• Working quietly along with quail

    by  • June 19, 2011 • Projects, Sierra Foothills • 5 Comments

    Weeding the natural meadow

    I work quietly, allowing my thoughts to fade away into just being. I especially don’t think about the enormity of my goal, and the only urgency I feel is the one. The weeds are going to seed.

    Bedstraw Galium aparine and Field Madder, Sherardia arvensis

    Bedstraw Galium aparine and Field Madder, Sherardia arvensis

    The last three days I have spent in the natural meadow two levels below the house. Natural in that it has been left alone for 10 years and possibly longer, un-bothered by any rancher or previous owner. Before that, we think this whole area next to the Sierra Forest here was a goat or sheep farm, vulnerable like any ranch land to the grasses that come into native land from animal grazing.

    The goal is to restore the meadow, 30′ x 80′, to existing and added California natives. Five years ago, I planted three deer grasses. Since then the field has been left alone and the dry grass removed with a weedeater once for fire safety. Last summer, I removed all the filaree.

    My view

    My view

    I sit to weed, working from uphill to down in the 80 degree heat, grateful for the occasional breeze and the shade from the Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon crassifolium and Goldenfleece, Ericameria arborescens as I pass by them.

    California Quail, Callipepla californica

    California Quail, Callipepla californica, keeping watch

    I work in the mornings and afternoons to avoid the midday heat and every afternoon I hear the chirp and coo from the quail who appear about 4pm. I see them fly in from the dry stream gully and they have grown used to me, I think, if I move slowly as I do. As they walk and bob, we work away peacefully together, me with my objective, them with theirs, and I listen…silently.

    Halfway weeded. The thick weeds are the Bedstraw

    Halfway weeded. The thick weeds are the Bedstraw

    The main weeds I’m removing are the native Bedstraw Galium aparine, non-native Field Madder, Sherardia arvensis, Spreading Hedgeparsley, Torilis arvensis and English plantain, Plantago lanceolata. I was glad to see few Filaree, which I weeded out last summer on my ‘Filaree rampage.’

    Galium aparine Bedstraw

    Galium aparine Bedstraw

    One swath left

    One swath left

    Natural meadow plants

    As each swath of weeds is removed, the now spindly few native bulbs and flowers are left:

    Elegant Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
    Pretty face, Triteleia ixioides, now fading
    Elegant Madia, Madia elegans
    Heermann’s tarweed, Holocarpha heermannii
    Farewell-to-Spring or actually Speckled Fairyfan, Clarkia cylindrical ssp. clavicornate
    Indian Rice grass, Achnatherum hymenoides
    Grand Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris grandiflora
    Pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea
    California Everlasting, Gnaphalium californicum

    I hope that these natives will spread and feel more welcome without their weedy bullies bothering them and pushing them around.

    East meadow- weeded and mulched with pine straw

    East meadow, looking north- weeded and mulched with pine straw

    I covered the bare earth with ‘native’ mulch, in other words, pine needles and chipped oak branches acquired locally. My hope is that the heat will not kill these natives used to, I’m sure, the shade from the weeds. I’ve been watering them a bit and intend to water both meadows once every couple weeks in the summer.

    Native wildflowers, planted from seed trays, now 8" tall

    Native wildflowers, planted from seed trays, now 8″ tall

    The wildflower seeds I started in seed trays continue to thrive and bloom. I’ve added three Wild lilacs, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark’, three Cleveland sage ‘Pozo Blue’, ‘ Salvia clevelandii X leucophylla and a Sticky Monkey Flower, Mimulus aurantiacus calycinus. In the center of the field is an existing Wavy-leafed Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum, just about to bloom.

    Wavy-leafed Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum

    Wavy-leafed Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum

    I have only heard of restoration projects as community projects or on land conservancies, but while visiting my sister in New Zealand, I learned of their program for residential restoration subsides. The local government pays a certain amount for replacing non-natives with NZ native plants. I thought, even without government involvement here, why couldn’t I do a certain amount of restoring myself, according to my ability? The first project was the new south meadow which I’ve written about here on this blog.

    Resting with Maggie

    Resting with Maggie

    This other area is what I’ve been calling the ‘natural meadow’ but I guess if I’m going to be fiddling with it, I should name it the East Meadow, for the direction it lies from the house. Now the weeding and mulching is complete after the three days, and the cost? Three pairs of gloves shot, my gardening jeans worn to a soft thin shred of fabric, and my shoes? Forget about it. My hands are awfully fatigued and one ligament in one hand I know is sprained.

