Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 15

I've got Pygmies in the orchard

I've been over to the mainland again this week. 

Doing the rewiring of the new guest room, I ran out of 16mm conduit and could only get orange here on the island. I had a fairly long list of mostly non-essential items I needed - things like a 22mm socket and a MAX/MIN garden thermometer - but things I need for some specific jobs. So it was worth taking the trip over and coming back with the car loaded to the gunwales.

As I gradually complete the rewiring of the whole property, I have used colour coded conduit, so I and any one else who follows me can see by the colour whether they are dealing with a ring main, a lighting circuit or a data (internet of things) line. 

As well as colour coding, I am labelling wires with tie wraps, properly recording the circuit diagram on paper, which help with later fault finding and just for good measure, taking photographs.
This has already helped when I was installing kitchen cabinets, so I knew exactly where the wire runs were and hence where not to drill. 

The digital camera is a brilliant tool for recording this kind of thing. But you do need an indexing system. I use a programme called XnView, which is easy to use and records tags for each photo, which are then searchable.

So recording these wiring photographs under "infrastructure" and by room name means I can quickly find a photo of something I need.

With some 2,500 photographs taken each year since I bought my Dol house, all of which have now been indexed and tagged, in itself not a small task, I can now find what I want quickly. 

A search using the tag "Infrastructure" yielded 539 results, which when shown as thumbnails in the programme, are easy to scan and find what you need.

Another item I brought back with me was a couple of coils of seeping irrigation pipe. 

This "weeps" to allow moisture to penetrate the soil. With a dry winter, my water cisterns are less than ¼ full, so I need to make sure every drop of water is used to best effect. 

I installed two lengths of pipe in the Top Orchard, against the north wall. The first is close to the wall and 25cm deep, to water the fruit trees I am planting against the wall. Digging the trench, I found the soil was dry down to this depth, but after running the system for the first time, when I did some planting on Saturday, the moist soil was already apparent. Being underground, the system will deliver moisture directly to the roots without evaporation taking place.

I then put a second line in, but only 8cm deep, for tomatoes and salad crops. I plan for a third line in the future and also extensions once the stones have all been used and moved, so the appropriate connectors have been used throughout, with future expansion in mind. And just for good measure, I have photographed it, so as well as my plan, I have a record of where everything is.

The soil in this orchards is immeasurably better than elsewhere on my property, due to this orchard having been used for chickens and goats in the past. So although the soil is as dry as dust, I was easily able to riddle it as I back filled the trenches, to remove large quantities of small stones. 

I am experimenting again, using the technique of catch cropping, between the rows of trees in the orchard. But even in early summer, the wall is really warm and once more it is experimenting to see what will grow and thrive, and what will not adapt to the direct and reflected heat. On Saturday I planted a number of the trees against the wall, things like a Kiwi, Jabuticaba and a Guava and later I will plant things like Okra and Cape Gooseberry.

As I have started irrigating this week, I discovered two more failures caused by the January cold. 

I had left the plastic branches which the irrigation pipes are attached to, connected to the taps. Obviously some water was still in side, because both have cracked and have had to be replaced. A lesson for next winter - remove everything you can!

Two mornings this week, I have been woken to the sound of a Nightingale, Luscinia megarhynchos, singing in trees close to the kitchen. 

Although we do get Nightingales in the UK, (famously in Berkeley Square) I have never heard one before moving to Dol. It really is the most beautiful song, and yet the bird is small and brown. But what it lacks in beautiful plumage is more than made up for in its song. 

One afternoon there were two calling to each other. Now having a Nightingale nesting in the orchards would be something to write about....

Callie, my youngest cat, has been bringing in "presents" again this week.

She is a hunter, but unlike most cats of my acquaintance, she has an extremely soft mouth and is quite content to bring me her trophies, very much alive, and then to watch as I try and catch them. 

Many people are upset by the natural instinct of a cat to catch their prey and then play with it, until it is deceased. The hungry feral cats will eat whatever they can. 

Well fed domestic moggies will often just leave their dead prey for their significant human to remove. 

Cats do take a significant toll on wildlife, with the UK estimating 275 Million are killed each year. 

Callie has seldom killed anything. Rather she brings it home very much alive and used to deposit the item in the bath and then come to tell me about it. Since the bathroom was remodelled and the bath removed, there have been occasional items of prey left cowering in the corner of the shower, but this week, it has been the floor of the living room. 

