Magellan sighted Philippines, 1521.

March 17, Tuesday - St. Patrick's Day. 1905 wedding of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.March 18, Wednesday - Midwestern tornadoes killed 692, 1925. J. Calhoun born, 1782.

March 19, Thursday - St. Joseph. If today is clear, a fertile year.

March 20, Friday - Vernal equinox. B.F. Skinner born, 1904. Isaac Newton died, 1727. Chipmunks emerge.

March 21, Saturday - Last quarter moon. Moon runs low. Alcatraz closed, 1963.

March 22, Sunday - Cornstarch patented, 1841. Stamp Act imposed, 1765.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: What can you tell me about the ladybugs that have frequented the southern side of my clapboard house in untold numbers for the last couple of years? Good luck?

- B.P., East Sebago, Maine

Answer: Definitely good luck, unless you kill them, which inevitably brings bad luck, according to the old-timers. Children know ladybugs from the old English rhyme, "Ladybug, ladybug, to your home you must turn, your house is on fire and your children may burn." Some say the "house" is the red back of the beetle itself, making the return trip an easy one, at least.

Children are also believed to talk to the ladybugs, there being some sort of natural affinity between them, it is surmised. Another superstition about the ladybug is that if one lands on you while you're ill, she will take the illness away with her when she flies off. Norse legends say the ladybugs came to earth with lightning and were associated with the goddess of love and beauty.

Gardeners recognize the spotted ladybug as a beneficial insect. Most of us expect to see them (the bugs, not the gardeners) in red with black spots, but some are the reverse, red spots on black, while others may be black spots on yellow. The adult ladybug most often shows either two spots or seven, for what that's worth. To most gardeners, what's most noteworthy is the ladybug's voracious appetite for aphids. If you want to encourage more ladybugs (OK, we said IF), you can safely grow some nettles in your yard, since the aphids that attack the nettles will not attack other plants. This provides early spring food for the ladybugs before other types of food may be available to them.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: What does the Rx for prescriptions stand for?

- B.N., Carson City, Nev.

Answer: Well, the R stands for the Latin word for recipe, meaning "take," but there's more to it than that. The total symbol is actually taken from the symbol for the planet Jupiter. If you look in The Old Farmer's Almanac under the names and characters of the principal planets and aspects (Page 38 of the 1998 OFA), you'll see the symbol for Jupiter, which looks like a fancy number 4, with the diagonal line of the upper left part of the numeral more curved, much like the upper right portion of a capital R. A little stretch of the imagination takes you from that symbol to the Rx, where the tail of the R is crossed by the X. Many pharmacies today still use the ancient symbol, with the X hanging well down below the tail of the R.

In the Middle Ages, many physicians and herbalists believed that the planets ruled people's health and also ruled the various plants and shrubs used as remedies. If you read the 16th century books of the English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, these planetary influences are immediately apparent in his advice. For some reason, Jupiter - perhaps being so large - was considered the foremost influence in the curing of diseases, so its symbol came to be used to identify sources of pharmaceuticals, as well as the prescriptions themselves. To the ancients, the planets and their ruling gods were inseparable, so, according to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the Rx symbol actually says, more or less, "Under the good auspices of Jove, the patron of medicines, take the following drugs in the proportions set down."

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: I'm planning a spring, fresh-water fishing trip in northern Vermont. Any tips on the best times to go?

-G.J., Westwood, Mass.

Answer: Well . . . that depends. Some say the best time is when you've got time. Others go by the moon and suggest fishing between the new moon and full. Since the full was March 12, you'd have to wait until after March 27, the next new moon. Try between March 27 and April 11, or between April 26 and May 11. The end of the Memorial Day weekend would be good, too, the Monday of Memorial Day being the beginning of another new moon phase. We wouldn't tell you not to try dipping your line in the water on the Saturday or Sunday that weekend, however. What could it hurt?

It's also best to have the barometer steady, or on the rise, and the stiller the air, the better. If you can't avoid a breeze, look for one that's from a westerly quarter rather than north or east. But then, again, the best fishermen take what they can get.

If you've got a tide calendar (check your Old Farmer's Almanac, or a local paper), look for the best fishing an hour before or after either high tide or low tide. Even fresh-water fish seem to respond to these restless tide periods, for some reason. (Probably has something to do with the moon's pull, which affects the tides.) Likewise, just after sunup and just before sundown are prime times. Good luck, and if you go in May, don't forget the fly dope.


Additional Information

This Week with The Old Farmer's Almanac

March 16-22, 1998

Vernal Equinox, March 20.

What man is there over show mind a bright spring morning does not exercise a magic influence? Carrying him back to the days of his childish sports, and conjuring up before him the old green field with its gently waving trees, where the birds sang as he has never heard them since. . .where the sky seemed bluer, and the sun shone more brightly, where the air blew more freshly over greener grass and sweeter smelling flowers, where everthning wore a richer and more briliant hue than it is ever dressed up in now!" Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote this definition of spring fever. Dandelion geens (full of vitamin C) are the tonic of choice for March 20, we're told.

Spring brings health, heralding summer's wealth.

- Norwegian proverb

Tip of the Week

Mount a second toothbrush rack in your bathroom and use the cup hole to store a blow dryer.

Spring Hummus

1 can (16 ounces) chickpeas

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup chopped parsley

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse chickpeas and mash or puree them. Slowly add olive oil and tahini, blending until smooth. Add lemon juice, herbs, and seasonings, and mix well. Serve on pita triangles or crackers.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

The Old Farmer's Weather Proverbs

Is't on Joseph's day (March 19) clear, so follows a fertile year.

St. Benedict (March 21) sow thy pease, or keep them in thy rick.

March dust on apple leaf brings all kinds of fruit to grief.

March sun lets snow stand on stone.