend.

With 100 inches of snow accumulated here in Maine, I spent my Saturday clearing the roof at my cottage. Actually, I was concerned about the rain/snow prediction for midweek mixing with what is sitting like a marshmallow top.  It was quite a job.

Here are the before and after photos. Snow was between 2 and 4 feet deep but remarkably “light.”

Last summer I replaced the shingles on this building only to learn that there were three layers of shingles to remove. Every night the roofers pulled 2000-2500 pounds of shingles off the building, a job that took 8 days. Can you imagine that weight coupled with this snow?? Yikes.


The cottage roof, before…


The cottage roof, after.

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Weather, Gardening and Pet Peeves?

Weather, Gardening and Pet Peeves?

A cure for doctor’s office delays?! Move Thanksgiving to October? Eliminate the Penny? Change the National Anthem?

What do these things have in common? They were questions that the Farmers’ Almanac posed and asked readers to weigh in on.

While the Farmers’ Almanac is known for its weather forecasts and gardening tips, we also launch human interest crusades. These “campaigns,” as we call them, are chosen in an effort to address everyday (non-political) things that maybe have fallen victim to the “it’s always been done that way” mindset, or is a system so ingrained in our daily lives, that no one ever thought to revisit it to see if it makes sense for today. It’s usually something we can all relate to, and something that could possibly make life easier and more enjoyable with a few simple tweaks.

Many of our Almanac campaigns gained widespread support from our readers: naming a national dessert, doing away with the penny, and reminding doctors and medical professionals that our time is just as important as their time (“take our weight, but don’t make us wait!”) – while others caused discourse and objections. Many of our readers didn’t like the idea of moving Thanksgiving to October (a time closer to the harvest season and possibly better traveling weather), and others couldn’t even fathom the idea of naming a different song for the National Anthem (to one that might be easier to sing).

Overall, our readers and editors found it fun to explore these common, everyday topics or systems that we may have all wondered why or how they could be improved but never asked for the opinion of others.

Do you have an idea for something that we could all relate to (again, non-political) that you feel should be discussed and maybe even changed? Share your thoughts here.  Again, we’re not trying to address politics or start arguments, but instead identify something which, with a little ingenuity, creativity and thinking outside the box, could prove to be a change for the better for all of us.

Share your ideas here.

(Some of our other crusades include changing the date of trick-or-treating so it always lands on a Saturday in October, adding more color to US currency, and recognizing efforts that prove kindness does matter.)

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When’s The Next Leap Year?

When’s The Next Leap Year?

In 2015, February will have 28 days. But during “leap years,” the month extends to 29 days. Have you ever wondered why this is so? And when is the next one?

Year Leap Year Day
2016 Monday, February 29
2020 Saturday, February 29
2024 Thursday, February 29

The last leap year was 2012. The reason for the extra day during some years has to do with our need to keep our modern day Gregorian Calendar in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun.  Unlike the calendar, which organizes each year into a neat 365 days, it actually takes the Earth 365.242199 days – or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds – to circle once around the Sun.  

Leap years, or intercalary years, as they are also called, date back to the reign of Roman emperor Julius Caesar, in 46 BC. At that time, Caesar in consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria, decreed that a calendar year would be 365 days in length, and contain 12 months. Prior to that, the Romans followed an evolving series of calendars that were roughly based on the Greek lunar calendar, with a total of 354 days, and a “leap month” thrown in every few years to even things out.

Days were added to various months to bring the total number up to 365. Because the seasons didn’t exactly fit the 365-day year, the calendar ended about one-quarter day early, resulting in the calendar becoming a full day off every fourth year. To make up for the error, the Julian calendar, as Caesar’s calendar came to be called, added an extra day to the month of February every fourth year. Any year evenly divisible by four would be a leap year, which made the average length of the calendar 365.25 days.

However, the Julian calendar was still slightly off the mark. Caesar’s correction made the year 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long, which meant that, after 128 years, the calendar would end a full day later than the astronomical year. In 1582, Pope Gregory XII stepped in and ordered yet another correction to the calendar, resulting in the Gregorian calendar, which we use today. According to this reform, century years are not leap years, unless they are evenly divisible by 400. Thus, 1900 was not a leap year, but 2000 was. This made the average length of the calendar 365.244 days and reduced the calendar error to only one day in 3,322 years. During the 19th Century, astronomer John Herschel suggested dropping a leap year every 4000 years, to obtain even greater accuracy, however, his suggestion never received official support, in part because contemporary astronomers believe the point of the vernal equinox will change by the year 8000, making Herschel’s correction irrelevant.

So why do we call it a “leap” year, anyway?
Common (non-leap) years are composed of exactly 52 weeks, plus one day. This extra day means that if your birthday falls on a Tuesday in one common year, it will fall on a Wednesday the next common year, and so on. However, a leap year changes this scenario. A leap year is comprised of 52 weeks plus two days. So, if your birthday fell on a Wednesday last year, in a leap year it “leaps” over Thursday and lands on Friday. Thus, the name “leap year.”


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It’s Colder Than Cold!

It’s Colder Than Cold!

When we launched the 2015 edition last August, the raging debate was what type of winter would the US and Canada experience? Some folks said mild (can’t have two bad winters in a row!), and The National Weather Service spoke about a major El Niño possibly creating some mild conditions. We even put a P.S. in our winter weather predictions that if and El Niño happened, it could alter our time-trusted forecast. But we confidently proclaimed shivery and shovelry were going to be the terms to define the winter of 2015, and we’ve been on the money.

 We still have 4 more weeks of winter, but how is it going?

  • Buffalo had a lake effect storm dropping upwards of 6 feet of snow in one storm. Was this an anomaly?
  • The eastern half of the US has been brutalized by record cold and in recent weeks plenty of snow for the southeast.
  • Florida – any given day, it can warm, but they have had their share of winter temps to go with it.
  • Over 1,500 flights have been canceled in Dallas alone.
  • Niagara Falls frozen!?
  • Boston – narrow streets and unprecedented snow accumulations!
  • Concord, N.H. breaks a 146-year-old record for cold temperatures on Feb. 21st (-17 degrees) and is close to having the coldest month on record.
  • Maine – Bangor has set a record with 108” of snow and the coldest February in  history. This week will see -20s. Portland, Maine, averages 71” a winter, it has recorded  83” so far and climbing.

I’d love to hear your winter story. How cold has it been in  your world? I know parts of the US and Canada have escaped the worst but what does it look like outside your window?

Our next prediction is that while March will come in like a lion, we’ll see the end of winter the latter part of the month. That is unlike last winter when it snowed in parts of the US in April and May.  

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Niagara Falls Frozen Over, 1883

As temperatures plunged across the United States and Canada earlier this week, one of the more popular subjects of the record-breaking cold spell in the news and on social media has been the partial-freezing of Niagara Falls. While images of the majestic and powerful natural wonder appearing to be frozen over have no doubt captured the imaginations of millions, this is not the first time this has happened. Previous winters where temperatures dropped low enough to freeze parts of the falls include 1911, 1932, and 1977.

However, one of our favorite images of all time is this 1883 contribution from the notable Canadian-American photographer George Barker. The photograph is simply titled, “People on snow-covered ice at the base of the frozen American Falls, Niagara Falls, New York.”


(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

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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.