Life in a Dol house
2018 - Week 17

Toad in the Hole

Its been a "Bitsa" week this week. 

You know, lots of smallish jobs involving 'bits a this' and 'bits a that'. 

Boring things like filling and labelling screw storage boxes. Not at all difficult, but time consuming, however once complete it will make finding exactly the right screw, nut, bolt and washer for the next job very easy.

It's not that I didn't have a system for screw storage, but that I needed to expand it. 

I've had my original rows of little boxes for around 18 years, purchased when they were on special offer at a UK DiY store called Wicks. They have then followed me around the world in my container, to be put up of the workshop wall in a number of places.

​But the difficulty here on the island of getting the right type, length and diameter screw, when you need it, means that I buy screws in bulk, and have moved away completely from flat head (unless it is historic item) and don't like cross head because of the varieties of head and the need for different bits to get a good seat in the screw to stop the screwdriver jumping out.

With the availability of the German made SPAX brand of TORX screws at Bauhaus on the mainland, I buy a box of 100 at a time and for big jobs, like the flooring, boxes of 500.

All that needs storage space, and then a search for the right box with the screws that I need. 

It is much simpler to have everything stored vertically, but I needed to increase the number of little drawers. The 20 year old system I was using is no longer available, so I invested in some Lockweiler modular storage drawers instead.

There are still some more drawers to label, and I have supplies of older cross head screws to sort and file away, but when the heat of the day makes outside work uncomfortable, I can retreat into the cool of the workshop and spend some time sorting screws...

There are so many different types of specialist fixing available these days, far more than even a few years ago, and having dome some repairs to electrical items this week, I needed a Tri-wing screwdriver to get into the casing.

Another job has been fixing my trusty Kress electric drill - something else that has followed me around the world. 

This is a piece of nostalgia, as I remember buying the drill in the early 1980's from a kind gentleman called Bill Stubbs, the owner of the York company F R Stubbs - Ironmongers. 

This shop was like going back into history. 

In a splendid Georgian building, now listed as Grade II, standing on the corner where a hump back bridge crosses over the River Foss at the junction of Fossgate and Walmgate, going inside was like entering a time warp.

Thick oak planks on the floor, wide dark mahogany counters running all the way round the open plan ground floor, and behind from floor to the transom widows below the ceiling were drawers and drawers full of "things". 

It makes my screw storage pale into insignificance! 

Anyone who has ever watched the Two Ronnies fork handles sketch will remember the shop, the assistants behind the counter in their clean brown coats and the drawers and boxes. That is where the similarity ends though. 

You were always assured of a warm welcome and no matter how exotic the thing you needed, FR Stubbs would have it. 

On one occasion I needed door lock springs to fit 90 year old cast iron cottage locks. Not only did they have the springs, but they had a number of assorted sizes.

Finally after 30 plus years of use, the live cable broke inside the sleeve where it entered the drill, so dismantling that and repairing it was another job which needed doing. 

​A bit of soldering was required to seal the replacement connection at the switch after cutting out the broken section and it was then reassembled. I keep it in it's box, because it was made to fit. 

​On the outside I saw the price ticket was still present - £65.55 - actually a huge sum in the early 1980's, but after 30+ years, it doesn't owe me much and after adding more grease in the various bearings, it should be good for the next 30 or so. 

Thanks Bill...

If I said "Toad in the hole" to an English person something special would come to mind. 

A pound to a penny, it would conjure up an image of a well known winter luncheon dish, served with mashed potatoes and lashings of onion gravy.

In other parts of the world, the dish is sometimes called "Pigs in a blanket". 

The BBC has a really quick and recipe that I use, should you want to try it. 

I was reminded of it while irrigating by hand in the Drupe orchard this week.

I had a look down the pipes I had installed to protect the automatic irrigation zone taps, and found that I had three toads in just one hole.

​These are the local Green Toads, Bufo viridis, which are a common sight, especially as they start to mate in late June. 

I do not know where they spawn, as there is no standing water anywhere close, the opposite in fact. 

Until I get my pond dug and installed, my land resembles more of a desert than a marsh in the summer time. 

Checking all of the tubes, I found that I have resident toads in all of them. 

Clearly they like the cool and damp spaces - I find these little reptiles all over, anywhere that is cool and damp - but as they are gardener's helpers, eating a number of the predators, I will be looking after them.

I had an email this week reminding me that Friday was "Arbor Day". 

This was news to me until I looked it up and found it is an American holiday in celebration of trees. 

This is one of those days which is not universally observed on the same date by countries around the world, because of the seasonal differences. 

But most parts of the world do recognise the added value that trees provide and celebrate them, or their planting at some time in a year.

I'm really pleased with how my Prunus Japonica Amanogawa sapling is settling it. It seems to be growing well and clearly likes something - may be the fertiliser I gave it. 

At this time of year, it received sun from the moment when the sun climbs above the hills to the east, until it moves south and behind the buildings when the tree drops into shadow. 

The cherry blossom may not rival the famous Japanese Cherry Blossom festival, known as "Hanami" - yet - but wait a few years and see...

On the other side of the courtyard, I have a columnar Apricot tree to plant, but I have a few problems with the wall of the old building. 

As I've mentioned in the past, there are no foundations to my old buildings. They are simply built onto the exposed sandstone spires, known locally as "touf". 

