Life in a Dol house 
2017 - Week 51

Taking the Pledge

At long last I am back to normal. 

The current phase of building work is finished, the old cottage has been re-roofed and I have been able to move quite a lot of my boxed items from one store, into the new loft storage space.

The external walls will need painting, but I am going to leave that until the spring and the warmer weather. 

I have the paint, but with quite a bit of rain and relative humidity above 70% every day, I want to wait until I know it will dry quickly.

Shifting boxes around has allowed me to re-start the work to finish the guest room. 

The insulation and the new ceiling was all finished in the spring. This week I have finished papering the walls with lining paper, to cover the old walls.

After my experience in the study, where the paper refused to remain attached to the walls, I obtained some specialist wall treatment - Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3

This is a latex based wall sealant which took just a morning to apply the three litres needed to cover all the walls.

It has that rubbery smell that you get with latex materials and being water based was easy to apply and clean up afterwards. 

Having left it for a couple of days to dry thoroughly, during which time I accurately measured the floor, because this is another old floor which needs to be levelled up, it was with a little trepidation that I hung the first two sheets of paper.

I need not have worried, as having left the two lengths for 48 hours, they are well and truly attached to the walls. 

No more peeling corners and lifting edges, so no need to apply tape across every join.I was a little annoyed though, because I managed to put a couple of delves into one of the finished walls.

​I am using 22mm HEP20 push-fit plastic piping for the central heating and have completely redesigned and am reinstalling the system, after my disastrous experience with the incompetent local plumber who used the wrong grade of pipes and the wrong grade of insulation, leading to 14 burst pipes last winter.

This meant that I had to punch two parallel 24mm holes through the external wall to get the new pipework into the building. 

I have 1.2 meter SDS walls drills of different diameters and a high torque hammer drill, so drilling through meter thick walls is not too difficult - until something sticks.

I always start with a small pilot hole and go slowly, letting the drill bit do the work. The 12mm drill went through without too much problem. I enlarged the first hole to 24mm and checked both inside and outside and it was fine.

I should say that I removed part of a stone in the outside wall, because the hole was towards the edge and I was concerned that the stone would split when the big hole went through.

Starting the second hole - one is for the hot water feed, the other is for the cold water return, and with five radiators, I need a fairly wide bore pipe - the small diameter pilot hole went well. 

I enlarged it to 18mm without difficulty, but I had only just started the 24mm bit into the hole when it hit something hard. 

The bit jammed and the torque of the drill wrenched it from my hands but before the auto stop kicked in, the drill and the side handle had hit my newly wallpapered wall knocking two delves into the paper and the plaster underneath.

Fortunately I have some smooth Pollyfilla paste, so I was able to repair the delves and smooth the surface so no one will ever see. 

It was just so annoying that it happened.

Reintroducing the drill bit, I very, very gently eased it forwards and the moment I felt the bit bite, I pulled back.

It took several minutes and some very gentle easing of the drill forward, to get it past whatever in the stone wall was causing the large diameter bit to jam. 

Once I was past the problem part, I was soon through to the outside.

The difficulty is that once the drill bit is into the wall, you cannot see what it is grinding against, so the first you know is when the drill is wrenched from your hands because of the torque.

I have re-hung one of the courtyard gates now the builders have finished. 

When I built the gates two years ago, the driveway had a considerable slope, so the gates were a lot higher than needed, to clear the slope. 

As the new courtyard flooring will be level, I took the opportunity to refix the hinge posts 7 cm lower. 

The gates are quite heavy, but because one is a split gate, I was able to take it apart and hang the two halves separately.

With the gate nice and vertical, It was a simple job to attach the foot gate. However for the other gate, which is full size, I will need some help with to lift it off and trim a bit off the edge, where the new wall finish has extended slightly.

 But the gate is a very close fit now to the cottage wall.

We have had quite a bit of rain this week, which is good because after the extremely dry summer, rain is needed to replenish the underground supplies. 

We have also had some extremes of temperature too.

Sunday morning was the coldest of the winter so far, with the temperature dropping to -0.5ºC at 07:30. Just cool enough overnight to allow a slight hoar frost to form in the frost pocket I have in one corner of the citrus orchard.

Then as a weather system pushed up from the south, the daytime temperatures have reached +17ºC, so quite an extreme.

The last three leaves have fallen from the Fig tree, although I still have a lot of leaves on my plum, pear and apple trees.

​And the Lilac tree has barely started to turn colour. However, as we approach the coldest part of the year, it will only take a few cold days for all the leaves to be lost.

The warmth also means that the annual weeds have continued to grow and look very healthy.

The spring Hyacinth bulbs are all making good progress too. 

Some are further forward than the indoor bulbs I have tried (and failed) to force into flower for Christmas.

​As I balance all the various jobs - clearing up the last bits of debris after the builders; painting and decorating the guest room; making a new floor and winterising the gardens and orchards - weeding is not something I was expecting to be doing in December!

Then I received an email from the Habitat Network this week. 

I registered my Dol house eighteen months ago for the Cornell University Habitat Network Yardmap project. 

This requires an intensive inventory of your property, with what you have now and also what plans you have for the future. 

There are a few mapped locations in Europe, but it is taking time for the word to spread that this is not just a north American project.

This week the Habitat Network invited all gardeners to "take the pledge" to leave your garden 'messy' over the winter to help over wintering and hibernating species. I was happy to sign up. So with a reason now, not to remove too many weeds, collect leaves or dead head the plants and flowers until the spring, I have the perfect excuse for not having tidy orchards this winter.

​To be fair, I understand exactly what they mean. 

This week when I was clearing up following the building work, and rationalising by piles of wood for the wood stove, I disturbed two large Egyptian grasshoppers.

These are six or seven centimetres long (2½ inches) and are well camouflaged against the wood. It was only when they moved that I saw them.They were safely relocated deep into the new pile of timber, when cold, wind and rain will not reach.

​I look forward to seeing them emerge on sunny days in February. 

With something this large, it is difficult to miss, but I am aware that a lot of insects, invertebrates and reptiles are hibernating and I am always on the lookout for them when I am doing work around my Dol house.

So will you take the pledge too?