Life in a Dol house
2018  -  Week 21

Adapting to climate change

I usually start my week with some sort of idea about what will be in the blog.

Then as the week progresses, which they do with what seems to be ever increasing frequency, my ideas at the start either develop or get overtaken by events. 

This week is no exception and it is the latter of the two themes, where the initial ideas are overtaken by events, discussions in this case, which have led to my musings.

Horticulture in the Mediterranean is by no means easy. I have built up some knowledge of what to expect from the climate from extensive research and reading, analysing data from my weather station and talking to people whose relatives have lived in Dol for generations. 

That can be summarised in a single sentence, "Hot dry summers and cool wet winters" - the architypical Mediterranean climate of Köppen zone CDA. 

But looking back over the four years I have lived in my Dol house - it's four years this week since I moved from Abu Dhabi to Dol - there has been a huge amount of variability around the actual weather we experience, both when compared to the same months in past years and between what locals tell me they expect and what we actually get.​

The summer of 2017 had a little more than half the rainfall of 2016 and less than all the previous years. Already in 2018, we are seeing less than half the rainfall in 2017, although there are another five months to go. 

This is the face of climate change, where established patterns of weather are changing and it is too soon to tell what the new pattern will be. 

Remember the definition of 'climate' is what weather we expect, based on past data, and 'weather' - is what you actually experience on any given day.

So much of what I do around the garden and orchards is entirely experimental. 

It is alright having a series of books on horticulture in the Mediterranean basin, but it is quite another matter applying the knowledge to the situation I have on the ground. 

There is nothing written about Dol, Hvar or even Split Dalmatia.

Take runner beans as an example. My neighbour Steve has planted two rows of beans in his garden, and he gave me 4 extra plants. I put these round one of my new sapling protection cages in the citrus orchard, on the principle that they would be easy to water and look after. Steve's plants are now almost at the top of his supporting frame, while mine are barely growing at all.​  They resemble a very dwarf French Bean!

True, mine were attacked by blackfly, a nasty Aphid, but I caught them early and prevented damage by spraying the plants with a soap wash.​

I took this photo using a digital microscope and you could get two of these on the head of a pin. 

These pests had come from a neighbour, who had a really bad infestation in his beans.

But also it is the soil. Mine is a stony clay soil which is worked out. Even generous applications of fertiliser and minerals has done nothing to persuade the runner beans to grow. 

Steve has planted his beans on reclaimed land which you can tell just by looking at it, is rich in humus and unlike mine, it doesn't bake as hard as concrete when it dries. 

I would need truck loads of manure to improve it, and with few animals, it is a commodity in very short supply on the island. 

So I think I will have to accept that there will not be any beans to harvest this year.

I am slowly developing and planting bulbs, flowers and herbaceous perennials

Some things come 'mail order' from the UK, some from elsewhere in Europe and some from trips to Split. 

There are a lot of similarities in the climate here and in Abu Dhabi. Yes, Abu Dhabi is a lot hotter in summer, occasionally reaching 50ºC, and winter was seldom less then 8ºC at night. 

Then there was the stifling humidity and salt laden air. The Adriatic sea is not as salty as the Arabian Gulf, so whilst we do have salt in the atmosphere it is barely noticeable, the atmosphere is clear, there are few hazy days and only a very odd sand storm, whipped up from North Africa.

The winters recently have been cooler than the past 30 years or so, and the summer's have been hotter, but rainfall have been erratic too. 

But there is enough similarity for me to try a number of plants and trees which I had in my Abu Dhabi garden, that I am now trialling here in Dol.

This week My neighbours have been discussing the state of their crops. 

Potatoes were planted late because of the rain and cold, waterlogged field conditions in the early spring. 

Since planting, it has been hot with barely any rain, and the result is that the potato and sweet potato crops are not just not growing, rather the tubers are baking in the ground.

The olives have been spoiled because the one rain storm we have had came at just the wrong moment and now a lot of the flowers are rotting and falling off. 

The grape vines are OK, but tomatoes, courgette and other vegetables are desperate now for rain, so all in all, not a happy picture.

I've been thinning out the grapes on my big old vine which winds its way round the patio and courtyard and provides much needed shade from the summer sun.​

It has been covered with flowers and most of them have set fruit, but with crowded branches and with experience of previous years, I have removed around ¾ of the bunches.​

Then there are the old grape vines, which I have trained to cover the arbour which leads up to the top gate and the donkey track. 

I have planted two dessert grape vines here too, but they are not ready to fruit yet. 

It is nice to walk along the path, even in the middle of the day and be in the cool shade of these plants.​

Not everything I have planted has thrived. 

