July 23, Monday — St. Mary Magdalene. Fluoride in drinking water found to reduce tooth decay, 1956. Ulysses S. Grant died, 1885.
July 24,Tuesday — Martin Van Buren died in Kinderhook, N.Y., 1862. A good day for dental care.
July 25, Wednesday — St. James. Moon on the equator. Mussolini ousted and arrested, 1943.
July 26, Thursday — St. Ann. New York became 11th state, 1788. Carl Jung born, 1875.
July 27, Friday — H.J. Heinz Co. founded, 1900. U.S. State Department established, 1789.
July 28, Saturday — Children's book author and illustrator Beatrix Potter born, 1866. First singing telegram delivered, 1933.
July 29, Sunday — NASA established, 1958. Prune forsythia, lilacs and other ornamental shrubs now to encourage growth.
Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac:I've seen sweet corn and Indian corn planted in the same field. Why don't they cross-pollinate? — N.D.A., Baltimore, Md.
Answer: The gardener has taken pains to keep cross-pollination from happening. Because sweet corn can be wind-pollinated, it is generally isolated from the ornamental and Indian corn and from popcorn varieties to keep the crosses from mixing things up. Just 100 feet can make all the difference, however. Sweet corn should be placed upwind of the other varieties, since it is what you're trying to keep "pure."
Some farmers find that staggering the planting dates is all that is necessary. As long as the sweet corn is past its fertile dates before the pollen starts to be shed from the other corn varieties, the sweet corn will remain pure. Since the Indian varieties ("Wampum," "Red Stalker," etc.) and home-grown popcorns generally have a longer maturity span, even a week's delay in planting these ornamentals can be enough to ensure that their tassels won't shed pollen that could affect the sweet corn. Beware of the vagaries of climate and soil differences, however, and if sweet corn is your cash crop, consider planting the other varieties elsewhere.
Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac:My German grandmother insists that feather mattresses should only be turned on a waning moon. Have you ever heard of that? — F.M., Claremont, N.H.
Answer: The waning moon was considered less apt to attract the feathers, so if turning the feather bed to make it smooth was the goal, a waning moon would help you in your work. If plumper pillows were what you were after, then the waxing moon might better suit you. It is also said that a feather bed makes it harder for a dying person to expire. On the other hand, turning a feather bed on a Sunday is bad luck and apt to bring bad dreams for the following week to those who sleep in that bed. There are many superstitions about the household.Do you have any superstitions you'd like to share? Drop us a line at the address below.
Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac:Did people really believe that they could get rid of rats by writing them a note?— H.L.M., Aldie, Va.
Answer: Some New England old-timers believed that the best way to rid a household of rats was to write the rodents a letter — an eviction notice, so to speak — that asked them to take up somewhere else, most often the home of a neighbor. Examples of such letters, which were typically written on greased paper and rolled tightly, were found tucked into the walls of old houses and barns over 50 years after they were written. A letter that was discovered in a Maine residence, read: "October 31, 1888, Messrs. Rats & Co., . . . I wish to inform you that you will be disturbed during the winter months as I expect to work through all parts of the house, shall take down ceilings, take up floors, and clean out every substance that would make you comfortable . . . I shall remove every eatable substance, so you had better take up your abode elsewhere." The writer then suggested that the rats move to the farm of a neighbor, where, he promised, they would find "a good supply of grain" and be able to "live snug and happy." Another letter, from Mrs. Abigail Weed, was considerably more forceful: "I cannot find words enough to express what I feel, you black devils . . . gnawing our corn while we are asleep! . . . Now, spirits of the bottomless pit, depart from this place with all speed! Look not back! Begone, or you are ruined!" The letter was addressed to "the biggest and most inventive rat," and added that "This is for cellar rats. Please give notice to those in the chamber."
Some letters, like the above, seemed to be something of an incantation of ancient origin that would "exorcise" the house of the vermin. Those who believed in the letters thought they were more effective than cats, rat terriers or poison. In any event, we say the letters couldn't hurt, especially when used in combination with a few good traps. Otherwise we take the amusing accounts with a large grain of salt. Or should we say hunk of cheese?
Send your questions to: Ask the Almanac, The Old Farmer's Almanac, Main Street, Dublin, NH 03444. Web site: www.almanac.com