Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Archive for the ‘Eggs’ Category

Quail diary – 109. Egging on

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Cress sprouting

Cress sprouting – spring springing

A year has passed. The quail house is still empty. After a hard winter, the garden is frozen – a half-finished greenhouse now huddled under tarpaulin on what the wet summer has left of the lawn. But in the kitchen, in the warmth, cress is sprouting. The TV news may still be wall-to-wall snow drifts, but the vernal equinox has been passed. Beyond the french windows, a blue tit, two blackbirds, three wood pigeons and a jay are squabbling over a fatball. The fox has reappeared. Easter is only days away.

Spring is springing. The quail are calling.

 

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Quail diary – 107. And then there was one …

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The sixth quail died this week: Tom – last of the Tom, Dick and Harrys – popped off peacefully in the catbasket in the sickbay, aged three and a half. Ripe old age for a coturnix.

Now, only Emmet is left, ribbetting mournfully in her retirement bungalow by the back door. On very cold nights a microwavable petbed offers small comfort, but otherwise she huddles alone in the extra straw, a princess-on-a-pea balanced on layers of cardboard, peering out at the wintry garden from behind her clear plastic windbreak and extra bubblewrap. There are sunsets, and moonlit nights, daily visits from the hand bringing food and clean water – even occasionally new dandelion leaves, but mainly emptiness. This is no life for a quail. She belongs in a flock, but a new flock would bully her.

Luckily, Bantam neighbour has offered temporary respite. When the weather gets warmer Emmet will move (winter palace and all) two gardens down, into the hen run, where she can lean on her zimmerframe and watch the antics of the six survivors there through her picture windows.

Poor old soul. It’s not as if I can park her in front of the telly and turn up the sound. Will she lay again this year? The days are getting longer already, 8 hours 35 minutes and counting. Will she live to see the spring equinox? Or will she die of boredom.

Quail diary – 105. Death in the afternoon

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Today is the longest day, and yesterday two of the quail were found dead in their run. Harass and Oeuf. Harass was still warm, stretched out in a comfy hollow in the grit. Lost in eternal dust bathing. There was no blood.

Oeuf too lay at peace, further back, out of the sun. I don’t think her death was as easy – she was very thin, but then she had had two months beyond her span. Maybe I should have wrung her neck way back in April, when she first lost the use of one leg, but she seemed perfectly happy hopping about on one  wing. The others didn’t bully her. She groomed the bits she could reach and I bathed her bum, which she couldn’t. Perhaps she wasn’t eating the dandelions and lettuce I threw in beside her. But she was drinking and calm. I let her be.

All the books say hen quail don’t live that long, two years is average. These were a month short of three years old. Geriatric. Between them they’ve laid me nearly 2,000 eggs. It is time to stop. (Even Katie Thear has died since I started this experiment armed only with her excellent guide. Thank you, Katie. I couldn’t have done it without you and all the other sage coturnixers.) Now there’s only Emmet and Tom left – calling sadly at the bottom of the garden.

The hutch looks horribly empty. “We are seven…” as the poet said.

Do I start again?

Quail diary – 104. The swarm II

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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 – 102. Eggs!

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quail eggs and penny

Quail eggs and penny - Oeuf's on left, Emmet's (probably) on right

The quail have laid! Yippee, slurp. One egg yesterday, one the day before, two today. Enough for lunch.

“How can you tell who is laying?” asks Bantam Neighbour, staggering in with another crate of spare eggs from the Stakhanovas. Hens apparently flush up to their wattles with the effort.

Zat so? Well, there’s no flushing in the quail house. Although Emmet and Oeuf do seem to be doing a lot of rather grumpy sitting, interrupted periodically by Harass on her sweeps of the perimeter. Harass is a tad short on social skills. She doesn’t do ladylike (or eggs, I suspect). Instead she barges around like a toy tank on patrol, tramping straight across all obstacles encountered – stepping casually on the head of any sister quail quietly recovering in the straw.

And they need to recover. Quail eggs are about 8% of the quail’s body weight – which would be like squeezing out a 12lb baby, every day… or at least from April to October. Think about that next time you dip your soldiers. (Apparently hens only manage 3% – about 5lbs. Not that I’m competitive, or anything.)

