Regulars and Shorts, Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: February 2012

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.

February 1 Today the Sun rises at 7:38 a.m. and sets at 5:45 p.m. February’s average maximum temperature is 43°; the average minimum 24°. It typically snows around 10”″ and rains 1.2”.

February 2 Today is Imbolc, or Winter Cross-Quarter Day, the midpoint between Winter and Spring, commonly celebrated as Groundhog Day. For Utahns, the nearest official celebration is in Aurora, Colorado, where Stormy Marmot is called upon to prognosticate.

February 3 Venus will never again be as bright as it is this year, at least not in our lifetimes. February through May, it’s a brilliant, glittering evening star; then it disappears until July, when it becomes a morning star.

February 4 If the temperature is above freezing, you can get out and prune fruit trees and clematis, holly, honeysuckle and grape vines, and trim summer-blooming perennials left bushy last fall. While you’re at it, snip some forsythia branches to force inside.

February 5 Need an immune system boost? Eat whole oats and barley, which contain beta-glucan, a fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities more potent than echinacea.

February 6 The house sparrow is the most familiar and widely distributed wild animal in the world. They’ve been recorded breeding and feeding everywhere from a 2,100 foot-deep coal mine to the top of Asian skyscrapers, and can plan and execute complex food-gathering strategies, like opening automatic doors to supermarkets.

February 7 FULL SNOW MOON. Cold urticaria is an allergy to cold temperatures. February 8 Two Danish space architects are building a handmade manned rocket and blogging about it: rocketshop.

February 9 Grab the telescope or binoculars tonight and look for green Uranus to the left of Venus.

February 10 Spider’s brains are so large that they extend into their legs. In some species, the brain occupies up to 80% of the spider’s body, and the smaller the spider, the proportionately larger the brain. (Spiderlings often have lumps on their abdomen containing brain mass.) By comparison, human brains represent only 2-3% of our body mass. The spider’s gigantic brain is likely necessary for web weaving.

February 11 It’s mating season for coyotes and foxes, both of which are common in local canyons, on Antelope Island and in undeveloped areas around the state.

February 12 Utah wildlife authorities kill as many as 5,000 coyotes every year, but they’re finding that predation just makes the coyotes reproduce faster. The death of even one coyote in a pack can trigger breeding in adults that normally defer to mating by an alpha male and female pair.

February 13 Time to inventory last year’s seeds and order new ones. Most flower and vegetable seeds can be stored for a year with little decrease in germination. Under the right conditions (below 40º and less than 8% moisture), they can last up to 10 years. 

February 14 LAST QUARTER MOON. According to an English herbalist from the 17th century, “asparagus stirs up lust in man and woman.” French bridegrooms were once served three courses of asparagus for their prenuptial dinner, as it was said to boost libido, performance and fertility. And guess what? It does. Asparagus is high in a multitude of sex- and fertility-enhancing vitamins and minerals.

FEBRUARY 15 Look for Mars rising around 8 p.m. A NASA rover recently found a vein of gypsum, a mineral deposited by water, protruding from a rock, effectively ending decades of dispute about the presence of H2O on the red planet.

FEBRUARY 16 Keep an eye out for dark-eyed juncos, a common winter resident. Adults generally have slate gray heads, necks and breasts and a white belly and outer tail feathers. Ground foragers, they feed heavily on ragweed seeds, and are also fond of zinnia, cosmos, millet, sunflower hearts and cracked corn.

FEBRUARY 17 Beautiful, bright and friendly bug photos:

FEBRUARY 18 An unusual number of raptors are wintering around Lehi and Point of the Mountain this year. Look for golden eagles, peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, American kestrels, northern harriers and red-tailed hawks.

FEBRUARY 19 Houseflies are starting to hatch. Houseflies go through a complete metamorphosis, with distinct egg, larva or maggot, pupal and adult stages, and  overwinter as either larvae or pupae.

FEBRUARY 20 Casu marzu, also called “rotten cheese,” is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese containing fly larvae, which help to ferment it. Some people remove the larvae before eating the cheese; others don’t.

FEBRUARY 21 NEW MOON. At sunset, look to the southwest for Jupiter, halfway to the zenith. Jupiter is the fastest-spinning planet in the Solar System, taking only about 10 hours to complete a full rotation on its axis.

FEBRUARY 22 Look for Mercury, low in the evening twilight, to the left of the crescent Moon.

FEBRUARY 23 A professional diver recently captured the first known footage of a fish using a tool. The blackspot tuskfish is seen smashing a clam against a rock until it cracks open, then gobbling up the bivalve inside.

FEBRUARY 24 Look for Milbert’s tortoiseshell and mourning cloak butterflies feeding on tree sap on sunny days.

FEBRUARY 25 If you have a coldframe or are starting seeds indoors, it’s time to plant cool weather veggies, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, onions and spinach.

FEBRUARY 26 Hungry for spring? Take a walk and look for early-blooming crocus, violets and snowdrops planted against south-facing foundations. While you’re at it, explore a new neighborhood or area of the city.

FEBRUARY 27  Listen! Mourning doves, canyon wrens, house finches, meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are beginning to sing.

FEBRUARY 28 The Birdsong Project is exploring the effects of birdsong on creativity and wellbeing. Past studies have found that birdsong makes traffic noise and crowds more tolerable, and can reset out-of-whack circadian rhythms.

FEBRUARY 29 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Today’s Leap Day shifts the calendar so that this year’s equinoxes and solstices occur earlier than in any year since 1896.

This article was originally published on February 2, 2012.