Life in a Dol house
2018 - Week 15

Gardening according to the weather forecast

I was both surprised and disappointed this week when I removed the cardboard and fleece covering off my tender young Citrus trees. 

Whilst they have survived the winter (just) they clearly have not liked being wrapped up against the cold.

​Last December I covered 14 trees in anticipation of the cold weather that we get here in Dol around the turn of the year.

The temperatures were not as cold as 2016/2017 when I lost 8 trees and my neighbours lost most of their established Citrus trees. 

All the Lemons were killed not just by an exceptional cold spell, but also by the sustained and biting Bura wind, which dropped the wind chill down to -15ºC.

​Looking back at the past winter - and it's safe to say it has now passed - it has not been as cold, but has been much wetter. 

As I uncovered the trees, some have lost all their leaves, but still have green stems and branches, some have some of their leaves and some seem completely unfazed. 

I have planted a diverse range of Cirtus, sweet Washingtonia, blood and bitter Sevilla oranges, Meyer and bitter lemons, limes, blood and standard grapefruit and clementines.

The lemons are the ones without any leaves, the oranges and grapefruits have kept some lower leaves but the upper leaves have gone brown and the mandarin/clementines are untouched, so it seems that it is the susceptibility to cold which has once again shown its self. 

I know that lemons are the most susceptible to low temperatures, but even wrapping them well, with fleece, bubble wrap and cardboard has not been enough.

I saw that my neighbour opposite who has a substantial, old and well protected lemon in her courtyard, has lost all the leaves on the tree. 

I will have to go round and cut back the young branches where they have gone brown, to good young growth to prevent die back. I hope that new leaves will appear soon, but I need to think of a way to protect them this coming winter, which does not induce die back and leaf loss, but still prevents any cold from affecting the plants.

The problem is that for the last four winters there has been little similarity with the weather. 

It is only three weeks ago that there was a cold snap and snow here in Dol. 

Local people have run out of firewood, because the winter seems to have gone on and on for months, which makes it very hard to know what it is that you have to protect against. 

The result is that over or under protecting is possible. So ideas to solve the conundrum on a postcard please...

Looking at the weather data for the winter, we have had more rain than in the previous two years and it has been cooler, for longer, but the temperatures have not dropped as low as 2016/2017.

​I have mentioned in previous blogs that I use a spreadsheet to create four weekly averages for each month from my weather station data, which means that there are only 48 weeks in my weather year, not 52 (12 four week months). 

But it does allow a more sensitive average to be calculated, rather than a figure for a whole month, when it is not unusual to have a 14 degree average temperature difference between different weeks.

Monthly figures are affected by random fluctuations, both high and low, which where, as we have here, a sharply escalating increase in temperatures from the beginning of February onwards, means low temperatures at the start of the month would be cancelled out in an average figure, by high temperatures at the end of the month.

A couple of things to note in the temperature chart below though are the extremes. 

Even the cold spell at the end of March (week 11), while colder than previous years in my data, does echo previous cool spells. 

I could spend days number crunching the data, but four years figures is not enough to draw any meaningful comparisons, so just looking at the graph tells enough of a story.

As the weather warms, so the growing season is in full swing. I make a point of walking my small orchards every day, but that tends to be a micro picture. 

It was only when I was up on the donkey track at the weekend, that I realised that almost all of the drupe orchard had become weed ridden.

​I have planted two cordons of apples and pears, which have had weed supressing mats and mulch put around their trunks, but the walkways between the rows of trees and between the raspberries have become almost completely green over.

Then in the Citrus orchard, the area which a month ago was clear of weeds,

​is now green again.

Which got me thinking about how I can reduce the workload throughout the year, to try and keep land relatively weed free. 

This gave me the idea of running a side by side trial of different methods, to see which, if any are the more effective.

The first job this week has been to dig out and clear the covering of weeds from between the cordon fruit trees in the Drupe orchard. 

Most are surface rooting. Over the past three years, I have eliminated almost all the deep rooted perennial weeds. 

