Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 17

Small can be beautiful too

I'm getting the blame for the rain, all caused because I installed my irrigation system, allegedly. It rained on Sunday and Monday, then we had a few warm, sunny days, followed early on Friday morning when I was awoken by rain pounding on the storm porch roof. 

Risha decided that as I was awake, it must be breakfast time, so as I was opening a mouse-sized-snack for No. 1 Cat, the sky was lit up by lightning. We were then treated to two hours of thunder, lightning and heavy rain.

When I got up at 5.30, because it was getting light and I had been awake for hours anyway, my rain gauge had registered 81.5 mm of rain (3.2 inches), or 81 litres per metre.

I only had to look at the orchards to see just how heavy the rain has been. It has washed clean all the stones and has merged the soil into a soggy, claggy mass. I knew there were huge numbers of stones and flints, because as I hoe and dig,

I have been removing them and re-purposing them into paths.
But to see the soil washed away and them all on the surface was a surprise.
As soon as the land has dried enough to walk on, without compacting the soil, I will be doing a 'hand pick' to collect the largest. 

I suspect that this will be a perennial problem. As I cultivate the land, it brings more stones to the surface and all I can do is to remove them by hand.

The intensity of the rain had caused rivulets to form where the levels change and the water was clearly flowing along the rows of trees, so the orchards now have the appearance of once having had running water. At least I will not need to use the irrigation systems for a while.

If you look at a clay soil under a microscope, it is made up of tiny particles, each less than .002 of a millimetre. Once wet, these bind together, but then as they dry, the surface cracks. I will have to time my next weed hoeing activity with care to make sure I break the surface and stop cracking, but without compacting the soil.

Having lost the specialist Router which uploads weather data to the internet, when the local electric company was turning power on and off last week, I researched alternatives and on Sunday I ordered a replacement, together with one of the new generation "on-line interactive" UPS systems from Conrad. These were delivered from Germany on Wednesday and on Thursday I set them up. My weather station is now back on-line and sending data to various weather organisations in Europe. Looking at the chart from this morning, I was surprised by the abrupt temperature change when the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was almost as if someone had turned on a heater. I don't think I have ever seen such a rapid temperature change before.

With lots of plants now in flower in the garden, some of my recent plantings are really nice.

These Dutch Iris are called "Eye of the Tiger", Iridaceae hollandica, and are really stunning.

The three Falls on each flower are a deep mahogany colour, with an intense yellow 'eye', while the Standards are the colour of ultra marine blue. I planted them in a drift of 25. I can't wait for them to multiply and spread, when they will form an eye catching display each spring.

The Alliums are still in flower and are being visited by lots of insects, including this small butterfly, a Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi,with iridescent green wings. Butterflies fall into two types, those that rest with their wings open, and those that rest with wings close. This is one of the latter. You don't have to be big to be beautiful.

Also this week, the blossom on my old Mandarin tree has opened and has been attracting different insects, like this Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius, butterfly. From a distance it doesn't looks like a swallow tail, but getting close you can see the dark Zebra markings on its wings.

In between all my other jobs this week, I have been doing some work on my German friend's old Land Rover Safari, which I am looking after while they are at home in Köln. This means starting it and taking it for a run every week because vehicles which are not used soon deteriorate. When I went to start the LR this week, all I got was the clicking of the solenoid. I took the battery out and put it on a trickle charge overnight, but when reinstalled, it still would not start the vehicle. Even using jump leads only made a marginal difference, so I replaced the battery.

But as well as the battery problem, I also realised that the heavy duty copper cables were oxidized, which would not help.

Copper is one of the best conductors of electricity there is, but when it is exposed to atmospheric oxygen, the surface of the copper begins to change. A layer of copper oxide forms, which is the black or dark brown coating you see on wires which have been exposed. The layer of copper oxide actually prevents corrosion of the copper underneath, so acts as a protective layer, but also reduces electrical connectivity. But what to clean this with?

I have a lot of books, some quite old, many relating to policing, but all are extremely interesting. I needed an acid bath to dip the wires in, to remove the copper oxide and I found the answer the answer I needed in my 'Handbook of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology', which has a neat section on acids. With some Apple Cider Vinegar and as much salt as would dissolve into the solution, I made up my own acid bath in a yoghurt pot.

But to stop the acidic action, I also needed an alkali to stop the acid. That bit of information I already knew, Bicarbonate of Soda from the kitchen, mixed with water is an alkali, so a second pot was used for the acid stop.

After a couple of hours soaking in the acid, followed by a soak and brush with the alkali, the copper wires were clean and shiny.

I left them to dry, then attached new battery terminal clips, fitted the battery and took the almost 50 year old vehicle for a drive.

It purred along. There are now one or two other jobs I need to do on, before the owners return for the summer.

Another book, which arrived this week, is "Mediterranean Gardening: A Waterwise Approach", Out of print since 2002, I found an 'as new' copy on Abe books and ordered it.

There are many excellent photographs of plants which will grow in a Mediterranean climate.

Wouldn't it be nice if I could carpet my orchards with these orange and yellow Arcotis acuaulis, a South African native Just between you and I, I have ordered some seeds to see if I can get them to grow here in Dol.

Where I installed the irrigation taps, in the pieces of old drain pipe, I found this week that several European Green Toads, Bufo viridis, have taken up residence at the bottom.

The Toads obviously like the cool damp conditions at the bottom. I will encourage them, as they will keep garden pests at bay.

The rain we had last weekend has encouraged a lot of weed seeds to germinate. In the space of two days, with rain and then warm sunshine, there was a definite greening of the orchards.

So another morning and afternoon was spent hoeing to disrupt the roots of the weedlings and let them dry out. This was of course before the storm on Friday morning.

Looking ahead, there is more rain to come on Sunday and Monday, followed then by warm sunshine. So until next week, I will leave you with the old English adage, that "April showers bring forth May flowers."