One evening, shortly after sunset, Callie came through the catflap and deposited two tiny shrews on the floor. They immediately darted off in different directions to find shelter under any item of furniture where they would fit. Being shrews, that meant most items of furniture. She then watched as I tried to coral them with clear plastic jars.

Shrews are a gardeners friend. Unlike mice, which are rodents and will chew anything and everything, shrews east insects, spiders and snails, of which I have a lot of the latter.

As I was scrabbling about the floor on hands and knees attempting to cover a fast moving shrew with a jar, and then to slide a piece of card under it, I was certain Callie was just laughing at me. I should say that I am not a shrew expert, but these were tiny little fellows, no more than 4cm from the tip of the nose to the tip of the long tail - less than the length of your finger.

My books tell me that shrews are absent from most islands in the Mediterranean. They also say that to tell if it is a Common Shrew, Sorex araneus, or a Pygmy Shrew, Sorex minutus, you really need to examine the teeth (usually post mortem), because the pygmy shrew's teeth have red tips. 

The Pygmy Shrew has a proportionately longer tail than the common Shrew. Certainly these two seemed to have tails which were longer than their bodies, so on the balance of probabilities, I think they were Pygmys. 

I managed to catch both of them and I released them into an orchard area where I thought they might have a chance of surviving - at least there are a lot of snails there and the following day there was no sign of them, so I would like to think they have made their escape and will have a story to tell their offspring. 

Recounting the story to my ornithologist neighbour, he asked if I had taken photographs. I hadn't. As I was on the floor attempting to capture one of the little perishers, who definitely didn't want to be captured for a second time, the thought did briefly cross my mind, but I was more concerned to get them back outside into relative safety. 

It's nice to know that I have Pygmy Shrews somewhere in the orchards.  

On Friday, it was the turn of a Large Psyammodromus lizard, Psyammodromus algirus. This lizard can be identified because of its very long tail and grey brown coloured scales and blue spot on the side of its head. Again, Callie brought it in, very much alive. As it was just after sunrise, the little fellow was quite lethargic and allowed me to pick him up and deposit him under some Ivy on a rock wall, in the sunshine. 

This time I did take his photo.
I am still counting the cost of the winter cold. 

It has definitely killed my Red Banana, Mango and custard apple trees. In the citrus orchard, some of the saplings are starting to sprout from below the grafting union.

Most modern fruit trees are grafted onto rootstocks which then provide different characteristics, for example a reduced growth height, or a columnar form and resistance to diseases or cold and drought tolerance. 

Citrus trees are grafted onto only three or four rootstocks. All the trees come with a comprehensive label identifying the type and the rootstock, so I will be able to replace all those that have died, but now I have more knowledge, I will try and get more appropriate trees for this area. 

The problem is that no one knows whether the week long freezing event which we had at New Year is a "one off" event, or will become the "new normal" as we continue to move into the uncharted territory of global climate change. 

Of the ten saplings that I have planted, five in 2015, five in 2016, there is only one, a variety of Mandarin which is unscathed. One grapefruit is growing new shoots and look as though it has recovered.

Two Meyer lemons have shoots coming from the graft union, but I can't tell whether they are scion wood or rootstock. Two grapefruits have suckers coming from the rootstock, but the scion appears to be dead and four orange and lemon trees have no sign of any shoots. 

When I pulled the mulch away from the trunk of one sapling, there is sign of fungus on the wood, so I suspect there is little chance for them to survive. 

My largest orange, a Washintonia Navel, with a trunk circumference of 45cm also appears to be completely dead. When I peeled a bit of the bark back, underneath there are signs of fungus and also an insect attack. And this tree was in a sheltered position against the kitchen wall. 

All in all a disappointing winter.

As the seasons move inexorably forward, so the first of the summer plants have come into bloom this week. 

My Yellow Flag Iris, Iris pseudacorus, is a couple of days earlier than last year.

The English Bluebells I planted last year have started to naturalise and multiply and look much healthier than the ones which appeared last spring.

There are still lots of jobs to do. 

I am posting the Blog a few hours early this week for two reasons: one it is too hot to work outside in the early afternoon, and two, I think there will be some rain over the next two or three days, may be not much, but I want to plant out tomatoes and peppers in the cool of the evening, to benefit from any rain we may receive. 

So instead of slaving over a hot computer keyboard on this Saturday evening, I will be in the orchard, irrigating trees and planting cuttings from the greenhouse.