Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 06

The period of transition

We had rain during much of Sunday and Monday, as forecast, so I went shopping and did some inside jobs.

It was at times extremely heavy. In the evening, between 21:40 and 21:55 ten litres per metre² fell (10mm/almost ½ inch), a rate of slightly under a liter per minute. 

I need to start replacing the ceilings in the first floor rooms of my largest buildings, but have yet to work up the courage to start. I did clear one room, to be the guest bedroom, in preparation. I just don't know what I will find, besides an un-insulated void between the beams.

The loft floor above has been boarded out, so I cannot see the condition of the beams. As this building was one of many in the villages burnt by the Italian Black Brigade fascists on 3rd January 1943 (as retribution for Allied Partisan attacks on Axis forces), the ceiling and roof date from the mid 1940's. A good article about the history of Dol and the above attack written by our local historian Ivica Moškatelo can be found on the Tartajun website

The ceiling is hardboard, very roughly nailed in place and with ugly extra strips covering gaps around the room edges because the rooms are not square. I have heard rodents running around in the loft or perhaps above the ceiling, which certainly excited my two felines, but as there is separation between the inhabited space and the loft, I put some poison down and have not bothered too much.

I have a problem with rodents in my big store. I know they are there because they are taking the poison I have been putting down. I use the present tense because I have been laying poison since last autumn and they have gone through three boxes, 1.5 kilos of the stuff. I even found they had broken into the store I was using, to get at the poison, and they still come back for more!

Having sealed the store on my side, the only place I can think that they are coming in is from the old cottage next door. I don't own the building, so can't access it, but there seems to be tiny gaps in between the roof beams and the walls, which would be good access points.

I have bought a different make of poison to see if it has a better effect in case they have become immune to Ratino. But as there is no evidence of damage to potatoes, seeds or the goods that are stored there, I think they come for the food and then leave. One answer would be to put a camera trap in to see where they are coming from, but at the moment I am not so interested and whilst the store is quite full, it probably would not tell me much.

Having used the rainy days this week to work out a "needed" list, on Tuesday I went over to Split. It is two months since my last visit, but there were a number of things I need for when the building work starts. 

I received my order of central heating and plumbing parts from Screwfix, but I didn't order insulation, as I knew I could get it locally. I had reasonable number of things to get, together with a dental scan, so caught the early ferry from Stari Grad. 

We had heard that there was going to be a new company offering faster crossings between Split and Otok Hvar, starting in January. However, it is still the same company Jadrolinija, but with a different ferry. Since I first came to the island, the company has used a ro-ro service using two separate but identical vessels.

The crossing time has always been two hours. The different vessel now makes the crossing in an hour and forty five minutes, so there is little time saved. In addition, because the vessel is now a more 'regular' ferry, there is quite a bit more time taken in berthing. There are still two ro-ro vessels, but both are now different. The only thing to be said is that the chairs are a bit more comfortable.

To go to Split is still a full day 'adventure', getting up at 04.00, catching the ferry, doing what you need to do, getting in the queue for the return service and arriving back, home to unload the car at 16.45. The crossing was pleasant enough to enjoy from the top deck.

Arriving back in Stari Grad, the ferry does a 180º turn before reversing up against the pier to unload the vehicles.

Last year I was introduced to the experience of the annual Tree Festival in Split. It runs from February to March only, in one of the undercrofts of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Diocletian Palace.

I had some gaps in the orchards which I wanted to fill in, so went again, with list in hand and came home with an assortment of tree varieties. They only had one of the named Drupe varieties I was looking for and none of the Olives, so I finished up with a compromise, not unusual for this part of the world. Apart from the different cultivars, there were two in particular I was looking for which they didn't have - a columnar pear and a macadamia nut.

I will have to try other sources to see if I can get them and also a couple of varieties of olive I especially wanted.

In the top orchard I have a single ancient olive tree. There are tree stumps around suggesting there were once more than just one, but not any longer. I think my single tree has had maybe three olives on it in total, in three years! Hardly the most productive in the village... Olives live to a ripe old age, some being said to be 2,000 years old, having been planted by Greeks and Romans. This one is nothing like that age, yet still appears old and gnarled.

To be able to get a reasonable amount of olive oil, you need several hundred trees. An average yield would be just about a litre of olive oil from 10 kilos of olives (variety and growing season dependant). So I have decided that I want to plant trees for table olives, rather than oil olives.

Like most fruits (it has a stone and is classed as a Drupe), there are many varieties. The. Majority are grown for oil, with a few for table use. You know, those little jars of olives in the supermarket shelf with pimento peppers stuffed in the middle. That is what I have decided to grow - preferably ready stuffed! They go really well with a nice local goats cheese.

