Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 16

My APEX trip to Split

This has been another of those single topic weeks - Irrigation! 

As I mentioned in last week's news, the winter and spring have been exceptionally dry, which is not good when you have planted a couple of orchards with new trees, together with around 30 soft fruit bushes. Having said that, as I write this on Saturday afternoon, it is raining and there is the sound of thunder echoing around the natural amphitheatre where the village of Dol lies. A quick look at the European lightning map, Blitzortung, shows the bulk of the storm is to the Southeast, so once again, the rain will probably miss Dol. By tea time on Saturday, my rain gauge had recorded just over 7 mm of rain, or seven litres per metre².

The lack of rainfall means that I have been watering everything by hand, which is both time consuming and labour intensive. I installed the underground irrigation system in the Citrus orchard, but when I tried to get the drip emitters, there were none available on the island, so I have been giving each tree some 3 litres of water, every other day, in a watering can.

In the Drupe orchard I started on Monday to dig the trenches for the irrigation system.
You can see how close the bed rock is - that white mass on the left is part of the hillside.

Each trench alongside the trees is 10 metres long, then there are the cross trenches which interconnect everything, and at the back of the orchard, where the soft fruits are, I want to install a separate system, so more trenches need digging there.

Even though the top layer of soil was as dry as dust, I was surprised to find just how many weedlings have germinated.

Each fine white curly strand in this photograph is the Radicle of a weedling. I think I will really have to keep on top of them with a hoe if I am to achieve a "relatively" weed free orchard, without resorting to chemicals. If this number germinate without water, I dread to think what it would be like if there had been rain.

Having turned the soil over after cutting down the Caliente Mustard, the soil was mercifully not too difficult to dig. It has broken up very well from the compressed clay of the winter, and is now a fine, dry powder. Even digging down to half a metre depth, the soil is completely dry. This has made the job of installing and commissioning automatic irrigation more important. 

By Wednesday, I had installed 150 metres of large bore water pipe, and had started to install the 4mm micro bore drip irrigation pipe, until I ran out of connectors and had only a couple of metres of supply pipe left. 

Having tried and failed to get the parts I needed here on the island, I decided to do a supply run to the mainland and visit my favourite DIY store, Bauhaus. 

As the summer holiday season approaches and the tourists increase, so the pleasure of using the ferry decreases. In fact it becomes a bit of a pain trying to queue and make sure you get your business done in time to get to the port for the next ferry when the boat is full, so I decided to draft a list of all the proposed work for the next three months and work out what I needed to buy and put into stock.

On a clear, bright Thursday morning, I caught the 05:30 ferry from Stari Grad. There were not many vehicles and not many people on board and I was off the boat just before 07:30 and on my way to do a quick and early supermarket shop, before going to Bauhaus. 

Some of you may remember the acronym APEX, which stands for Advance Purchase Excursion. These were once very popular ways of travelling. You planned ahead, booked early, bought your ticket at a discount price and then went on your trip. Well my APEX trip this week has been about the advance purchase of timber, insulation and hardware I will need for most of the work I have planned for May June and July.

Once at Bauhaus, I quickly found the various irrigation components I wanted. Indiscriminate watering is extremely wasteful, so I am installing a drip irrigation system, where small quantities of water are delivered directly to the base of the tree or plant, under a weed suppressing membrane and cover of mulch. I was expecting some choice in the kind of water emitters - the little nozzles fitted on the end of the microbore tube, which deliver the water, but there was a choice of just one, a 2 litres per hour emitter. I bought 100 - because I have a lot of plants and trees to water!

I also came back with another 100 metres of large bore pipe, a couple of rolls of microbore pipe, assorted connectors, filters and clips. In fact everything I need, and more, just in case. 

Next was a visit to the builders section, where I loaded up the trolley with two bales of 10 cm ceiling insulation material, together with the best wood I could find for door and window frames. That is not to say that the wood was especially good - it has quite a few knots in it - but it was the best they had, and at least it is dry and not warped. A significant improvement on wood from the builders merchants here. 

