Teetering on the edge of spring

By Kat Christen, Antioch Farm manager

Normal daily chicken and duck care took on new meaning this winter when below-freezing temperatures could freeze water and bare fingers in minutes. The ducks, seemingly unphased by the cold, slid across this winter’s snow like a sport while the rest of us, including chickens, spent our time huddling in the warmth when not forced to brave the outdoors. Luckily, all the hardy Antioch Farm staff and animals have survived this exceptionally cold winter and are eagerly teetering on the edge of spring.

Now the first signs of spring are finally appearing on the farm. Outside sprouts of mint, bee balm and oregano in our food forest promise the brown field a future of green.  More than 30 flats of vegetables, flowers and herbs are also sprouting inside under our grow lights.

The first of the plants—onions, lettuce and spinach—have moved to the hoop house to harden off (get used to the outdoor climate) before they are planted in the hoop house. Even with snow occasionally covering the farm, plants inside the hoop house can grow slowly and thrive on warmer days. The temperature in the hoop house can be more than 30 degrees above the outside temperatures!

This year, we will be hatching out our own eggs! Set up in Glen Helen’s Trailside Museum, an incubator will provide the necessary warmth and humidity while gently turning our eggs until hatch time. After about 21 days, the chicks will break through their shells. Volunteers, students and staff will care for the eggs and chicks for about four weeks until they are old enough to travel to the Antioch Farm to join the rest of our flock outside. During open museum hours, the public along with naturalist-led student groups from the Outdoor Education Center can visit and learn about the chicks.

We are also introducing Cochin breed hens to our flock this year. Known for their broody motherly nature, we hope the hens will naturally hatch out our eggs in the future.