The baby chicks arrived. They came on Sunday which is very unusual. By a fortunate twist of fate I received the phone message from the Vineyard Haven Post Office in the nick of time. They would have had to spend the night. They already were two days in shipment. The good news about baby chicks is that they can go for a couple of days without food or water when they first hatch. This is nature’s grand scheme. When a mother hen is setting on a clutch of eggs — it takes twenty-one days — she won’t leave the nest until all have hatched. The process could take two or three days. The first ones have to wait for their siblings before mom takes them off in search of food and water. When receiving an order from a big hatchery those days are spent en route. At any rate, all was well with the little ones.

Because they do not have a mother, the babies need to be taught to drink. Violet and her friend Ella Keohane took over the task. They dunked the little beaks in the water dish until the chicks got the idea. All in all it’s a pretty exciting experience. The novelty wears off pretty soon, however, as they rapidly become unwanted guests in the bathroom. Within a few weeks they will take up residence in the greenhouse under a heat lamp at night.

I have started transplanting. It is the only thing I do with which I seem to have infinite patience. The seedlings are so small that it would be impossible without reading glasses. I find it quite relaxing. I have divided thyme, sage, lavender, and snapdragons. Snaps are the only annual I have started. They take forever to get up to size so starting them in January or February is a must. One year I grew lisianthus which also took months under lights. I found them unworthy of the extra effort. Snaps, however, are a favorite of my customers. I only grow the rocket variety in mixed colors.

Both kale and beets have germinated in fish totes under the bench in the greenhouse without benefit of the heated propagating mat. Radishes will come right along as well. A simple plastic sheet thrown over a cold frame will suffice. If it gets really cold at night I toss a piece of bubble wrap on the seedlings in addition to the plastic cover.

It’s an awkward time for outside plant decorations. The Christmas arrangements are beginning to look shabby while it’s too early for Johnny-jump-ups and blooming bulbs. I finally took down the colored lights entwined in my side yard apple tree. I was amazed by the good job I had done putting them up. I had carefully wrapped them around each branch. It became such an annoying task that I chose a change of attitude and sang a couple of verses of Oh Holy Night. Because I was pathetically lazy in December I did not make a wreath. Instead I came across last year’s in the compost and spray painted it red. Remarkably, it looks good from a distance. Perhaps I’ll spray some purple or yellow on it to update it for the new season.

I simply must take issue with Newt Gingrich’s endless rhetoric about Obama being a food stamp president. First of all, we’re talking about giving food to poor people here, not ridiculous tax loopholes and breaks to gazillionaires. The people receiving food aid (there are no “stamps” anymore in the age of plastic debit cards) must qualify under pretty strict guidelines. We’re talking poverty-level incomes from possibly two minimum wage jobs. The supplemental help is little more than $200 or $300 a month. It doesn’t even cover dish or laundry soap or toilet paper. These families are trying to feed their children. We all know how much teenagers eat!

I wonder if Newt and Callista could feed themselves on $200 a month? Oh, I forgot, he has that extra million from soaking Freddie Mac, then criticizing that it helped the poor buy houses. How is it that the so-called Christian conservatives have forgotten one of the most frequent directives in the Bible — Feed the Poor.

I loved Hubert Humphrey. I waited on him once in a Washington restaurant in 1968 — a kind and gracious man. He is quoted, “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”

I am actually not as annoyed with Newt as with those who believe him. So many of his supporters are the ones who will benefit the least from the Republican policies. Go figure!