There is just one remaining, a type of vine creeper, or Convolvulous relative, with long, thin, white "bootlace" roots that go down further than I can dig and a habit like bind weed of climbing everything in sight.

What I see local people doing is a threefold attack. First they spray with a Glyphosate systemic weedkiller - something I want to avoid if I can - then they cut the top of everything which is green, with a strimmer, and finally they turn the soil with a rotorvator.

This happens twice a year and apart from the chemicals and fuel usage, it is time consuming and does not really prevent weeds growing, it just tidies the place up ready for cultivation. 

There are some advantages to chopping the greenery up and then digging it into the soil mechanically, in that some will rot down and improve the soil condition.

However there are disadvantages too. 

Quite a number of the weeds, when their roots are chopped up just grow again, which means that you just increase the number of plants you have in the future. 

For systemic weedkillers to work, not only does the top growth have to die back, but the poison needs to go right down into the roots of the plant to effectively kill them. 

Chopping the tops off too soon stops that process. And thirdly, when you turn the soil over mechanically, you are opening the vast weed seed bank in the soil.

Removing weeds by hand, roots and all, is harder work but should be more effective, providing you can get them before they turn to seed. 

In the Mediterranean basin, with the general climate description of cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers, the plant Biome has developed over the eons to have two growth spurts. 

The first in the spring, when germination, growth, flowering and seed production all takes place over a very short timescale.

Readers in northern hemisphere temperate zones, where even today, in April, there are few signs of Spring, will be surprised that in my gardens, plants, trees, indeed everything which grows, is at the stage you would expect to see in probably June. 

Things like the Breba fruit on the Fig trees are already well developed.

And I have a nice display of English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.

​​This is because by June, the summer heat will be here and there will be perhaps little or no rainfall until September, so the plants without very deep root systems die back, until the Autumnal rains arrive, when there is a second growth spurt,before the arrival of the cold weather in December.

Having cleared the weeds, broken the soil hard pan where walking had compressed it, I then laid some paving slabs as a path, before creating a nice tilth for sowing some seeds. I can soon say it, but there is three days work just clearing half of my smallest orchard!

The first bed has been planted with Lucerne, which is an original Mediterranean crop, also know in some countries as Alfalfa. 

This is a deep rooted perennial, which improves surface soil by bringing up nutrients from deep underground. 

It is a long lived, drought tolerant legume, which should grow well in my conditions.

The second strip has been sown with orchard grass mixture prepared for clay soils. 

This is a mixture of Fescues, supposedly specially created for under trees and for the soil conditions that I have.

I'll clear the remaining to margins, leaving one bare and planting a different green manure crop in the fourth.

With rain expected on Thursday evening, I worked against the clock to get the seeds into the prepared ground. This really is gardening according to the weather forecast.

Unfortunately, we only had just over 1mm/1 litre per square meter, so I have been irrigating night and morning since, to ensure the seed bed remains moist until germination takes place.

In this photograph, the Convolvulus is on the left, a thistle on the right and in the centre, looking like Garlic, are bulbs of Onion Grass.

Onion Grass, Allium vineale, is another of those problem weeds. All around the base of the main bulb are dozens of bulbils, which unless every one is removed, they will multiply and spread.

Life is never dull, and I have no shortage of things that I need to do, but just occasionally, I allow myself some time to do some of the things I would like to do, but don't necessarily need to do. 

This week, as well orchard work, I was preparing a CAD drawing for a mounting block I need to have manufactured for my bike - the original was produced by a company called Britax, now long since closed.

Then on Saturday afternoon, I replaced the handlebars on the bike. 

At some point whilst it was out of my possession, the bike has fallen over and the handlebar was bent downwards. 

I found an original Triumph handlebar in Austria and it arrived this week.

Once I have removed the damaged bar, I could see that where it had been bent, at the point of attachment to the front forks, there were signs of fatigue cracks. 

Something I had suspected. 

This means the bars are essentially scrap metal, as they would not be safe if they were to be bent straight again.

So on a warm and sunny afternoon, I spent several hours installing the replacement set. At least everything now looks straight!

And on that happy note, I had better go and do some more irrigating!



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