Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Archive for the ‘Bantam neighbour's bees’ Category

Gone to seed – 1. Green balls and so much hot air

with 2 comments

watermelon growing London

Watermelon growing in sub-tropical London

There are watermelons in the greenhouse!! Five teeny weeny striped balls, no bigger than a gooseberry. Oh, ye of little faith …

A 29p packet of seeds bought in a supermarket on a whim and an un-English summer of sizzling temperatures are bearing fruit. The old paddling pool has been dug out from under a mountain of later castoffs and restored to its place of honour on the patch of scorched earth that used to be the lawn. Every towel in the house has been pressed into service and the yoof element, home for summer, has taken root. At dusk, the grey water – a soupy mix of suntan cream and crumbs and tiny floating corpses (insects, not offspring) – is scooped out and sloshed onto the thirsty waiting tomatoes, courgettes and beans. City teens who have never seen growing food before marvel at the cherries on the tree, and the spikes on the dildo-sized cucumbers.

cucumber growing

Cucumber growing on the vine in the kitchen doorway – they have spikes. Who knew?

The quail house still stands empty at the bottom of the garden. No time. Even Bantam Neighbour’s hens are geriatric by now – producing barely a handful of eggs a week. Time to wring necks and start again, but she can’t bring herself to do it. I don’t blame her: people who live in glass houses etc. So the old girls continue to totter through the herbacious borders, snapping up slugs and biting things, while BN tends her bees.

Even the bees seem to like my garden, swarming into the old apple tree whenever the spirit moves them and hanging there for an hour or two, packed and heaving like day trippers on a seaside train, until the pastel-coloured cyberman wearily appears again with a cardboard box and a large watercooler jar on a pole and removes them. They bear no malice. They’ll be back. “You should keep bees,” says Bantam Neighbour, through gritted teeth.

In the evenings, the stagbeetles fly – huge and heavy, crashing into things like bombers with steering failure. Himself, smoking peacefully in the cool on the tiny patio, often has to duck.

And in the greenhouse, their roots kept wet in an old Victorian gazunder – the melons swell, a triumph of hope over expectation.

The wall-mounted greenhouse suitable for a very small garden (and south-facing bathroom window) was bought two years ago but never erected. Gradually, snails ate the box and instructions.

window greenhouse

Window-mounted Elite greenhouse from Bolton, Lancashire – which comes with clear, simple and evidently tasty assembly instructions

This spring I tracked down a replacement copy from the lovely manufacturers in Bolton (who took it surprisingly well …) and as my wage-slavery rolled to an end after 26 years, a greenhouse rose up. Let there be light, and green shoots, and melons.

“How are you finding unemployment/ enjoying retirement?” neighbours and ex-colleagues ask variously. I’m NOT bloody retired, and certainly not unemployed. I’m FREELANCE.

It’s self-sufficiency, Jim, but not as they know it.


Quail diary – 104. The swarm II

leave a comment »

Quail house and overhanging swarm of bees

Quail house and overhanging swarm of bees - see arrow

The bee man is charming, quite mad – but charming. He arrives with a water cooler bottle strapped to an extendable pole, a cardboard box and a bit of net, casually swatting bees off his ears without bothering to pull on his suit. Yup, a second swarm has turned up. Apparently it’s peak touring season for bees, (a bit like Parisians in August…) This lot have draped themselves around a branch over the quail house. The quail are in a row at the wire, on tiptoe, peering up; nosy but unperturbed.

The noise was deafening when the bees arrived. Bantam Neighbour away again, of course. Sputtering texts ping in from France. By the time I’ve nipped round to her house, checked they aren’t hers and plundered her addressbook for the bee buddies’ numbers the swarm has settled in the appletree and the quail have gone back to sleep – except Harass, still standing on her breeze block, determined not to miss a thing.

Good job someone was on the ball – by the time I’d opened the camera, the beeman had nonchalantly knocked the bees out of the tree and was sitting out of range of the angry cloud, quietly drinking coffee and picking strays off his knees. For the next hour or so he repeated the process, passing the time in the sunshine with tales of other London bees, including the ones in the various royal palaces and gardens. (Appropriately, the Queen has bees, but Charles isn’t keen, he says.)

Bees turn up on high rise balconies, down chimneys and even in the Tower of London. (“As we came down a ladder after hours smoking them out, two American tourists passed, saying ‘Can’t you just smell that London smog?’…”)

Signalling bees close up

Bees - signalling.

On the upturned box in among the peonies, a row of bees are now aligned head down, bums up, signalling to the stragglers overhead that this is home. There are only about fifty diehards left in the tree. Some of the others have settled happily to work again, arriving back at the box with tiny saddlebags of pollen.

By teatime the beemen are gone, the box of peacefully seething bees now tied up with the net like some exotic party favour and shoved on the back seat with them. I hand over half a dozen quail eggs (52 so far, thank you for asking).

