Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: August 2007

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.
by Diane Olson
AUGUST 1 Today is Lughnasadh, or Lammas, the beginning of the pagan harvest festival and the last heyday of the Sun God. It is also Summer Cross Quarter Day, the midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. The Sun rises at 6:22 a.m. today, and sets at 8:44 p.m. August's average maximum temperature is 89°; the average minimum is 61°. It rains an average of .86 inches.

AUGUST 2 The Aztec war god was a hummingbird, Huitzilopochtli, meaning "shining one with weapon like cactus thorn."

AUGUST 3 In some tribal cultures, a bite or sting is viewed as the transmission of knowledge or power from one species to another.

AUGUST 4 You can tell that corn is ripe when the husk is tight and the silk has dried and turned brown.

AUGUST 5 LAST QUARTER MOON. Basil, beans, beets, corn, cucumbers, dill, garlic, melons, onions, peppers, potatoes, shallots, squash and tomatoes are ripening. If you don't have a garden of your own, head to Farmers Market to load up on the bounty of the season. Try a basil, bacon and tomato sandwich-yum.

AUGUST 6 When the male honeybee ejaculates, his body explodes, leaving behind only his genitals, which remain inside the female. Be glad you're not a male honeybee.

AUGUST 7  Ants can hear with their knees (as well as with their ears).

AUGUST 8 Spotted skunks do a handstand before they let loose, to maximize the distance their rancid payload will travel, enabling them to hit targets up to 13 feet away.

AUGUST 9 Top-dress strawberry patches with composted manure.

AUGUST 10 The Perseid meteors, seen now, are the remnants of the Swift-Tuttle comet. It is believed that comets, such as Swift-Tuttle, may have spread the chemical seeds for life through the solar system.

AUGUST 11 The Dog Days of Summer, when the Sun is at its zenith over the northern hemisphere, officially end today. Conditions should be perfect for viewing tonight's Perseid meteor shower, with a new Moon and dark skies (unless it's cloudy). It peaks just after midnight with one meteor per minute lighting up the sky to the northeast.

AUGUST 12 NEW MOON. Now's a good time to fertilize parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, Swiss chard and watermelons.

AUGUST 13 The largest watermelon on record weighed 268 pounds, 12 ounces.

AUGUST 14 Cooked tomatoes actually offer more nutrients than raw ones. Cooking them concentrates the lycopene, the health-giving antioxidant responsible for making tomatoes red.

AUGUST 15 Now's a good time to prune and mulch spent raspberry bushes.

AUGUST 16 Summer squash are at their peak of flavor and texture when they are four inches long.

AUGUST 17 The next seven nights are the Cat Nights, when Irish legend has it that witches are able to turn themselves into cats and back again.

AUGUST 18 Salamander embryos eat their siblings while still in the womb. Spadefoot toad tadpoles, on the other hand, carry out a quick chemical test to make sure that the fellow tadpole they are about to consume is not a relative. If, by accident, they do swallow a sibling, they quickly recognize the taste and spit it out.

AUGUST 19 It's time again to plant cool weather crops, including beets, beans, carrots, endive, garlic, lettuce, peas, radishes and spinach. Plant peas and greens between or beneath already established crops for shade.

AUGUST 20 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Ragweed launches 1.6 billion pollen grains per hour. Wind-pollinated plants don't have to design alluring colors or create nectar as bait for insects; they just flood the neighborhood with seed.

AUGUST 21 Water striders, also called Jesus bugs, feed on mosquito larvae that float up to the water's surface and on anything that happens to fall into the water. Their stylets secrete an enzyme that dissolves the insides of the victims into a succulent soup, which they then daintily sip.

AUGUST 22 As vegetable beds become empty, plant cover crops like ryegrass, oats, buckwheat or hairy vetch to feed and protect the soil until next spring.

AUGUST 23 Plant autumn crocus now for late fall blooms, and alyssum, English daisy, forget-me-not and pansy for early spring blossoms. Deadhead asters, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, cosmos, marigolds and zinnias.

AUGUST 24 The first eggplants grown in North America were small and white and looked like eggs, hence their name. Eggplant probably originated in India, though the first written record of its use dates to fifth century China.

AUGUST 25 If you like your chili peppers hot, let the ground dry out before you pick them. For milder pods, pick right after you water.

AUGUST 26 Unlike other birds, which are omnivorous, doves and pigeons are vegetarians, eating primarily seeds and fleshy fruits.

AUGUST 27  Venus has transitioned from evening star to morning star, appearing in the east just before sunrise.

AUGUST 28 FULL GREEN CORN MOON. Time to break out "Dark Side of the Moon" again. Tonight's total eclipse of the Moon should be visible throughout most of North America, but you'll have to stay up late to see it. The Moon enters the penumbra at 1:52 a.m. and leaves it at 7:23 a.m.

AUGUST 29 Ants (supposedly) won't cross a chalk line.

AUGUST 30 Stop fertilizing roses and broad-leaved evergreens until next spring. If you shape your evergreens, give them their final shearing.

AUGUST 31 The Sun rises at 6:53 a.m. today and sets at 8 p.m. "Give me a spark of Nature's fire. That's all the learning I desire." – Robert Burns

Diane Olson is a freelance writer, proofreader, and wanna-be fulltime naturalist.

This article was originally published on July 27, 2007.