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Pigs once dined on lobster

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Sept. 24, Monday — Conjunction of Mars and the moon. Begin logging, set posts or pour concrete now.

Sept. 25, Tuesday — Moon runs low. Harvest above-ground crops. Yosemite National Park established, 1890.

Sept. 26, Wednesday — Composer George Gershwin born, 1898. Visits always give pleasure; if not the arrival, then the departure.

Sept. 27, Thursday — Yom Kippur, 10th and final "Day of Awe." Conjunction of Neptune and the moon.

Sept. 28, Friday — Conjunction of Uranus and the moon. Birthday of Confucius (551 B.C.)

Sept. 29, Saturday — St. Michael. If Michael brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow.

Sept. 30, Sunday — Good fishing until Oct. 2. Rayon patented, 1902. Plant above-ground crops now.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Is there any truth to the story that farmers used to feed lobsters to pigs? — G.L., Denver, Colo.

Answer: It's true, as hard as it may be to believe. The practice came from a time when lobsters were so plentiful in New England that it was not unusual to find dozens of them washed up on shore after a big storm at sea. Lobster was used for chowders, casseroles, stuffed seafood dinners and the like, and any leftovers would be given to the pigs the next morning. With today's lobster prices, we might liken it to "casting pearls before swine," but in its time, it was cheaper than buying grain.

Similarly, it was common to feed caviar to pigs, before people realized that the fish eggs found in their "poor man's diet" of sturgeon were the same expensive roe that was imported from Russia. At one time, sturgeon ranged from the St. Lawrence River south to Mexico, but they have been seriously overfished since then. By the 19th century, American sturgeon (Acipenser sturio) was beginning to find its place on the gourmet's menu, and the roe was being salted and packed as caviar. A good-sized fish might weigh in with up to 60 pounds of roe. Previously, the roe had been used as bait for eels and perch and for adding to common compost in the backyard. Imagine how valuable that "caviar soil" would make your garden!

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Somewhere in the Almanac, I've seen a formula for discovering the day of the week for any given date. Can you provide it? — B.E., Chicago, Ill.

Answer: The formula you're referring to works for any date after 1753. To figure it, you need this key: January is 1 (except in a leap year when it is 0); February is 4 (except in a leap year when it is 3); March is 4; April is 0; May is 2; June is 5; July is 0; August is 3; September is 6; October is 1; November is 4; December is 6. (Remember that leap years are those years evenly divisible by four, but the centenary years must be evenly divisible by 400. For example, the year 1900 was not a Leap Year, but 2000 was.)

Now, to compute the day of the week for any given date, add the last two digits of the year to one-quarter of the last two digits (discard the remainder, if it doesn't come out even), plus the given date, plus the month key as above. Next, divide that sum by seven (If you go back before 1900, add two to the sum before you divide.

If you go back before 1800, add four before you divide. From 2000 to 2099, subtract one from the sum before you divide).

The number left over after you divide represents the day of the week: One is Sunday, two is Monday, three is Tuesday, and so on. If, when you divide the number, it comes out with no remainder, then the day is Saturday.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: I've seen cardinals in my neighborhood, but for some reason they don't seem to come to my feeder. Is there any remedy? — G.W., Malden, Mass.

Answer: Birds are creatures of habit, but if the cardinals are nearby, you may be able to entice them to give your yard a try.

Dangle half an orange or half a pink grapefruit near your feeding station to see if it attracts their attention. Brightly colored flowers may have the same effect, though the birds (except hummingbirds, which are probably scarce by now) don't eat from them.

Try black oil sunflower seeds, as well as some peanut kernels. Blue jays, squirrels, the tufted titmouse and juncos also like these, of course, so even if the cardinals do not come, the seeds will not be wasted.

Squirrel buffers may be in order, if you hope to keep them from scaring away the timid cardinals. Dogs and cats, too, must be kept at bay, or the cardinals are unlikely to risk a visit.

Some birders put out thistle seed for cardinals, but our experience has been that the cardinals don't eat it. Purple finches, American goldfinches, redpolls, chickadees and pine siskins all like the Niger thistle, however, so it's worth putting out. For the brown-headed cowbird (sometimes called a "paintpot" bird) or the English (house) sparrow, try white proso millet. Juncos like it, too. And keep in mind that most birds are perfectly happy with a variety of seeds, even though they may have personal favorites. As winter comes on, add some suet for the cold days.


Send your questions to: Ask the Almanac, The Old Farmer's Almanac, Main St., Dublin, NH 03444; Web site: www.almanac.com