Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 27

Mediterranean Cricket

July is high summer in the Adriatic. The weather has been hot during the day and hot at night as well. 

Being able to leave doors and windows open, protected by mosquito nets does allow the movement of air through the buildings, which makes it comfortable - just. One reader asked me last week "What about your cats?", well they have cat flaps so can and do come and go as they please, day and night. 

For Risha, much of the day is spent in finding a cool and comfortable place to slumber, out of the way but sufficiently close to still hear the refrigerator door being opened. 

This is a cat who grew up in Abu Dhabi, with temperatures over 45ºc, but always had the choice of an air conditioning unit to go to sleep under. No such luxuries here, so he has to make do with natural air conditioning - under a Šipac tree.

I have placed containers of fresh water in various locations, inside and out, so there is plenty to drink. I make sure I drink two litres of water a day too.

I have been growing concerned about the pear trees I planted in the spring. 

Following on from last week's discussion about seeds and things growing, or not as the case may be, I have been trying since I arrived to really identify the different microclimates that I have my Dol house. That together with doing some soil analysis to determine the growing conditions which exist and how they change of relatively short distances. I am taking an online course at the moment, being run by Lancaster University simply called 'Soils:The world beneath our feet'. I hope it will give me a better understanding of how to make the best use of the resource I have.

Apples and pears are generally temperate region crops. Avocados and mangoes are tropical and the mid latitude Mediterranean is on the boundary and overlap between the two regions. I was encouraged to plant more apples when I found I had a mature apple tree, which according to neighbours was a heavy cropper, before it was allowed to run wild and grow out of control.

To survive and fruit well, apple and pear trees need a period of winter cold, with some freezing temperatures to ensure bud and fruit development, plus the long life of the tree. For this reason, I deliberately planted the new saplings in an orchard area which does get colder than the rest and is a bit of a frost pocket. The cold winter air runs down the north facing slope behind my home and is then hemmed in by buildings. With nowhere to escape to, the air continues to cool and I have seen it occasionally forms a ground frost. 

The eight pear trees I bought earlier in the year are all local varieties, with one exception, a Japanese pear, but the plantsman assured me it would grow and fruit here. As spring turned into summer, the pears have started to get stressed because of the heat and low humidity. Then they were attacked by the European Rust virus. I removed all affected leaves and put them in a bag to be burnt - the only way to eliminate the virus spores spreading apparently. 

In the last weeks I have watched the Mercury has risen and the leaves grew brown as they have become more stressed, even though they are being irrigated.

This week I decided that I needed to take some decisive measures to help them survive the rest of the summer. I bought a 10 metre length of green shade netting from the local merchants in Stari Grad, then set about installing another set of support wires between the row end poles. Putting bamboo canes between the wires created a strong frame for the netting to rest on and the last task was to place more canes at an angle of 45º down either side of the row.

The netting was the least dense I could get, but once it was in place, I was concerned that it was thick enough to create a wind barrier and would also prevent light and air getting to the trees. I dug deep into one of my garden sheds and found a roll of shade netting that I originally bought when I lived in the UK, to shade a greenhouse I had built a lot of years ago. Since then, it has followed me round in my container, with bits getting chopped off here and there as I needed shade netting in different countries where I lived.

Fortunately there was just a little more than I needed to cover the complete row. So early in the week I attached it to the frame I had built with tie wraps. By the end of the week I can already see benefits. Most pear trees have produced new shoots and on one, leaves are poking through the holes in the netting. I am hopeful that with the shade and increased humidity, they may start to thrive.

Both the apples and pears have been planted as "Cordon" trees, an ancient way of controlling tree vigour, which restricts the tree growth height to two metres or less. and enabling ease of access for picking the fruits It would be quite possible for me to construct a frame above the rows so that a more permanent shading arrangement could be installed. However, I will wait until next year to see how the trees overwinter before starting another construction project.

A lot of what I am doing is experimental. I have a couple of shelves of gardening books, covering pretty much every area of plant husbandry you could care to name.
There are the ones which provide guidance in the horticulturists "Black Arts" (pruning and grafting). 

Several specialist tomes on Mediterranean gardening, none of which refer specifically to the southern Adriatic, rather they cover the more popular expat areas of Spain, the South of France, Italy, some Greek Islands and Cyprus. Then there are my books devoted to gardening in the UK, several volumes published by Sunset Publications from Menlo Park in California, and others covering Oman, Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Gulf.

It is a shame there is not one written for "Gardening in Dol", but then with a village population of less than 300, it might not sell very well....... But I can generally read between the lines in the books I have and make a professional judgment about applying the information to what I should be doing. On the island, I think it is only the expats who really "garden". Around people's homes, there are some flowers, bulbs in the spring, beautiful Bougainvillea

and other flowering shrubs, like this showy Lantana camara
But in general, every piece of land, even around the houses, is cultivated for food. 

