Spring Garden IV
Once again the days are growing longer and beginning to warm. We’re in the part of spring that gives widely varying temperature swings, with days warming into the 70s and nights falling to anywhere between the 50s and 30s. I’ve started checking weather.com every day, watching the ten day forecast, anticipating freezing nights and planning when to water.
It has been a long, colder than usual winter for us. We got a freezing rain that shut down the city in early December—in fact it canceled the final day of the college semester and delayed the first day of final exams with a couple inches of solid sheet ice and single digit lows. I fell twice, once in my driveway, busting up ice, and once down my back deck steps, going to check on the chickens. The second fall dislocated my shoulder. We’ve had several stretches of ultra cold nights where the temperatures dipped down to around ten degrees, and in a very un-Arkansas like manner, refused to rise above freezing for days at a time. The weather people called it a polar vortex. I just know it was cold. On those nights I buttoned the chickens up tight in their coop, sealed the open hatch in the floor of their coop, and debated providing some sort of heating lamp, but they fluffed up their feathers so they looked half again as large as normal, huddled together on their roost, and generated enough body heat to survive.
The chickens stopped laying as winter came on, and I learned that the laying cycle is circadian. Their bodies aren’t designed to produce young during the winter, so they molt and stop producing. Molting is an ugly business, and it just plain embarrassed me for the chickens. They are proud and beautiful in their plumage, and sad and bedraggled when they molt. As a bald man I can empathize. Lisa and I debated putting a light bulb in their coop during winter, both for the warmth, and to fool their bodies into producing eggs, but we agreed that the more humane thing to do would be to let their bodies produce eggs naturally. Sure enough, as the days slowly got longer in January and February, we began to see more eggs. At first I’d get one every three days, then one every other day, and now we’re averaging two a day. I hope soon we’ll be back to three a day, just like last summer.
On February 21, fooled by a sunny, 70 degree Saturday, I went to the community garden to help an old couple, Bobbi and Ervin Sandlin lay mulch on the pathways and turn over our gardens. We dug out saw briars, and after Bobbi planted her Irish potatoes, she gave me what was left of her cuttings to plant my own garden. Inspired, I went to Lowes garden center and bought sets of spinach, Bibb lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, turned over my backyard garden—forking in Lara Noah’s horse manure—and planted it. It was dicey, I thought, but worth the risk. I bedded the plants in straw to help protect them, but a few days later we got another sleet/snow storm that left the roads coated with another three inches of hard-shell ice. It was difficult to walk on it without slipping. I covered my back yard garden with sheet plastic laid over my sawhorses from the garage. The plants were covered for several days before the ice melted and the temperatures warmed up enough to uncover the plants. The lettuce, spinach, and cabbage survived, but the broccoli and cauliflower had already fallen prey to the rabbit that lives in our back yard, so I replanted the broccoli and set out kale, onions, and sowed more lettuce, spinach, and chard seed.
The last couple of days I’ve worked and hung out in the back yard, letting the chickens roam out of their coop, enjoying the sunshine. It’s a pleasant change after a day in the office. It’s nice to get my hands dirty, do something physical. Let the cycle begin again.