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CARTHAGE, Ind.–In rural Shelby County, at least one man still hangs on to some of the old ways of farming. He has planted, harvested, butchered, and even strung fence, by the advice of the farmer’s almanac. But, Tim Shutts, a philosopher and thinker, is admittedly in the very small minority.

“The almanac knowledge is just kind of a glimmer of tremendous wisdom that was passed down actually for thousands of years,” said Shutts, who grew up on a farm. “When it all really started changing was the beginning of the industrial revolution.”

Hear the story of the almanac and the Hoosier viewpoint


Shutts said he has farmed using the advice of the almanac on “the signs”, or the position of the moon and twelve constellations.

“Some time in January, before you get started, you sit down with your calendar and your almanac and you make a complete list of things to do,” he said, admitting that the notion is antiquated. The yellow paperback book, full of tables and illustrations, is supported with ads for prostate pills and phones that show text for the hard-of-hearing.

Jim Benham, president of the Indiana Farmer’s Unions, and a semi-retired farmer, said he does not personally know of anyone who still uses the almanac for farming.

“The problem we have now is the farms have gotten so large, and the window so small, to get a crop in and out, that people don’t have time to participate with it,” said Benham, from his farm in Ripley County, where his family has about 1,200 acres.

“Younger generations are just not gonna fool with that. They’re just gonna claim that it’s hoodoo or something that’s not scientific,” he said. 

Shutts believes it is indeed scientific. Both men acknowledge the book is based on age-old wisdom, combined with patterns of behavior for animals and weather.

“It’s pure science. You take the moon, as the moon circles through the sky, it pulls oceans, whole bodies of water, a lot of times in just a few minutes,” said Shutts. He said the constellations have a similar gravitational pull, and that both affect planting, whether fence posts with remain strong in the ground, water weight in people and animals, and even how bacon behaves in the skillet as a result of that water weight.

“The almanac is just a slice of that old-world knowledge that remained, even though most people don’t use it today. It’s kind of a glimpse into the knowledge that our forefathers had hundreds of years ago,” said Shutts. That knowledge can help people make apples last two years or milk stay good when at room temperature, he said.

“To a large degree I’m still surprised that they’re still printing the almanac and that there’s still enough interest for people to buy it.”

That also surprises Benham, who uses more overtly scientific, contemporary means, like the smartphone.

“It’ll tell you in the next ten minutes whether it’s gonna rain or not, what the chances of it happening, what the five-day forecast is, and even the 30 or 90-day,” said Benham. “Most of the kind of stuff, what the almanac used to try to do for us, we’re picking up off of electronic devices now.”

For a book that was first published in 1792, it’s secrets, some of them closely guarded, continue to move a dwindling few curious people to peruse its pages, looking for an edge in a competitive business.

Tim Shutts talks about the benefits of using the almanac


PHOTOS: Chris Davis/Emmis