Life in a Dol house
2018  -  Week 35

Plant and forget

The rain which was forecast for last weekend was really neither use nor ornament.

 Just 3mm fell in Dol on Sunday night, enough to dampen the surface of the soil and that was all. 

Thunderstorms passed us by to the north, over Brać and Split, to the south over Viz and Korčula and to the east over Jelsa, but we missed out so irrigating has continued... 

It's the end of the summer season now. Leaves are turning to the burnished gold of Autumn and in Stari Grad the last major summer event, the Faros Marathon ended on Sunday. 

Suddenly there is space in the car parks, the supermarkets are not as full as our visitors leave and you feel that once again local people have time to stop and talk. 

I've been shifting stones around this week.

Once again the start to my building work has been put back due to paperwork problems, so another of those jobs which was to happen after the work took place has been brought forward. 

I really don't want to be sitting idly by, that would never do! 

It has been pleasant working though, as the temperature early in the week had dropped markedly. 

I've decided that working in +23°c is a lot more comfortable than +33°c (how the outside workers in Abu dhabi manage in +43°c heat and more is beyond me). 

The new project is linked to my discourse in last week's blog about my plans for the Top Orchard. 

I suspect that everyone who has a garden, will have an area where "things" get put. You know, that out of sight corner behind the potting shed, or the compost bin, or the wood pile. 

That quiet, neglected corner where Bill and Ben, and Little Weeeed live...

This was where the goats lived when I moved in.

The goat house had seen its best days and the stone walls were cracked from top to bottom and it was only gravity and climbing Ivy which was holding it all together. 

An early job was to dismantle the stonework, saving the stones, and then lay the concrete foundations for the garden sheds which came with me from Abu Dhabi. 

I didn't clear below foundations level, so there is a lot of mortar and pieces of flint which made a good porous bed for the log saw horse to stand on, and being a secluded corner, somewhere to stand plant pots with cuttings and the like. 

However, the path which is the main access to the orchard is going to be moved, so that it becomes a feature of the orchard rather than a hidden corner. 

First job was to clear the pots, upend the saw horse and then lay the first foundation stones in what will be the new wall. 

That was a lot easier said than done. The first two stones weighed in excess of 300 kilograms each, and although I chose them because of their size, geometry and stability as the foundation stones in the wall, simply getting them into place has taken two days of effort, technology and brute force.

I have some lifting equipment; a chain hoist, hand winch, lengths of chain and rope etc., but the location didn't lend itself to their use. 

I had wondered about making a set of Shear legs or a Gin pole, but I am also lacking the lifting scissors to actually grip the sides of the stone slabs and this is a restricted space in both height and width. 

Of course in big cities there are tool hire shops, where you can get this kind of equipment, 

But although I have some long timber poles, I don't have any short metal lengths of sufficient strength to make workable legs out of, so I have used wooden rollers and a wrecking bar together with muscle power to lift, tilt and walk stones into the right place. 

I have a useful little book, Military Engineering Volume VIII, Part VIIB - Port Operating (Military Stevedoring). 

This is a 1944 guide to Stevedore and Port Operations, published by The War Office and is stamped "170 Port Ops Squadron, Royal Engineers Alexandria", then in handwriting "Library copy". 

It has a huge amount of useful information about using Sheer Legs and Gin Poles, what knots to use and even a deadweight table, showing 17 cu. feet of stone equalling one ton [rough limestone = 175lbs/cu ft]. 

And just in case you were interested, 70 cubic feet of Tapioca (in cases) also weighs one imperial ton, not that much Tapioca is grown here! 

With 35 cubic feet to one cubic meter, I estimate I have moved 10 cubic meters of stone. 

Although yellowing with age now, it is crammed full with drawings, diagrams and instructions. There are pages of charts, in fact everything you would need to know about setting up a port in some far flung place, before the age of palletisation and shipping containers. 

I only have the one book, but if this is part VIIB, of at least 8 or more volumes, a complete set would take up a substantial amount of shelf space. 