Meanwhile, Oeuf and Emmet need calcium: oyster shell grit and dandelions. Nothing is too good for my elderly gravidas. Put away those bus passes. Let the foraging on scuzzy verges commence. Season IV has started.

Quail diary – 101. Sheer lunacy

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Quail - not laying any eggs

Quail - not laying any eggs

No eggs. We’re two weeks into spring, daylight in London is up to 13 hours 8 mins, the cherry tree’s gone mental and the quail still sit spaced out in the straw, eyelids drooping. Not even dandelions elicit a rheumatic hop. It is only 5C in the quail house at dawn and the quail are contemplating their fourth (and probably final) summer – which makes them about 90, in human years. I think they may have retired.

Bantam Neighbour trots round with a box of eggs. Again. “Still nothing?” she asks, sympathetically, as if something’s died. Something may be about to. Of course, the bl**dy bantams have been laying since February. Show-offs. But the quail are still in suspended animation – and have been since October. Not for nothing are quail eggs a luxury item, you realise. By now half the neighbourhood is on tenterhooks. “Text me,” says Blog BFF as he heads off for a long weekend.

Up in Edinburgh (daylight 13 hours 19 mins) Clan florafaunadinner is hatching cute fluffy bumblebee-sized quail chicks, planting trees, growing asparagus and eating quail eggs for lunch – fresh, new quail eggs, and not just the tooth-curling last of the pickled ones from the bottom of the jar at the back of the cupboard.

Quail snuggled in straw

Quail snuggled in straw - retired, feet up, enjoying the twilight of her days? Or just bone idle

“Easter’s so late this year,” moans a school mummy, wearily counting days to some time off. Aha! Perhaps that’s the answer. A quick google reveals Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (hmm, they weren’t daft were they, those early church fathers?), and just because the supermarkets have been filling shelves and minds with chocolate eggs since the Christmas decorations came down the first moon of spring is still only just a sliver in the night sky. It won’t be full until April 18. So, in fact, the quail aren’t late at all. Apparently. “Particularly not if they’re Christians,” mutters Himself.

Of course, by Easter Sunday there will only be two months left till midsummer. Just a thought.



Quail diary – 100. Rites of spring III

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Quail standing on her own toes

Quail standing on her own toes - Harass inspects the spring cleaning

No eggs. Five days before the equinox and still only 7C in the quail house. Spring. Hmm. The garden is grey, except for a handful of hardy daffs huddled together for warmth, and the quail are back in their woolly vests. They stare balefully up out of the thick straw as the boots arrive each morning and sneer as as the cacky bedding is prodded hopefully. Nope, no eggs.

Sometimes it is hard to tell. Quail don’t do nests, but they do do hiding. Their eggs turn up in the oddest places – even, it transpires, in the compost bin.

When gardening resumed last week (well, napalming and muckspreading so far), there it was, small and perfectly preserved in the chocolately new loam: our very own thousand-year-old egg, gently pickled in sawdust, quail poo and kitchen waste. Heaven only knows when it was laid and lost. Possibly two years ago. Certainly more than the recommended 100 days. They are supposed to be a delicacy – “rich, pungent and cheese-like” with green yolk and the creamy texture of a ripe avocado … Errr. I resisted the temptation. Sorry, Oeuf.

Quail dustbathing

Quail dustbathing - vigorously, in oyster grit

Meanwhile, the quail house floor briefly reemerged from under three months’ sediment of damp cardboard and crusty straw. (“Ah, the deep litter system,” nods Bantam Neighbour, sagely. Really? It’s a system? I thought it was just squalid animal husbandry – piling clean straw on old in the name of insulation. Can I pass off the rest of my housekeeping as deep litter too?)

The quail were delighted to see the earth again, hurling themselves into their fresh oystershell grit in a blur of joyous dustbathing, tossing the new season’s dandelions around. But it didn’t last, and the straw went down again. Too cold.

Daylight is up to 11 hours 52 minutes – but the quail aren’t fooled. They laid on the 14th in their first year, but not until 30th March last year. They peer pityingly through the perspex at the blackbird, beak Belisha orange with hormones, rushing about the lawn dragging up worms. “Whatevers”.

Easter is late this year, and after three months surfing on straw the quail have overlong pooey claws they can barely walk on. Time for a trim. Don’t tell Himself but I’ve got my eyes on his nail clippers. Perfect. Oh, the joys of spring. And the mice are back…