Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 19

Timing is everything

Having prepared the groundwork in the Top Orchard, this week I have been doing some planting. I am following the principles of good plant propagation, by letting a number of things grow, in incrementally increasing pot sizes, in my greenhouse, so that when they are planted out, they will be of a size which should be able to withstand both the summer heat and any cool or cold weather next winter.

I am using good orchard management and plant husbandry practices for plants which are tender in their early years and are considered tropical species. Although I am firmly in the Mediterranean climate area, because my Dol house is on a north facing slope, it is colder than slopes on the south side of the island but much warmer than surrounding areas, for example Stari Grad. But at the same time, being on a slope, cold air travels downhill and being at the very edge of the forest, my land is considered to be in a Thermal Belt.

There was another weather station in Dol, (I say was because it went off line in 2015) where when I compared my winter and summer temperatures, especially in the top orchard, which has it's own sensor, the orchard was up to four or five degrees warmer in winter and a couple of degrees cooler in summer than the station on the more exposed promontory by St Michaels Church. The orchard was also warmer than the Citrus and Drupe orchards, which are less than 75 metres away horizontally and three to four metres vertically and separated by buildings.

Understanding the needs of individual plants and species is as important as having an understanding of the general climate and specific microclimate of your land. Getting out early on a cold winter morning to look for frost pockets, feeling the heat in mid summer and looking at shading, understanding the seasonal prevailing winds (especially the cold winter Bura) are all important ways of getting a feel for the physical area.

There are a number of accredited ways of measuring climate, but they are quite course, or are not relevant to Dol. In the USA, the Sunset publishing organisation have an excellent 24 Climate zone scale of calculating the prevailing climate for each ZIP (postal) code, but even this has limitations because it does not always take into account the heat index and summer humidity.

But I can use this as a guide, as well as Mediterranean planting guides and then I take things into my own hands. This week I planted out two Avocado saplings, Persea americana, that I have grown from Pits. One is a Hall, the other a Hass, which was the very first seed I planted in May 2014. Now over a metre tall and with a good root system, it was ready for planting in it's final home.

Avocado's will grow in areas where citrus trees grow, so I meet that initial category, but an Avocado tree also does not have bark like others trees to protect it from strong sun, so can actually suffer from sunburn. It is susceptible to cold winter winds until it has established its thick outer canopy of branches and leaves which drape to the floor.

It does take longer for a plant grown from a pit to produce fruit and it may or may not be like it;s parent. There are also two types of Avocado flower, called A and B, and you get best fruit when A and B type flowers are mixed and cross pollination takes place. In commercial Avocado orchards, the planting distance between trees is five to seven metres and rows are five metres apart, to allow the tree to grow to full size and also let machinery get between them. In recent years there has been much experimentation in reducing the distance to as little as two metres, and then as the trees mature every other tree is removed. Early crops are said to be very heavy using this method.

So with all this knowledge I have planted my trees 2.8 metres apart and have put shade netting round them, with the possibility of putting a cover over the top in winter too. and planting them in the warmest part of the orchard.

A lot of planting out is about timing it right. In fact, timing is everything, so having prepared the ground last week, raked and removed stones and with an eye on the barometer as pressure started to fall with an approaching front and some rainfall, I planted the trees out and will nature do the rest, before I cover the ground with weed suppressing cardboard. 

Staying in the top orchard, there was one youngish tree (perhaps 8 to 10 years old), which was covered in blossom each spring but no fruit of any kind was set. When I examined it closely, it has viscious 5 centimetre spines on every twig and branch. The leaves were reminiscent of a plum or the Prunus family, but after two years of nothing, I made the decision to cut the top off this spring, in preparation for removing it completely.

On Tuesday afternoon, as it was a little cooler, I started to dig away at the root area. This tree is on the edge of a mound in the orchard. I immediately found that under the tangle of briars and weeds and thin covering of soil, there were a large number of stones, appearing to have been purposefully laid to hold the embankment back.

Once again, having no history of the property and no one alive to ask about what things were like in years gone by, I am constantly surprised by things I find. Although having a trunk circumference of just 10 cm, four enormous roots firmly anchor the remains of the tree, one a vertical tap root and three which run horizontally into the mound of earth. 

Excavating the soil and removing the stones was not too difficult, but what I had anticipated as a quite straightforward job of exposing the bole of the tree and then attaching my one and a half tonne hand winch to pull it out, now look like being a much more difficult and involved operation. It is exactly in the place where I want to plant another tree I have waiting in a big pot, a Persimmon or Kaki. So as always work started this week will spill over into next week.

On Wednesday I finished clearing the stones from the citrus orchard. I used paint buckets to move the once they had been riddled. With each bucket holding between 15 and 20 KG of stones, I calculate I have moved and repurposed over 130 KG.
Two of the apple trees I planted in the Spring have suffered because of the heat of the sun and the drying wind desiccating the leaves. THey looked really sick.
These are both new varieties of Minarette columnar apples. I am really at the extreme end of the area where apples can grow, but I hope that because of being on a north slope and with some extra care, I can get them to grow and fruit. Part of the extra care required is shade netting.
With the able assistance of Callie, who held the netting down while I cut pieces off the roll
I was able to put a small frame round the apples to protect them. Within a week, new leaves are growing and they seem to like the microclimate that I have created.

Lots of strong sunshine is good - except when it comes to my solar water heater. At the end of last week I had heard running water and some unusual noises from the patio, and when I investigated, I found that the water in the solar collecting tank was literally boiling, the pressure relief valve had lifted and boiling water was coursing down the roof. With 18 two metre long tubes, it seems my use of hot water has not been sufficient to keep the temperature in check. An alternative explanation is that the thermal efficiency of the tubes is just a bit too good!

Wondering how I could create a blind of some sort, to restrict the amount of sunlight which reaches the water filled tubes, I came up with the idea of wrapping baking foil around a proportion of the tubes. This week I have been up on the roof and have installed foil sufficient to cover ⅔ of the tubes, secured with clear parcel tape. It has worked and this week I have had lots of hot water, but no boiling or venting.

With friends visiting from Strasburg, and some changeable weather at the very end of the week, I made a lunch for them, which was enjoyed by all. Now I have some eating up of leftovers to do!