Life in a Dol house -
2016 - Week 13

Holoportation ..... coming to Dol soon

It's week thirteen, and the first three months of the year have passed in a blink of an eye! It has been a nice week for weather, with warm sunshine on most days, but with some cloud to keep the temperature for working outside just right and just a little overnight rain. And working outside is what I have been doing every day.

It was of course Easter last weekend, a time of year taken very seriously in this part of the world

With parades and parties in most villages. Easter is early this year, so for the groups who go from village to village overnight, it has been quite cold.

I took a 'time-out' from normal work on Sunday and having had a long awaited delivery from the UK, I set up a large Squircle of railway track in the garden and then steamed my very own copy of that iconic locomotive, 4472 Flying Scotsman.

My replica is a 1:72 scale model, but none the less, steam powered, whereas the 1:1 scale original has just returned to steam in the UK, after a ten year and £4.2 million rebuild. It was nice to be able to share the high precision engineering of my model with friends. It has got me thinking about perhaps setting up a permanent track in part of the garden. I was always envious of people who were able to have garden railways, but in the UK and indeed in Abu Dhabi the climate was against it. I shall have to give the idea more thought, but this would be an ideal climate for running scale models.

Staying with the garden theme, I started on Monday to work on the Citrus orchard, to create a False Seed bed, now the weeds which developed over the winter have been well and truly killed with my application Glyphosate.

There is an old gardeners saying, that if you pull everything up, what grows again is a weed. Equally, almost every plants in the world, when in it's natural environment can be classed as a weed. I like the Wikipedia definition, "A plant growing wild which is considered undesirable in its current position". There are some very definite "pretty" weeds, and I saved seeds from them last year, to plant in a naturalised area this year, but the sort of weeds which I have problems with are not especially pretty or useful, things like Hairy Bittercress, Creeping Buttercup, Chickweed, Oxalis and Creeping Charlie, which has small delicate, pink flowers.

Some like this Poke Weed have roots which go down more than 20 cm.

There is a considerable amount of science behind the study of weeds. For example, only around 5% of weed seeds are capable of germination at any given time. In fact, weeds have developed their reproductive strategy so that the vast majority of their life time span is spent in a state of suspended animation, waiting for exactly the right circumstances for them to develop from a seed, to a plant, to make more seeds. Within any soil structure, even in the deserts of the world, there is an absolutely massive seed bank, just waiting......

Here in my Dol house, because the soil is impoverished and the orchards and land has not been well managed for a number of years, as I am slowly bringing the land back into production, in doing so, I have opened a "Pandora's Box" of seeds. Weed seeds exist to make more seeds. Unlike many plants, which exist in a physical form for a season and in many cased for much longer, weeds are the first colonisers.

I visited Mount St Helens, the volcano which exploded with cataclysmic results on the 18thy May, 1980, just after the National Park had reopened to the public. The serried ranks of trees blown down by the force of the volcanic eruption left a deep impression. I still have a small vial of volcanic dust and debris which I collected, slivers of wood from trees blown apart, pumice and a deep grey ash that smothered every living thing. But out of the ash were growing weeds, the first signs of greenery in an otherwise mono coloured lunar landscape.

The weeds take root and quickly decay, improving soil texture and enriching it with nutrients, so that later, more long lived species have something to grow into. Weed seeds are sensitive to light and dark, warming and cooling of soil, even the type of light. Green filtered light means that there are other plants growing, which will compete with them, so the seeds do not germinate. Soil at a depth of 5 cm or more tends to have a more stable temperature than does soil closer to the air, and weeds need oxygen. Some weed seeds can exist in a dormant stage for a century or more, so there is little wonder that my land has such a profusion of weeds, which germinate whenever and wherever I cultivate.

Efficient herbicides have only been available for around 80 years. When they were first introduced, the farmers thought that it would be then end of weeds and weeding, but that has not been the case. Over the intervening years as weeds have developed resistance to herbicide application, a lot of traditional farming knowledge has been forgotten and it is only through organisations like the Soil Association and the organic farming movement who have kept the traditional methods alive.

The one traditional method which I am now practicing is a False Seed Bed. I would actually describe it as creating a double seed bed. The land has been mechanically cultivated twice over the last 18 months. Over winter it has been left fallow and now in the Spring, I have treated all the weeds which had grown in profusion, with a systemic weedkiller, to kill right down to the roots. This week I have raked away all the dead detritus and have used a Dutch Hoe to create a seed bed just 2 cm or around one inch deep.

I don't want to disturb the soil any deeper, as it will bring more weed seeds to the surface. Cultivating just the very top layer, creating a fine tilth, will allow, when the conditions are right, more seeds from the weed bank to germinate. Once these are at the weedling stage, I will hoe them off to kill them and immediately plant the crop I want to put down, in this case Lucerne.

So by creating the ideal conditions for weed seeds to germinate, then removing them pronto, I can plant the crop in the knowledge that there will be far fewer weeds than would otherwise be the case.

At the end of the week I have hoed 100 square metres of orchard, cleared all the existing weeds and am now waiting for the right weather combination of warmth and rain, so I can plant Lucerne in a relatively weed free environment. I know I can never eradicate weeds completely, but with intelligent husbandry, I can control the little pests!

Else where, I held the "Topping Out" ceremony for my new yard gates. 

The end grain of the boards was exposed, although I had sealed it, that would not have prevented the ingress of moisture over time. So I planed down some 5 x 3 timber that I have seasoned under cover for 12 months, then used a router to create an 11 mm channel in the centre. After sealing and painting, I glued and fixed this to the top edge of the doors, cutting angled joints where the various gates open.

The final job was to paint the drip strips to match the gates.

I regularly receive feedback from readers, which I am very appreciate of. One of the comments is that the person would like to visit the island and Dol sometime. But with a (known) readership spanning the globe, that is clearly not going to be possible for everyone. So it was with some interest this week that I received an announcement from Microsoft that they have started to deliver the first of their HoloLens virtual reality glasses to developers.

Containing more computing power than the average laptop, the Microsoft HoloLens is passively cooled without fans. With no wires, external cameras, or phone or PC connection required, you can move around freely and untethered.

Virtual reality glasses have had 'techies' going weak at the knees for several years, but most of their use revolves around games and gaming. At this point I should say that I do not and never have played computer games. Three dimensional photography interests me, holographic projection which I saw for myself at one of the big computer shows in Dubai a couple of years ago, is now getting close to commercial implementation, but what will it be used for?

But what if we were able to combine elements from all of these technologies and actually use them? Let me introduce you to Holoportation. But first, how many of you remember (or will admit to remembering) the Holodeck from Start Trek?

In the Star Trek genre, the Holodeck is a special room, used to create familiar places with holograms. The Holoportation created by Microsoft is a new type of 3D capture technology that allows high-quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed and transmitted anywhere in the world in real time. When combined with mixed reality displays such as HoloLens, this technology allows users to see, hear, and interact with remote participants in 3D as if they are actually present in the same physical space. Communicating and interacting with remote users becomes as natural as face-to-face communication.

It is not quite ready for implementation in Dol yet, but the technology is out there. So with a few more GoPro cameras, a bit of computer software and your own HoloLens VR headset, you will soon be able to join me on a garden walk, to look at the butterflies, or weeds and to enjoy in 3D things that you only see now in a 2D picture.. If you haven't seen the Holoportation video, it is worth watching. Remember this is in existence now, so it will not be long before it comes to a garden near you......