As I was writing this, my UK neighbour Steve brought me a bag of his lovely new potatoes (my second gift of potatoes this week). Looking like the famed Jersey New Potatoes, once much sought after in the UK, they will make several tasty meals. Herbs can be seen in abundance, salad crops, potatoes and courgette, often with some perennial flowers around the edge and with a pot plant or three, but I have yet to see or find anyone who has a traditional formal or informal flower garden or yard, the sort of thing which is completely normal in more temperate climes. 

As I experiment with seeds and plants, growing them for their ornamental value, as artistic features, sometimes because they have a dual purpose, providing both flowers and food, I realise that what I am doing is quite unique.

Isn't it strange how you can walk past something every day, but not notice much about it?

One of my prize trees is an old White Mulberry, Morus Alba. It is now completely in the wrong place, but with a boul circumference of 1.85 metres or just over six imperial feet, It probably pre-dates the buildings. It stands against the corner of the pig sty I am demolishing. The outer wall has been built to fit around the tree, suggesting the tree is older than the sty.

This week I caught the bark as I was working on the pig sty and a big piece came away.

Underneath the wood is rotten. But this is just on one side, the opposite seems to be quite sound. At some time, most of the top of the tree has been Pollarded with some substantial limbs removed and now there are a thatch of new branches growing.

It produces a lot of sweet fruit, but I think I need to propagate some replacements this autumn, because I think it's life is coming to an end. 

Fortunately Morus is not difficult to propagate vegetatively. Truncheoning is one method which is said to be quite successful and semi hardwood cuttings can be tried as well. I think I will try both and see which is successful.

Whilst close to the subject of the old pig sty, demolition continues. 

With ¾ of the roof and ¼ of the walls removed, the pile of recovered roof stones is growing, as are the stones removed from the walls.

I think I will have several substantial piles of stones for reuse by the time I have finished. I am cleaning any remains of lime mortar that I find before piling the stones up. The stones are sorted into piles of Huge, Big, Medium-small, Roof and Floor and some will be left in situ as they are too heavy to lift them on my own.

On Sunday I awoke to the chiming of the Cicadas, Cicada orni. 

These are an almost permanent tropical and sub-tropical sound. Each year there is a mass emergence of the Nymphs from their underground burrows, that have been their home for several years.

The emergence has happened here this week. The males then start calling very loudly. Unlike grasshoppers and crickets which make their calls by stridulation, the Cicada make sound by vibrating Tymbals in their abdominal cavity very quickly. The loud and sometimes annoying noise is actually a series of individual loud clicks, which because they are made so close together, make one continuous sound. I have a short recording I made this week of the sounds from one of my orchards which is available to listen to online here. They are extremely well camouflaged and with excellent eyesight, generally stop calling as you approach, but with patience you can find them.

I have been kept awake a couple of times this week by the sounds of Cricket. 

Now depending upon where you are from, that statement may conjure up in your mind the sound of leather on willow, or it may more likely be this. 

For me it was the latter, the sound of a House Cricket, Acheta domestica, something which is quintessentially Mediterranean.

These small creatures have spread through much of Europe, but especially like the warmth of the Med. I have yet to see it, but the sound is unmistakable, a bit like the Cicadas day time chorus!

More varieties of butterflies have been around this week. This beautiful Comma, Polygonia c-album, was in the top orchard.

Judging by the depth of colour, I think it has just emerged from its chrysalis. Another visitor has been the Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus.

I have watched as a family of blackbirds have stripped the ripe red seeds from my Italian Arum (Parson in the Pulpit) plants, Arum italicum. Three young fledglings were following their mother around noisily asking for food. The moment her back was turned, they were helping themselves. Ha, kids!

I had a wander along one of the local tracks this week.
Only the hardiest of plants are showing now. 

Gone are the profusions of wild flowers, bulbs and orchids which you can see in the spring. The Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, is in flower.

When you look at the flower, the casual observer thinks that the white mass which is the head, are all flowers. In fact, it is the tiny red flower in the centre which contains the nectar which attracts the pollinators. The white umbels, sometimes called Queen Anne's Lace fold up as the plant ages and detach, becoming a European tumble weed, spreading their seeds.

Even the cactus looks as though it needs a drink of water.

This is the Prickly Pear, Opuntia maximan, originally from the Americas but widely believed to have been imported to the Mediterranean by Christopher Columbus in the 15th Century. I did find some which were in flower though.

So as the days of high summer relentlessly pass, instead of writing this Blog early in the evening, I have retreated inside, out of the heat of the midday sun. 

But now I think it is time to emulate Risha and find somewhere comfortable for a siesta....