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by Margaret Hartley

Greenpoint

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Hens say spring's coming

By Margaret Hartley
Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The hens started laying again. Who cares that it was only 10 degrees several mornings last week? Who cares that it was still dark the morning the dog decided escape her leash and visit the ice fisherman on the lake? Who cares that the world is still a mass of ice and snow, squalls and clouds?

The hens started laying again. And that means spring.

This far north, groundhogs can’t predict the weather. They’re hibernating. We have to rely on hens, peepers, running sap and budding trees to tell us whether it’s time to plow or plant, tap or stop tapping.

The hens go by day length. During deepest winter we were getting a couple of eggs a week from our aging flock, and sometimes none at all. Last week we started bringing in two, then three, then five eggs a day.

Suddenly we’re starting our mornings by frying up storage onions with mushrooms, then dropping in eggs to poach for breakfast. No more egg rationing!

It’s true that we also got a gift of several laying hens last week from a friend who bought some roosters for meat and didn’t want the layers. (It’s also true that my husband came home with a spare rooster that we didn’t exactly need, but that’s another story.)

The new hens integrated into the old flock pretty quickly. We kept them in a cage overnight so they could get used to each other, but it wasn’t a very good cage and by morning they had broken out and intermingled with the older hens.

All but one. When I went into the coop with the morning feed, I saw a big black rooster grabbing hens by the neck feathers and shaking them. Great, I thought, how did my husband miss a rooster?

Then I cornered it and picked it up, and found that once it smoothed down its ruffled feathers and tail, it was actually a sweet little black hen. I put her back in the cage for another day of acclimation, and by next morning, everyone was on friendly terms.

The new hens are young, and laying small eggs. Our older hens are laying big eggs. By the end of the month we should be back to having extra eggs — enough for hard-boiling, and for sharing with friends.

By then we’ll be well into the other signs of spring. We should be tapping maples by next week, as soon as we get into the pattern of days above freezing and nights below. Our windowsill seedlings should be coming up, and getting ready to be transferred into hot frames.

Once we hear the peepers we’ll know it’s time to check the gardens to see if we can plant peas, hardy greens and broccoli.

The peepers won’t start their song up my way until at least a week after I hear them here at work, and several days after my peeper scout in Greenfield calls me.

The tiny frogs with the huge voices tell us that the ice is out of the vernal ponds and wetlands in the woods. And if the ice is out of the ponds it should be out of the soil in the garden as well. If the soil is also dry enough, we can start planting.

When the maples bud, tapping is over. When the oaks start leafing out, it’s time to plant corn, and potatoes go in by mid-May. Tender plants — peppers, tomatoes, basil, eggplant — have to wait till after Memorial Day. Not the calendar’s Memorial Day, which shows up May 26 this year, but the real one, May 30. We get late frosts.

This winter has seemed long and cold, and harder on the family Floridian than most winters. He’s looking forward to spring, to warm sun and warm earth, to start growing and eating. He says our bodies miss the nutrients you only get from fresh food, grown in good soil and just picked from the garden.

Until then, fresh eggs will have to sustain him.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday editor and features editor. Reach her at href="mailto:mhartley@dailygazette.net"popup="800,600">mhartley@dailygazette.net or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

 

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