Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: February 2009

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.

FEBRUARY 2 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Today is Winter Cross-Quarter Day, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It’s also celebrated as Imbolc, Candlemass and Groundhog Day.

FEBRUARY 3 Bust out the telescope or binoculars: The gibbous (meaning more than half, but not full) Moon passes in front of the Pleiades star cluster tonight.

FEBRUARY 4 Next time you’re out in fluffy, fresh-fallen snow, notice how it absorbs sound waves. Conversely, when snow hardens, it reflects sound waves, making even subtle natural sounds easy to hear.

FEBRUARY 5 Garden blogger Helen Yoest (gardensgardens.wordpress.com), recommends writing a mission statement for your garden, to help clarify what you are trying to accomplish. Is your primary goal fresh produce? To create a relaxing space for people? A refuge for wildlife? What­ever your gardening goal, describing it will help you get there.

FEBRUARY 6 If you get your soil tested now, you can add amendments before planting early crops. Download instructions from www.usual.usu.edu. Or order a do-it-yourself kit from seedsofchange.com.

FEBRUARY 7 This would be a good time to build trellises and raised bed boxes. And to clean and sharpen those tools that are still sitting around with last year’s dirt on them.

FEBRUARY 8 Ordered seeds yet? It’s almost time to start the cool weather ones inside.

FEBRUARY 9 FULL SNOW MOON. There’s a penumbral lunar eclipse tonight, though we’ll see only a slight darkening of the Moon’s surface here in the West. The shadow of the Earth is divided into two distinctive parts: the umbra and penumbra. A penumbral eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through Earth’s penumbra.

FEBRUARY 10 Even a forced smile produces beneficial changes in brain chemis­try.

FEBRUARY 11 In winter, cold fronts move two to three times faster than warm fronts.

FEBRUARY 12 Spider mites thrive in warm, dry conditions. Mist the underside of houseplant leaves to keep them at bay.

FEBRUARY 13 Pull mulch back from emerging bulbs, but don’t remove it. They still need some protection.

FEBRUARY 14 The appropriately named lovebug, a type of midge, mates for over 50 hours at a time.

FEBRUARY 15 If the temperature is above freezing, you can prune grape vines, honeysuckle, clematis, holly bushes and fruit trees now. Always undercut large limbs. Don’t prune spring-flowering shrubs, or you won’t get blossoms this spring, but you can cut branches to force inside.

FEBRUARY 16 LAST QUARTER MOON. Porcupines are active all winter, coming out at night to eat bark and look for salt. Salt-craving porcupines will eat plywood cured with sodium nitrate, some types of paint, and tool handles, shoes, clothes or anything else coated with salty sweat. They often frequent roads where rock salt is used, and have been known to gnaw on tires or wiring coated in road salt. If you live in an area frequented by porcupines, it would be nice if you to put out a salt lick to keep them away from the road.

FEBRUARY 17 Antares, a red supergiant star in the Milky Way galaxy, is next to the Moon this morning and next.

FEBRUARY 18 Getting antsy to plant? Go buy a seed-starting kit from your neighborhood garden or home improvement store. You’ll need it soon.

FEBRUARY 19 Snow fleas, also called springtails, rise to the surface of the snow around bases of trees as temperatures warm. They’re not really fleas, they just hop around like them, as they dine on algae, bacteria and fungi.

FEBRUARY 20 Time to start cool weather vegetable seeds, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, onions, parsley and spinach seeds. Also sweet pea, statice, impatiens, petunias and snapdragons. Set flats or pots under grow lights, or in a sunny, south-facing window.

FEBRUARY 21 Don’t have a yard? Try container gardening. Grow a salad container, with carrots, radishes, spinach and lettuce, or a salsa one with tomatoes, chilies and peppers.

FEBRUARY 22 If you’re up around 6 a.m., look for a chorus line of the Moon, Mercury, Jupiter and Mars. Later, if the ground is clear, get out there and pull those pesky perennial weeds. It’s a lot easier when the ground is saturated. But don’t dig in wet soil!

FEBRUARY 23 Look for blooming snowdrops, violets and crocus. Some violets contain a compound that temporarily desensitizes scent receptors in the nose, preventing you from smelling it again until the nerves recover. That same compound is used by some perfumers to prevent scents from being too overpowering.

FEBRUARY 24 NEW MOON. Mourning cloak butterflies are emerging from hibernation. Unlike most butterflies, the mourning cloak overwinters as adult. On sunny, late-winter days, its wings act as solar collectors, raising its body temperature high enough to permit flight. Mourning cloak larvae are spiny and black with white and red speckles. They feed on poplar, cottonwood, willow and elm leaves, often in large groups.

FEBRUARY 25 Put a barrel or box over rhubarb plants now and you’ll get an earlier crop.

FEBRUARY 26 Listen! House finches, meadowlarks, mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds are starting to sing. (Both Stokes and Peterson have audio field guides for the Western region.)

FEBRUARY 27 Look for Venus next to the crescent Moon. Studies suggest that Venus’ atmosphere was much like Earth’s several billion years ago, and that much of its surface was covered by water. But a runaway greenhouse effect, caused by the evaporation of the original water, generated a critical level of greenhouse gases in its atmosphere. Hmmm.

FEBRUARY 28 The Sun rises today at 7:01 a.m. and sets at 6:18 p.m.

Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.
-Gary Snyder

Diane Olson is a writer, gardener and bug hugger.

This article was originally published on January 30, 2009.