With all of this loaded onto the roof rack and the back of the car fairly full too, I set off down to the ferry terminal to get my place in the queue.

But even arriving at 11:30 for the 14:30 ferry, I was still some 15 vehicles back. However, once the car was in the line, I had a wander into the old town.

On the Riva, there were a lot of small kiosks selling everything from hand made lace and toys, through honey and preserves, to the wrought ironwork of a local blacksmith.

Here were all the sorts of tools that have been handmade by blacksmiths for centuries. Pitch forks, rakes, picks, shovels and mattocks, all with hand made ash handles. Along side were wrought iron barbecue hearth frames, even a home made motorised spit - just waiting for a Wild Boar and some hot coals underneath. In these days of mass produced everything, it is really nice to see that these old crafts are still being kept alive.

Returning to the quay, I was surprised to see that there was now a double line of vehicles waiting to board. Double rows of queueing vehicles is usually just a summer holidays treat. I was soon guided on board, and with my roof load, I was positioned right at the front, next to a tour bus. 

There was only just enough room for all the vehicles, even with vehicles loaded into the under deck.  The last red van was sandwiched in against the door at the back.
Being right at the front meant I was off very quickly and by 5pm was back at home, with the car unloaded and everything put away.

Now fully re-supplied, it was easy on Friday to install the micro bore tube, fit the emitters and connect up the system for a test. Although the black nylon devices are marked as being 2 litres per hour, there is an adjuster, but neither the packet, nor the company website gave any information about the setting or adjustment for the flow rate. The local water pressure is quite high, at a fairly constant 5 BAR. I decided to fix all the emitters with the adjuster at one half turn open, before installing them under the weed matting.

When the time came to turn the system on, I used an emitter set the same way, where the Fig tree I have grown from a cutting will go, placed into a calibrated watering can, so I could time the water delivery and know how to set the automatic system up to deliver a known volume of water to each tree. Once the pipe network had been charged with water, I set the pressure to 2½ BAR, opened the valve and started the timer. Everything worked, there were no leaks and the system delivered 1 litre in three minutes. With that known, I can deliver exactly how much water I need to each tree. I have also designed the system so I can use mains water, or use water pumped from my wells.

On Saturday, I installed the emitters for the soft fruits.

They are on a separate irrigation circuit so I can vary the amount of water different parts of the orchard receive. In the photograph, the grey pieces of water pipe which are sticking up, are the covers for the valves to turn the different rows on and off independently.

The concept of drip irrigation, apart from reducing water waste and run off, is that water is delivered in small quantities, to the plant root area, where it percolates downwards and becomes available to the plant roots.

My orchard soils are clay based, with some loam and over time they have become compacted. The recent work I have undertaken to break up the top layers will not have materially affected the deeper, more compacted layers. Hopefully the irrigation will help the new trees to become established and thrive. The last job was to fill in the trenches and give the surface a rake over to level it, before leaving the soil to settle.

While working in the orchards, it has been nice to be able to hear the bird song.

 Most of our migratory summer visitors are here now and on Saturday morning the Eurasian Golden Orioles, Oriolus oriolus, were calling for the first time this year. I have twice seen Giant Peacock moths, Saturnia pyri, this week and both times they were about early in the morning. 

This species is Europe's largest moth and with the wing outstretched, they were the size of the span of my palm and is a beautiful moth to observe.

My grape vines have started to flower.

And the Yellow Flag Iris are also in full bloom this week.

There have been Nightingales and Cuckoo's calling, Yellow male Serins, Serinus serinus, have been flitting about in the trees and at night time I have seen the Nightjar, Caprimulgus europaeus, for the first time this year. Most nights I go to sleep to the melodic sound of the Scops Owl calling, Otus scops, often with a second one answering, which I will leave you with this week, recorded from my patio. This is very reminiscent of the "pips" that were used on analogue VHF radio, before the days of digital and TETRA