    White Elegant brodiaea, a surprise!

    White Elegant brodiaea, a surprise!

    I’m happy, though, and have already found a little treat in the meadow.  A pure white Brodiaea, same shape as the blue…how does this happen…I’ve never seen a white one. Also, I just found out, (with the help of Dave’s Garden Plant ID forum) that this mystery plant in this new area is a CA native, Navarretia. Now I just need to wait until it blooms to ID it further. Fun!

    Mystery plant, Navarretia

    Mystery plant, Navarretia


    No, not Navarretia, it’s Leptosiphon bicolor or True babystars…a CA native

    Notes on Restoration:

     Words that ring in my head…’weed and wait’ from Country Mouse’s post, Recreational Restoration Gardening

     Wikipedia says, In the view of biologist E. O. Wilson, “Here is the means to end the great extinction spasm. The next century will, I believe, be the era of restoration in ecology”.

     Releasing the Native Seedbank  
    Developing a Weed-Only Strategy to Promote the Local Natives

    From 1985 to 1992, Shaw did extensive work to remove the exotics. After doingsome initial surveys of the property in 1992, he and I decided on a strategy that included the following five points: 1) learn to identify all the weeds and native plants on the property; 2) continue to remove the weeds, with a focus on the valley floor; 3) experiment with mowing and continue clearing with machetes; 4) dig up and bring native plants into a suburban garden to understand their functionality and interaction; and 5) when there were successes with the weed management techniques, we would expand the areas where the success occurred.


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    5 Responses to Working quietly along with quail

    1. June 20, 2011 at 12:33 am

      I just love our California Quail. Like many things they came here to Otago in New Zealand with the gold rush in the 1860s. In those years many people moved around the Pacific Rim following the bright metal.
      I never see the quail in the day – but in the evenings as they move into nest I am sometimes aware of up to 30 birds moving through the grass around me as they move to their nesting place. It’s just magic.
      Last summer the leader bird used to stand guard on the washing line as the rest settled into the trees for the night.

    2. June 20, 2011 at 7:08 am

      You have been working hard, again, Sue…but I can tell, irrespective of the painful ligaments and threadbare clothing, you’ve had lots of fun! Being so intimately in touch with your surroundings affords a whole new perspective on the meaning of life and what lies beyond. Your words are always so descriptive and you had me enjoying weeding beside you. I too could feel the gentlest breeze and loved the visiting quails.

    3. June 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

      We have Navarretia squarrosa here, aka ‘skunkweed’, as it is quite aromatic when crushed! As a result of our Quail this year, I’ve lost some ground on weed abatement this spring. After finding a couple of quail nests in the orchard we decided to leave the cover alone until after hatch. Only trouble is that now the weeds of course are setting seed. Oh well 😉 Before I started blogging I made a rule for myself that no plant could be pulled on the property without first being identified. Once I started the blog it was even more reason to take the time to learn to recognize what was actually growing here. Unfortunately many of our weeds tend to out-compete the native flora, so pulling the thugs, and hoping the natives fill in of their own accord doesn’t always seem to be tremendously effective. By propagating some of the natives though, and intensively planting them, I’m hoping over the next few years to make some headway though.

    4. June 21, 2011 at 9:31 am

      Kerry, don’t you love the sounds the quail make? I do! the largest number of baby quail following their parents was in …NZ! It was at Totaranui, when I visited my sister…there must have been 12 15! So interesting that they always have one as a watchman.

      Yes, I’ve been working hard, Desiree, remembering the statement “1 year seeds = 7 years weeds” It was just the three days, although they were long. being so close to the ground, and just being more observant has led to finding many more before-unknown plants this year! Thank you for your kind comments! Fun!

      Hi Clare, I’ll have to try crushing some to see what the Navarretia smells like. I haven’t come across any signs of nesting with the quail yet…I see them fly in from either the forest or the steep dry stream are to the south of our house. I love to see them. I’m so glad to hear of your experiences with weeds!
      After writing this post, I found the article ‘Releasing the Seedbank’, shown in the notes and was so glad to see the outline of their whole strategy and feel that I’m on the right track becoming familiar with the plants here as a start. Since starting this blog, I’ve learned SO much!

    5. Pingback: Spring wildflowers: The blues | Sierra Foothill Garden

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