Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: February 2008

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.
by Diane Olson
FEBRUARY 1 The Sun rises today at 7:38 a.m. and sets at 5:46 p.m. The average maximum temperature this month is 43° and the average minimum 24°. Average monthly snowfall is 9.3 in. Look to the southeast tonight for Venus and Jupiter, close together in Sagittarius.

FEBRUARY 2 Winter Cross-Quarter Day, also called Imbolc. Take your lawn mower and tiller in for service. While you're at it, drop off your bike, too.

FEBRUARY 3 Now's a great time to build trellises and frames for raised beds, repair and repaint garden furniture, and clean and sharpen tools.

FEBRUARY 4 Tonight, look for Jupiter and Venus above the crescent Moon.

FEBRUARY 5 Mardi Gras. If you haven't already, order new seeds and inventory your old ones. Test leftover seeds by placing 10 of them between moist paper towels; keep warm and moist. If fewer than six germinate, buy new ones.

FEBRUARY 6 NEW MOON. Try growing something different this year, like…rutabagas. Also called swedes or yellow turnips, the rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. Its leaves, as well as the root, may be eaten and it's delicious in stews and soups. Don't eat too many, though, as rutabagas, like sweet potatoes, lima beans, cassava, maize and bamboo shoots can cause hypothyroidism and goiters.

FEBRUARY 7 Chinese New Year: Year of the Rat. This is an excellent time to redesign (at least on paper) your irrigation system. Place heads to deliver maximum coverage in minimum time.

FEBRUARY 8 The Rare Pit & Plant Council (aka The Pits) is a NYC-based group dedicated to growing seeds and tubers from edible plants found in local and ethnic markets. the_pits_web.tripod.com/.

FEBRUARY 9 Take a walk around the yard and push frost-heaved plants back into place and remulch. While you're out there, fix fence panels or trellises that have blown down.

FEBRUARY 10 Look for cedar and bohemian waxwings feeding on last year's fruits and pyracantha berries. Waxwings are among the few birds that don't defend a breeding territory and therefore don't have a true song.

FEBRUARY 11 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 the stone was a protection against drunkenness.

FEBRUARY 12 Feed your soul: Buy yourself a bouquet, or cut branches of early spring-flowering plants to force. Place branches in warm water and set in a cool, dark location until they begin to bud; then move into a cool, sunny spot.

FEBRUARY 13 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Kestrels, also known as sparrow hawks, are returning to their nesting spots. If you live on the edge of an open space, hang a kestrel nesting box. You'll be glad you did. You can find plans to build a box at www.dnr.state.md.us/ wildlife/wakestrelboxplan.

FEBRUARY 14 St. Valentine's Day, originally called Lupercalia, the festival of sexuality. It's mating season for wolves, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, owls and eagles.

FEBRUARY 15 Put out some suet and watch for flickers, with their gorgeous red cheek patches and black spotted breast. Downy woodpeckers like it, too. Be warned, so do starlings.

FEBRUARY 16 Pull mulch partly away from emerging bulbs and perennials.

FEBRUARY 17 If the ground is mostly clear, you can start adding compost to garden beds. Fertile soil will need two to three inches of new compost, depleted soil four to six inches.

FEBRUARY 18 Houseflies are hatching. Mourning cloak and Milbert's tortoiseshell butterflies are emerging from hibernation.

FEBRUARY 19 Turn and prune houseplants to keep them shapely. Most flowering houseplants need to be within three feet of a sunny window.

FEBRUARY 20 FULL SNOW MOON. There's a total eclipse of the Moon tonight, though here in the West we'll only be able to see the penumbral phase at moonrise.

FEBRUARY 22 Crocus, violets and snowdrops are blooming. Primrose, daffodils and hyacinth are poking their heads above ground. Saffron, the world's most expensive spice, comes from a special variety of crocus flowers.

FEBRUARY 23 The black-capped chickadee, one of Utah's most common winter resident birds, nightly descends into a state of mild hypothermia, gradually lowering its body temperature by as many as 20 degrees, to reduce heat flow to the outside and conserve energy.

FEBRUARY 24 If the temperature is above freezing, prune grape vines, honeysuckle, clematis, holly bushes and fruit trees. Also, cut back ornamental grasses and thin climbing roses and raspberries.

FEBRUARY 25 It's time to start seeds for cool weather vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, onions and spinach, and slow-growing ornamentals like ageratum, lobelia, petunias, snapdragons, verbena and wallflowers. Asparagus can be started from seed, too, but plants started from root crowns become productive a couple years before plants started from seeds. Grow seedlings under grow lights or in a sunny window. Be sure to keep turning them once they sprout. If you need to thin, use scissors to avoid disrupting delicate roots.

FEBRUARY 26 If you had trouble with scale and mites on fruit trees last year, now's a good time to spray them with dormant oil. Spray on a windless day when the temperature is above freezing and not expected to drop below that for 24 hours.

FEBRUARY 27 If the ground has thawed, you can plant and transplant deciduous bushes and trees.

FEBRUARY 28 LAST QUARTER MOON. This is a great time to pull perennial weeds like mallow, plantain and crabgrass. You can also cut the dead growth from any perennials you didn't trim last fall.

FEBRUARY 29 Leap Day. The Sun rises today at 7:01 a.m. and sets at 6:18 p.m. Mourning doves, canyon wrens, house finches, meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are beginning to sing. Bluebirds are returning to their summer ranges.

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.

 -Frank Lloyd Wright

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

This article was originally published on February 1, 2008.