Regulars and Shorts, Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac

By Diane Olson

A monthly compendium of random wisdom for the home, garden and natural world.
—by Diane Olson

FEB 1 The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a colder than usual February, with an average temperature of 33F and snow the last two weeks.

FEB 2 Groundhog Day/ Imbolc/Winter Cross-Quarter Day. Today is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, and a day long associated with purification rites and the first stirrings of spring.

FEB 3 Researchers recently discovered that mealworms can get all the nutrition they need from Styrofoam, and turn it into environmentally friendly worm poop.

FEB 4 Cold symptoms are actually caused by your im­mune system’s reaction to the vi­rus, so a dreadful cold is the product of a strong immune system, not a weak one. A single cough can contain as many as two hundred million individual virus particles. And it takes only 1-30 particles to become infected.

FEB 5 This month’s birthstone, amethyst, is a purple vari­ety of quartz. The name comes from the Greek a (“not”) and methustos (“to intoxicate”), as the ancient Greeks and Romans believed that it protected against drunkenness. Thus, amethyst cups were popular with heavy drinkers.

FEB 6 Look low to the southeast just before dawn; there’s a gorgeous conjunction of Mer­cury, Venus and the waning crescent Moon. Mercury is only about the size of the continental U.S., so with Pluto downgraded to dwarf planet status, it’s the smallest planet in our solar system.

FEB 7 If you haven’t already, inventory and test your vegeta­ble seeds, and order new ones. Place 10 seeds between layered paper towels; keep them warm and moist. If less than six germinate, replace them.

FEB 8 NEW MOON. Chi­nese New Year: Year of the Monkey. Neal Cassady, Beat movement muse and provocateur, was born in Salt Lake City on this day in 1926.

FEB 9 Mardi Gras/Fat Tues­day. It’s likely that Mardi Gras, like Valentine’s Day, evolved from the pre-Roman festival Lupercalia, a weird, violent, drunken event involving sacrifices and sacrificial whippings.

FEB 10 The Winter Circle is an asterism (recognizable star pat­tern that isn’t a constellation) of bright stars, with Sirius at the bottom and Capella at the top, and bright red Betelgeuse in the center.

FEB 11 Pansies get a bad rap. Far from being the sissies of the flower kingdom, they’re actually the hardiest, able to withstand snow and cold. In fact, Margaret Mitchell originally named the strong-willed heroine of Gone with the Wind Pansy, but changed it to Scarlett just before the book went to print.

FEB 12 Lincoln’s birthday. In 1861, President Lincoln sent this message to Brigham Young, regarding his hope that the Mormons would support his government, and his decision to ignore their practice of polygamy: “You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone.”

FEB 13 If the ground is mostly clear of snow, you can start pulling perennial weeds and adding compost to garden beds.

FEB 14 Valentine’s Day/Lu­per­­calia. The Feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 AD to honor an obscure martyred priest. Geoffrey Chaucer and friends, in the High Middle Ages, were the first to associate the day with romantic love.

FEB 15 FIRST QUARTER MOON. President’s Day. Twen­ty-two sitting presidents have visited Utah.

FEB 16 Look for Jupiter, now the brightest planet visible. This is the beginning of prime time viewing for Jupiter and its moons.

FEB 17 Time to start seeds indoors for cold-hardy vegetables, including broccoli, Brus­sels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, mustard greens, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips.

FEB 18 Trees in a forest are connected by a “wood-wide web” of underground mycorrhizal fungi. It enables them to warn one another of insect attacks and disease, and to deliver nitrogen, carbon and water to neighbors in need.

FEB 19 Every cat’s nose has unique ridges and markings. It’s the feline version of a fingerprint.

FEB 20 Now through April: Prune evergreen, summer-flowering and non-flowering deciduous shrubs, and fruit, evergreen and deciduous trees. It’s also time to trim ornamental grasses, and thin berry bushes and climbing roses if you didn’t last fall.

FEB 21 Watch for Mourning Cloak butterflies coming out of hibernation on warm days to soak up sunlight and feed on sap.

FEB 22 FULL SNOW MOON. Graupel is a round, soft, crumbly, opaque, pea-sized snow pellet, formed when ice crystals fall through super-cooled cloud droplets.

FEB 23 It’s mating season for coyotes and foxes.

FEB 24 Look for blooming snowdrops, crocus and violets, and primrose, daffodils and hyacinth poking their heads above ground. The violet was the emblem of both Aphrodite and her son Priapus.

FEB 25 Song sparrows, tufted titmice, house finches, mourning doves, canyon wrens, bluebirds, meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are beginning to sing. Houseflies are hatching.

FEB 26 Scientists have confirmed that, because of climate change, spring is arriving 14 days earlier in most parts of North America.

FEB 27 Because plants are blooming earlier, animals that follow traditional migration schedules are going hungry. Only those able to reset their internal clocks are surviving and passing on the new genetic information.

FEB 28 If the ground is thawing, you can start planting and transplanting deciduous bushes and trees. Also, put a bucket over rhubarb plants now and you’ll get an earlier crop.

FEB 29 It takes Earth approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds to circle once around the Sun. Those extra hours and minutes add up, so Leap Years are needed to keep the Gre­gorian calendar in sync with tropical year. Julius Caesar originally decreed that any year evenly divisible by 4 would be a leap year, but that created too many. Now, a leap year must be evenly divisible by 4, but not by 100, unless it’s also divisible by 400. Yeah, I’m confused, too.

Diane Olson is an author, content strategist at MRMMcCann and long-time CATALYST writer.

This article was originally published on January 30, 2016.