Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: January 08

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.
by Diane Olson
JANUARY 1 The Sun rises at 7:51 a.m. today and sets at 5:10 p.m. The average maximum temperature in Utah this month is 36°; the average minimum 19°. The average snowfall is 12.7 inches. The "Winter Six" -Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Audga, Canis Major and Canis Minor-rule the night sky.

JANUARY 2 Earth reaches perihelion, its annual position closest to the Sun, today. During winter, the lower altitude of the Sun means its light hits our hemisphere at an oblique angle, causing the atmosphere to dissipate the heat.

JANUARY 3 This month's birthstone, the garnet, is a group of minerals that have been used since the Bronze Age as gemstones and abrasives.

JANUARY 4 I vow to clean and sharpen my gardening tools this year-how about you? Digging tools can be cleaned, sharpened and oiled (3-in-1 oil works well) and wooden handles sanded and sealed or painted. Pruners and loppers can be sharpened with a whetstone or non-electric knife sharpener.

JANUARY 5 Brew some tea, break out the gardening catalogs, grab a pencil and a pad of paper and plan this year's garden.

JANUARY 6 Plants develop ingenious ways to survive winter. Some hide underground as roots, bulbs, and tubers crammed with food; some secrete alcohols and sugars as a kind of antifreeze, or grow low to the ground to avoid wind chill. Others, such as mountain laurel, grow hairs as insulation, or like lichens, dehydrate.

JANUARY 7 Consider using sand, sawdust or kitty litter for traction on icy sidewalks, rather than commercial ice melt or salt. To promote melting, try alfalfa meal, a natural fertilizer. Or pick up some Safe Paw Ice Melter, said to be safe for kids, critters and the environment.

JANUARY 8 NEW MOON. Fishing should be good now through January 22.

JANUARY 9 Look for Mercury next to the crescent Moon just after dark.

JANUARY 10 Set frost-heaved plants back in place and mulch them.

JANUARY 11 Houseplants with brown leaf  tips and edges are likely suffering from excessive fertilization, dryness, or house heat; yellow or drooping leaves are caused by poor light, cold, excess water, or insufficient drainage.

JANUARY 12 Craving fresh veggies? Try growing sprouts. www.sproutpeople.com/index.html

JANUARY 13 Dogs can see a moving object up 985 yards away and static ones up to 640 yards.

JANUARY 14 Try growing peanuts indoors. Fill a large bowl two-thirds full of moist potting soil; shell fresh, unroasted, unsalted peanuts and cover with one inch of soil. Peanuts will be ready to harvest in about six months.

JANUARY 15 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Pines trees are shedding their cones. Brush snow from evergreens as soon as possible after a storm. Prune storm damaged limbs quickly to keep the bark from tearing.

JANUARY 16 If you have a pond with overwintering fish, make sure a section is always ice free.

JANUARY 17 Try building a bat box (www.batconservation.org/content/buildyourown.htm) or bird house (www.freebirdhouseplans.net).

JANUARY 18 Beavers, raccoons and great horned owls are mating (not with each other).

JANUARY 19 If the weather's clear, prune grape vines and retie climbing roses and vines that have blown loose from their trellises.

JANUARY 20 This month's tree, the birch, is a food plant for the larvae of many butterflies and moths, and was worshiped as a goddess by the Druids. Birch bark has been used to make paper, casts, canoes, bowls and tipis. Birch wood makes excellent guitar amplifiers, speaker cabinets, drums, skateboards and toothpicks. Extracts of birch leaves and sap are used to make tea, syrup, sweetener, vinegar, beer, dyes, shampoo, cosmetics, lubricant and glue, and bundles of birch twigs have been used for both recreational and punitive flogging. Birch pollen is among the most potent of allergens.

JANUARY 21 There are 10 cockroaches for every human in the average city.

JANUARY 22 FULL WOLF MOON. Back in our more hirsute days, goose bumps served a function: Contracting the tiny muscles at the base of each hair created a fluffy layer of insulation, helping to retain body heat.

JANUARY 23 Propagating African violets is easy: Take a leaf cutting, dip the cut end in a rooting hormone powder, and stick it in a vermiculite- or sand-filled pot. Cover with a perforated clear plastic bag and keep the soil moist.

JANUARY 24 Alcohol can help protect against salmonella, hepatitis A and other food-borne ailments. Wine is particularly effective.

JANUARY 25 Set out suet cakes for the birds; they need the protein and fat.

JANUARY 26 If you've got the gardening jones, get out and spread manure and other organic soil conditioners on garden beds. Turn the compost heap, too.

JANUARY 27 Vegetables retain more of their nutrients when steamed in a microwave, as opposed to cooked on a regular stove.

JANUARY 28 Tiny mites called demodicids live head-down in the roots of our eyelashes, eating oil secretions and dead skin debris, even laying eggs in our follicles.

JANUARY 29  Galantamine, a compound found in snowdrops and other narcissi, is used to treat Alzheimer's. It's been suggested that the magical herb, moly, antidote to Circe's poison in Homer's "Odyssey," was snowdrop.

JANUARY 30 LAST QUARTER MOON. Violets and snowdrops are blooming in south-facing niches. Pussy willow and Rocky Mountain maple buds are swelling. Garlic is greening.

JANUARY 31 The Sun rises at 7:39 a.m. today, and sets at 5:45 p.m.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

-Anne Bradstreet

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

This article was originally published on January 1, 2008.