Urban Almanac

The Urban Almanac: February 2018

By Diane Olson

A monthly compendium of random wisdom for the natural world and beyond.
By Diane Olson, Anna Zumwalt and Greta deJong.

Feb 1  1 Sun rise: 7:37am, sun set: 5:45pm. Monthly averages: low, 25 degrees; high, 44; precipitation: 1.5 in.; snowfall: 10 in.

Feb 2  Cold symptoms are actually caused by your immune system’s reaction to the virus, so a dreadful cold is the product of a strong immune system, not a weak one. A single cough can contain as many as two hundred million individual virus particles. It takes only 1-30 particles to become infected.

Feb 3  The Day the Music Died. On February 3, 1959, rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, together with pilot Roger Peterson.

Feb 4  The Super Bowl is so popular, it’s practically a national holiday. In 1985, when the San Francisco 49ers played the Super Bowl in Palo Alto, California, the crime rate in San Francisco dropped 75%.

Feb 5  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 it protected against drunkenness. Thus, amethyst cups were popular with heavy drinkers.

Feb 6 The rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. Its leaves, as well as its root ,may be eaten and it’s delicious in stews and soups. They grow easily in Utah. Plant some!

Feb 7   Trees in a forest are connected by a “wood-wide web” of underground mycorrhizal fungi. It enables them to warn one another of insect attacks and disease, and to deliver nitrogen, carbon and water to neighbors in need.

Feb 8  As heated blood travels down the leg arteries from a bird’s core, cold blood running back up from the feet in adjacent veins sucks most of the heat out and returns it to the core. When it’s chilly outside, a bird’s feet may be barely above freezing, while its core remains close to 110 degrees.

Feb 9  An estimated 70 pounds of insects exist on the planet for every pound of human!

Feb 10 Current homo sapiens have three vestigial muscles located under their scalp that were once used to swivel our ears to better localize sounds.

Feb 11  Spider’s brains are so large that they extend into their legs. In some specials, the brain occupies up to 80% of the spider’s body, and the smaller the spider, the proportionately larger the brain. By comparison, human brains represent only 2-3% of our body-mass.

Feb 12  Time to inventory last year’s seeds and order new ones. To test old seeds, sprout 10 in a bed of warm, moist paper towels; if fewer than six germinate, buy new ones.

Feb 13  Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the day immediately before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In many countries Mardi Gras is a carnival day, and also the last day of gorging before the austerities of Lent.

Feb 14  The annual pre-Roman pagan celebration, called Lupercalia, was held every year mid-February and remained wildly popular well into the fifth century A.D.—at least 150 years after Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire.

Feb 15  2:05 pm New Moon. There is no Full moon in February. The next Full moon is March 1.

Feb 16  Mating season is on for the coyotes, foxes and raccoons around the valley. Raccoon females, or sows, usually give birth to 1-6 kits in April or May. Mothers are very protective of their young until they separate after about a year.

Feb 17  It’s seed-starting time for cool weather veggies, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, leaks, lettuce, mizuna, onions and spinach.

Feb 18   A few years ago researchers discovered that mealworms can get all the nutrition they need from Styrofoam, and turn it into environmentally friendly worm poop.

Feb 19   Presidents Day. Take a walk and look for birds nests. How many types can you find? Cups—used mostly by songbirds. Pendulous—orioles, vireos. Cavity— woodpeckers, some nuthatches. Platforms—osprey, eagles, and some hawks. Many birds weave aromatic plants in their nests to keep them clean and bug-free.

Feb 20   Keep turning and pruning houseplants, but don’t fertilize until the spring equinox.

Feb 21  Cut forsythia, mock orange, plum and apple branches to force inside. Use medium-thick branches, strip buds and twigs off the bottom few inches, and mash the ends for good water uptake. Put in a vase with a drop of bleach and bit of sugar, and place in a cool, dark spot. Spray with water a couple of times per day, or wrap with damp newspaper, and change the water every few days. When the buds begin to swell, move to a brighter spot, but avoid direct sunlight.

Feb 22 Now’s a good time to take lawn mowers and tillers in for service. While you’re at it, get your bike tuned up before the spring rush.

Feb 23  Feb 23 Over 500,000,000 plastic drinking straws are used every day in the U.S. When straws fragment into micro plastic pieces they are sometimes accidentally consumed by fish, which introduce toxins attached to the plastic into the fish’s body. Use paper or reuseable straws, if you must.

Feb 24: Put a box over rhubarb plants now and you’ll get an earlier crop. Rhubarb leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid (not good). The stems, however, are great. Stems can be red or green, depending on the variety.

Feb 25  Houseflies are starting to hatch. Galileo, who turned his telescope around to examine a fly, was the first to describe the compound eye of the insect.

Feb 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 in your area.

Feb 27  Song sparrows, titmice, house finches, mourning doves, canyon wrens, bluebirds, meadowlarks and redwing blackbirds are beginning to sing.

Feb 28  Pull mulch back from emerging bulbs, but don’t remove it. Winter’s not over yet!


This article was originally published on January 31, 2018.