Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: December 2008

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.
by Diane Olson
DECEMBER 1 Today the Sun rises at 7:32 a.m., and sets at 5:01 p.m. December’s average maximum temperature is 37°; the minimum 21°. It snows an average of 13.7 inches. An hour after sunset, look to the southwest for a gorgeous triangular conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon.

DECEMBER 2 Keep pets out of house plants by sprinkling hot sauce or cayenne pepper in the soil. Cats also dislike citrus peels.

DECEMBER 3 The east bench of the Salt Lake valley typically receives three to five inches more precipitation than the western parts of the valley.

DECEMBER 4 In parts of the Midwest, boxelder bugs are called democrats. Boxelder bugs overwinter as an adult in protected cracks and crevices facing south and west. In spring, when tree buds open, the females lay tiny red eggs on female boxelder trees. The eggs later hatch into wingless, bright red nymphs.

DECEMBER 5 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Headache prone? Try feverfew. It’s an anti-inflammatory and sedative, and prevents platelets from clumping.

DECEMBER 6 Don’t let your pond freeze solid. Get a de-icer, or manually break the ice.

DECEMBER 7 Halcyon Days begin. The halcyon, a type of kingfisher, builds a floating nest. In Greek legend, the halcyon charms the sea into unusual calm during its nesting season, the 14 days preceding the Winter Solstice, so that it can brood safely.

DECEMBER 8 Physicians once used biting insects, such as ants and beetles, to suture wounds. The insect was held to the wound and induced to bite. Once the jaws were clamped in place, its head was pinched off. Ick.

DECEMBER 9 Chickadees and juncos are moving down into the valley. More than half a chickadee’s winter diet is aphid eggs.

 DECEMBER 10 Horse flies can fly without their heads, though they eventually crash.

DECEMBER 11 Most plants and shrubs winter-kill because of alternate freezing and thawing, so mulch any prized perennials with three to five inches of bark, leaves or straw.

DECEMBER 12 FULL COLD MOON. Tonight, the Moon is both full and at its closest to Earth. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting unusually strong tides, which can trigger earthquakes.

DECEMBER 13 Tonight is the Geminid meteor shower, but they’ll be washed out by the exceptionally high, bright, and large Moon.

DECEMBER 14 The 109th Audu_bon Christmas Bird Count starts today and ends January 5. See www.audu_bon.org/ bird/cbc/index.html

DECEMBER 15 This would be an excellent time to clean and sharpen your garden tools. If you have any with wooden handles, sand them, too. And if you haven’t already, empty tillers and mowers of fuel.

DECEMBER 16 The best permanent inks are derived from galls on oak trees created by cynipid wasp larvae.

DECEMBER 17 Eighty-five percent of artificial Christmas trees are made in China. The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition warns that fake trees "may shed lead-laced dust, which may cover branches or shower gifts and the floor below the tree." Get a real one.

DECEMBER 18 If you’re up after midnight, look for Saturn perched next to the Moon. Galileo was the first to observe Saturn through a telescope. In 1610, he wrote to his Medici patrons: "I found another very strange wonder, which I should like to make known to their High_nesses."

DECEMBER 19 LAST QUARTER. Poinsettias need six hours of indirect sunlight per day to thrive.

DECEMBER 20 Remember to supply fresh water for the birds outside. They’d appreciate a block of suet, too.

DECEMBER 21 WINTER SOLSTICE. Winter begins today at 4:04 a.m. This was the day when the Druids, using a golden sickle reserved for this purpose only, harvested mistletoe. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic plant that grows on trees and shrubs. Mistletoe extract has been shown to kill cancer cells and stimulate the immune system.

DECEMBER 22 Pistachios are said to be good for frazzled nerves.

DECEMBER 23 During the first week inside, a live Christmas tree will consume as much as a quart of water per day. Check daily to make sure that the level of water in the stand does not go below the base of the tree.

DECEMBER 24 It’s said that at midnight on Christmas Eve, animals are briefly given the power of speech. That would be worth staying up for.

DECEMBER 25 Christmas Day. In the early Norwegian tradition of Julafred, or Peace of Christmas, no wheels were turned on Christmas Day, so as not to show impatience with the Great Wheel in the sky (the Sun), and no bird, beast or fish was trapped, shot or netted.

DECEMBER 26 The temperature most conducive to sleep is 68°.

DECEMBER 27 NEW MOON. To find the nearest Christmas tree recycling facility, log on to www.christmastree.org/debate.cfm .

DECEMBER 28 Take a good look at your yard in its stark winter garb, and pick out places to plant trees and shrubs that will provide food and cover for birds and critters. Make a to-do list and a to-buy list for next spring.

DECEMBER 29 As a winter storm approaches, you’ll see this progression of clouds: High, thin, wispy cirrus clouds; fishscale-looking altocumulus; a lower layer of altostratus; dark nimbostratus.

DECEMBER 30 Male snakes have two penises, one for left-sided mating and one for right.

December 31 New Year’s Eve. The Sun rises at 7:51 a.m. today, and sets at 5:09 p.m.

Ring out, wild bells,
to the wild sky,
The flying cloud,
the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells,
and let him die.

Ring out the old,
ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells,
across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false,
ring in the true.
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

Diane Olson is a writer, gardener and bug hugger.

This article was originally published on December 1, 2008.