Roots and Predictions: The Legacy of Superstitions in Agriculture and The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Whether it is forecasting the weather or determining the optimal planting time, many agricultural traditions are rooted in superstition. Since superstitions often arise from experiences, forming correlations between seemingly unrelated elements to anticipate future events is tried and true in a long-term practice such as agriculture. Before modern technological advancements, farmers relied on the natural elements—the soil, trees, animals and sky—to predict the future. For those whose livelihood depends on the success of each year’s harvest, leveraging any available information, such as the Old Farmer’s Almanac, could mean the difference between life and death for themselves and their families.

Since its publication, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has employed a diverse range of methods to predict crucial information for farmers, spanning from planting to harvesting. Its first editor, Robert B. Thomas, produced and sold the Almanac’s first issue in 1792 during George Washington’s first term as president for the price of sixpence or about nine cents. Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, that has been proven to be 80% accurate. Even in the age of advanced technology, superstition continues to influence the Almanac’s editors and their predictions that are believed by current farmers across the country. Below are tips Mississippi farmers follow taken from the Almanac over its over 200-year tenure.

  • Open the Windows
    All doors and windows must be open at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to allow the old year to escape. The superstition is this also allows good luck for the New Year to enter. (from a farmer in George County).
  • Predict the Rain
    If you want to know if it’s about to rain, check the exterior of your ag equipment. The superstition is if the metal is accumulating condensation, rain is on the way. (from a farmer in Bolivar County)
  • Planting
    Place rusty nails or iron items in the garden when seeds are planted. The superstition is this will help the plants grow. (from a farmer in Union County)
  • Hatchet in the Soil Stops the Storm
    When there is a threat of perilous weather, stick a double-bit axe in the ground facing the storm clouds. The superstition is the axe will “split the cloud” and prevent the downpour. (from a farmer in Rankin County)
  • Livestock
    Beware when farm animals with fur grow thicker coats. The superstition is that the winter season is going to be harsher than normal. (from a farmer in Jasper County)
  • Plant North to South
    It is a long-held belief that crops sown from North to South will produce a healthier harvest than those planted from East to West. (from a farmer in Wayne County)
  • Cows Forecast Weather
    When cattle lie down in the pasture, it indicates early rain. The superstition is cows become restless when stormy weather approaches and may lie down in a dry spot. (from a rancher in Pearl River County)
  • Digging Fence Post Holes
    If you dig a post hole during the phase of a new moon and fill it back up, there won’t be enough dirt to fill the hole. But under a full moon, there will be too much dirt left over. (from a rancher in Simpson County)

As we navigate the modern landscape of agriculture, it is essential to recognize the enduring influence of superstitions and traditional wisdom. The Old Farmer’s Almanac stands as a testament to the harmony of old beliefs and contemporary methods, with a high prediction accuracy rate over the past century. In the words and practices of farmers, the seeds of belief continue to thrive, ensuring a connection between the past and future of agriculture.