Feb. 19-25, 2018
Yet still on every side we trace the hand
Of Winter in the land,
Save where the maple reddens on the lawn,
Flushed by the season's dawn.
The Ducks-Scouting-for-Nests Moon waxes throughout the period, entering its second quarter on Feb. 23 at 3:09 a.m. It grows in strength as the month comes to a close, reaching perigee at 9:48 a.m. on Feb. 27. Rising near midday and setting in the middle of the night, this waxing moon passes overhead in the evening.
The night has shortened by 90 minutes through the space of the last 60 days, and the speed of the change reaches real spring levels along the 40th Parallel, a gain of 70 minutes occurring between Feb. 18 and equinox.
The sun, which took 60 days to travel the first half of the way to equinox, suddenly doubles its speed, completing the second half of the journey in only 32 days. And in the next four weeks, the rise in average temperatures reaches its full springtime stride of 1 degree every three days.
Even though early spring has arrived, promising milder conditions in the month ahead, lunar perigee this week, combined with full moon on March 1, reduces the likelihood of good weather as it increases the chances for seasonal affective disorder.
The planets: Jupiter and Mars remain the morning stars this week.
The stars: By this week of the year, Orion moves into the western sky before midnight, reinforcing the other signs of early spring. Find Sirius, the Dog Star, shining along the southern horizon, the brightest light in the heavens (except for the setting moon and Procyon).
Snowdrop winter arrives around Feb. 24, often one of the windiest days of the month, and colder temperatures return for up to 72 hours. While 50s and 60s each come 5 percent of the time, and 40s are recorded 35-40 percent of the years, highs only in the 20s or 30s occur the remaining 50 percent, and chances for a high in the teens appear for the last time this season.
Snow falls 35 percent of the years on Feb. 24 and five years in 10 on Feb. 25. But that is also the last day that chances for snow get so high.
The natural calendar: Pussy willows are the calendar of early spring. Even in the coldest years, pussy willows squeeze out by the first week of March. They open well before the weedy henbit, partial to around a dozen thaw days, maybe five or six afternoons in the upper 40s, one or two near 60 and about three warm rains.
The catkins generally reach their prime when crocuses bloom, and woolly bear caterpillars come out from winter hibernation. Pussy willow time is the time that clover and wild violet leaves start to grow; horseradish stretches out to an inch or two, and red rhubarb unfolds in the sun.
Honeysuckle buds are unraveling on the lowest branches. Bleeding hearts are pushing their heads from the ground as daylilies reach to the top of your boots, and white snow trillium blossoms appear in the bottomlands.
Field and garden
Do late pruning on colder afternoons. Spread fertilizer after testing the soil. Graft and repot houseplants. Dig fence post holes while the ground is soft and wet. Put in oats or ryegrass for quick vegetative cover. Seed and fertilize the lawn. Lunar perigee and full moon should pull the maple sap into pails throughout the country.
Marketing notes: Sales of lambs and kids may increase as demand rises in the upcoming Easter Market. For April 1, Roman Easter, save your newly weaned, milk-fed lambs and kids, weighing about 25-45 pounds and not older than three months. Light-colored meat is best, a sign of the suckling animal.
April 8: Orthodox Easter – animals for this market should also be milk-fed. They can be a little bit bigger than the Roman Easter lambs or kids (between 40-60 pounds), though, and should be nice and fat.
For April 13-15: New Year’s Day for immigrants from Cambodia, Thailand and Laos – the Asian market often favors animals in the 60- to 80-pound live-weight range.
Fish, game, livestock and birds: Continue to keep plenty of lukewarm water available for your chickens when temperatures fall below freezing. And pigs, like people, sometimes catch cold if exposed to radical temperature changes – the kind of changes that occur quickly in late February and early March.
Bee season has begun in the Deep South. Honeybees and carpenter bees collect pollen from dandelions, red maples, white clover and chickweed. As February ends, cows, heifers and bulls are wormed before they are turned out to pasture.
An Imitation Chicken Story
When I was a youngster in Delaware County, Ind., I was always fascinated with ducks. I loved to watch them take a bite of food and then “shake” it down. My aunt, who had a farm in another county north of us, had several ducks, and so one summer she saved me some eggs to hatch under a setting hen.
It takes four weeks to hatch duck eggs, as compared to three weeks for chicken eggs. I thought sure the setting hen would give up that last week. But either she lost track of time or was a really patient mother, because right on time out popped several fuzzy little yellow ducks.
Unfortunately, farm predators narrowed my duck population down to two within the first weeks of life. But George and Agnes were a hardy pair, and I was off to becoming a Clementine who “drove her ducklings to the water,” as the song goes. You see, my father had a pond in the back part of the farm, and I always wanted those ducks to go with me when I went fishing.
But we soon found out these ducks didn’t know they were ducks. They had been born to an old hen that didn’t want anything to do with water except to drink it. She taught those baby ducks to get bugs early in the morning, and when they were older and too big to hide under her wings, she showed them how to “go to roost” at night.
The chicken roost my father had built in the big chicken house was where you’d find the entire chicken population at dusk … and George and Agnes. The two would sit right up there with all the other chickens, holding onto the rungs for dear life. Because of their webbed feet, they spent the night rocking and balancing, and always hopped right back up if they were toppled.
When they were full-grown I thought they just needed to be introduced to a big body of water and they would “snap out of it.” So, one hot Saturday afternoon, I encouraged George and Agnes to go with me to the pond.
“Threatened” was more like what I had to do to them to get them there. They kept trying to go back to the chicken house, turning around every few steps. Finally, I picked them up and carried them (by the neck, just like my aunt had shown me) down to the pond and threw them into the water.
They swam back to shore as fast as they could, and as my father always told the story, “they beat her back to the chicken house.” They just didn’t know they were ducks, but thought they were chickens.
Until the day they died of old age, they continued to stay with the chicken flock and go to roost at night, never knowing any different.