The New Almanac revives the tradition of the rural almanac for a new audience. This is planned as the first edition of an annual publication, each edition split into 12 monthly sections. It is aimed at readers who want to connect with the seasons, through gardening, eating seasonally, moon gazing, foraging, celebrating feast days and picking seasonal flowers.
A set of tables each month will give it the feel and weight of a traditional almanac, providing practical information that gives access to the outdoors and the seasons, useful for expeditions, meteor-spotting nights and beach holidays. There will also be essays on each month’s unique nature, folklore and stories, seasonal recipes and ID charts relevant to the month.
The aim of the almanacs is to give you the tools and inspiration you need to celebrate, mark and appreciate each month of the year in your own particular way.
Each monthly section will contain:
Information tables: significant calendar dates; the phases of the moon; sunrise and sunset times; king tides; equinoxes, solstices and cross-quarter days; food in season; what to sow and harvest in the kitchen and flower garden; a forager’s guide; the sky at night (meteor showers, planets visible, lunar eclipses); festivities (Samhain, Wassailing, Divali, Midsummer, Hallowe’en etc).
A recipe using seasonal ingredients/relating to the month’s festivity: Cider cake for wassailing in January; Blood orange tart in February; Potato kugel gratin for Passover in April; Beltane wine for May Day; Broad bean, pea shoot and pecorino salad in June; Sticky cinnamon figs in September; soul cakes at Hallowe’en.
A short essay on an aspect of the month, some historical, some practical, some contemplative: In August: Who is John Barleymow? Where do swifts go in September? In October: The story of gourmet garlics and how to plant them; in December: the tradition of the midwinter fire.
An ‘ID page’ related to the month: Identify trees by their bare buds in January; cloud formations in April; hedgerow flowers in July; beach lifeguard’s flags in August.
My hope is that you will refer to your almanac all year long, revisiting it again and again, and looking forward to the next edition as the year draws to a close.
THE ELEMENTS IN ONE MONTH’S ENTRY - MAY
May is a month when our pagan roots poke above the surface a little more determinedly than usual. May Day, also known as Beltane, is a festival we can’t seem to resist celebrating, and there still exist rich traditions involving flower crowned girls, green and beribboned men, hobby hosses and more, up and down the country. Perhaps it is down to the irresistible nature of this moment in the year: early May is when the slow and halting move from winter to summer finally becomes irresistible, and green leaves and white blossom break out all over. Why wouldn’t we celebrate.
The moon in May
May’s full moon is important for Buddhists, and is called Vesak or Buddha Purnima. It is a day to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Guatama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and is sometimes also known as ‘Buddha’s Birthday’. Buddhists dress in white and visit temples on this day, and make special efforts to bring happiness to those less fortunate than themselves, through gifts and deeds.
Many Native American tribes used full moons as their calendars, and named each one according to natural and agricultural features of the month. The full moon in May was known as the Flower Moon by some tribes, as spring flowers are in abundance in May, and by others as the Corn Planting Moon, Milk Moon or Hare Moon.
The moon’s phases May 2018
3rd quarter: 8th May (moonrise: 00.01am, moonset 2.07pm)
New moon: 15th May (moonrise: 01.22am, moonset 5.16pm)
1st quarter: 22nd May (moonrise 3.21am, moonset: 7.30pm)
Full moon: 29th May (moonrise: 5.59am, moon set: 9.55pm)
Planting by the moon
Best dates for sowing root crops: 1-15th May
Best dates for sowing and planting flowering and fruiting plants: 15th-29th May
Essay: The May Queen
The countryside in early May is an explosion of green and froth, all fresh, young, burgeoning life, all blossom and potential. The May Queen is the personification of this moment. She is traditionally young and beautiful, not quite a child and not quite a woman, but someone on the cusp of her full life. There is an innocence and purity about the crowning of the queen but she is not entirely guileless: there is a hint of a darker side to the celebrations (some older traditions even included a ritualised sacrifice), and just as the perfect white blossom that she wears on her crown will soon be pollinated, so the May Queen is essentially a woman on the edge of her sexual awakening. This is captured in rather melodramatic fashion in Tennyson’s ‘The May Queen’. Here our soon-to-be May Queen starts the poem talking of flowers, garlands and white dresses but before long is revelling in her status over the other unchosen girls and flirting cruelly with poor Robin, who she passes over for - one is lead to suspect - one of the ‘bolder lads’ she expects to meet on the day. Such flagrant enjoyment of her own beauty and youth cannot go unpunished of course and in true Victorian style we then fast forward to New Year’s day where we find our heroine dying of some unnamed illness that may bear mysterious relation to her ‘wild and wayward’ ways. That’ll teach her for messing with those shepherd boys. A less cruel but still problematic fate meets the Queen of the May in the traditional folk song of the same name. Out gathering may blossom she is met by a man who offers to go with her into the meadows to find more, and though she at first refuses for fear of being led astray, he persists and they do inevitably end up sitting together on the mossy green bank – as gentle a euphemism as I’ve ever heard. But it’s all ok because the next day he marries her so that ‘the world should have nothing to say’. Lucky girl. Death-by sexual-liberation or reluctant quickie marriage, either way, sex is involved. The May Queen starts the day as sweet and innocent as the blossom in her crown and ends the day, well...a little more fruitful.
