Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 05

The first green shoots of Spring

The builders have been this week, not to start work, but for a preliminary site visit. 

They were satisfied with my building dismantling progress, but I needed to establish a level. I have a point Zero - Ø - a mark left by the surveyor when he was establishing the age of the buildings. Actually there are four points which he used for his GPS instruments to accurately geo-locate my property and the buildings. But the symbol for zero can mean different things to different people. In Scandinavian languages it is a vowel, it can also be the symbol for the diameter measurement of something,

and to a mathematician, it means an empty set and in Greek it is the letter Theta. For my Dol house, it is the point where all other vertical measurements originate. 

So using the closest mark, I was able to use my laser level to mark an accurate line around the walls of the courtyard which will be used when work commences next week.

When I said "OK, so you mean I should expect you on ponedjeljak (Monday)? "No" was the answer, "We mean 'Next week'!"

The weather forecast for the week ahead is not good, with some heavy rain, so I will neither be surprised nor disappointed if they don't arrive with their JCB to rip up the concrete drive. Rain plus soil equals mud, lots of mud, so another couple of days will make little matter.

My property is a curious mix of ages. 

It is common here on the island of Hvar to add dates to everything. I have two water cisterns which were created using dynamite to blast holes into the bedrock. On one wellhead there is an interesting stone which lists the building dates as being between 1908 and 1919.

The initials may be the builders, but the reason for two dates (unless it is for each of the two wells) and the 11-20-3 at the bottom is unknown. 

A concrete roof has been built over the old bread oven, called a Summer Kitchen and etched into the top of the roof is the date 1942.

Concrete near the drive has the date 1958 - X - IV scribed into it. The year is clear, but does it mean the 10th of 4th, of the 4th of 10th month?

On the outermost wall there is a stone, with the owners name Luka Roić and the date 1890. But the surveyor believes my single floor cottage is much older, but I can't find a date inscribed on it anywhere.

And there is a date of 1943 - 4 cut into a piece of concrete which links two buildings together.

The Deeds for the property do not help much, as they only start from 1909, whereas some buildings are shown on the first official survey of the island in 1885. 

This old survey seems to show that the road at that time ran between my buildings. Certainly there are very old stone blocks that lead up to my gate, where the concrete begins, but after digging an exploratory hole and finding nothing but soil to a depth well below where the top of any stones should have been, I suspect there may be none.

When the JCB comes next week and started removing all the concrete, I will get an idea if there is a wonderful old road waiting to be discovered, or more likely just earth and perhaps some bedrock.

Having exposed the foundations of one building, it has been built on a kind of red sandstone and a building on the other side was also resting on a similar geological formation.

It would be reasonable to assume that it extends between the two places.

That would be good, because it is easy to break. Unlike the hard Karst Dolomite where dynamite had to be used to create the drinking water cisterns. 

When the line of the rising water main was altered, some fragments of Illyrian pottery were found. Not surprising knowing that the remains of a palace of the legendary Queen Teuta of the Illyrian tribe exists on the hillside above my Dol house. 

I have questioned the origin of the huge stones which I have excavated whilst dismantling my old buildings and was told that they probably came of the remains of the palace, because when these buildings were erected in the late 19th century, local people simply took what they needed from the ruins on the hillside above. 

But at least I now have a reference point for the builders to work from when they start to break up the concrete and remove - or not - as the case may be, what they find underneath.

It has suddenly warmed up this week, so along with moving the last few stones from the foundations of the old animal shelters and outhouses, I have also been able to do a few things in the garden. 

Last year I discovered that there was a brown fig growing on uncultivated land nearby. My fig tree is a green fig, very sweet and juicy, but of a completely different variety. 

I have already been able to propagate cuttings of the green fig, so I am using the same methodology of cultivation for the brown fig. This is not the standard way though. 

