Life in a Dol house
2018  -  Week 32

Starting with a clean sheet

Being another hot day on Sunday, I was trying to find a job to do in the shade, so started to look at the cover over the water meter. 

It's been very hot here all week, so time for researching, thinking, reflecting.... and not a lot of manual labour.

Mains water only came to the village in the 1970's or 1980's - local people are unsure exactly when - but in the very recent past. 

My rising main crosses my neighbours garden, comes under the wall next to the path down to the Top Orchard and after a few twists appears under a cast iron cover alongside the path. 

It was this meter which froze solid, along with around 1,000 others on the island, in the New Year freeze of 2017. 

The meter is in a Heath-Robinson pit lined with stones and a bit of lime mortar. 

After the freeze, I filled the pit with sawdust and wood shavings to insulate the pipes, and in winter put fleece and bubblewrap over the meter head to protect it. 

Having dug a trench along two sides, for pipework to remove surface water from the courtyard and for the pipe for the roof rainwater downpipe, as I looked at the lopsided cover, I decided that now would be as good a time as any to get some concrete blocks and make a proper pit for the meter and for the cover to rest on.

One of the jobs I did with the laser level a week back was to mark the walls all round the courtyard, for the finished floor height. 

It was easy to extend one of these lines with a spirit level and see that I need to lower the height of the cover by around 15mm so it will be flush with the eventual finished floor. 

Progressively during the week I have worked on this project. 

The pipe joints I needed were delivered by Volat and I easily completed the main drain from the centre of the courtyard with the 15º bend. 

Before covering the pipe I did a water test, pouring a couple of litres in at the point in the courtyard where the bottle trap will be. 

I then waited for a short while before the trickle of water came out at the open end. 

With a fall of just one inch to a chain, that was exactly as it should be.

I don't want a raging torrent, just enough fall to move the rain water to where it is needed.

I then back filled around the pipe with small stones followed by a covering or graded sand and raked the sand level. 

Removing the surround of the water meter was easy.  They just fell away.

The pit which contains the meter was just a rough hole in the earth, with some stones on top of each other to keep the soil back and a bit of mortar on the top to hold the cast iron lid more or less in place. 

This was easily removed and I established a level for the base with some pieces of rebar.  

I bought concrete blocks which will be used for the new sump walls, then went in search of some aggregate to make up a small batch of concrete. 

That was the hard part as I seem to have used most of my supply. 

I have a lot of what is here called "Noulla" - crushed stone that is used to make mortar, but I really had to scrape around to get the aggregate. 

Gathering some flat stones, I put them around the inside of the sump to create a formwork to hold the wet concrete foundation in place while it dries.

What does concern me is the state of the stopcock on my side of the meter. 

Two or three times a year, I go round and close then open the various stop cocks and gate valves I have, to make sure they operate, so in an emergency if needed, I can turn the water supply off. 

The valve on my side was very hard to turn and started to weep after I had opened and closed it a couple of times. 

I think a replacement is overdue, however it has been fitted in such a way that simply removing and replacing it with a new one will mean cutting pipes. 

In plumbing, there are a number of ways to create a frangible separation joint, but none of them have been used here. 

As I replace pipework, as I mentioned last week, I use the modern green Vargon Vargoterm PP-R "polypropylene random copolymer" welded pipe and fittings. 

In the catalogue, they have just what I need, although I expected getting it may be more difficult. 

These unions have been used for tens of years and come in different materials. 

You probably have several that you don't know about in your heating system, so if a part like a motorised valve or pump fails, it is easy to remove and replace, with a minimum amount of work and no soldering required. 

It's annoying that for the want of a little bit of effort and a small extra cost, things like a tap, which will eventually leak or fail and require replacing, have been rigidly fixed in place instead of using accepted good practice to allow making changes to be simple. 

Whilst some might think that this is a degree of "protectionism" from a tradesman looking to ensure future business, I very much doubt that is the case here. 

More likely is that it comes back to what fittings are readily available to hand and simply not thinking! 

Whilst the green pipe is all metric sizes, all metal pipe and fittings are imperial sizes - for a reason no one can explain - so my box of UK plumbing supplies still comes in useful. 

