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Urban Almanac: May 2012

By Diane Olson

Day by day in the home, garden and sky.

MAY 1 FIRST QUARTER MOON. May Day/Beltane. The Sun rises at 6:25 a.m. today and sets at 8:24 p.m. May’s average maximum temperature is 72°; the minimum is 55°. Average snowfall is 1.1 inches; rainfall 1.8 inches.

MAY 2 Time to start hardening off warm-weather seedlings: Set them outside, at first in the shade, for increasing periods of time; cover, or bring inside at night. It takes two to three weeks to safely harden off tender annuals.

MAY 3 Average Last Frost Date. Don’t rush to plant your tomatoes. Tomato plants set in cold soil can’t take up phosphorus (you can tell this is happening if the foliage turns purple). Wait at least another week to be safe, or protect them with a cloche or water well.

MAY 4 The Eta Aquid meteor shower, born from Halley’s comet, peaks in the predawn today. Halley’s was last visible in 1986 and will return in 2061.

MAY 5 FULL FLOWER MOON The Moon is going to be HUGE tonight, as it reaches perigee, its closest point to Earth, just before midnight.

MAY 6 Insanely cool astronomy app: Star Walk. Use it tonight to find Saturn, just above blue star Spica.

MAY 7 You can plant asparagus, basil, beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery, chard, cucumber, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, potatoes, shallots and spinach through mid-month.

MAY 8 Mayflies are hatching dancing, copulating, giving birth and dying—all in one day.

MAY 9 Remember not to plant sunflowers too near vegetables or other annuals, as their roots secrete toxins that stunt surrounding plants.

MAY 10 “Blackberry winter,” a period of cold coinciding with the time when blackberries bloom, often occurs around now.

MAY 11 Cirque du Soleil has a show called Ovo, described as “an immersion into the teeming and energetic world of insects.”

MAY 12 LAST QUARTER MOON. The first truly great gardening app: Plant Planner, from Organic Gardening Magazine and Safer Brand. Download it now.

MAY 13 Let nature work for you: Plant poppies around rosebushes to attract lacewings, which then eat the aphids on the roses.

MAY 14 The spring songbird migration is reaching its peak. Bat, coyote, moose, mountain lion, muskrat, pika, porcupine, rabbit, raccoon, red fox and skunk babies are being born. There have been several mountain lion and coyote sightings up City Creek Canyon lately.

MAY 15 Harvest leaf lettuce when the outer leaves are four to six inches long; heading varieties when heads are fairly firm. Harvest greens in the morning, and don’t wash or dry. Store in a baggie with holes punched in it; toss in a paper towel to absorb moisture.

May 16 Time to start planting cantaloupe, corn, eggplant, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, watermelon. Also cosmos, gladiolus, marigolds, mums, Shasta daisies, sunflowers, zinnias and other heat-loving flowers.

MAY 17 Of the 260 species of gladiolus, 250 are native to South Africa, where they were originally pollinated by long-tongued anthrophorine bees. But hybridization of the plant has altered its structure, so other pollinators can do the job now, including sunbirds, moths, flies and wasps. Here, they’re generally pollinated by hawk moths.

MAY 18 Demand for quinoa is so high, that the people in areas where it’s traditionally grown, like Bolivia, can no longer afford it. Why not grow your own? Mix the tiny seeds with sugar for easier sowing, and refrigerate overnight. Plant in full sun. Seedlings have trouble competing with weeds, so keep the planting bed well groomed. If you don’t harvest it, the birds gladly will.

MAY 19 Check out today’s Bee Keeping and Pollinators workshop, presented by Wasatch Community Gardens.

MAY 20 NEW MOON. SOLAR ECLIPSE. A partial solar eclipse will be visible this afternoon from 1:29 to 2:33 p.m. Be sure to protect your eyes. The safest and most inexpensive way is to view it by projection. (Here’s how to make a pin-hole projector: Otherwise, use number 14 welders glasses or a solar filter, which you can get at Amazon or an astronomy specialty store.

MAY 21 If you have an aquarium, dump the fish-poopy water on garden plants. They’ll love it.

MAY 22 Look for a thin sliver of Venus to the right of the slender crescent Moon.

MAY 23 Starbucks is now using ground cochineal, a type of scale insect, to color Strawberry Frappuccinos. Cochineal is safer than artificial coloring and is already used in lots of other food products. Cochineal live in Mexico and subtropical South America, and feed on cactus plants.

MAY 24 NEW MOON. Under-sow vegetables with sweet clover, red clover, dwarf white clover or vetch, to retain moisture and enrich the soil.

MAY 25 Mars is just above the waxing Moon tonight.

MAY 26 Pick snow peas when the peas are just beginning to swell in the pods; snap peas when the pod is plump, but the skin is still shiny, not dull.

MAY 27 The Latin name for catnip, also called catmint is Nepeta cataria, likely named for the Italian town of Nepeta, where there must be many happy cats. The active ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone. When sniffed, catnip is a stimulant; when it’s eaten, it’s a sedative. Sensitivity to catnip appears to be inherited, with about two-thirds of felines showing an affinity. The verdict is still out as to whether lions and tigers get off on it.

MAY 28 FIRST QUARTER MOON. The nepetalactone in catnip is also a very effective fly and mosquito repellent. Rats and mice dislike it, too, and will avoid places where it grows.

MAY 29 Ticks dislike rosemary and pennyroyal.

MAY 30 According to recent studies, some honeybees are thrill seekers, while others are pessimists.

MAY 31 The Sun rises at 5:59 a.m. today and sets at 8:52 p.m.

The garden reconciles human art and wild nature, hard work and deep pleasure, spiritual practice and the material world.
—Thomas Moore

This article was originally published on April 25, 2012.