Regulars and Shorts, Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: January 2012

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.

JANUARY 1 NEW YEAR’S DAY. 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 37°; the average minimum 21°. The average snowfall is 13.8”.

JANUARY 2 Look for the waxing Moon next to Jupiter tonight. Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is the largest planetary moon and is the only moon in the solar system known to have its own magnetic field.

JANUARY 3 January is National Garden Mail Order Month. I’m a long-time fan of Seeds of Change (; Peaceful Valley (; and just discovered High Mowing Seeds (

JANUARY 4 Earth reaches perihelion, its closest annual position 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 5 Keeping track of what’s happening in the natural world helps keep you grounded and in touch with the big picture. (That’s why you’re reading this column, right?) Officially, it’s called phenology, which is defined as the study of the timing of the biological events in plants and animals such as leafing, flowering, reproduction, hibernation and migration. Want to become a phenologist? Start a garden journal or blog or join Project Budburst.

JANUARY 6 NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first potentially habitable planet. It’s about 600 light-years away, orbits a star much like our Sun, has a similar greenhouse effect, and an average surface temperature of 72 degrees.

JANUARY 7 Shake the winter blues with a walk outside, whatever the weather. Or go ice skating, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing tonight under the nearly full moon.

JANUARY 8 FULL WOLF MOON. This is the perfect time to notice how different trees grow to give their leaves the maximum amount of sunlight. Some, like pines, spruces and firs, are conical and pointed, so the upper branches don’t block the lower. Others, like oaks, maples and elms have long, spreading branches combined with short, leaf-covered twigs that fill the spaces between branches.

JANUARY 9 Keep an eye on your pond if you have overwintering fish; make sure a section is always ice-free.

JANUARY 10 Want to garden year-round—inside? Try windowfarming, a vertical, hydroponic growing system that lets you grow vegetables year-round, in almost any window.

JANUARY 11 Look for bright, sparkly Venus and pale blue Neptune hanging together for the next two nights.

JANUARY 12 Rats are nicer than most people. Given the choice to eat chocolate or free a fellow rat trapped in its cage, the majority of rats (females more than males) chose to first lend a paw, then shared the treat.

JANUARY 13 The sodium chloride and other salts found in most ice melt is bad for pets, plants and the water table. Try Safe Paw Ice Melter or just spread sand for traction.

JANUARY 14 Perk things up around the yard by setting out different types of bird food to see who shows up. Try salt-free peanuts, suet, fruit, greens, sweet potato skins, bread and pastries.

JANUARY 15 If you haven’t been to the new Utah Museum of Natural History, go. Now. It’s open on Sundays until 5 p.m.

JANUARY 16 LAST QUARTER MOON. The Moon hangs out with Saturn tonight.

JANUARY 17 Snow actually insulates plants and keeps soil from repeatedly freezing and thawing, which can heave plants right out of the ground. Toss extra snow over flower beds or shrubs, as long as it doesn’t contain chemical deicers.

JANUARY 18 A bird irruption is an irregular winter migration that occurs when bird populations can’t be supported in their natural winter range, due to food shortages, harsh weather or overpopulation. Birders along the Wasatch Front have been thrilled by the appearance of snowy owls this winter; past years have brought Bohemian waxwings, northern shrikes, boreal owls, and red-breasted- and white-breasted nuthatches.

JANUARY 19 African violets love Epsom salts. Add a pinch every other time you water them.

JANUARY 20 This is a nice garden blog, with an excellent list of garden catalogs and other resources:

JANUARY 21 If it’s not snowing, you can spread compost or manure over garden beds now. That is, if you can find any to buy.

JANUARY 22 NEW MOON. Porcupines stay active all winter, searching for acorns, twigs, and conifer needles, and straddling trees to feed on bark. They sometimes forage in groups of up to 20, which would be a very odd sight.

JANUARY 23 Graupel are small pellets of snow that start out as hexagonal or stellar crystals and become coasted with rime as they fall. Graupel generally fall in short, concentrated showers within a snowstorm, and bounce when they hit the ground.

JANUARY 24 Firnification occurs when ice crystals melt, then refreeze, greatly increasing the density of the snow pack.

JANUARY 25 Raptors to the rescue: City officials in Green Bay, Wisconsin are erecting nesting platforms for kestrels and other birds of prey, in hope that the birds will control the rats and mice plaguing the downtown area.

JANUARY 26 Look for Venus by the waxing Moon tonight and tomorrow night.

JANUARY 27 Keep an eye out for dock, with its green or red-brown rosettes, growing strong throughout the winter. Though generally considered a weed, dock is actually an herb in the buckwheat family. Some types can be eaten or ground for flour; others contain high levels of tannin and are used in leather tanning or as dye.

JANUARY 28 If you’re out late, look for Mars, rising in Leo around midnight. Saturn, in Virgo, rises around 1 a.m.

JANUARY 29 If the weather’s clear, now would be a good time to prune grape vines and storm-damaged tree limbs.

JANUARY 30 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Fun app: Scats & Tracks of North America ($7.) I was able to determine that yes, it was a raccoon that left its calling card on my deck.

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

Anyone with the ability to see beauty never grows old.
—Franz Kafka


This article was originally published on December 28, 2011.