Search on line or look in a book about propagating, and it will tell you that figs are easy to grow, but that you either take cuttings in winter, and then wrap them in a damp towel before sealing them in a bag for a few weeks, then planting them in a pot, somewhere warm and sunny, or take semi-rope cuttings in summer and put them in a a plastic bag in the fridge for a few weeks. 

My recipe for success is to line a long plastic planter with paper, then add a layer of sharp sand on top, to about 2cm deep.

Next add a 3cm layer of a soil based potting mix. I use garden soil mixed with well rotted compost, and dampen this but don't make it too wet. The plastic pot needs holes in the bottom to allow water to drain away.

From your selected fig tree, take cuttings when the tip buds are just showing signs of swelling. Cut about 20cm from the tip, at a 45 degree angle. Immediately dip the cut end into hormone rooting powder and lay the scion lengthways into the planter. I put six cuttings, three at each end into mine.

Then cover with another three or four centimetres of a peat based cutting compost from the garden centre. Water, but again, not so much that the planter is flooded and put somewhere light and airy. 

I have put it on the floor in the greenhouse. Make sure that the top layer of compost never quite dries out. In a couple of months time, I hope to be able to report that I have shoots growing. The next stage will be to let them grow on and plant out in their final position in the spring a year from now. 

The greenhouse is nice ans warm during the day, as evidenced by the occupants of the top and bottom bunk beds!

The old white Mulberry, Morus Alba, is going to have to be removed. 

I suspected it probably would, and the builders confirmed it. Last year I took some cuttings which have been in the greenhouse, but I also planted some "Truncheons". I am determined to ensure that I have some viable scions as I hate cutting down any trees, especially those which give nice fruit. 

I planted some more "Truncheons" this week, before the 'Big Chainsaw' arrives, after cutting them and then letting the ends of the cut branches heal in the air. I also took some hardwood heel cuttings and planted them in a pot, covered with a plastic bag and placed them in the greenhouse. The tree's days are numbered though.

It is completely dead on one side with fungi growing behind the bark as the tree decays and when I cut the branches, the centre of most are brown, suggesting disease is slowly spreading through the tree.

I think I have been able to plant some branches which have not yet been affected. Scratching at the bark of the Truncheons I planted last year (see issue 2016-49), there is bright green cambium showing, so after two months and some intense cold they are not dead (yet!).

As we move into the early spring, the wildlife is emerging. This large (and sleepy) Egyptian grasshopper, Anacridium aegyptium, appeared while I was taking cuttings from the Mulberry.
I have found several which were killed by the extreme cold spell, but this is the first live one of the year. 

They are easy to identify because of the coloured hind jumping legs and the vertical striped eyes.

As February arrives, the sun climbs higher in the sky every day and whilst it is still possible to get a cold snap during the month, every day of warmth brings the spring growth spurt closer. 

The first green shoots of spring have emerged on my clematis near the kitchen on Friday.

Buds are starting to swell on the almond trees, the first to blossom, and on a number of other plants and trees.

It will not be long before the gardens and orchards become alive again.

A walk through the Maquis to the old dams (Spherical photograph link), in warm spring sunshine on Saturday afternoon was very pleasant.

I also saw several yellow Brimstone butterflies, Gonepteryx rhamni, darting between plants and looking for nectar. This is the earliest I have seen them.

Previously it was the 28th February, a full three weeks later. The adults hibernate over the winter and emerge on warm, sunny days.

Meanwhile my Polyanthus flowers are just poking through the leaf litter.

I am minded again to record a "Springwatch" diary, so in the future the first appearance of indicator species like these can be compared. 

One day I always look forward to is when the sun illuminates my Grandmother's sundial again in the spring. Over the winter, when the sun is low, even at mid-day, the southern part of my land is in the shadow of the pine trees on the hill behind. Then on a sunny day at the start of February, the 100 year old brass sundial is illuminated again at 12:00 noon, by the sun which is now above the treeline.

Sunny days are to be enjoyed at any time of the year, but especially after a cold, damp start to the year!

And what better way than to find a warm spot in which to curl up and doze........