Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: January 2009

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. This month’s average maximum temperature is 36°; the average minimum 19°. Average snowfall is 12.7 inches. Look for Venus blazing just below the crescent Moon tonight.

JANUARY 2 White glass-rings left on furniture from a distracted reveler? Remove with a thin paste of olive oil and salt. Using your fingers, gently massage paste into the ring. Let sit for two hours, then wipe off. Or coat with petroleum jelly, let sit for 24 hours, and wipe. (And remember the coasters for your next party.)

JANUARY 3 Got the winter blues? Repot your houseplants. A bacterium found in soil stimulates serotonin production. While you’re at it, give them a sponge bath to clear their pores. Yes, plants have pores.

JANUARY 4 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Earth reaches perihelion, its closest position to the Sun, today. It reaches aphelion, its farthest point, around July 4. Seasonal weather patterns are shaped by the 23.5-degree tilt of our planet’s spin axis, rather than by Earth’s elliptical orbit.

JANUARY 5 Keep watering amaryllis after the flowers fade, and let them soak up light. What we know as amaryllis are actually hippeastrums, which are in the family Amaryllidaceae.

JANUARY 6 Under the reign of the Egyptian emperor Sheshonq I, cats were worshipped, and the cat-headed goddess Bast was the pre-eminent deity. When pet cats died, they were mummified, and the family went into mourning, shaving their eyebrows in bereavement. The cult of Bast lasted centuries, during which the punishment for killing a cat, even accidentally, was death.

JANUARY 7 If you have a pond with overwintering fish, make sure a section is always ice free. You can get a deicer (it’s actually a small heater) at your local garden store.

JANUARY 8 The seed catalogs are here! Time to start planning this year’s garden. Here’s an 83-year-old master gardener’s approach to ordering seeds: “First, go crazy. List everything your heart desires; it’ll add up to thousands of dollars. Then, start crossing things off the list that you really can’t afford, don’t have space for, or lack the patience to pamper. Pretty soon you’ll have a sensible and affordable list.” Check out Wasatch Community Garden’s seed exchange this month, too!

JANUARY 9 If you haven’t already sharpened, sanded and painted your garden tools, do it now. You’ll need them soon.

JANUARY 10 FULL WOLF MOON Good news for procrastinators: If the ground isn’t frozen solid, you can still plant spring bulbs.

JANUARY 11 Time to prune grape vines. They should be cut back to the main structure of the plant, leaving two buds per side-shoot.

JANUARY 12 It’s best to change your furnace filter every month.

JANUARY 13 Now’s a good time to go to a gardening store and discuss gardening and landscaping issues. Employees will be less busy than in the spring.

JANUARY 14 In the 1600s, physicians treated fever by having patients lay on a bed of sliced cucumbers.

JANUARY 15 Fleas have killed more humans than all the wars ever fought. Fleas carry the bubonic plague, which killed one-third of the population of Europe in the 14th century. Northern Utah isn’t typically flea territory, but Southern Utah prairie dog colonies are often plagued (so to speak) by them.

JANUARY 16 The ideal temperature for sleeping is 68°. Studies in Australia and Tasmania have also found that eating chilies improves sleep quality.

JANUARY 17 LAST QUARTER MOON. If the ground is dry, water your trees and garden. Especially new plants. Dry freezes can kill, and hydrating actually prevents plants from freezing.

JANUARY 18 This is a good time to prune apple and pear trees. These trees develop fruit on short branches called fruiting spurs, which are only productive for five to seven years. Pruning encourages the growth of productive new spurs.

JANUARY 19 Locusts can eat their own weight in food in one day. Humans typically eat their own body weight in about half a year.

JANUARY 20 It’s mating season for raccoons. After mating, males and females go their separate ways, and the females care for the young exclusively. Mothers and cubs have complex—and, if the family living in my backyard is typical— loud and strange-sounding vocal exchanges. Listen to raccoon and other wildlife calls at www.austinwildliferescue. org/html/sounds.html.

JANUARY 21 Some insects with large body cavities freeze solid during the winter. They first turn to slush inside, which prevents the formation of large ice crystals that would rupture their cells.

JANUARY 22 Look for Venus and Uranus, side by side, tonight and tomorrow night.

JANUARY 23 Whenever you can, open the doors and windows to give your house a change of air. Both you and your houseplants will benefit.

JANUARY 24 If you’ve got the gardening jones, and the ground is damp and unfrozen, this is a great time to pull perennial weeds.

JANUARY 25 NEW MOON. Even with snow on the ground, you can spread compost, manure, or soil conditioner on garden beds. Make it two inches thick. Turn the compost pile while you’re at it.

JANUARY 26 Pussy willow buds are swelling.

JANUARY 27 Remember to supply fresh, open water for the birds. They could use some suet, too. Birds shiver to stay warm, contracting their muscles rapidly to create friction and generate heat. Shivering requires a great deal of energy, so birds need extra food when it’s chilly.

JANUARY 28 In traditional Persian medicine, saffron—the lovely, tiny, flavorful red filaments hand-picked from tiny crocus flowers—was used to treat depression. Make some saffron rice recipes.epicurean.com/recipe/715/saffron-rice.html for a tasty pick-me-up.

JANUARY 29 Snowdrops and violets are blooming in south-facing niches.

JANUARY 30 If you didn’t do it last fall, cut perennials back now to make room for new growth.

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

“Everything is interesting if you look at it deeply enough.”
–Richard Feynaman

Diane Olson is a writer, gardener and bug hugger.

This article was originally published on December 31, 2008.