Fannie Farmer born, 1857. Mussolini founded the Italian Fascist Party, 1919. Joan Crawford born, 1908.

March 24, Tuesday - Harry Houdini born, 1874. Broadway premier of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," 1955. Steve McQueen born, 1930.March 25, Wednesday - An-nun-ciation. Happy Birthday to Gloria Steinem, Aretha Franklin and Elton John!

March 26, Thursday - Robert Frost born, 1874. March takes its name from Mars, Roman god of war. Nathaniel Bowditch born, 1773.

March 27, Friday - New Moon. Moon on Equator. Sarah Vaughan born, 1924. New York City had winds of 91 miles per hour, 1913.

March 28, Saturday - Three Mile Island accidents began, 1979.

March 29, Sunday - Oscar Mayer born, 1859. Cy Young born, 1867.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: I know farmers sometimes plant by the moon phases, but how does animal husbandry relate to the moon?

-N.L., Erie, Pa.

Answer: Planting by the moon comes from the simple belief that the moon governs moisture. Pliny the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist, stated in his Natural History that the moon "replenishes the earth; when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, while, when she recedes, she empties them." Performing animal husbandry according to the moon phases comes from a similar theory, that the moon exerts a gravitational tug on bodily fluids, such as blood, breast milk, or the amniotic fluids around an embryo. So, for example, folklore says to have your hens (or other birds) begin setting eggs on the moon's increase, rather than on the wane, so that the moon is exerting a favorable influence, rather than a diminishing one. (It's also advised to avoid a south wind, if you can.) Because bleeding is considered to be more excessive on the moon's increase or full, it's recommended that farmers castrate and/or dehorn their animals on the moon's wane, but for juicier meat, slaughter on the wax. Don't commence your weaning when the moon is waning (there's got to be a song in there, somewhere), nor, ideally, should your animals be birthing then. Any dentistry, docking of tails, or elective surgery, such as the spaying or neutering of animals, should also be scheduled for the moon's wane.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: For a school project, my son wants to make a collection of 100 collectives. Can you tell us some interesting ones?

- J.S.R., Lincoln Park, Mich.

Answer: Keep in mind that some animals have more than one collective name, and others animals share the same ones. Both kangaraoos and monkeys go in troops, evidently, but kangaroos can also go in mobs, and pheasants may gather in either nests or nides. We won't offer 100 collectives here (it's his homework, after all!), but listed are a few we've particularly enjoyed. There's a crash of rhinoceri, a band of gorillas, an exaltation of larks, a cry of hounds (but also a mute of hounds), and a sounder of boars or swine. Quails and swans travel in bevys, ducks come in braces (but sometimes in teams), hawks are in casts, and peacocks in musters. You'll find a murder of crows, a charm of goldfinches, a congregation or wing of plovers, and a covey of partridges. Cranes go by the siege. The gaggle of geese is well known, but there are also skeins of geese. Stay up late to find a watch of nightingales. If you can't distinguish the birds, call them a volery. On the sly side, there are gangs of elks, a skulk of foxes, and a sleuth of bears. Kittens come in kindles or kendles, but cats come in clutters and clowders, not to be confused with chowders. The toads are in knots, the greyhounds on leashes, and the leopards come in leaps (but not bounds). If you're tired of school, you can have a shoal of fish. And if you're sleepier still, don't forget the beds of clams and oysters.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: When it comes to buying bottled water, what's the difference between "spring" water and "mineral" water?

- K.P.A., Boston

Answer: Before 1994, labels using the term "spring water" might mean anything from purified water, taken originally from the tap, to a fancy imported brand of "gourmet" bottled water from natural springs in Switzerland or some such place. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put an end to the confusion by defining standards for bottled water and regulating how it can be labeled. Spring water, today, indicates water that flows naturally to the surface from an underground spring, or from a borehole into the source of that spring. Mineral water comes from protected underground sources, usually collected through a borehole. Many natural mineral water sites are geologically protected from contamination. You may also see labels for purified water, which means any water that has been distilled, deionized, or passed through membranes to remove particles in a process called reverse osmosis. Distilled water (such as some people recommend putting into steam irons, etc.) is water that has been vaporized and then condensed to remove the minerals. What do we recommend? A house in the country with a good artesian or dug well, tested for purity, and kept clean. Short of that, you're on your own! At eight glasses of water a day, you'll consume 1,000 gallons in the next five years.

*****

Additional Information

This Week with The Old Farmer's Almanac

March 23-29, 1998

Annunciation, March 25.

Who, Houdini?

Harry Houdini, otherwise known to his mother as Ehrich Weiss, was born on March 24, 1874. Psychoanalysts have speculated that Houdini's obsession with his mother may have been a motivating factor in his becoming the world's foremost excape artist. The theory is that the dark, enclosed spaces - including the embalmed carcass of a "sea monster" found near Boston, which Houdini entered in handcuffs and then escaped, despite chains - were symbolic reenactments of the birthing proces. houdini took his stage name from the French magician Robert Houdin. Houdini died on Halloween, October 31, 1926, which became National Magic Day in the United State in his honr.

The escaped mouse ever feels the taste of the bait.

Tip of the Week

Sterlize toothbrushes in the dishwasher, or soak them in mouthwash.

Quick Lemon Farfait

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup sugar

grated rind and juice of 3 lemons

fresh mint or berries for garnish (optional)

Whip cream and sugar. Fold in lemon juice and rind. Fill 12 muffin cups with the lemon cream and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze about 1 hour, or until firm. To serve, top with sprigs of mint, or sprinkle with the fresh berries.

Makes 12 servings.

The Old Farmer's Weather Proverbs

March dust and May sun makes corn white and the maids dun.

A peck of March dust and a shower in May makes the corn green and the fields gay.

When the Sun sets bright and clear, an easterly wind you need not fear.