The Art of Farming

Most homes had one laying around as I was growing up. That quixotic little magazine known as The Old Farmer’s Almanac that adorned the coffee tables of many a rural American home and, on occasion, the city dwellers who pined for a simpler era. The little booklet dispatched what looked to be impractical and whimsical advice that seemed as though it was certainly not in keeping with the times, but the more you tried to distance yourself from it, the more it appeared to make sense.

It is certainly no different today in our digital age, as The Almanac still binds all things natural to the modern world. The Almanac began almost as early as the founding of the country itself. This little magazine has dispensed advice about living and facts about nature—telling you not only when to plant various crops and flowers, but how to manage the pestilence that may infect them. There is even advice when it comes to dealing with the various animals that may be part of a farming community, from the proper butchering of livestock according to the cycles of the moon, to the way to care for chickens and the eggs they produce.

Robbie Cahill of Cahill’s Market in Bluffton is certainly of the mindset that the wisdom of The Old Farmer’s Almanac is as valuable today as when first published in 1792. In an in-depth interview on how he uses The Farmer’s Almanac as his guide to farming the land that has been in the family for 100 years, Robbie, along with his father, John, take the sage wisdom of The Almanac and instills it into the practices that have impacted the farm for several generations.

“We would love to sell produce alone,” Cahill stated. “But the numbers just don’t add up.”

The Cahills have about 12 acres they actively farm to supply the produce and the vegetables used in the restaurant and the market. The idea that they need to be as precise as possible in the way they manage the land brings the value of The Farmer’s Almanac into full view. Cahill said they are prudent in their usage of the planting schedules, according to The Almanac, mixed with the experience of managing the farm, to obtain successful harvests year after year.

“When there is the New Moon, or the ‘Waxing’ moon, the moon appearing on August 17,” Cahill said, “You plant the seeds that produce crops above the ground; when there is a ‘Waning’ moon, you plant seeds that produce crops below the ground.”

Cahill went on to say that, of course, the weather is always a factor, but strict adherence to The Almanac is crucial to the success of the operation. Cahill added, “Sometimes when we jump the gun because the weather has been wet and we finally get a dry day, that crop usually has more pestilence and less harvest. If I start a seed in the wrong moon, that plant is not as healthy.”

The Almanac, while not really designed to tell you how to harvest in general, does give invaluable advice on how to care for the crops in the ways of managing pestilence.

“Of course, The Almanac will refer to using the elements of the earth as much as possible by making natural powders that will aid in the pestilence problem,” Cahill said, but added that regional conditions will always prevail.

Robbie said last year was a different situation with Hurricane Matthew cutting a swath through the area last fall. He went on to say he has seen new bugs that he has never seen before as a result of the storm and that treating the new pestilence has required a different tact, but that they are still overly concerned as to not use anything that will harm the environment.

The beauty of The Farmer’s Almanac is that, according to Cahill, it will tell you when to “kill pests, when to chop wood according to the lunar cycles and when to castrate animals, all based on the astrological signs.”

According to Cahill, operating a smaller farm and using that farm to supply a restaurant means consulting a publication like The Old Farmer’s Almanac takes on a whole new meaning. Being as precise as possible in your planting, and adhering to the cycles of the moon, means you become more efficient in every aspect of the business—from planting and harvesting to eliminating waste and returning that waste back to the earth in the form of composting.

The new trend sweeping the food service industry, the Farm-to-Table concept, has been the guiding influence for the Cahills for as long as their restaurant has operated. Robbie said one of the lessons he has learned when looking at farming, as it pertains to the restaurant business, and the reason The Almanac is so vital is that, “The real future is seed production in this industry. This is why the Farm-to-Table experience is becoming so popular because deep down the consumer realizes the closer they can get to the seed, the better it will be, and all who are involved with it will benefit.”

While the Cahills have always prided themselves on serving fresh, down-home Southern fare in the restaurant, it is the experience of working the land for 100 years that has been the determining factor in their success. Year in and year out, the land has yielded crops of every kind and, at the heart of that production, it has been the humble, tried and tested Old Farmer’s Almanac that has guided them along the way.

Yes, you can certainly go to The Old Farmer’s Almanac website (almanac.com) instead of getting the actual little magazine, as this is the digital age, but no matter how you access the content, buried within its pages is the wisdom of the ages on full display for a new generation.

Technology may change and we may change as a human species, but the stars in the heavens and the moon up above tells a tale as old as time itself, if we were but to listen.