Despite the depressing outcomes of past interpretations I love the figure of the May Queen: she has youth and burgeoning potential plus a gently saucy awareness of her own appeal. She is perfect for this fresh and promising moment in the year, and perhaps that is why she persists in May Fairs up and down the country on May 1st while so many of our semi-pagan celebrations have drifted away from us. This is a moment for fun, frolics and petal strewn mossy green banks. The birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees are all at it. But as the stories make clear, things must soon turn serious for the May Queen just as they do for the wildlife and the crops around her, and the real work of the year and of life - the swelling, maturing and reproducing - must begin.
Hello! Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day, and it seemed like a good moment to give a little report back on progress on the almanac since funding reached 100% back in October. Thrillingly, the support has continued to come in and the almanac is currently funded to 109%, but I have been able to take my foot off of the sales pedal and start on the creating. We have engaged a wonderful illustrator…
Somehow, incredibly, we have hit 100%! What a wonderful rush that final 5% was! And I just wanted to write a very quick thank you to you all, it all feels brilliant. I think it is most probably giving away WAY too much to let you know that I most probably saw every single name come in, and have silently thanked you already, and in some cases punched the air if your pledge was one that tipped me over…
The Almanac has received a perfect message of support from Arne Maynard, which I thought I would share as I am so delighted, being a huge admirer of Arne's garden designs and general approach to life (see his beautiful Allt-y-bela, above, photo by William Collinson). Arne says:
“We have lost touch with our traditional festivals and natural timings of the year, many of which aid our gardening…
At the beginning of September I wrote here about ironing brand new white shirts, sharpening pencils, lining up shiny black shoes by the front door. Now it is October, and I sat down to something Octoberish, while determined to avoid three particular words. Damn it’s hard. There are a lot of apples in my life right now, and a slow acceptance of the need for cosiness in food and in life in general…
Here is your latest almanac snippet! The sort of information that you will just have to hand once you have your Almanac. I feel slightly like the bearer of gloom this time, as this Thursday marks the autumn equinox, when day and night are of equal length. This state of delicate balance lasts for one day only before we are tipped into the dark half of the year. Persephone is off to the underworld…
Join one of my gardening clubs!
Among the rewards on offer as part of my crowdfunder are two brilliant gardening clubs in conjunction with excellent nurseries Otter Farm and Higgledy Garden. You see, a section in each month of the almanac will be a guide to when and how to do things in the garden, and I thought: why don’t we just start that now? So we will with bells on. Join one of my gardening…
In keeping with my plan to give you little tasters of what the almanac will include I wrote last week about dusk times. Now it is the turn of the moon, because we are coming up to an exciting moon week when it is worth keeping an eye on the skies.
September's full moon, which falls next Friday 16th at around 8pm UK time, has long been known as the Harvest Moon. Because of the moon's autumnal ellipsis…
Though all pledges are received with glee, I have to admit that I get most excited during this crowdfunding journey when someone pledges to come along to my launch party. Perhaps it's the excellent faith it shows - yes, there will be a book to launch! - or perhaps it's just that I like a party, and I think this will be a lovely one. Anyway, there have been a few developments on the party planning…
The idea for The New Almanac came from a desire to be more in touch with the world around me, just in very simple ways like: when is the sun coming up tomorrow? What is that bright star in the sky? Today I’ve been thinking about and researching dusk, and there’s a phrase I don’t get to say every day. In recent days dusk has rushed in, a definite change from the light evenings of summer, and through…
These people are helping to fund The New Almanac.