Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: January 2010

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.

JANUARY 2 Earth reaches perihelion, its closest position to the Sun, today. Doesn’t feel like it, does it?

JANUARY 3 Biomimicry is a design discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s patterns and strategies. www.asknature.org provides inspiration and resources for designers, architects, engineers, chemists and others looking for Earth-friendly solutions.

JANUARY 4 They’re doing what in my follicles? We all have follicle mites living on our faces, primarily in our eyelashes and eyebrows. They wander from hair to hair, feeding on skin cells, hormones and oils, occasionally ducking inside a follicle opening for a quickie. After mating, the female lays her eggs inside a follicle or sebaceous gland. The larvae hatch in three to four days and take only a week to develop into adults. Fortunately, the follicle mite’s digestive system is so efficient that it has no excretory orifice.

JANUARY 5 Have you changed the furnace filter lately? You and your furnace will breathe easier if you change it monthly.

JANUARY 6 Snowflakes are composites of snow crystals that collide on their journey down from the clouds. Snow falling in early winter usually forms the largest and loveliest flakes; later in the season, when temperatures are lower, crystals don’t adhere to one as readily. Crystals formed in colder air are also brittle, so when they collide, their arms break off. It’s all those tiny, broken spicules that make up late-season snow.

JANUARY 7 LAST QUARTER MOON. Keep watering amaryllis after the flowers fade, and let them soak up light.

JANUARY 8 Look for Jupiter, low in the southwest at nightfall.

JANUARY 9 If you haven’t already, cut back perennials to make room for new growth. Turn the compost pile while you’re at it.

JANUARY 10 Be sure to keep a section of your pond free from ice.

JANUARY 11 More weird science: Researchers are experimenting with using honey bees to distribute biological fungicides to plants, particularly strawberries, which are prone to gray mold.

JANUARY 12 Not good for homes with gnawing kids and critters: Dieffenbachia, a common houseplant, inflames the vocal cords and causes irritation of the mouth, swelling of the tongue and face, and stomach problems. The sap is also a skin irritant.

JANUARY 13 Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was based on a true story. On August 18, 1961, in Capitola, California, hundreds of sooty shearwaters started ramming themselves into nearby houses before dying en masse. Scientists eventually concluded that the shearwaters went batty from exposure to a deadly toxin released by algae exposed to urea pollution.

JANUARY 14 NEW MOON Fishing should be good now through the 29th.

JANUARY 15 Raw or undercooked red kidney beans can cause severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and it only takes four of five beans to bring on the pain. If you cook them in a slow cooker, make sure they’re in there a good long time.

JANUARY 16 This would be a good time to prune fruit trees.

JANUARY 17 Water your trees and garden if the ground is dry. Dry freezes can kill, and hydrating actually prevents plants from freezing.

JANUARY 18 Black-billed magpies are frequent and rowdy visitors to winter suet feeders. Omnivorous and resourceful, magpies forge for insects, berries, seeds, pet food and carrion, steal food from predators and other birds, and pick ticks off horses, cows and deer. Magpies can use scent to find food, which is unusual for birds, which generally have limited sense of smell. They often make food caches, into which they deposit fresh or regurgitated snacks.

JANUARY 19 Check it out: www.gardenrant.com.

JANUARY 20 Coywolves, coyote/wolf hybrids, are flourishing in the northeastern U.S. Larger than coyotes but smaller than wolves, they have strong jaws to eat deer and the ability to coexist with humans. And unlike many interbred species, their offspring are fertile.

JANUARY 21 If you’re allergic to latex, you shouldn’t have a ficus or rubber tree in your home.

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

JANUARY 23 FIRST QUARTER MOON. It’s not too early to spread a couple inches of compost or manure on garden beds. You can dump it right on top of the snow.

JANUARY 24 For the garden fanatics among us: If there isn’t snow cover, you can go pull perennial weeds right now. Then again, if you’re a garden fanatic, you probably don’t have any weeds.

JANUARY 25 NEW MOON. Skunks stay active in winter, foraging for mice and rat nestlings, snails, fallen fruit and old vegetables, carrion and garbage. They’re fairly well adapted to urban life, and generally not trigger happy. Before spraying, they do an elaborate warning dance, which, in the spotted skunk, includes a very cute handstand. If that doesn’t do the trick, nipples leading from the anal glands pop out, adjust, and rotate like an anti-aircraft gun. If close enough, the perp gets a jet in the eyes; otherwise, an all-encompassing mist is exuded.

JANUARY 26 Want to get your hands dirty? Divide, prune and repot your houseplants. Remove the top ¼ inch of soil and refresh with new stuff.

JANUARY 27 Mars makes its closest approach of the year tonight.

JANUARY 28 Pussy willow buds are starting to swell. Pussy willow branches are favored winter fodder for snowshoe rabbits and deer.

JANUARY 29 FULL WOLF MOON. Tonight, the Moon reaches perigee, its closest approach to the Earth. When the Moon is at perigee, the extra gravitational pull can whip up the tides and cause strange weather.

JANUARY 30 Time to prune grape vines. Cut back to the main structure of the plant, leaving two buds per side-shoot.

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

Snowdrops and violets
are blooming.

There is a wilder solitude
in winter

When every sense is pricked,
alive and keen.

—May Sarton

Diane Olson is a writer,
gardener and bug hugger.

This article was originally published on December 30, 2009.