In the kitchen, a single lost bee buzzes crossly at the windows. The cat gets stung. Ho hum.

Quail diary – 103. Silly bees

with 2 comments

swarm of bees in tree (close up)

Swarm of bees in tree

Bantam Neighbour’s bees have swarmed. There’s a deafening buzz in late afternoon and beyond the fence a twister rises up, a whirling vortex of tiny bodies and beating wings. It is all over in ten minutes. They don’t go far, just into an overhanging lime tree. But 12 hours and a thunderstorm later there they still are, a gently heaving brown poultice along a forked branch – 50ft up. Now what?

Bantam Neighbour, contacted by phone, is incredulous. “I only split them two days ago… are you sure they’re mine?” She’s also slightly miffed to miss all the fun, again. However, there’s 40,000 bees on the loose and Mrs Nextdoor’s having conniptions, so er, will I just be a doll and pop round? With something large and white to lure them back down? There’s an empty hive handy, leaking honey by the compost bin, go and make a landing strip. Empty frames under the stairs. Crown board in the shed …

A what board? Where are the bee buddies when you need them? Gingerly, I zip myself into the pastel bee suit and stomp off trailing an old bedspread to see what can be done. I’ve never flown solo before.

In Bantam Neighbour’s garden all is quiet. The dog fawns, the hens jostle at the gate, the tortoise sneaks into the house for a wee the moment my back’s turned and the bees from the remaining hive pile out enthusiastically to promenade up and down the gleaming white sheet even before I’ve finished spreading it – but the swarm high overhead stays put.

And now we wait. This could take days. There is no plan B.

Written by pottingshedder aka Jay Sivell

April 24, 2011 at 10:28 am

Quail diary – 96. Honey, you’re home

with 2 comments

It’s nearly autumn, the garden is groaning with fruit, the quail are starting to put their feet up, and the house is full of “thank you” gifts after a busy summer: flowers and biscuits, books, and honey – rich, delicious clear golden honey, redolent of foxgloves and lavender. Oh, yes. Bantam Neighbour’s weeny bees have come up trumps. Slurp.

And only £100 a pot, she reckons. After two years and £3,000. Even her runner beans cost £500, in gap-year grandson labour and squirrel-proofing. Our stack cost a packet of twine and an afternoon digging a trench for the mountains of uncomposted quail bedding and kitchen waste. The surplus (veg, rather than assorted whiffy crap) has been going out on the garden wall, by the armful. Unfortunately, however, the rocket-fuelled beans strangled the tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines, the lettuces bolted into the raspberries, and unripe windfall apples flattened the potato tyre so we only got nine puny apologies for spuds.

It’s self-sufficiency, Jim, but not as we know it. Have a £5 quail egg…

Quail diary – 90. Hot, hot, hot

with 2 comments

Quail dossing about in the heat

Quail dossing about in the heat - Eggs? Lay 'em yourself

The quail are resting. The arrival of the flipflops in the run elicits no movement beyond a raised eyebrow (they do so have eyebrows). Eggs? Lay ’em yourself.

It’s too hot. Even the mice have pulled their loungers into the shade. The last of the quail house perspex came down weeks ago, allowing a zephyr of wind to play through the wire, but not even the permanent addition of a towel over the skylight can stop the temperature in the quail house rising to 30C at midday. The quail lie around in drifts in the dust. Only lettuce triggers any animation, and mealie worms, of course. And fresh water. Should I give them a paddling pool, I wonder?

Beyond the wire, the cherry tree drips ripe fruit, the french beans dangle in the first delicate fingers outside the back door, and new young raspberry canes are marching on the scorched earth where the lawn used to be. The waterbutt is long dry and any rehydrating of pots at sundown is from the tap, which the blueberries really don’t like. By now, there’s a promontory of tiny green apples around the quail house as the thirsty Bramley sheds some of its burden in little plops on the roof – it’s going to be a busy autumn for the freezer. All round the garden, frogs, butterflies and stagbeetles shuffle in the cool undergrowth. The cats are having a field day. Horrid creatures.

The foxes too are quite brazen, sauntering in and out of front gardens in broad daylight in mid afternoon, blatantly ignoring passersby. Got a gun in that shopping bag? No – just a cucumber? Well, push off then.  Of course, that’s London for you. Little Brother, who lives “out,” has a country garden hopping with cute, destructive bunnies and not a predator in sight. His beans, tomatoes and courgettes are growing up behind bars to keep the little teeth at bay.

His bees are feistier too – St Trinians to Bantam Neighbour’s little Madelines. Oh yes. Bees. Very now. He’s finished his bee-keeping course and been given a delinquent swarm to tame in a homemade hive. Some ask for a novice, you’d think. On the other hand, his Asbees may spit gum and buzz unprintably when inspected, but the frames are dripping honey after only a week… Go Little Bro. I’m drooling already.

