Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 10

What knowledgeable readers you are

Hardly had the digital ink dried on last week's newsletter, before an email dropped into my inbox, offering a suggestion as to the variety of my mystery black plum with copper coloured leaves.

There is a variety called Prunus cerasifera nigra, or the Myrobalan plum/ Cherry plum.  I spent some enjoyable minutes researching the genus and trying to make sure this is what I have in the top orchard.

The growth habit of a 10 metre, rounded tree is right, as is the description of the bronze leaves that open and then darken as the season progresses, before turning orange as they drop in autumn. The blossom opening before everything else is correct too. There are two differences in the UK described specimens. My fruit ripens early, in June and has finished by July, also the blossom on my tree is white with a touch of rose, not the vivid pink of the RHS specimen.

But in one botanical paper, it describes variations in the tree, including those differences, so on the "balance of probabilities", I think this is what it is, a Myrobalan plum. Here in the Balkans, once spring starts, there is a headlong rush to flower, fruit, ripen and then shut systems down for the baking heat of the summer.Slowly but surely I am adding to my list of identified plants and trees. Having started with a blank sheet of paper, each time I add a new plant or tree, or positively identify something, it gets added to the list.

These trees are for sale in the UK, with a starting price of £49 for small specimens and over £100 for larger ones. My tree seems to be very fertile as I have lots of small ones that are growing from the plum stones. If anyone would like one, just call in and I will provide a free sample!

This week has flown past once again. 

On Thursday I went over to Split. I had started to run out of essential hardware to work on my new gates. Blind nailing. or secret nailing through the tongue of a piece of timber requires that holes are pre drilled for the Brad nails , to prevent the wood splitting. I am using 1.6 mm diameter, 30 mm nails, so have been using a 1.5mm wood bit. I had three, but after breaking two of them, I tried to get replacements here. At the various builders merchants, all I got was the usual air being sucked through teeth and a shake of the head. "That does it!" I thought and I decided to catch the early ferry on Thursday morning as I had enough of a 'list of wants' to make it worthwhile.

Bauhaus was almost empty and I was in and out, with my list of purchases completed by 10am. It was still raining, so I had decided not to buy any timber, which would have had to go on the roof rack and be exposed to a day of rain. I can always get it next time.

Between rain showers, when I hid under umbrellas to sample Cappuccino or Kava sa šlagom, I wandered into the green market. On one stall, there were large and inexpensive punnets of big, juicy, fresh strawberries. I succumbed!

I also came back with all the ingredients I need for  my Easter baking too. Dried fruit for traditional Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns are one of my favourites, marzipan for a Simnel cake and I also have a recipe for a Hot Cross Loaf which I think I might try. The two hour ferry journey back to Hvar was a very wet one. I doubt anyone was on the outdoor sun deck!

My new wood chipper machine was delivered late on Thursday. 

Very well packed in a sturdy box, I opened it on Friday and spread the contents out. There is a manual in German, French and English and weighing in at a fraction under 100 kg, it certainly looks like just the machine I will find very useful around the orchards of my Dol house.

Being a pilot, I read and follow manuals, even software manuals! John Cross, my first Flying Instructor always used to drill into 'Ab Initio' pilots, that 'manuals are there because someone has done the test flying for you, has made the mistakes and written them down for posterity'.

So it was with quite a degree of surprise that I kept coming across problems. The wood chipper is made by Denqbar , a specialist company from Dresden in Germany. Hitherto my experience of Germany machinery has been one of extremely well designed, well constructed and finished goods. That immortal phrase "Vorsprung durch technik" from the Blaupunkt TV adverts comes to mind when thinking of the "Made in Germany" label.

But having had to get some HSS drill bits out to enlarge holes because parts wouldn't fit and then discovering that there was no easy or straightforward way of fixing the wheels did leave me frustrated. The wheels cannot easily be removed from the axles - I tried, but don't want to damage a brand new machine.

A long bolt should go through the wheel axle frame, into purpose made tubes in the main frame, but because it is a hex bolt, it is simply too long to fit without fouling on the tyre. What also disappointed me was that my email to the company asking for technical support has gone unanswered. Germany is also usually a byword for customer service too.

Having thought the problem through overnight, and having prepared myself with threaded bar and lock nuts, on Saturday morning, I started again. Instead of following the manual and sliding the axle support brackets onto the machine frame, then inserting the bolts, instead I applied grease to the frame, and offset the wheels, so that I could get the bolt into place, then gently manoeuvred the bolt through the frame, but only just as far at the edge of the opposite frame.

Next I slid the axle through the support bracket, and gently edged the second support bracket up onto the machine frame. I could then push the bolts all the way home.

The final task was to put the steel spring lock washers onto the bolt, thread the nuts on and tighten them. Filled with petrol and oil​, it is now ready to be tried - but I want to read through the manual a couple more times to understand the controls.

In the gardens and orchards, things are growing nicely. The weeds in the citrus orchard, which I treated with Glyphoste a week and a half ago, are thankfully now looking very sick. A few days of sun next week should finish them off.

My healthy weeds in the Drupe orchard look like this.

Weeds treated with Glyphosate look like this!

I will then carefully prepare the soil for planting the Lucerne. I say carefully because my soils are a clay loam, which should be fertile, but is worn out and because of the lack of proper cultivation has become a massive seed bank for weeds. I do not want to run the rotavator over the orchard again, because it will just bring another group of seeds to the surface.

Lucerne is a legume crop, together with a weed suppressant, one it has established. I just need a window of the right weather to get it to germinate. Unfortunately the Red Clover I planted last year, to do the same job, has failed completely. In 100 square metres of orchard, with careful searching, I could find around a dozen plants. The tiny clover seeds were sown at 25 gms to the square metre!

I also have some really nice seed mixtures for wild flower borders, to attract beneficial pollinating insects and bees, whilst also adding a splash of spring colour. These will be sown in strips around the edge of the orchard.

Whilst at Bauhaus, I made a couple of impulse purchases. There were Hibiscus bushes for £1.50 or around €1.90 each. I also bought some American Blueberry or Borovnica, Cyanococcus, plants too. Blueberry bushes are not self fertile, so you need two or more varieties to get a good crop. They are also plants which require an acid soil. Here in Dol, the soil because it is limestone based is alkaline, so I also bought Ericaceous compost.

In between rain showers on Friday I planted the bushes in some large plant pots, bought from the Iranian Souk at Mina Zayed. They were immediately put out into the soft rainfall, to soak up and enjoy their new found freedom, having been released from the confines of their pots. I just need to find a permanent place for them to go.

With another beautiful day on Saturday, I surged ahead with the construction of my new gates. 

Earlier in the week, I completed the first and largest gate, rolling it into position and hanging it on the hinge pins. A perfect fit. On Saturday I drilled the opposite wall, wound in the hinge pins and did a dry run with the outer frame, before giving it a thorough coat of Sadolin wood preservative. 

The remaining decorative boards were painted and the first gate also received a second coat and final coat of paint, after having rubbed it down with fine grade sand paper.

Spanning a gap of over three metres, I think I can call the gates level.

Earlier in the week I had carefully marked the new gate and then cut the opening for the letter box with a jigsaw cutter.

Once the top coat of paint is dry, I will install and seal the cast iron letter flap, and build the box that will sit behind it. There are always jobs to be done, whatever the weather!

And that brings me to the end of another week. Progress has been made and I am looking forward to better, warmer weather next week to continue work on my Dol house.