I'd like to know what the titles of the rest are...

As I examined the existing wall between the old Fold Yard and the orchard, the more I realised it needed reconstructing. 

The two problems which needed solving though, were access to the orchard while work is in progress and a clear area where I could dismantle the wall, then rebuild it. 

Most dry stone walls here have been built by Master Builders. 

They are neat, tidy and almost without gaps. The more I looked at the existing wall, the more I realised that it had been an amateur job. 

Yes, it was still standing, but the Batter angle was approaching 20 degrees or more, so a lot of apace was being wasted. 

There were a lot of gaps between the stones to the point that in places I could remove a stone from the middle of a length of wall, and as you got closer to the top, the builder had used anything to hand, small stones, pieces of soft Touf, bits of old tile, pieces of metal - anything in fact. 

Many years ago when I lived in the UK, I took a course in Dry Stone walling, and even built a couple of walls at my old home, at least one of which is still standing in the front garden, according to Google Street View, some 35 years later. 

So I have an idea of the principles involved. 

Different areas of the UK have different techniques. In the same way, around the world, walling techniques have developed in line with the available local stones. 

You start with the largest tones at the bottom, with a wide foundation and the wall leaning inwards with a Batter angle of 10° to 15°. 

Then work upwards using progressively smaller stones, until you place cap stones on the top. Dismantling a wall means that you need to take the smaller stones off in sequence, and store them, so that you can get at the big stones, to start at the base in the new location. 

That means storage is required for the removed stones. But also I need a way to access the orchard while I am building, or rebuilding the wall and that meant moving the pile of reclaimed stones from all the buildings I have dismantled.

When I was doing the building dismantling, I really hadn't thought too much about where I was storing the stones, as I had expected that they would have been used by this juncture in the building project. 

So the first job was to identify a space in the orchard where I could create a large pile of stones and then start to clear the pile of salvage from around the base of the existing wall. 

I used my sack barrow again to shift the largest pieces around. These weight in the region of 100 kilograms each, and then in essence created a small wall with the larger stones on the outside and smaller in the middle, in the shape of a pyramid, as a store. 

I also took the opportunity to do a bit of sorting. I need some flat stones for edging pieces, I also want some flag stones to use as the steps in the eventual new steps down to the orchard, and I need a low retaining wall around the loading area outside the garden sheds, where the saw horse will go. 

I estimate that I have moved around 20 tonnes of reclaimed stone so far this week, just to create the clear area I need to start walling. 

Having been admonished about being careful not to "Do your back" when lifting and moving stones, I have taken care to always lift correctly and where possible I've used leverage (and the sack barrow) so there has been the minimum amount of effort needed to shift the stones. 

By Thursday afternoon, all the stones I intended moving had been relocated.

Apart from Arachnids, snails and other small insects, I found nothing living in the pile of stones. 

There were a lot of gnawed fruit kernels so although not present, Voles or mice have been using the stones at some time for food storage and as a parlour. 

Part of moving everything now is to ensure that the mammals, reptiles and insects that will use the stones for their winter hibernation, will not be disturbed later in the year. 

A dry stone wall is really a linear nature reserve, where all manner of flora and fauna establish temporary or permanent homes. 

I especially want to preserve this element of the walling because it is such an important part of the local ecosystem. 

One or two large shaped stone pieces which will become the steps have been left in situ pending getting the levels set up for the steps. 

I have that satisfying muscle ache, the sort you get after a job is completed, and suggests that muscles which haven't been used in a while have been well exercised. 

Nothing a warm shower and an early night will not solve...

With the base of the wall clear, it was time to start at the top. 

First job was to remove the ivy, relocate some stored fire timber and remove the weather cover so I can see the stones. 

This area of the fold yard was where ducks were kept. 

In days gone by it was also where the pigs were corralled, so the covers that have been built into the top of the walls to shelter the livestock underneath have been put to use by me as dry storage for firewood and kindling. 

