Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Posts Tagged ‘equinox

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 – 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 – 55. So shall ye reap

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Sunday brunch with quail eggs and the works

Sunday brunch with quail eggs and the works

There’s a nip in the air at 6am, and the apple tree – usually groaning with pie-sized cookers at this time of year – is empty, knocked for six by an overdue pruning. Next year will be business as usual. For now, the raspberries are luscious and the runner beans abundant. Cherries, blackcurrants, blueberries, lettuces, potatoes are all long gone. We’ve passed the equinox and the quail are starting to slow down too. Two eggs today, though sunset may bring another. We found four yesterday, bringing the tally for the year to 728. Even the Stakhanovite bantams have their feet up this week, moulting. (Their output is so vast, Bantam Neighbour doesn’t bother to keep count.)

On our side of the fence, the family is revolting. The Teens won’t touch quail eggs any more [and larks’ tongues are so last season…] To be fair, we have had them with everything all summer: from teeny weeny fried ones, like something out of a dolls’ house, to my favourite – poached, with fresh asparagus, Parma ham and pancakes. In between lie plates of boiled, canaped, scrambled and pickled quail eggs. We’ve had them as omelettes, sandwich fillings, hors d’oeuvres; breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Everyone who’s stepped over the threshold has been fed quail eggs. I’ve given them away by the dozen. And still they come. This time last year I was worrying about solar lighting to extend the season. Now I understand the point of winter.

Poached quail eggs, with asparagus, Parma ham and pancake. Yum

Poached quail eggs, with asparagus, Parma ham and pancake. Yum

Yet we live in a strangely sanitised world, when it comes to food. Hands-on experience of animal husbandry has turned Junior Teen vegetarian and left Senior Teen determined that nothing passed hot and hard through a bird’s bum will ever again pass her lips. Even Himself – a dedicated follower of J. Oliver and N. Slater – would rather buy his gourmet ingredients in plastic trays from the supermarket than risk an encounter with snails, blackfly or homemade compost.

Little Brother, happily buzzing round and round his garden on his new, toy tractor, is still overrun with bunnies he can’t bring himself to shoot. Yet Toothless Granny, a former Landgirl, is blithely bumping off grey squirrels. “They’re an official pest,” she says firmly. She traps ’em, a neighbour shoots them, and the plump little corpses go to a mutual friend who cooks and eats them. She’s clocked up six so far this year. No messing.

After Dick’s death many people commented how their grannies – (why was it always their granny?) – used to wring the hens’ necks when they were little. So what changed? Even Bantam Neighbour, my font of all things fowl, admitted that when she’d had a sick hen to put out of its suffering, she had not infact managed to do the deed – despite laying the poor creature out across three sticks as prescribed. When it fixed her with its dying eye, she’d bottled out – and nipped across the road to the local farmer’s market, to recruit an assassin there instead … heroic blag.

When did our food start to grow on shelves? And why, if we are so reluctant to kill, are we so careless about wasting what someone else has killed for us? That bean you’ve just scraped off your plate into the bin was watered and watched over and protected from pests by someone, and – at the risk of sounding like my mother – something died for that scrap of bacon or uneaten pie.

Maybe “doing lunch” should be on the national curriculum.

*

Meanwhile, I have started to lag the hutch with sheets of clear plastic. The dappled shade beside the tool shed was perfect for summer, but already the afternoon sun barely reaches the quail dustbathing optimistically in a heap at the wire, nearest the light. The cats think its a game. Winter’s coming.

Quail diary – 37. Sure as eggs

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Quail eggs - half a week's worth

Quail eggs - half a week's worth

The quail are doing magnificently: five eggs today, six yesterday, seven the day before. Every morning is Easter as I peek into pots, and grope through litter, listening for the rustle of a very small egg dropping through the straw. Yesterday, they’d hidden one under the cuttlefish bone in a hollow left by the dustbathers. I’d already done my sweep and was stumbling for the door with my hands full when I nearly stepped on it. One day I’ll find eight … which shouldn’t even be possible from seven quail.

And it’s all because of the light. Glorious daylight, barely noted by those of us ruled by mechanical clocks. But the quail know. They began laying just before the spring equinox (March 20th this year), as the sun approached the equator and day was no longer shorter than night. Today (May 20th) London had 15 hours and 51 minutes of daylight. Will the eggs start to peter out in September, after the autumn equinox, when nights in the northern hemisphere start drawing in again, as the axis on which the earth spins in orbit tilts away from the sun? The quail will know. Meanwhile, until the solstice, dreamy mid-summer’s day, they can count on an extra two minutes of light each day – to doss about with their eyes shut, filling the fridge with tiny freckled eggs. The ancient Briton in me might even pickle some for winter. Stonehenge suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Homegrown: beans, herbs and raspberry canes - plus baby lettuce in a wooden drawer found on street

Homegrown: beans, herbs and raspberry canes - plus baby lettuce in a wooden drawer found on street

For the present, the runner beans are snaking up their poles, the blueberries are swelling on their bush, and the cherry three is covered with pea-sized green fruit. Production and reproduction in full swing. Soon it will be time to get out the step ladder and put bread-bag ‘sleeves’ on the lower branches. It’s the only way to ensure we get to taste at least some of the cherries. I don’t begrudge the thrushes, but the gormless (and, later, incontinent) pigeons seem to be colour blind and peck at the cherries before they are ripe – serves ’em right.

Quail towers, tucked away behind the foxgloves

Quail towers, tucked away behind the foxgloves

By now the egg tally stands at 156, or 13 dozen. They still look a bit dusty but I’ve cut down on the dandelions and there have been no more warty knobbles. Instead, the quail now have dried maggots (yurghh, but I ran out of worms). They look like some crispy oriental delicacy off a takeaway menu – and they are evidently a great treat, as we now have half a dozen little bodies jumping excitedly up and down behind the wire whenever anyone opens the back door. My wellies get mobbed. The quail shriek and lift off like budgies. They want them so badly they’ll eat out of my hands and Harass will even submit to being stroked if she thinks I’ve got some left.

But nothing is ever easy. Up at the house, Senior Teen will no longer eat eggs – revolted by her brush with nature in the raw, hot from a quail’s vent – and even Junior Teen has come over determinedly veggie. So, the only members of the household still getting meat are the cats. And the quail. Hmm.

Written by pottingshedder aka Jay Sivell

May 20, 2009 at 4:16 pm