Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Posts Tagged ‘green

Gone to seed – 2. Curl talk

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Runner beans - all curly

Runner beans – heatwave, plenty of recycled water, but not a straight one in sight. Don’t they like suntan cream and crumbs?

My beans are all kinky. I thought they’d all been struck with some horrible blight, but the internet tells me I’ve simply planted too many too close together. So there they hang, tortured souls twisted in knots by the press of leaves in their eight-foot wicker Dalek.

The neighbours all have bean-envy. Our feral stack alone is red with blossom and humming with industry. We’ve been eating them all week. Delicious. “I have three flowers,” huffed Mrs Ex-Nextdoor, who has moved up the road to pastures bigger, and who has well-regulated beans, individually supported and nurtured by the book.

The cherries from our dwarf tree too left her speechless – 8kg and still picking, though the end is in sight and the blackbirds have taken to “chuck-chucking” at me with their beaks full as I close in on the upper branches from the shed roof. Blackcurrants next, and the raspberries are into their second flush.

Even the watermelon is now 8cm across! Go, little city gardens.

watermelon 8cm across

The main melon – 8cm across.

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

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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 – 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 – 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 – 96. Honey, you’re home

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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

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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.