Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 08

Let sleeping cats lie

This has been another of those 'single issue' weeks, dominated by the slow and laborious work on the bathroom.

The weather has alternated between extremely Spring-like, to quite cool with rain. Although the air temperature during the day has been about +13.5ºc on average, because of the wind it has felt colder. The best it has been is +15ºc.

I have done a few garden tasks this week. There was the pruning of the apple tree in the top orchard, and I am very pleased to say that it has a lot of fruit buds on it. I reduced its size by about a third and look forward to harvesting the delicious fruit in the autumn. Also there was some clearing up, principally in the citrus orchard. I cut back a Pomegranate which had been allowed to grow wild, like most of the fruit trees I inherited and I had left the branches in the walkway between the lemon trees. But as the weeds are growing fast, and I want to spray them with Glyphosate weed killer, as soon as the weather allows, I had to clear the debris away.

If allowed to grow untended, Pomegranate will form a two to three metre multi trunked, over-size shrub with a pleasing vase shape, with dozens of suckers emanating from the bowl of the plant. That is it's natural form, but they can be trained to be an Espalier, shrub, dense hedge or tree. Mine are around 3 metres tall with several old trunks and large numbers of young shoots. If they are going to be managed, they should have just one or two main trunks and the suckers should be cut back, until you need to replace old and less productive wood with new vigorous growth.

Early Spring is the right time of year, so just about now. But you are left with a dense mat of branches, each adorned with vicious thorns, that need to be got rid of. I want to be environmentally friendly. I also want to mulch around the fruit trees, to suppress annual weeds. So I brought out my old Black & Decker garden shredder.

I bought this 25 to 30 years ago and like most of my chattels, it has followed me round the world in a shipping container. Apart from replacing the drive belts and sharpening the blades, I have had to do nothing but plug it in, turn it on and feed garden refuse into it's gaping black maw.

However, a traditional garden in England, Spain and even Abu Dhabi, does not generate the volume of material that I now have around my Dol house. So after more than an hour creating a very useful mulch for round the citrus saplings, but with significant volumes still to chip, I have decided to invest in a more sturdy petrol driven machine, which will take larger branches. Having found one on-line and made in Germany, I have placed the order and am waiting for it to be delivered, hopefully next week.

Talking about the weather, which everyone here seems to do a lot of the time, especially commenting on how different this year is when compared to those past, made me think about not just recording the weather from my weather station, but also to start a Springwatch log. This week there have been large numbers of Brimstone butterflies, Gonepteryx rhamni, about in the orchards, the first I have seen this year.

Springwatch, together with its companion Autumn and Winter-watch series are nature programmes made by the BBC. The next one is due to be aired on BBC 2 at Easter. However Spring in the UK is a lot later than in the Mediterranean. There is a UK website called Nature's Calendar which has a lot of really useful advice on making observations and keeping logs - for the UK, but it is possible to distill some of the information and apply it to Dol. Of the five key UK indicators, the first appearance of the seven-spot ladybird, oak tree leafing, hawthorn flowering, the first orange-tip butterfly and the swallow returning from Africa, three can be applied here.

We have seven-spot ladybirds, Coccinella 7-punctata, orange tip butterflies, Anthocharis belia, and swallows, Hirundo rustica. But around the village in the Maquis scrub and woodland, the oak trees are evergreen Kermes and Holme Oaks, Quercus coccifera and Quercus ilex. There are few hedgerows, in the English sense, as stone walls form enclosure boundaries, and these mostly have ivy and seedlings of the local trees on and around them.

Down on the Stari Grad plain, there is the only permanent water on the island, at the Dračevica. Last year I saw tadpoles there, but I'm not going to go looking every day to see when the first frogspawn appears. In any case I am 90 metres higher in altitude so what happens on the plain will always be ahead of Dol. My recordings will not be of great value for some years, but it will be interesting to see in the future how the timings of seasons change. My neighbour told me this week, that he believes the varieties of grapes and olives that are currently grown here have only a lifetime of another 25 to 50 years, before the local climate becomes too hot for them to thrive and fruit successfully.

For me, things like the daffodils first coming into flower are always good indicators.

The Hyacinth bulbs that I bought on-line last year have really bloomed this week, with the scent filling the air around their planter and providing a splash of brilliant colours.

I also harvested the very last of the Mandarin/Tangerines and made some creamy desserts which I shared with friends and neighbours. I will have to wait until October for the next crop to start to ripen.

Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, where temperatures on sunny days are now well into the +30ºc, I believe in letting sleeping cats lie.

I have made quite a lot of progress in the bathroom this week, (at last I hear you say!).

With the floor finished and grouted, I started on tiling the walls. But this also threw up a new problem - cutting holes in tiles.

I have tiled rooms before, but have never had the number of holes to drill, that I have now. What with water, waste, heating, lighting and fixings, I have over 26 holes of various diameters to drill.

Within one tile on the bottom row, there are three holes, hot and cold water, and waste pipe. I have a set of diamond cutters, but the smallest was a bit too big, however after about an hour and a half of slow drilling of pilot holes with a masonry bit, then the diamond cutter, I had the holes in the right places and no damage to the tile. But the oversize nature of the holes means there will be some judicious filling required to make them look nice. I mean, you never know when some visitor will crawl on hands and knees to inspect the craftsmanship behind bathroom fixtures and fittings, do you?

It does bring back an Abu Dhabi memory, of when a bathroom sink started leaking and I found that the plumber had bodged the waste pipe, cutting it short and trying to fill the gap with silicone. I re-did it properly - because it was easier than calling maintenance to do work with a doubtful outcome!

Masonry bits are not much use on double fired vitreous tiles. After a second attempt went wrong, because the drill bit slipped, I decided to suspend all drilling operations until I can get the right tools, which regular readers of this newsletter will probably already have guessed, are not available on the island. I have ordered what I need from, now with free delivery to Europe, and it will be here next week.

Because the old walls are so uneven, I am pushing the tile cement to its limit. The maximum thickness is supposed to be 8mm, and I am not measuring, but it is certainly not less then 5mm thick behind some tiles.

It does mean that I have to let the tile cement dry before adding the next row. However, I think my estimate of two weeks for having it finished, providing the cutters arrive on Monday, will be about right. In the meantime, I continued to lay tiles where no holes needed cutting - which is quite a few. Tiling the seat in the shower required 12 pieces of tile. Just one whole 33 x 33 tile and six tiles cut into 11 pieces to fit around.

But the result is that all the joints line up with the floor and walls, so it was worth the effort. Cvjetko does keep telling me that being a perfectionist does make life difficult! 

At the end of the week, I have gone about as far as I can until the special cutting tools arrive.

My latest 14kg parcel of supplies from the UK was delivered at lunchtime on Saturday.

Courtesy of MyParcelDelivery, in just under 5 days from when it left North Yorkshire, so along with various spare parts and fittings not available here, I have some nice surprises (dark chocolate, made in York Kit-Kat bars) and plenty of books to read.

The Mediterranean gardening book will probably be first. You can never have too many books!

Also a couple of interesting newspapers. One in particular is a Hull Daily Mail Flashback special edition featuring police vehicles, a favourite topic of mine. Many of the people in the photographs I know, and some I am still in contact with.

I know what I will be doing after I send this newsletter!