There are olive trees around the Mediterranean which are said to have been planted at the time of the Roman Empire. In Istria, in the north of Croatia, in the Brijuni National Park an olive tree on the island of Brijuni has been radio carbon dated to around the year 400AD.

Looking at the trunk of mine, it is probably 70 + years old, but just examining the bare branches and stunted growth suggests it is past its sell by date. I'll ask a local w ho knows, but I suspect it will never do much. Having chopped off a limb which was almost completely devoid of leaves (olives are evergreen), I also attempted to cut the top of a stump to see if I could count the rings.

But years of rain have made the wood soft, so I need to let it dry a bit before I can count.

Having researched table olives, the best varieties are Kalamata (Greek), Sevillani (Spanish) and Cerignola (Italian). None of which they had, so I came home with an Ascolana, also Italian. I will look further afield to get what I want. The Ascolana is used in the preparation of deep fried stuffed olives, the recipe and instructions here.

Equally, I was hoping for a columnar pear tree, but they also didn't have any, so again an internet search is called for.

We are in the transition period. Winter has about finished, Spring has about started, but there can be a bit of pendulum action between the two. 

On Wednesday I planted all my new trees

and on Thursday, I was hard at work in the orchard with my industrial size Denqbar shredding machine, chipping trees and branches to turn them into mulch.

I have also taken some aerial photographs of the orchards, to help in planning the plantings for this year. The established trees do not yet have leaves, so you can see in the top orchard, the huge piles of reclaimed stones from the buildings I have dismantled, together with the large black plastic covered mounds of branches, waiting to be turned into mulch.

I can draw into this photo and because I have the scale, I can accurately plan and position new trees. 

Regular readers will know about my fairly constant my fight with the weeds and I have found that putting a weed suppressant mat around trees and then covering it with a mulch prevents all but the most invasive and persistent weeds from germinating. 

The latter group can then be dealt with individually. 

With two large piles of branches to process, by the end of the week, I have completed about ⅔ of the total, this is just the result from work on Saturday. There have been two previous similar sized piled of chippings.

I would like to say I have done more, but must be realistic – and have liberally spread the mulch material around all the trees in the Drupe orchard.

Next week it will be turn of the citrus trees, together with a few shrubs.

I am using plastic bin liners around the base of the fruit trees. During the inspection process, I found that three out of the 20 plus trees in the orchard had shoots which had sprouted from below the grafting union.

Almost all fruit trees are grafted, a process of taking a root stock with known characteristics, for example a dwarfing variety, and then a scion from a particular fruiting variety and joining them together, to get the best of both. However, if shoot are allowed to grow from below the grafting union, they seldom bear fruit and reduce the vigour of the scion above. 

The solution is to cleanly remove the shoot with a very sharp, sterilised knife

and then treat the clean cut with a sealing compound to prevent disease spores entering and more growth taking place. This has been completed.

The next step is some light pruning of the cordon and espalier trees. I am keeping a pruning calendar, month by month, because it really is somewhere between Alchemy and a Dark Art. You must know the variety of tree you are dealing with, because different varieties of plum, for example, are pruned at different times of the year, depending which continent you are on in the northern hemisphere. 

With one or two trees, I can remember, but as my orchards are home to getting on for 40 different varieties, I no longer can remember which needs to be pruned when (and how!).

My friend Cvjetko called round this week, with his BIG chainsaw and felled the old White Mulberry, Morus Alba. He told me that in the days of the Venetian rule of the island, the tree was much prized for shipbuilding timber, because of the hardness of the wood. Many people cut down their trees and sold the timber to make ends meet

Once felled, we sliced and diced it into manageable pieces.
The rot had spread from top to bottom down the centre, right to the roots, so much as I had expected, it's days were numbered.
I will now seek to ensure that I have some replacements from the various scions I have taken. 

Again out of interest, I want to try and count the rings (the ones I can) to get an idea of its age, but I need to let the best piece dry before I can smooth the surface and try to count them. 

It will supply about a cubic meter of timber for the fire though, once it has been cut into small pieces. For now, I have moved it out of the way, to where it can be left to dry during the summer.

While in Split, I went for a regular dental panoramic xray. I am used to the superb facilities (and staff) that the Ministry of Interior in Abu Dhabi had, but I was not prepared for the ultra modern setup in Split.

There was no waiting, I was in, scanned and had the results and left, all in less than ten minutes. The cost was just £15 or US$21 equivalent and on the ferry home, I bumped into Dr Tadić, my nice local dentist in Stari Grad, who told me she had received the scan by email, had checked it and everything was fine. Now that's service!

Around the gardens, there are more signs of things awakening from winter and bursting into bloom, as these first Crocus attest.

It will not be long before the other spring bulbs are also in bloom. While on Saturday I was able to work in the Top Orchard in a polo shirt - the first time in 'shirt sleeve order' this year.