Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 37

A gardening week

As the days cool (a little) and the day length shortens in Dol, quite a few of the seasonal changes become more noticeable. 

The Swallows, Hirundo rustica, who have produced two broods of young this year and have been noisily wheeling around the skies above the orchards in their never ceasing quest for insects, have departed for South Africa for the winter. Having said that, down the hill in Stari Grad, there are still Swifts and Swallows flying along over the vines. 

My memory of growing up in the UK was that as the time for migration approached, you would see the Swallows congregating in large numbers on telephone wires.

Now of course, most phone lines are underground, but here, where there are still overhead cables, I have not noted that behaviour. 

One day they were flying, the next they had gone. As summer visitors depart, the winter visitors arrive. In this case the European Robin, Erithacus rubecula. They are absent from the hot and arid areas of the Mediterranean during the summer and return for the winter, so do not breed here, but the first have arrived back in the garden this week. As I write this I can hear one giving the alarm call "tick, tick, tick, tick" from a Šipac tree near the kitchen - translated it means "cat, cat, cat, cat".

Some autumn growing plants have burst into life now the heat of summer is over. 

I noticed that the first shoots of the Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, also known as Lords and Ladies, are poking through the fallen vine leaves.

There are several varieties of this plant in the garden, but these are the common types which are in flower in April.

This reminded me that I have several clumps of Easter Lilies, Lilium longiflorum, which I need to lift and move. 

Whilst the Cuckoo-pint is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalised from the Caucasus mountains to the Iberian peninsula and north to Scandinavia, Easter Lilies are an imported species, brought to Europe only 100 years ago, from the Japanese Ryukyu chain of islands

Look up the botanical data of both of these species, the received wisdom of the botanists is that they burst into growth in spring, flower in summer and then set seed in the Autumn. 

My Easter lilies were in flower in mid May and I have a lot of them.

The Cuckoo-pint had its bright orange seed heads in July.

Both these plants have adapted to the ways of many Mediterranean plants, which go dormant in summer instead of the winter, and burst into growth in the autumn. 

Previous occupants of my Dol house have planted a lot of Easter Lilies and of course the bulbs have multiplied. They are dotted around everywhere and they have been just left to grow and naturalise, without any thought as to their planting positions.

I am slowly altering that, and lifted some of the bulbs last autumn, then this year I cut the stems after they had died back, leaving a 15 cm brown stick as a marker, to remind me where they are, and which ones I want to move. 

After seeing the Cuckoo-pint shoots, I checked and saw that one of the lilies, in an areas which has been receiving irrigation, has already broken through with a new shoot.

So on Friday I dug up the corms I intent to move. Some were very substantial bulbs, with a circumference measuring 30 cm or more.

We have rain forecast for the next few days, so on Saturday I planted them in a drift along the eastern border of the citrus orchard, in an area where I can see and enjoy their spring flowers, but where they will also be very visible for people on the old donkey track at the back of my property.

After digging out a half circle shape, some 10 cm deep, I carefully planted the bulbs, with the largest round the perimeter and the smaller ones mixed up in the centre.
The soil was then quickly replaced, so they bulbs did not dry out and it was all raked level. 

I will be interested to see how many grow through, although I suspect there will be few flowers in their first year. I didn't count the bulbs, but there are probably close to 100.

I have finished removing the last of the weeds from the drupe orchard. These are the perennial, deep rooted variety. 

The annual weeds can be removed with a Dutch hoe, but the remainder need to be dug out, before they set seed. 

My experience suggests that it is a three year process to really clear most weeds from the land here. It begins by deep digging, using a mechanical rotavator. This brings a huge number of seeds to the surface from the soil seed bank, so a covering with thick cardboard helps limit germination and then kills those that do. 

Once the cardboard is removed, having been left for 9 to 12 months, then regular hoeing with an occasional spot treatment of herbicide on noxious invasive species, like the Trumpet Vine, keep the ground clear. In the third winter, the soil can be prepared for sowing, with just a gentle hoeing and the removal of stones that the rains wash to the surface. This is not written down anywhere (except in this blog!) but is the practical way I have found to be almost completely effective. 

Not all the Nasturtium I planted have survived the summer drought, so I will be replanting them. Reading up on the Tropaeolum species they are what are called "Half Hardy Annuals", which means they are not completely frost hardy, but should survive the occasional light frosts, which is what we have here in Dol. Last winter I recorded just two nights when the temperature dropped enough to form a slight ground frost. I will also prepare the ground for more stone fruit trees (peach, apricot, nectarine), to be planted in early 2017, these will then complete the planting of the Drupe orchard.

After planting the winter lettuce last week, I discovered that some of the resident garden snails had taken a liking to the tender young shoots. 

With an area too big to cloche over, I decided to be innovative. I remembered being told that the way to deal with slugs was to scatter salt on them, so having a dispenser of slightly damp salt in the cupboard, I decided I would try putting a salt boundary round the lettuce patch.

It worked. There have been no more snail attacks to date, but the sandy soil seems to be attracting another nocturnal visitor. 

It would seem that one of my neighbour's felines (they have fourteen or so if you count their Verwilderte Katze) has taken to either sleeping and/or rolling on the soil, inside the salt circle, with the result that my 24 plants are now down to 11. Quite a rate of attrition and something to remember for the future. The reason why I suspect a neighbouring feline and not either of my two is that Risha and Callie don't come in blathered in sandy soil!

Can you see who is hiding in this picture?
OK, perhaps a little help is required.
I thought at first that I had found one of our illusive Stick Insects, Carausius morosus, but generally Stick Insects are nocturnal. 

However, as I tried to move in close to photograph this chap, it flew off. That means it is a Horned Grasshopper, Acrida ungarica, which looks like a Stick Insect, but only the grasshopper has wings. I have also seen a deep green one too, but could not get a photograph.

It has absolutely perfect camouflage.

I spent one morning this week working on the old Land Rover. 

It has been overheating and I suspected that the thermostat was stuck. However the vehicle is somewhat "non standard". Since being built around 1970, it has had a replacement engine and gearbox, from a Land Rover Defender, circa 1983. There is an interesting mix of parts under the bonnet in the engine bay, old and new, metric and imperial, including some 15mm copper central heating pipe.

The result is that you need three manuals to determine any replacement parts. Having removed the main pipework, the cover of the thermostat would not budge, so I had to take the whole housing off the engine block, complete with pipes.

There was no gasket seating on the manifold flange, the joint being metal to metal, which makes me surprised it did not leak like a sieve. 

The thermostat seems to be extremely well stuck into its housing, which supports my feeling that that was the cause of the overheating. I need to carefully prise the castings apart to fit a replacement. Turning the engine over showed that the water pump was working, which would have been a much harder job to replace, so I am sure I am on the right track. So with a range of replacement parts on order, I just need to wait for them to come....

The Maquis and forest which surround Dol has gone quiet.
The cicadas have stopped the incessant chirping, and the autumn fruits are showing, like the small green acorns on this Holm Oak, Quercus ilex.

It's time to get out the bulb catalogues I think and plan my spring display for next year.