Quail eggs: 244.

Quail Diary – 89. Cherry ripe

with 2 comments

The cherry tree - a very good year

The cherry tree - a very good year

The cherry tree is crimson with lush ripe cherries, its spindly branches bowed by the plump bounty like a child proudly staggering under heavy shopping bags. The cherries are delicious, mouthwatering, and we’ve never had this many before. Usually the pigeons take them before I realise they’re ripe. So what’s made the difference this year? Was it the cats, finally earning their keep on the shed roof? Or the bees, humming busily in their hives beyond the fence? Or have I simply not noticed the little tree growing up? There’s a lot of it about. Even Weeny Teen now has a job, sitting other people’s babies.

Cherries, apples, raspberries, black currants, tomatoes, beans, olives: the tiny garden is bulging with goodies. The pollinators are being wiped out, the papers say. Well, not here, they’re not. From the slender foxgloves comes the puzzled buzz of fat bumblebees too broad to turn round inside the flower. In the tangle of creeper along the fence, every blossom has its own furry bottom. Bantam Neighbour’s little Italian jobs don’t bother with us, they’ve enough choice in their own garden. These are visiting bees.

In the hives, nectar and pollen are being banked for winter. Yup, yesterday was the longest day. Break out that toboggan. Only 185 shopping days till Christmas …

In the quail house, the worm has turned. After months politely ignoring the intrusion, looking the other way while generations of mice weaned on stolen layers’ pellets (?) swing from the rafters and scamper up and down sheer walls (how do they do that?) the quail are striking back. Those beaks are sharp, but the mice are shameless.

The cat - transfixed

The cat - transfixed

These days mucking out the quail house involves ploughing up the earth floor to find the spun straw balls of mouse nests in the network of tunnels beneath. Cute little black eyes watch as you dig, popping up at your feet and running round until they find a way out. It drives the cats demented. They hurl themselves at the wire and crash on and off the roof in pursuit. The quail look on with restrained interest.

The other day a very young mouse lost its grip on the ceiling and trapped itself in an upturned pot. I took it to the park, lugging the pot through the rain, and watched it scamper off along the river bank (mouse, not pot).

Two down.

The mouse - legging it

The mouse - legging it. (How do they do that?)

The quail - unimpressed

The quail - politely unimpressed

Quail diary – 85. Plan bee

leave a comment »

Bees swarming, lining the fence

Bees swarming, lining the fence

The bees swarmed just after 10am. The noise was deafening, even in the quail house. By the time the camera had been fetched, the air was black with tiny bodies and beating wings – thousands of them, spiralling out across the gardens, like a living tornado whirling round and round above our shed. “It’s centred on us,” said Himself, horrified. It was an amazing sight. I stood in the buzzing storm and clicked away, unmolested.

They began to settle after about half an hour, in heavy drifts across the honeysuckle and warm shed roof, bowing down the branches with their combined weight, lining the fence like a tiny straggling bus queue. And there they stayed. Hours later, little drunken bees were still wandering about, dazed – in the sieve (?), clinging to the white garden chairs. (They like white, apparently. White is reassuring. Brown or black could be a bear, but white says safe to a bee who’s never been to the North Pole …)

Bee swarm over the garden - the buzz was deafening

Bee swarm over the garden - the buzz was deafening

Meanwhile, the swarm had vanished. All was quiet again. Too quiet. Even the birds had been struck dumb.

“A swarm? Show me,” said Bantam Neighbour, her eyes lighting up behind her bee visor. Gingerly, we hauled ourselves up her fence for a view of the back of mine, and the quail house – where the quail were once more gormlessly tapping at the perspex for snacks on the other side, all previous excitement forgotten. And there were the bees, huddled together on the concrete shed base in a seething patch like animated mud.

For the next hour we knocked on doors and rang estate agents, trudging up and down the street like a couple of pastel-coloured Cybermen in our bee suits, trying to get access to the locked garden before the sated bees, gorged on three days’ worth of honey for the trip, got off their carpet bags and swarmed again.

She got in, in the end. Did you doubt it? With a cardboard box, a soft brush, and an agile neighbour with a three-year-old to worry about. No one called the police. No one got stung. (Or at least, only the eejit who zipped a bee into her bee suit.) But by then the swarm was too deep under the concrete to reach the queen, short of torching the shed. Still, Bantam Neighbour tried: laying out her white tea towel and sweet lures – but in vain. By morning the wild bees had flown, westwards in determined strings towards a better place.

I, meanwhile, was set to work sugar-coating Bantam Neighbour’s own bees. Against Varroa mite apparently. (Yum, say the cats). All that gritty wildlife in a small London garden. Quail eggs: 121

Bee hives - and an extra from Doctor Who

Urban bee hives - and an extra from Doctor Who