Letter from Birdland: Trying to stay a step ahead of the hens

Letter from Birdland: Trying to stay a step ahead of the hens

Egg production has been down in Birdland, and I suspected that some of the hens have a hidden nest.

I looked in all the likely places: under the giant cedar tree where they hang out in the heat of the day, in the cave of the ornamental quince, in the irises up against the house. But Michael was the one who found them.

"I found your eggs," my husband said.

He took me to the new garage and pointed silently. In clearing out stuff to make room for our party, we had stashed lots of things in the new garage. There, in the corner, was a paper grocery sack of crinkled paper strips I had been using to add ornamental mulch to the houseplants.

It had been converted to a lovely, if artificial-looking, nest and held about 20 eggs of various shades of tan and blue green, just like an Easter basket.

I quickly gathered the eggs and replaced them with six golf balls. We put golf balls in the nesting boxes to encourage the hens to lay there.

If the hens come back to lay eggs and find an empty nest, they would know that their nest has been raided and would find another place to hide them.

A broody hen is faithful, but not good at math. She can count to three. She knows the difference between one, two and many, but that's about as sophisticated as it gets. I find I can trick my hens into continuing to use that nest if I keep it stocked with golf balls. Then I just need to check both the nesting boxes in the coop and the "hidden" one in the garage.

Now we're back to getting six to nine eggs a day. I try not to be too obvious about checking the secret garage nest. For one, I don't want Ursula to get curious about that corner of the garage. My dog loves eggs, and when she finds one, she will carry it around in her mouth until I see her. When I tell her to drop it, she will, but then quickly bites into the shell and slurps it up. If she finds the nest, she will check it as faithfully as I do, and I will never find another egg there.

I also don't want the hens to know I'm onto them. When I check, sometimes a hen is on the nest or nearby. When that happens, we both, the hen and I, feign indifference. I examine the garden tools hung up on the wall of the garage, like I just can't decide whether I need a rake or a spade, and she walks around, pecking at the gravel floor until I go away. Then, looking around, she silently hops up onto the golf ball nest and settles in to do her secret work.

Even though I got a late start on my garden, just like every year, I can still do some gathering. Eggs, of course, but also mulberries. I just put in some tomato plants and planted some seeds in the garden coop, but they will be a long time coming.

The garlic left out there from last year has come up, though, and I've been cutting the scapes that curl out of the green bunches. They are delicious sauteed, like chives or green onions. I never knew you could eat them until I saw them at the farmers' market.

The peaches are swelling, and we've had to pull some off, lest the branches break with the weight. The trees took last year off from fruit production after a late frost killed all the growing fruit, so this year they are taking their fertility seriously.

And the pear tree? I've never seen it so full. Our pears are not very photogenic but delicious. Last year, we only got a handful and instead picked bushels from Pam and David's tree down the road.

But I don't have to wait to gather grape leaves. They are just the right size now. Early June is when you pick them for stuffed grape leaves or so says 'The Moosewood Cookbook." I like to pick all I can and stuff them with a rice pilaf, then freeze them in containers so we can enjoy them all summer, even after the leaves are too tough to eat.

Gather beauty; produce peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in a safe food supply, worldwide, and in her own backyard. You can read more of her writings and see photos at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdlandgmail.com.

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