The Hort Report: Do you believe in persimmons, squirrels or woolly worms to predict winter weather?


Some people believe, based on the measurements of the distinctive woolly bear caterpillar, you can figure out your weather forecast. | Photo courtesy of University of Missouri

Congratulations to all the local FFA Chapters represented their schools at the National FFA Convention Nov. 1-4 in Indianapolis. These schools competed at the national level against schools from all over the country. 

Many people may not know there are no different classes for the FFA and Vo-Ag contest. A school like North Shelby competed against schools with 10 to 20 times the number of students in the high school. Missouri schools had more than 600 students earn the American Farmer Degree as well. 

I hope everyone said thank you to a veteran on Nov. 11. We need to be thankful for everything these men and women have given of their time, talent and sometimes treasure to keep the United States of America free all these years.

My dad Hiram, who died in June 2022, was proud of being a Korean War veteran. He wouldn’t talk much about the war until he came back from going on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., with several other men from Shelby County and Monroe County. 

He did talk more about what he did and saw while in Korea for 14 months. He would tell me growing up every time I complained about something like feeding livestock in the cold in the wintertime. He would say, “You don’t know what cold, hard times are until you lived in a tent on the DMZ in Korea in the wintertime.” 

The weather for the past several days has been very nice to be doing almost anything you want outside. You can do a lot of work in the yard, garden and flowerbeds. 

We have been very lucky in the past few weeks to have received much needed rain. The ground was very dry and open to both small and large cracks. These cracks allow cold air to get down into the root systems of all types of plants, shrubs, bushes and trees. 

The rain has helped seal up the ground, allowing the air pockets in the soil to be filled with water, thus surrounding the roots with soil. We still need more rain to help keep the soil sealed in the coming days. 

Think about adding mulch in a few weeks in and around your perennial flowerbeds, bushes, shrubs and trees. Mulch will help keep the cold air from getting into the root systems. As long as you can keep the roots from getting cold and freezing, they shouldn’t die this winter. 

Don’t apply mulch now. Wait until you have two or three killing hard freezes. This should happen around Thanksgiving. By then, the plants have gone dormant for the growing season, storing food in the root system so they can survive the winter weather. The mulch help keep the soil moist and warm. Applying the mulch around the base of the plants will make sure the mulch does as much good as possible. 

When applying mulch, I like to use leaves and grass clippings. Sometimes I will mix in organic matter. Putting about 2-4 inches of mulch around the plants will help seal the soil the plants are in. 

With the recent time change, we don’t have much daylight after work anymore. Hopefully you can get some work done on the weekends. You may need to take some time at lunch for a few days to get the work done.

I don’t know how many of you believe in all the different ways to predict the weather. I remember growing up how my Granddad Pete would talk about different things to look for about this time of year to help determine what the winter weather would be like.

He would talk about cutting open a persimmon seed to see if you could see a knife, fork or spoon inside the seed after you cut it open. If you see a spoon, you should have a lot of snow. A fork means a mild winter. Seeing a knife you will have a hard cold winter, where the air cuts like a knife. 

Others I really didn’t pay much attention to, like watching a milk cow in a lot the first three days of the new-year to see how she acts to predict the first three months of weather. 

We would look for how high in the trees the squirrels had their nest going into the winter. The higher the nest in a tree, the more snow and cold winter weather. The lower the nest in a tree, the milder the winter weather. 

Almost everyone talks about the woolly worm legend. The woolly worm isn’t a worm at all but a caterpillar called the woolly bear caterpillar. People tried to predict the coming winter weather by how wide the rusty brown segments were. The wider rusty brown segments, the milder the winter will be. 

The woolly bear caterpillar became famous when C.H. Curran, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, did a study on the woolly bear caterpillar in the Bear Mountains with his wife. They collected as many caterpillars as possible in a day and averaged the width of the rusty brown segments to plan on forecasting the coming winter weather. They used the idea that the wider the rusty brown segment, the milder the winter. 

Curran relayed this information from the first collection of caterpillars to a friend who was a reporter at the New York Herald Tribune, which published the news. Curran did this collection of caterpillars once a day during the next eight years. He was attempting to prove scientifically if the weather rule of thumb could predict winter weather. 

Curran found that the corresponding winters were found to be milder than the average winters before. He concluded the folklore had some merit. He also realized the sample was small. It did help create fun for him and others who want to believe in the folklore. 

In the coming weeks, many of you will be thinking about getting an amaryllis bulb. Many of them are in a kit. Where you have a bulb, soil and container to plant it in, soak the bulb in warm water for a few hours before planting in a well-drained soil that is in the kit. 

Fill the bottom of the pot with the soil with the bulb top sitting high enough in the pot so the top sticks up above the top of the rim of the pot. Firm the soil in around the bulb, filling up the pot to where one-third of the bulb is above the soil in the pot. 

Put the pot in a place where it will get bright sunlight. Water it well, then allow the soil in the pot to dry a bit between each time you water the plant. 

Don’t place the pot in a drafty room. The temperature should be between 60 and 70 degrees. Don’t place it around freezing windows, heat vents or radiators.  

To help a new amaryllis bulb start to flower or help an older one bloom, fertilize them with a plant fertilizer that is high in phosphorus like water soluble Ferti-lome Bloom and Root Fertilizer.

Once the flower stalk appears, move the plant into brighter sunlight. Turn the pot every few days for even sunlight the plant is receiving.

Once it starts to bloom, move it to a cooler location out of direct sunlight to help the blooms last longer. Sometimes the bloom on the stalk is heavy and will cause the stalk to lean over. Put in a stake next to the stalk and tie the stalk to the stake so the amaryllis flower won’t bend over.

With all the warm dry weather we have been having. the leaves on the trees are starting to fall faster. There are still many leaves to fall in some places. Try to use the leaves somewhere this fall. 

Raking them into a large pile and letting them decompose is one option. We have done this the past few years at my daughter Hillary’s house. We pile them up and leave them there during the winter, then in the spring, we will use them as a mulch to help control weeds. Using them this way will help build up the organic matter in the soil as well. 

We have also used the leaves in the spring in raised beds and growing tubs. They will break down and be there as organic matter in the raised beds and growing tubs. 

We will leave many leaves on the ground to be mowed over during the final yard mowing of the year. We have been doing this for many years. The mowed leaves and grass clippings will decompose over the winter months into the yard soil as organic matter for the coming years. 

The mowed leaves and grass clippings can also be used as a mulch to cover plants in our perennial flowerbeds. Other times we have spread the mowed leaves and grass clippings on the garden and flowerbeds and worked them into the soils. 

Your leaves can be used for many things, so please don’t rake them up and burn them. This would be a waste of a good form of natural organic matter that is free to use. 

Several people have asked questions about various things to do this time of year. Make a list of what you might want to ask in the coming weeks. I really appreciate all your questions and look forward to them. Keep them coming.

Call me at 573-588-2040 at Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, email me at or just come out and see me. I enjoy someone stopping me anytime they see me and asking a question.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from myself, Laura, Hillary and Sandra. Remember to thank God for all the blessings you have received this year.

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