Life in a Dol House
2015 Week 38

Adapting the plan for the circumstances

It has been hot again this week. Unseasonably hot for the time of year, bearing in mind that next Wednesday, the 23rd, is the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere. Afternoon temperatures have been over 33°c degrees but looking at the weather charts, we are likely to have some wet weather this next week. Rain will be welcome for some, but not entirely so. It depends on what your crops are and what stage they are at. 

The grape harvest is being gathered in a pace. A few weeks ago I saw the vintners were pressure washing and scalding the large stainless steel tanks where the raw grape juice goes first. One of my neighbours showed me this week that they had around 1,200 litres of white grape juice in two of their tanks with several more tanks ready for the black grapes when they are harvested.

It rather makes the three or so litres of grape juice that I made on Sunday pale into complete insignificance.

Tasting the grape juice, it was pleasantly sweet with a slightly nutty flavour, which I put down to the Green Power machine crushing come of the pips in the grapes. By the end of the week, all the juice has gone and very nice it was too.

My Green Power juice machine worked well and produced juice from the grapes and a couple of śipak that were ready.

I will have to do more work next year on my vines to get a better crop. I mentioned in an earlier newsletter that I had huge numbers of bunches of grapes, more than I thought I should, but didn't have the knowledge about which to cut and which to keep. I asked advice and was told that the bunches should be thinned out.

Then the building work got in the way and I let them all grow. The result is that there were large numbers of small grapes, most of which have dried to the size of raisins in the this summer's heat and are completely unusable. Lesson learned!

With the advance knowledge of rain approaching, I changed plans this week. I have become quite adept at adapting a plan to fit the circumstances. I had originally been going to lay floor tiles in the dining room, but decided that I should do preparation work in the orchards and kitchen garden, ready for sowing green manure while the time is right - after rain..

I have a crop of Red Clover to plant there, so I lifted the cardboard and was very pleasantly surprised on two counts.

First, the cardboard has been far more effective than I could have believed.

Under the card, the soil is bare. Nothing has grown. There were just a few small weeds which had germinated around some edges, where there was a little light getting in. These were easily and quickly removed. Where I had put weed matting around the new citrus trees there were also a few stray weeds, but all of these were easily pulled out by the roots.

My second discovery was that the cardboard can be reused. I had anticipated that the cardboard would have rotted, but there is almost no sign of that and I could lift all the boxes intact, then move them to the top orchard, where I have kept on top of weeds and grass with a strimmer, to re-lay them as a weed suppressant mat there.

Having removed all the card and the stones that had kept it in place during the summer, the next job was to turn the soil once more with the Rotavator. The most difficult job is getting the machine up the steps to the orchard level. When my Dol house was constructed at the end of the 19th century, the builders could not have imagined how machines would be used to help with work. Steps for people (and donkeys) are OK. Steep steps and big, heavy machines do not go together well.

With the earth turned over, the next task was to rake and level the orchard, and at the same time remove small stones, of which there were plenty.

With that accomplished, I made a 1 metre square frame from canes and set about sowing the seeds, at a rate of three grammes per square metre. Quality control was carried out by Risha.

3 grammes of small seeds is not much!

I found there were some very interesting documents online about green manure, the different types, their uses and characteristics. I have bought two different types, the red clover for the citrus orchard and a bio-fumigant called Calliente Mustard for the kitchen garden. I also bought seeds for a wild flower border on the edge of the orchard, as a strip where pollinators can thrive. Most of the written material is for more northern climates, where autumn has already arrived. Here this week, the soil temperature at a 5 cm depth has been 28°c and there is still very adequate sunlight, so although clover should be planted by late August, I am going to chance it and hope the three weeks difference in the Adriatic will not make any difference to the crop.

The advice is also clearly written for large scale farmers. The documents suggest that land should be ploughed, then run over with a power harrow. My neighbour in the UK who was a farmer had a power harrow, for his 800 acres. I have a rake for my 2,000 square metres! Once sown, the seeds were lightly raked in and now all I have to do is wait for the rain to come.

Red clover is not maintenance free though. I plan to leave the crop in for two years, during which time it will need to be cut probably twice per year, depending upon how much rain we get. Especially persistent weeds, like the Trumpet Vine will receive spot treatment, but overall it should improve the soil and suppress the weeds before being turned in to rot down and add bulk to the ground.

In the dining room, I managed to lay three tiles this week. Setting up the laser to establish perfectly straight lines, followed by blue chalk to mark the concrete floor, ensured the tiles I did lay in the doorway through to the kitchen were all in line. I also had to get them level with the yet-to-be-laid tiles in the centre of the dining room. So with some corrugated card from a biscuit packet under a tile, to approximate the tile cement, I established the levels and mixed a bucket of cement.

 The doorway forms the boundary between the kitchen floor which was laid in 2014 and the new dining room floor that Cvjetko put down in July. 

 The doorway is also where water pipes run, so I had to build up the level under the tiles with far more cement than one would usually use to lay tiles, but the result is there is now a perfectly level floor between the two rooms.

I can lay tiles when it is raining, so that will be a job for the coming week.

On Tuesday I went across to Bauhaus in Split, and once again came back with a well laden car. The dawn over Split was a watery affair, but by mid morning, the sun had come out and it was a very pleasant day. I didn't buy everything on my list because I started to run out of time, as I needed to get in line for the ferry home, but I was able to get all the important materials. I had bathroom tiles on my list, and there were lots to look at, but rather than buy in haste, I took some pictures of the different options and will make a decision later.

Another item on my list was a wood stove for the dining room, but one which also has a water jacket to heat water for central heating. There was one at Bauhaus which would do, but its dimensions were a little larger than I wanted, so I will see if I can source one from somewhere else. I wanted skirting tiles for the dining room but had not been able to get them from the builders merchant who supplied the floor tiles. Armed with the names of three tile specialists in Split, the first one I tried was more than willing to help, getting tiles sent from another depot for me. I came home with enough skirting tiles to complete the room. Now I just need to lay the floor tiles first.

Getting in the queue for the ferry early, was a good move. It was almost full. There were few commercial vehicles, so the crew were putting three lines of cars in the two centre lanes usually used for trucks. I managed to get parked behind a bus at the front, so was off the ferry very quickly when we arrived at Stari Grad. The trip back on the top deck was pleasant. There were lots of people, but the temperature was just right and I read my National Geographic magazine for almost the whole journey. ​ The sunlight reflecting of a slight Adriatic swell made it very bright.