Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Posts Tagged ‘dandelions

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 – 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…

Quail diary – 83. Eggs and beans

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Quail egg

Quail egg

Four eggs this morning – bringing the tally to 80 since Easter. Well done those quail! Dandelions all round. The surviving four birds look quite lost these days in a run built for seven (plus wellies), particularly since the wellies walked off with the hutch they weren’t using. But they seem happy enough, pottering around in their shifting pool of mirrored sunlight throughout the day, bathing in the dust or leaping up and down by the wire, nibbling small knobbly things that fly through. Sometimes they have a bit of a flutter, because they can. It must be like living in a cathedral, particularly with the cats like gargoyles hanging off the roof, peering in.

Runner beans - awaiting last frost before planting out

Runner beans - awaiting last frost before planting out

The cats are becoming something of a social embarrassment: apart from leering at the quail and next doors’ guinea pigs, and catching Bantam Neighbour’s tiny bees, they wee in the potato tower (don’t tell himself), insert themselves into any hole dug for any purpose – usually to do something unspeakable – and plunder every cat bowl for miles around. I can barely look my neighbours in the eye. Next door has acquired a water pistol to try to fend them off. I feel like a character from Six Dinner Sid, only worse, because there’s two of them. Catch mice, dammit.

Still, the garden is sprinkled with cherry and pear blossom and the runner beans are unfurling their first leaves. Compost and kitchen waste have been dug in (with a little help from the felines), pots dug out and tools sharpened. Let the cultivating commence. We’ve gotta have something to eat with all those quail eggs.

Quail diary _ 79. Walking with dandelions

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Quail "hiding" - Oeuf with her favourite, unfortunately non-mouse-repelling ferret blanket

Quail "hiding" - Oeuf with her favourite, unfortunately non-mouse-repelling ferret blanket

Eggs: 19 – and all is peaceful in the quail house. Behind the perspex, the temperature is pushing 20C and the quail have stripped off to bikinis and towels in the oyster grit beds. When the door opens they stir and stare through the fug, like punters in a sauna. Quail really, really don’t like a draft – not even when it heralds a shower of mealie worms or dandelion leaves. But I probably shouldn’t broil them. Meanwhile, the mice are busily nesting again, showering the quail with flock filling which they push out through holes chewed in the lagging. Time to take it down, last frosts or no.

They are big buggers, these mice. Fat, glossy and well fed. Digging the garden the other day, my attention was caught by the cat suddenly poleaxed, nose to plastic against the run. The mouse was there, in full view, ambling about – filling his supermarket trolley full of goodies. The poor cat was beside himself, and I confess felt a tad put out myself. The cheek! But the mouse didn’t turn a whisker, or at least not until Junior Teen came galloping up on tip-toe for a peek. When the little beast (the mouse, not Junior Teen) finally shrugged and decided it was time to rediscover the exit, it ran over two of the quail. Right across their backs… The quail didn’t turn a feather. Stupid birds.

Baby mouse - bye bye Monty

Baby mouse - bye bye Monty

So I’ve got a problem: a quail house floor like the Mariana Trench, populated with butch rodents and their droogs,  and a baby mouse that can’t live in Senior Teen’s bedroom forever. Release loomed, but where? Monty is now four weeks old, which is probably gap year age for a mouse, but she’s only little. Junior Teen pleaded for the shed (!?), but Himself and I settled on the park across the road – beside the dog poo area (to keep the cats off) and on the right side of the stream, to ensure she can come home when she wants. We did the deed yesterday. In the sun. She looked heartbreakingly small as she scampered off into the undergrowth, with a scatter of seed to tide her over the next few days. It’s hard to let them go.

So I took a deep breath and went to pick dandelions.

Quail diary – 78. Eggs!

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Boss quail Harass and Oeuf, keeping an eye on geeks bearing gifts

Boss quail Harass and Oeuf, keeping an eye on geeks bearing gifts

The quail have laid. Yippeee! Two eggs yesterday, two today. Randomly in the straw. Almost certainly the work of Oeuf and either Tom or Emmet, as they’re the ones sitting around looking surprised. (Well, wouldn’t you?) Harass has resumed her lookout on the breeze block, magnificently ignoring the frantic cats, and keeping a weather eye out for geeks bearing gifts – dandelions and mealie worms preferred. She comes tearing over when I step into the run, staring pointedly at my hands, and pecking at the boots if I don’t oblige fast enough. Mugged, by a quail.

Let the lunching commence. Spring has sprung.