Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 10

Ready for takeoff

February was dry this year. But March is making up for it, with a very wet Sunday and Tuesday this week.
It did allow me to fill the propagator with trays of seeds and also to pot up a number of my miniature "greenhouses" on the greenhouse benches.

Anyone who buys cakes from your local supermarket will be familiar with the dome lidded holders that they come in. I repurpose mine (usually they come holding a croissant or five) so that with soil in the base, there is a near perfect growing environment for seeds. One is on the shelf above the propagator.

As I am unlikely to be doing much in the way of building work as the spring progresses into summer, I intend to spent the time on the gardens and orchards instead.

Whilst the citrus and drupe orchard are 80% to 90% ready for the year, the big Top Orchard is going to take quite a bit of time to lick into shape.

Moving the soil around is one job that has been done, but it is still very rough. I have a good plan and with the trees marked, the next step is to build up a rockery to hold the soil in place and get on top of the perennial weeds and especially wild briars and brambles which are everywhere. 

I would like to put in some of the nicer Mediterranean shrubs, taking a layered approach, with tall at the back and short at the front. But it is the old question of "how do you eat an elephant?" - answer: one bite at a time.... So I will be taking things slowly and trying to do bits where I can see progress.

Between rainy days, I have been working on leveling the courtyard this week. 

The mini JCB did a brilliant job of breaking and removing the concrete and then doing a general level. But at the gates, there was a gentle ramp which had been deliberately left to make it easy for the dump truck to zip in and out as it removed the spoil.

As building work is now on hold, I want to bring the car inside again, and also make the courtyard usable for the summer. Having marked a line around the bounding building walls at Ø+50cm from the finished floor level, I then took advice from UK experts on the depth to be allowed for a compacted hardcore base, bedding sand and then the block pavers. This is +/- 20cm, so I have been digging out and levelling to 70cm below the line. 

The whole of the courtyard and the surrounding buildings lie on pure sand and soft sandstone rock formations. This yellow rock is called "Touf" in the local dialect but I am pleased to say that "tuff" it is not!

The formations are interesting. They are mostly vertical and have been eroded into spikes and lumps. It did break my pickaxe trying to lever one piece out, but that was more because it is of UK vintage and the handle had rotted, than the rock being too hard. 

With a new pickaxe, my long wrecking bar and occasionally my big breaking hammer, I was able to get down to the level I wanted, working in sections to 'eat the elephant'. The spoil was then carted away in the wheelbarrow, to be removed off site later. Finally there was just a strip by the gates left.

Everything is being done in a different order to my plan, so I will have to dig a trench for the infrastrastructure services to run between the Konoba and the cottage, but cannot put them in place, because the Konoba is still being used as a store room. 

However, once dug and filled with pure sand, it will not be difficult to break out once the time comes. It also means that later when construction commences again, the heating and electric supply will not be damaged by mechanical plant, because they have not been laid in yet. 

There is an awful lot of planning and thought which has to go into even this small project, to get it right. I had planned a week's work on clearing the courtyard and on schedule, I finished on Friday afternoon. 

The final job was to cut a transitional ramp from the outside "finished level" to the inside base level. This is reminiscent of the Harrier/AV8 STOVL jump jet aircraft take off ramps although it should not make the car airborne in the process, just ease the movement from courtyard to outside world.

As the days warm, so hibernating creatures wake up from their winter sleep. Last autumn I was aware that Hummingbird Moths were looking for somewhere warm for the winter and appeared to be impressed with the workshop.

On Monday when I opened the door, I was greeted by the familiar deep hum of one of the hibernators who zipped past my head and out into the sunshine. I have left the door open on sunny days so any others can do the same. 

I also came across a tiny lizard who had crept under the dining room door - the first I have seen this year. I picked him up before Callie spotted him and found a safe hole for him to retreat into in the kitchen. 

In Spain it is a regarded as a sign of great good fortune to have Geko and lizards in your home. Apart from which they also keep the mosquito population down, even if they nightly antics, running up the walls and across the ceiling drive the cats nuts!

Whilst spring is definitely on its way, the results of the cold snap at New Year are everywhere to be seen. 

One of my neighbours has several Norfolk Island Pines, Araucaria heterophylla, a sub tropical species which originates, as the name suggests, from Norfolk Island in the South pacific. His trees have all been badly burnt by the bitter winds, as have the Bougainvillea and a lot of the citrus.

Taking his advice, I took the plastic fleece off all the saplings in the citrus orchard. With two exceptions, both varieties of Mandarin, every leaf has been dessicated on every tree.

This was the first orchard I planted up when I moved here in 2014, so they are still very much saplings. I then extended and added Blood Orange, Ruby Grapefruit, Lime and sweet Meyer lemon last spring. 

Citrus trees are cold hardy to different degrees. The lemons are the least hardy and mandarin the most. The thickers stems on the saplings are still green, so there is hope that they will produce new leaves, but the chance of any fruit is nil. I need them to put their energy in growth not fruit this year. I saw some specialist citrus fertiliser when I was at Bauhaus and will get a bag next time I go.

All around, the citrus trees, apart from Mandarin varieties, have been reduced to leafless trees. 

I have a mature Seville Orange which should be an evergreen.
But the wind and rain this week has reduced it to a leafless, twiggy mess. At least I can see where to prune though. 

Probably a job for next week, to open out the centre and generally remove the tangle. They will all be set back, but these mature trees should recover. 

As spring advances, so do the blossoms on the trees. My early plums have shed the petals in 'snow showers', covering the ground in a white layer. It is now the turn of the later varieties. On sunny mornings, the air around the trees has literally been buzzing with all the activity of the bees.

As well as the air around the trees being filled with the sound of thousands of wings beating, it has also been filled with the sweet scent of the blossom.

On Friday afternoon, the Surveyors arrived to properly geolocate all my buildings and property boundaries. 

This work is the essential part of solving the issue of the plot numbers. While they were working away with the lasers and theodolites, I started to cut the steps outside the cottage.

There will be four 18cm treads here to get from the courtyard level up to the cottage, and thence into the main buildings. 

Again it is soft sand and sandstone, which with a little "elbow grease" comes away. This work was continued on Saturday together with the fitting of some latches to hold the doors open. Finally on Saturday afternoon, I brought the car inside the courtyard again. 

It will be next week before I try the ski-jump ramp!