Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 34

Autumn is here!

I have just come in after my evening watering. 

This has been a morning and evening chore for more than three months and whilst I have installed an automated sub-surface irrigation system with drippers in the citrus and drupe orchards, there is still a need for hand watering some areas where underground pipework has yet to be installed. 

But I need to do some serious thinking about how much I will continue to hand water. I have looked at the 10 varieties of tomato plants which I grew from seed and transplanted in the spring. 

Only some of the heirloom varieties are unaffected by the drought. The plum and beef tomatoes are all still being affected by blossom end rot and sunburn.

I just do not think it is worth the time, effort and water being expended on them, in my vain effort to prevent the psychotic condition caused by the drought. 

I can go down to the supermarket and get tomatoes and other salad crops with little effort and at less cost. 

True, they do not have the flavour of home grown, but the challenge this year has been too great. 

Of all the salad crops, only my Rocket leaves, Eruca sativa, have been successful, producing several successive crops. The self seeded tomatoes are still producing but as for the rest, they have been dismal failures.

The runner beans never ran, the dwarf french beans were more of the pygmy variety and several varieties of chili peppers have produced just a one or two peppers on each plant. ​ 

Some have none at all.

The problem has been the weather. 

The Mediterranean basin is known for the fabled "Mediterranean climate" which is characterised as being a "Winter mild and wet, summer hot and dry" climate, but this is a huge generalisation and over simplification. 

There are 21 separately described ecoregions and my home is in a thermal belt, but go 5 kilometres in any different direction and you will find evidence of different micro- climes. 

Covering an area of 2.6 million square kilometres, with a longitude span of forty degrees from 5º degrees West, at the Straights pf Gibraltar, to 35º East at the Levant, and a latitude span of fifteen degrees from the 30º North in Bay of Benghazi off the Libyan coast in the south to 45º North in Gulf of Trieste at the top of the Adriatic, the Mediterranean basin sustains huge a diversity of climate, habitats and peoples.  

Just the Adriatic sea where I live, technically part of the Mediterranean basin, covers an area of 160,000 square kilometres.

Walking the citrus orchard this week, I was surprised to see a number of pomegranate fruits on the floor. 

These are from a well established tree which straddles the border of my orchard from a neighbouring land parcel. Looking up, I could see that the leaves are curled and brown, and many are falling.

The tree cannot get enough water, despite its root depth and so is aborting the fruit to protect the tree.

In the top orchard, old, established walnut trees are also losing their leaves. 

It is only my sustained irrigation efforts that are keeping the two and three year old saplings I have planted alive - just. 

All my plantings have been conscious decisions, what to plant, where to plant, and with the local micro climates featuring high on the list. 

I have several in my smallholding's land area. Fruit trees take time to mature, so while they are doing the growing, I can work on restoring the buildings - at least that is the theory... 

But with climate change, no one knows what will happen next. We are still experiencing 35ºC days and 26ºC nights. Rainfall this summer has been almost non existent and with the last two winters getting less than 30% of the expected rainfall, there is no moisture in the ground, hence even very deep rooted trees like the 12 metre tall walnut trees, cannot access water in the rocks. 

When I looked at my other pomegranate trees, something has been eating them on the tree. I suspect it is either rodents or more probably the Puh, our Edible dormice.

The pomegranate fruit has a thick, hard outer skin, up to 6mm thick, and this has been chewed completely through to get at the edible, juicy kernels inside. 

Several of the fruits have been reduced to empty husks, whilst others have only been partially eaten.

It is not birds, but there is little evidence to say exactly what it is that is doing the night time raiding. 

Big rodents leave tell-tale incisor marks. I would have expected that between mine and my neighbours felines, there would have been some evidence of these night time miscreants having been caught, which makes me suspect that it is the dormice over rats and mice doing the munching. 

This is the first year I have had damage like this, which suggests there is a lack of food in the forest behind, which is drawing animals into areas where they would not normally venture. I will still have plenty of fruit for myself, so I am happy to share but it is yet another indicator of climate change in action. Even the almost impossible to kill creeping Ivy, Hedera helix, is dying through lack of water.

I have made it my business to try an understand exactly what the climate here in Dol is, at the macro climate, meso climate and ,micro climate levels. 

There is then a further "canopy climate" level, which affects individual plants and trees. I record planting, germination and harvest dates, but I am on my own. 

I know of no one else locally who has any written records for years gone by and human memory being famously fallible, what people remember to have happened, if anything, and when, is unlikely to be accurate. 

This really is the bleeding edge of experimental horticulture! 

Some plants and trees (together with wild life) will be able to physiologically adjust to climate alterations - called acclimation, more winter cooling, more summer heat and less rainfall, whilst others simply will not. 

Only time will tell. Whilst it is obvious to me that Autumn has come more than month earlier than the previous years that I have been here and I have no data to measure 2017 against. 

All I can do is to try and ride out the obvious climate changes and adjust what I do in the gardens and orchards to suit the prevailing conditions.

Several times recently, I have come into the kitchen, to find the contents of my recycling bag have been emptied onto the floor. 

Everything I possibly can recycle is saved - plastics, paper, card, glass - with vegetable matter taken out to the compost heap. 

The bag is then taken to the recycle bins in Stari Grad.

But I have not seen who it was doing the emptying. Then this week, I have discovered Risha asleep in the bag several times, with debris scattered around him on the floor. 

So now I know who it is. And he has several comfy beds dotted around the Dol house, but would rather curl up in a bag!  An old cat can learn new tricks...