Essentially I have started with a clean sheet of paper and have designed a new layout for the pipework to remove and harvest rainwater and make it easy to replace a failing tap or washer. 

I can't do anything about the incoming pipe under the wall and through my neighbours property, but I can make sure everything on my side works as it should. 

First thing on Saturday morning I was at the only plumbers merchants on the island in Jelsa. 

They had the frangible joints that I needed, but what surprised me was that they had no gate valves or stop cocks. 

They will have to order them and get them next week. 

So as the weekend is already here and it is extremely hot outside, I'm leaving mixing a few buckets of concrete as there is no rush, because I can't complete the block work until the pipe fittings arrive...

One of the things which attracted me to my Dol house was the fact that it was surrounded by land which had once been orchards. 

These had been abandoned because two old ladies had lived in the property on their own, until they passed on and their nephew inherited it. 

It was then rented out until the week before I moved in. The renters had goats, chickens and rabbits and had grown some vegetables, but that was about it. 

The goats and chickens kept the weeds down, no doubt added something to the impoverished soils and annoyed the heck out of the close neighbours. 

I arranged for all the land to be turned with a rotorvator then set about planting or replanting trees. 

What I hadn't understood was the poor quality of the soil in the two southern orchards. 

The third orchard I have done some work in, but it is still very much a "work in progress"has much deeper and better soil. 

I have a number of mature trees and have dug out a lot of tree stumps. One of the mature trees is a common fig, which has more fruit on it this year, than ever it has had in the past.

I've planted a Brown Turkey and also a New Brunswick fig

This is so I have a succession of varieties, through the fruiting season. The Brunswick is a newer variety with a large fruit and it is cold tolerant enough to be grown in the UK, even without this year's baking summer.

The Brown turkey is quite large, russet coloured, juicy and sweet.  I have to say that i was never really impressed by the fresh figs in the UK, which always seemed to taste of cardboard.  It was only when I lived in Spain and had a fig tree in the garden, that I tasted fruit straight from the tree.

There are hundreds of fig varieties, some of which will grow in the UK, some semi tropical, but like the different varieties of pear I have planted, they are there because they fruit, they will tolerate the poor conditions of the orchard and will be giving fruit long after I have gone. 

As the old saying goes, "Plant plums for your sons and pears for your heirs".

One of the largest trees i have is a plum, known in dialect as Zemzelia. The variety is unknown, but the fruit small, round, a golden yellow, are sweet and in past years have been plentiful. 

A very late frost this year put paid to most of the blossom however. 

I've picked several kilos of figs, far more than I could eat, so have been preserving them for the winter. I have lot of strong glass honey jars, which are ideal to keep preserved fruit in. 

The first batch I made with white wine, brown sugar, a vanilla pod, cardamom pod, cinnamon and coriander seeds, giving a spicy "mulled wine" flavour. 

The second batch I made with a caramel sauce, to give a sweet sticky toffee flavour. 

There are so many things that you can do with fruit, it just needs a bit of imagination. But you have to plant the trees and bushes first. 

I had some visitors this week from Zagreb who were talking about symbiosis

I have planted the Lucerne in a row between the cordon fruit trees, to draw the deep nutrients up to the surface for the fruit trees to use. 

Already after four months, the roots have gone deep and the plants cannot be pulled out by hand. The literature says they can reach down fifteen metres, but I'm not going to try and find out, whilst on the top, they suppress the annual weeds. 

This is another of those win-win plantings, for example when you make sure that you mix tomatoes with mint, to prevent insects and improve nitrogen takeup. 

Not everything works and the horticulturist needs to be careful about what he mixes but there are natural insecticides you can use. 

If you plant Marigolds near beans, the Marigold roots leach into the soil a substance, yet to be identified, which the beans take up. Then when aphids visit the beans, they think they are eating Marigold and don't do much damage because they don't like the taste. 

There is still a lot which we do not understand.

The leaves are already staring to fall and fill the gutters and the courtyard.

Partly because of the lack or rain, but also vine leaves change colour and start their Autumn moult earlier than other trees and plants. 

So I now have another chore - the collection of leaves to add to the compost heap.

Gathering fruit, making preserves for the winter, picking vegetables, they all are some of the great pleasures of practising horticulture. 

But it does remind me that times passes so quickly and there is still so much to do!