Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 13

I need a longer zoom lens

Well here we are at week 13 - three months of 2017 have passed in the blink of an eye and today is the first of April, called April Fool's Day in many English speaking countries. 

I hope you were not caught out! Spring is almost over and the early summer weather has been with us this week, with daytime temperatures reaching +25ºC 

The rain on Sunday didn't amount to more than a few spots, insufficient to register on the rain gauge and not enough to even dampen the surface of the soil, so the manual irrigation has had to continue this week. I did finish the wiring of the reinforced steel mesh and the placing of the spacer feet ready for this weeks big project though.

And of course the clocks changed here, moving forward an hour for the northern summer, which means an extra hour of daylight in the evening, with an hour less in the morning. However it is the extra evening light which you really notice.

Accurately cutting pieces of wood takes time, especially when there are lots of angles involved. 

I've spent a couple of days this week making the formwork to hold the concrete for the new courtyard steps. First job was to clean out the steps I cut into the sandstone to make sure they are deep enough for the concrete. 

Then I used some more of the old floor boards and cut them to 90cm long by 18cm deep. These will form the concrete into the risers. With these cuts out of the way, I cut two stringers and hammered in steel supports at the bottom and used stones at the top to hold them in place.

Next, and this was the time consuming job, I cut and drilled vertical and horizontal bars, which were securely screwed to the riser formwork at the bottom and to the stringers at the top. The formwork has to be level, vertical and 30cm apart to provide an adequate tread depth to make it comfortable walking on the finished steps. The horizontal supports will stop the wet concrete, once it is poured, from pushing the riser formwork out of true. I also built formwork around the old step, to fill it in and make a larger landing area at the head of the steps.

Lastly, I knocked in a couple of extra metal reinforcing bars into the sandstone courtyard floor for additional support. Creating steps and stairs from reinforced concrete is a well understood building technique. 

Because the sub-grade of these steps is a solid sandstone base, I am not adding reinforced steel to further strengthen the concrete. Instead the concrete will sit on the steps I have cut out of the sandstone underneath. 

The truck delivered a cubic meter of aggregate on Tuesday morning and on Wednesday morning, with the help of neighbours, concrete mixing was in full swing.

There was actually a point where there was a queue of wheelbarrows waiting to be filled at the mixer. 

By afternoon everything was finished.

The cesspit has been sealed and the steps from the courtyard up to the old cottage and "summer kitchen" have been completed.

All that was left was to keep the concrete moist all afternoon, as the temperature was over +23ºC, so it did not go off too quickly and crack.

On Thursday I began making preparations for my next project, creating a guest room. 

Once again, this is all out of sequence, which means there have had to be compromises, chiefly reducing my current living space, so I have a completely empty room to work in. All the electric in the village was cut off again for the best part of the day, which meant it was a good time to dismantle more of the old electrics. The wiring is the very old rubber coated wire and the rubber has become brittle with its age and the Mediterranean heat. I have all the new wiring ready to go in.

The radiator came off the wall revealing the big hole the plumber left (and hid) when he did his very poor quality installation - when it goes back, it will be piped with HEP²0 plastic pipe - so with the room empty I will be ready to start on Monday. I have moved the weather station computer base into the hallway and the antenna and CAT6 cables will all be routed in conduit in the ceiling and out of sight.

I unscrewed the formwork holding the concrete on Friday. It has set perfectly and once it has completely dried out and the colour has mellowed, it will barely be noticeable. 
In addition to the cubic metre of aggregate, I also used 250kg of portland cement and around 500 litres of water to make the concrete.
Our summer visitors are arriving. 

This week the Blue Rock Thrush, Monticola solitarius, has been singing and can be regularly seen perched on the very top of the gable of the manor house ruins in this part of the village.

This bird is shy and flies off the moment you approach with a camera. I have a 350mm telephone lens on my Canon DSLR, but even with this lens, I could not get close enough to get a good shot. I think I need to invest in a longer telephoto lens! 

Reading about the bird on various web sites, it is shown as being a year round visitor in this part of the Adriatic. It isn't. It arrives in the spring, nests and raises a brood then departs by mid summer. With its blue grey coat, it is both attractive and distinctive. 

The Serins, Serinus serinus, have been calling too. At this time of year they should be in their breeding plumage of canary yellow, but I have yet to see them in any of the orchards. 

We have bid goodbye to the Robins and also most of the Blackbirds. I suspect it is just too hot in the summer for them. One visitor I did have in the orchard this week was a Hoopoe, although I was not quick enough with my camera to capture it. This is another very shy bird, but with a highly distinctive croaking call.

I have found two of these very large moths, saturnia pyri, the Giant Peacock Moth one morning this week.

With a wingspan on 5½ inches/14CM, it was large, although their wingspan can be up to 20CM. 

In trying to positively identify it, I discovered that this moth over winters in a woven cocoon, just like the ones which I found when demolishing the old stable buildings last year.

Sadly, of the two I found, one was already dead and this example seems to have been savaged, possibly by a bird, with damage to its abdomen, antenna and wings. In any event, it also died.

They are the largest European moth. I also discovered that one of their preferred food plants is pear trees. I have 10 in the orchards, so will keep my eye open for the hairy brown and yellow caterpillars. 

It would be nice to find them breeding in my trees, even if they do feed on the leaves. I am prepared to live and let live when it comes to moths and butterflies like these.

Just a short walk from my gate and I am in the Maquis.

This week I found that wild Cyclamen whose common name is Spring Sowbread, Cyclamen repandum, were in flower amongst the rocks and in shady places in the woods. With beautiful magenta flowers, they form a carpet of colour.

Nearby there were several shrubs with masses of yellow flowers. I could identify them as a vetch, a member of the pea family, but had to turn to my books to identify them as Scorpion vetch, Coronilla valentina, common on cliffs and hillsides from Albania to Corsica.

I will be looking out for its seed pods later in the year, to add to the wild flower area of the Top orchard.

As the early flowering bulbs turn to seed, there is still a lot of colour in the garden. I'll leave you with one of my favourites, and a useful herb too, Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, with its masses of mauve flowers and wonderful scent. ​