In fact quite a few things have simply died. 

It has taken me three years to find varieties of raspberry which will grow and fruit in my soils, but fruiting they certainly are at the moment, and becoming a tangled jungle of canes. 

Some of it is my fault. Thinning the canes and tying in the new growth was on my "to do" list over the winter, but it never got done in time, so this year I have some dense thickets of canes. 

It will make picking a little more difficult, but not impossible.

​I bought some Spider Lilly bulbs this spring. These are Hymenocallis festalis, both red and white varieties. I had a big group in my Abu Dhabi garden and thought I would try them here. 

This week the white ones have flowered.​

The flowers are unscented, but who needs scent when you have blooms like these. I hope they will naturalise into one of the borders. 

Other bulbs I have planted, for example the Foxtail Lilly, Eremurus, and even some Amaryllis have never flowered, just producing lots of leaves.

I am at a loss to know what to do to encourage flowering. 

The other Lilly's which look superb at the moment are the stand of Daylilly I created.

I have two of them, and still keep finding more odd plants which pop up here and there. These Lilly flowers are scented and draw in the moths and insects.

I will dig these odd bulbs up once flowering is over and they start to die back, and move them.​

Not everything I plant grows. Some of it is because trying to get things you need, like seed compost and John Innes No 2 potting compost is nye on impossible. 

Last year I planted some Chocolate Puddling tree seeds, the Diospyros nigra, and despite following the germination instructions to the letter, not a single one germinated. 

I've bought some more seeds again this year and I am trying again, but this time I have mixed my own seed compost.Some of the things I plant thrive, like this Horseradish plant, which came from a root found by the side of the abandoned Ryedale railway track.

​It clearly likes the poor soil and heat.  Next to it is a Sage bush, grown from a cutting. These are in my herb border. 

A little further along, the Rhubarb roots I planted two years ago have settled in. 

It is a little dry for them, which means they are not taking over the whole border, which if left alone Rhubarb will do, but this week I harvested some sticks and made a plum and rhubarb crumble for lunch on Sunday. 

With whipped cream, it tasted rather good - sadly one of those desserts which just doesn't keep!

We have had more power cuts this week, and during one lengthy cut, I mixed a couple of buckets of concrete by hand. 

It wasn't worth getting the mixer out for such a small amount and it was to fill in a void at the base of the Konoba wall.​

Once done, I then used my breaking hammer to remove some of the render because the whole of this wall will be re done . 

The last job was to plant a columnar Oullins Golden Gage tree.​

This is another of those varieties which grow straight and tall, to a height of two to three metres, so will be ideal for a courtyard tree. 

I am thinking about putting one more columnar tree into a corner, a self fertile Apricot, and then that will be all for the courtyard. 

I will still be able to get the car in and out, or use the courtyard for entertaining, but it will also be productive as well.

I have explained before how most of what I do is experimental. 

No one here grows horseradish, gages or rhubarb. 

No one has flower gardens, in the English sense. Every piece of spare land is used for vegetables. 

Flowers and bulbs are grown in pots - rather like my Callistemon citrinus.

This variety is relatively cold hardy. It can be grown in USDA zones 8A to 10B, which includes most of the UK, so if you want to try something exotic in a pot, this is it!. 

I am letting it establish in the pot and then will contemplate moving it to a permanent outside bed.

​But what I am seeking is a balance between citrus trees, vegetables, soft fruits and drupes, with some exotics, like Kiwi, Guava, Mango and Avocado thrown in for good measure, with flowering plants and shrubs for year round interest and colour. 

The unknown factor is what Climate Change has in store for the Mediterranean, because you can only go so far in creating the micro climates conducive to making things grow.

We are now at the time of year when everything stops at noon. 

                            A siesta is taken after lunch by most living things.

​The smaller shops close until 16:00 or 17:00 and only the tourists can be seen around town as the sun approaches its zenith. 

Finding somewhere cool for forty winks become de rigour.

​As I started to draft this week's blog I heard Bee Eaters calling outside. 

These are a noisy summer migrant, that nests in sandy hollows. As I looked out of my study window I had two of the flock sitting on the electric wire outside, calling away. No wonder they sounded close. 

By the time I grabbed my camera, they had gone. But this is one of Steve's photographs

They are extremely colourful and with an easy to identify call, you know when they are about.​

My ornithologist neighbour also was lucky enough to see a European Roller down on the plain.​

This is a migrant passing through, on its way north to its summer roost. 

About the size of a Rook, it is an especially distinctive and colourful bird. 

Now having them nesting in a hollow tree nearby would be something to talk about.