Saturday, July 14, 2012

More Than Veggies In The Garden

You.  See. Nothing.
Summer is most definitely here (two days at 110 degrees this week), which means that in addition to sweating copiously every time we do chores and worrying over our young plants frying their leaves off, we've got lots of farm fresh food. We're enjoying produce straight off the tree- plums, pluots, and peaches, herbs (spearmint in everything), garlic, more eggs as our spring chicks are starting to lay, and a bounty of milk products from the goats- yogurt, ice cream, and cheeses.  The summer produce is starting to ripen as well, which means we finally have some tomatoes and basil for summer salads.  Andy planted a couple of our favorites, along with a sauce/salsa tomato variety which is different from your slicing varieties in that it is long and meaty with less seeds and a lower water content than typical slicing tomatoes.  I'm experimenting with it to see if it will be a regular addition.  My first attempt at salsa was way too hot to eat just with chips, despite using only half a very small jalapeno pepper, but added to tacos, it wasn't half bad.

I went out to the garden yesterday evening to harvest tomatoes to mix with our basil and garlic for a bruschetta (another experiment with the new variety of tomato) which would go over homemade chevre, and while I usually take Stella with me to the garden, this time I left her in house. She's been picking and eating ripe tomatoes off the vines before I have a chance to get to them, and since it is early in the season, there aren't quite enough to share with the dog.

As I neared the tomatoes, I could hear the California quail chattering softly fairly close by, which is not unusual on our farm, especially lately, as I seem to hear them frequently near the vegetables and the bee garden.  I turned down one of the rows, and all of a sudden a male quail flew up from practically under the basil and landed on an almond tree.  Then a female did the same thing. 

Which caused me to stop in my tracks, because little game birds don't let you get within three feet of them without a very good reason.

California quail chicks! Can you find all six?

Or several good reasons.

These chicks had flattened themselves to the ground and weren't going to move a muscle, even as I moved ever so slowly towards them to try to get a picture or two.  I became very aware of exactly where I was putting my feet, knowing that they most likely wouldn't move out of my way.

I looked around and found just a few more.

At this point, I realize how lucky it is that I left the dog in the house for once!

It is quite amazing how well the dark stripes match our dirt and the light stripes match the golden color of our grass, and the evening dappling of light and shadows made them blend in amazingly well.  Knowing how quickly they grow feathers, these must have hatched out just hours earlier, and this was probably their first adventure away from the nest.

I didn't want to stress the parents or the chicks out too much, so I retreated from the garden and figured that the family would probably move on and I could get my tomatoes a few minutes later.  As soon as I showed those in the house the pictures I had captured on my phone, a real camera was grabbed, and the garden was returned to, in hopes of finding the little quail family again.

This time, we didn't hear any quail chatter.  We very carefully crept through the tomato rows and finally saw the father quail fly up from the furthest row of tomatoes.

Then we saw mama quail.

I'm just hanging out- probably in the middle of a dust bath, so just move along now.

But no sign of the chicks.  And she was staying incredibly still, and sort of awkwardly positioned.

If you look really closely (click on the picture for a bigger version), you'll see a little head peaking out from her wing.  The rest of the chicks were most likely under her as well, which explains her position and why she wasn't budging.

Andy had found her nest several days ago by accident while mowing- he got close enough to flush her out of the rosemary bush she had nested under, though fortunately, not close enough to do any harm.  The bush is only about a foot and a half tall, but with its dense greenery, it provided enough cover that she escaped the notice of a border collie and a cattle dog that frequent the area daily.  I wonder if the rosemary aroma helped to cover any scent she'd give off too?

We went over to check the nest on our way into the house.

Looks like all of the eggs hatched out, and there weren't any bad ones left in the nest.  California quail are one of our favorite birds- there's something about their shape, the sounds they make when a covey is out foraging and all is well, and the way they move that we really enjoy.  Seeing a little family of them out and about is evidence to us that we have successfully made room on our farm for more than just our livestock.  And while my original intent for that rosemary bush was to 1) have more rosemary available to sell, 2) grow another plant that blooms early in the year for the bees and 3) hide a very ugly permanent thing in our "back yard", I'm thrilled that there turns out to be a purpose number 4) quail nursery.

Fresh produce and fluffeh babies!  Our garden rocks!


Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I'm impressed Mama quail let you get so close without flinching, they're adorable little things, and I'm always in awe of how tiny they are. We saw our first quail of the season last weekend just down the road. Only 3 chicks though, and it seems to me they've been hatching quite a bit later this season. I love seeing them though, but I've learned not to weed the orchard too aggressively during nesting season. Last year we found a nest in progress, with just three eggs, but we'd already disturbed the area, and the female abandoned it. She did re-nest though, but I felt quite bad at the time.

Sarah said...

Wow- three is a very small clutch for these guys, and I'd agree that they seem to be hatching out pretty late.

One of the reasons we have been *slowly* removing the oleander hedge in front of our house is because it is a quail highway- we often see covies of 20 to 40 in our front yard. We've also found a decent number of birds nesting in the tall grass of our pastures during the spring- meadow larks, guinea fowl, and a first this year- mallards. There's definitely something to be said for leaving things a little "messy" on the farm.

There's something about these little guys that is so appealing to the eye, isn't there? And I love that someone from their group is always "on duty" keeping an eye out for danger.