Urban Almanac

Urban Almanac: May 2007

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.
by Diane Olson
MAY 1 The Sun rises at 6:25 a.m. today and sets at 8:24 p.m. May's average maximum temperature is 72 degrees; the minimum is 55 degrees. Average snowfall is 1.1 inches; rainfall 1.8 inches.

MAY 2 FULL FLOWER MOON. It's been discovered that birds can learn foreign languages-or at least nuthatches can learn black-capped chickadee. While it's not unusual for one animal to react to the alarm call of another, nuthatches seem to go beyond that, interpreting the type and level of threat and the predator it's posed by. It was also found that chickadees sometimes fake alarm calls to scare other birds away, allowing them to bogart coveted food sources.

MAY 3 Average Last Frost Date. Asparagus, basil, beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cantaloupe, carrots, celery, chard, cucumber, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, potatoes, shallots and spinach can be planted through mid-month.

MAY 4 Birds have a reflex that makes them pause between swallows, so if a worm is put in the mouth of a just-fed chick, it will sit there for awhile, and the parent knows to pull it back out and give it to a different chick.

 MAY 5 Time to finish planting shrubs, evergreens and dormant trees.

MAY 6 On the Chinese calendar, which divides the year into 24 solar nodes, this is the chieh of Summer's Beginning.

MAY 7 Harvest lettuces, spinach and other greens in the morning. Don't wash or dry; store in a baggie with holes punched in it; add a paper towel to absorb moisture.

MAY 8 Many insects have "oposematic coloration" which advertises that they taste bad or have defensive abilities- though some are just faking. Orange and black is one of the more popular oposematic color schemes, shared by monarch butterflies and ladybugs, both of which taste nasty, as well as various stinging wasps. Syrphid flies, too, are orange and black, but neither taste bad nor have defensive bites or stings.

MAY 9 Don't cut the leaves off spent spring-flowering bulbs: the foliage needs to soak up energy for next spring.

MAY 10 LAST QUARTER MOON. A period of cold called "blackberry winter" often falls around now.

MAY 11 Ladybugs bought in nurseries or online are harvested in the high mountains of the west and northwest, where they go to feed on pollen. After gorging for a week or two, they mass in protected places near streams to wait out the summer drought. Mythology has it that ladybugs are protected by the Virgin Mary, hence the "lady" part of their name.

MAY 12 Reflective surfaces disorient aphids and thrips and prevent them from landing, so place a gazing ball or other reflective garden art near rose bushes.

MAY 13 The spring songbird migration is reaching its peak.

MAY 14 Great horned owlets are fledging. Bat, beaver, bighorn, coyote, hare, marmot, moose, mountain goat, muskrat, pika, porcupine, rabbit, raccoon, red fox, ringtail, skunk and Uinta ground squirrel babies are being born.

MAY 15 It's time to start planting eggplant, peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, tomatoes, winter squash and watermelon, as well as cosmos, gladiolas, marigolds, mums, Shasta daisies, sunflowers, zinnias and other heat-loving flowers.

May 16 NEW MOON. Fishing should be good from now until May 31.

MAY 17 Speedy Mercury passes near the crescent Moon tonight.

MAY 18 Baby birds create their own diapers-fecal sacs containing all of their waste-which the parents drop outside the nest.

MAY 19 Venus meets with the Moon tonight, while Mercury briefly loiters below.

MAY 20 Plants, like people, grow feverish when they catch a virus, and get the botanical equivalent of flushed cheeks (visible only through fancy high-tech machinery, though).

MAY 21 Mulch trees, shrubs and cool weather vegetables. Don't mulch warm weather plants until next month.

MAY 22 Noting that petals open and close at the same time each day, Carl Linnaeus, the eighteenth-century botanist, arranged flowers in sequence, using the movement of their petals as a floral clock.

MAY 23 FIRST QUARTER MOON. Water lilies, which are both bisexual and carnivorous, are blooming in backyard ponds.

MAY 24 Mayflies are hatching, mating and dying (all in one day); hummingbird moths are emerging to feed on honeysuckle and viburnum; and miller moths are migrating to their high-mountain breeding grounds.

MAY 25 Plant mint in a large plastic tub with the bottom removed, to prevent it from spreading. Unless, of course, you want an all-mint garden.

MAY 26 If you're plagued by bindweed, plant pumpkins-they're the only veggies that can compete for root space.

MAY 27 Late frosts are most common in the week before the Full Moon so be prepared to protect tender plants.

MAY 28 Warm your melons, they'll ripen sooner. Wait until seedlings are well established, then cover with clear plastic.

MAY 29 Expect rain when cumulus clouds grow high, different cloud types mass or low clouds move in from the south or east.

MAY 30 For a safe, organic weed spray, use equal parts white vinegar and water. Spray the leaves when the offending plant is in full sun.

May 31 FULL BLUE MOON. The Sun rises at 5:59 a.m. today and sets at 8:52 p.m. A Blue Moon isn't actually blue-it's the second full moon in a calendar month. Full Moons are separated by 29 days, while most months are 30 or 31 days long, so occasionally we end up with two full Moons in one month. However, the Moon really does appear blue after large volcanic eruptions. When Krakatau exploded in 1883, the particles in the clouds of ash (which rose to the very top of Earth's atmosphere) were about one micron wide; just the right size to scatter red light, while allowing other colors to pass through. Blue moons persisted for years after the eruption, along with lavender suns and noctilucent clouds. Blue moons also occurred after the eruptions of El Chichon, Mt. St. Helens and Mount Pinatubo.

This article was originally published on April 30, 2007.