The slightly sloping top has been a good place to store my junk too, for example the various chimney pipes I have, chimney tops, bits of drain pile, water pipe, guttering and anything else than can be safely left outside. 

I'm going to have to find somewhere else for this, although once the building work is all complete, what ever is left unused will go for scrap. 

It was only when I cut the ivy back at the end of the week that I discovered it is a wall of two halves. 

The older, outer part is true dry stone walling, with no mortar of any kind in the joints.

The buttress end wall is of a completely different structure, different stone and held together with a cement mortar, so it is of quite recent origin. 

It also means I will need the heavy breaking hammer to dismantle it, which I can't use until the annual 'noisy tools' moratorium ends on 24th September. 

Fortunately I have more than enough stone in the dry wall, to dismantle and rebuild with, so I don't need the buttress. 

The above photo shows in cross section how the older wall was built, and how similar it is to the constructions methods employed everywhere dry stone walling continues today. 

There is a lot of Ivy running through the open architecture of the stonework at the moment and I can't get to the roots because of the stones. 

Ivy is notoriously difficult to eradicate, especially when it has been growing for years. 

Whilst on a dry wall, it will do just as much damage as where the wall is held together with mortar, because of the way ivy attaches and climbs. 

The University of Freiburg, Dept. of Bio-mechanical Engineering has been studying the way the stem attachment system works. 

Ivy attaches by root hairs growing out from the stem into minute pores and imperfections in the surface, be it brick, stone, cement or a tree trunk. 

The root exudes a powerful adhesive and then the roots change their shape to fit the surface, filling the gaps. 

Then as the root dies, it corkscrews and hooks lock it into place in the cavity. 

Pull the root out and you will pull away part of the surface it is attached to, or in the case of stone, the whole stone. 

The only way is to cut the stems and let the dead material rot and fall off. 

A systemic weedkiller is needed to kill the roots. They go deep, so digging is not an option. 

The other problem is re-seeding. Ivy germinates easily from the black berries so beloved by Blackbirds, so immediately I see a small plant with the easily identifiable trefoil leaf, it is removed and put on the pile to burn. 

Composting isn't an option!!

As the week ended, I have completed almost all the preparation, ready to start the actual rebuilding next week. 

However this is likely to be a two month project because of the amount of work involved and the fact I am a one-man-band... 

But if in a year or two I have some colourful Aubrieta, Red ValerianCentranthus ruber, Sedums, ferns and Creeping Thyme, Thymus serpyllum, I'll be very happy.

There is a corner in the kitchen, a little like the one by the garden sheds, where the fresh fruit and vegetables are kept. 

As I moved some bananas, I found a pair of Sweet Potatoes, Ipomea batatas, in the tray which had started to sprout. 

In the spring when I was trying to get some to sprout, they refused! 

So another job this week has been to set up a trial in the greenhouse using some Marshall's Potato Sacks

I bought some when they were on offer a year or so ago, but have never tried them. 

Mine are the double variety, like DiY Grow-Bags. After mixing up some sand, coarse garden soil and the remains of a bag of potting compost, I left the bag out on Sunday for the rain - which we didn't get... 

Monday saw me making up a slightly raised platform to take the footprint of the bag and installing it in the outer greenhouse, then I planted the two tubers. 

They have had some water when I have done the other irrigating, then on Wednesday I noticed that there were two shoots showing above the soil. 

By Saturday, there were leaves on the shoots, so I must be doing something right! 

This is really a "Plant and Forget" experiment. 

I like sweet potato and they are more healthy than your standard garden potato, but the sweet potato is a vine. The flowering plant Ipomea is better known as "Morning Glory" and I have some self seeing under the citrus trees.  They just grow on their own, seed, die in winter and start again in the spring.

I'm hoping that in a warm corner of the sunny greenhouse, I might be able to harvest my own crop of Sweet Potatoes for Christmas. 

I'll also use the unused real estate in the bag for things like winter lettuce. 

It's a bit more experimental horticulture, but if you don't try these things, you'll never find out if they work.