Before I die, I want to write a book called The Weird and Secret History of North Carolina. In it I’ll chronicle the strange, the beautiful, the little-known, and the god-awful things that have happened in this state, along with huge heapings of folklore.
In the meantime I have lots of reading and research to do. This week I’m reading volume 1 of The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. Brown was a professor at Trinity College (now Duke University) and founder of the North Carolina Folklore Society. The book is a fascinating read. Last night I was reading stories about voodoo and witchcraft in our state before stumbling across a chapter on plant and animal folklore. This section contains tiny little nuggets of advice, gleaned from multiple sources over a number of years. If there was a North Carolina Farmer’s Bible, this might be the Book of Proverbs. Here are just a few of them:
It is bad luck to thank anyone for plants or seeds.
Sage must not be gathered during the dog days.
To make hydrangeas blue, place indigo at their roots.
To my delight, there was a ton of advice about raising chickens.
Although I’m not the Chicken Man, I’ve been wanting to write an authoritative piece on chickens for some time now. (After all, I am the Nature Boy of Durham, and, as you might know, the Bull City has seen a near epidemic of Chicken Fever over the last few years. This is not to be confused with the Avian Flu. Chances are you know somebody in Durham, NC who has chickens in their backyard, or is talking about it. I’m thinking the “Durham Chicken” could be a good mascot for Durham Bulls games; a San Diego Chicken-like foil for Mr. Wool E. Bull, if you will.)
So here you go, my chicken farmers and wanna-be chicken farmers. Behold these pearls of wisdom. These were collected from a number of sources in North Carolina between the years 1912 and 1943:
If you set eggs when the wind is eastward, the chickens will “holler” themselves to death.
If you count chickens, turkeys, etc., they will die.
Hens should be set three weeks before the full of the moon.
If there are thunderstorms while eggs are “setting,” the eggs will not hatch.
To break a hen from setting, put an alarm clock in the nest and let it go off.
To break a hen from setting, put a pan of water in the nest when she leaves and let her get in it when she comes back.
Do not set eggs so that they will hatch during dog days.
Always set a hen on thirteen eggs.
Little turkeys thrive better with a hen than with a turkey.
If it rains on Valentine Day, your chickens will stop laying.
To ensure good luck with chickens, let a woman carry them from the nest to the coop.
Grease little chickens’ heads with lard and kerosene when you take them from the nest and lice will not bother them.
Sprinkle ashes on animals and fowls on Ash Wednesday and they will not be bothered with lice.
Put Epsom salts in the chicken’s water (one tablespoonful to a gallon) and it will make them healthy.
Boil smartweed and scald out the chicken house to kill any kind of insect.
Cover newly hatched chicks with a sieve and place them in the sunshine a little while, and they will live.
When you have killed a chicken, make a cross on the ground with your finger, lay the chicken on its back on this cross, and it will not flop.
To keep a chicken from flopping when killed, tuck the head under the wing, swing the chicken around in a little circle several times, and then lay its head on a block and chop it off.
Oh, and I’ve heard that raising chickens can be hard, dirty work. That’s not in the book.