On the inside of this building, the ground floor is the Konoba, where the wine and olives used to be kept and were turned into usable commodities. 

The walls are more or less vertical, at least as vertical as many others I have. But on the outside they bulge outwards at the bottom. 

This is not a sign of a problem, it seems it is just how the builders 130 or so years ago did things.

​But this creates two issues for me. Firstly, the bulge at the bottom, now I have lowered and levelled the courtyard, is in the region of 80 centimetres, so it restricts the width of the courtyard over almost half its length. 

The second, it just looks unsightly and a mess having been covered with some very rough plaster, then painted pink. 

I've had discussions several times with my friend Cvjetko, the builder about straightening the wall, but it will need to be done in sections, to prevent the possibility of the stones above collapsing. 

This is now going to be part of the building project, when it eventually starts.

But in the meantime, I want to plant my Apricot up against the wall, rather than sticking out into the courtyard area. So this week, after carefully marking where I plan to put the sapling, I cut back the old plaster covering to level the wall. 

This is actually the thinnest part of the bulge, so was not at all difficult. The sandstone is very stable, far more so than you would think, until you get a breaking hammer into a crack. 

If you follow the vertical lines in the rock, it easily breaks away along those lines, making it easy to remove. 

​With a board in place I now need to back fill behind it with a strong concrete mix to support the edges of the stones above, then I can plant this tree too.

I have in mind a nice shady courtyard, with sunlight playing through the leaves of the trees and in spring, the air fragrant with the smell from the tree blossom, then in Autumn, a lot of colour in the leaves.

Yes, I know, autumn leaves need cleaning up, but they will form a useful mulch, so nothing will go to waste. 

In the Mediterranean, courtyards are summer living spaces, cool with dappled sunlight, airy on the still, humid days. So turning what was a concrete floored, utilitarian work area into somewhere that can be enjoyed, with some shrubs and plants in pots is underway again. 

I just need to get the building permission so work can begin in earnest...

Puzzling over what to do to protect my young citrus trees from whatever the next winter will produce without causing all the leaves to die and drop, I decided that now is a good time to experiment with some frames to see what will work, both practically and aesthetically.  This week I ordered some lengths of 8 mm steel reinforcing rod, normally used to reinforce concrete, but flexible enough to bend, to see what it looks like. 

Volat delivered everything on Thursday. 

It is at this point, that I am sure the neighbours, should they be peering from behind their shuttered windows, will shake their heads in disbelief, as they see an Englishman with an SDS 1.1 metre long wall drill, painstakingly drilling down into the soil of his orchard, perhaps looking or water?

 Who knows what these foreigners do....

The problem is that the ground is now baked so hard, I cannot push the rod more than 10 or so centimetres into the ground, and I need each end to go in about 30, so that wind pressure will not move it. 

In a couple of places where the bedrock is close to the surface, I need to drill into that as well to get the required depth.

However once in place, I am happy with the result.

The hoops are not too obtrusive and they merge with the background. 

In winter of course, when they are covered with a protective mesh to keep the cold and especially the wind at bay, it will be different - but in winter there are few if any people around to see and pass comment on them! 

I now need to order lots more lengths, having proved the concept and then get the drill out again. 

What they will also so is form the framework shape to keep the citrus trees in a size of 2.2 meters tall and 2.5 metres diameter, to aid picking the fruit. Unlike my ancient mandarin, in the same orchard, which is some 5 meters in diameter and three meters tall and requires special picking equipment to get the fruits from the top of the tree.

​As the summer heat arrives, so to does the number of flying insects. 

Not all of them are welcome, or beneficial, but having said that I have yet to see the bane of our lives in summer, the Tiger Mosquito

However that is not a reason to be unprepared. 

Having had the windows replaced in the Konoba, none of the fly screens I made last year to fit on the outside, which are positioned from the inside, will now fit through the new window frames. 

So another job this week has been reducing the height of each screen by around 3 centimetres. 

They have been stored under cover, waiting for a the right moment, and while I was working on one of the frames, some movement caught my eye on the edge of the last frame to be removed, back in March.

Inside this frame there were several well constructed cases for pupae of something, each one very well made of dried mud and sealed with a small mud bung.

​I've found and seen these cases all over as I've been renovating my buildings. Always built where there is open access to the outside air, but well secreted in hollows, behind stones and generally attached to bare wood. 

I've saved them several times in the hope of identifying what it is that the case contains, but have never seen anything appear.

This time I was lucky and was able to watch as a small solitary wasp crept out of one of the cases and spread it's wings to let them harden before taking its first flight. 

​There are all sorts of secrets like this waiting to be observed. All that is needed is some time and patience, and the ability to recognise when there is something to be saved.

As for the window screens, I spent an afternoon working on the alterations and then fitting them back to the windows. Each one is a bespoke fit, because every window is a different size. 

Quel surprise! 

And to end on some really good news, this year's crop of fresh strawberries are in the supermarket!

Remember that our supermarkets do not import any even slightly "exotic" fruits and vegetables, so no worries about seeing and being able to buy tomatoes and lettuce in mid winter. 

There are few if any air miles involved in the import of these things. 

Bananas come in sea containers and almost everything else is seasonal, grown within or close to the Balkans. 

So if it is out of season, you're out of luck!