Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 05

Opening the Black Hole

I have had a week of mixed activities this week and overall have made quite a bit of progress. 

A neighbour invited me to go with him on Sunday to his summer house, on the peninsula, north of Rudina (that's it in the middle distance above). Set in a secluded bay, sheltered from the winds, he has a single room chalet, complete with solar electric panels, where he and his family can retreat to during the heat of the summer. Although Sunday was overcast and quite grey, it was easy to imagine the place in summer, with warm water lapping the cobbles on the shore. This is another beautiful part of the island which I have not visited before.

I went over to Split on Tuesday. I am building the new gates for my driveway and needed a number of items: some screws, brad or finishing nails for fixing the outside facing boards, and also some hardware - things like drop bolts.

There were very few vehicles on the first ferry of the day from Stari Grad. Only 4 of the six lanes were in use and there were just a dozen vehicles in total. Bauhaus was unusually quiet too. After calling at one of the big supermarkets in Split, I was at Bauhaus at 8:25 and had left with almost everything on my list by 9:40. 

I say "almost everything", because two items were missing from my list. When I was looking at methods of attaching wooden panels to a wooden frame (in my case, for my new gates) the way that I was taught is called "blind nailing" where the head of the finishing nail is driven through the crease of the tongue so when the groove of the next board is fitted, the nail is then invisible. This creates a strong and neat joint.

What is recommended is that an electric or pneumatic nail gun is used.  These devices take belts of nails and propel them very neatly, but with considerable velocity into place. I don't own a nail gun, I've never really having had the need for one in the past, but I decided that I would treat myself to one, as the tool would speed the assembly of the gates, do a neat job - no more bruised timber (or thumbs) when the hammer misses the nail head, and no more need for a nail punch to drive the head of a nail to just below the surface level of the timber board. 

If you have never seen a nail gun this youtube video showcases Nail Gun Art. 

There were none to be had at Bauhaus, which got me thinking. One of the difficulties of living in different countries, is that products which are made by one company are not exported or available in all countries where the company has a market.

Black and Decker  is a good case in point. Coming from the UK, where Black and Decker tools have always been omnipresent, complete with 'Made in the UK' labels, I once thought it was a British company. It was actually started by Mr. Black and Mr Decker in Baltimore, Ohio, in the year 1910. I have a number of B&D power tools in their familiar orange or turquoise blue colours, but when I need spares, I have to get them from the UK. Black and Decker is not a brand which is seen here in Croatia. Think 'Makita' instead. 

If there are no nail guns offered for sale, then trying to find the right kind of nails, in the right cassette or belt fed format, would also be difficult. Maybe I should just buy a new hammer and nail punch instead - the low tec solution. I already have several hammers of different types, weights and sizes, and several punches, so just bought a box of 30 mm finishing nails to do the job.

I was also trying to get the right type of tile cement for the bathroom. The local builders merchant here in Stari Grad have been trying to get Cerersit CM17  for me, but without success. When I asked at Bauhaus, I was met with blank looks and was then shown the lower specification CM16. I have already lowered my aspirations, as I wanted the new Ceresit product, CM22, but it seems it is not available yet in Croatia. So I asked if Bauhaus could tell me where I might get CM17 and I was pointed to a nearby company, Colorfix.

Having completed my purchases at Bauhaus, including an impulse purchase of a cerise and a purple Cyclamen plants, I went off to Colorfix.  They didn't even have any CM16. Next stop was Građja Dostava, but they only had CM16. Back in the car, I went to Tehnospoj where it was a similar story. After being sent to two further builders merchants, neither of whom had CM17, I gave up in disgust.

You could quite properly ask why I had not done a proper "advance" to find where I could get the material before going to Split? 

But I had. I contacted the head office of Ceresit in Croatia, part of the German Henkel group, by email to ask for the name and address of their distributor in Split - twice - but they did not bother to reply to me. This is fairly typical for Croatia. You have to remember that the country is the newest member of the European Union, joining in 2013, and whilst when you find somewhere that provided excellent customer service, it rivals the best in the world and Bauhaus is one example of this, most of the time though, customer service consists of 'take it or leave it'. It has been explained to me that this is the result of decades of Socialist rule during the time of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  

What is sad is that bad customer service is expected, accepted and acceptable to much of the population. Doubly so because I find Ceresit to be an excellent range of products, just a shame that customer support here doesn't match the products.

Jumping ahead a little here, returning home on Tuesday, I dropped an email to the CEO of Henkel in Germany to let him know of my experience. This resulted in a response within 12 hours, from the company in Croatia, offering phone numbers and addresses of salesmen and the distributor in Split and offering contact with a technical expert, should I need help. What a shame they didn't reply to my first emails, because it will mean another expensive and time consuming trip to Split to get the CM17 I need!

One of the pleasures of going to Split, is wandering through the open market, which is sited next to the Diocletian Palace.  This is the Roman heart of the City, a palace built by the Emperor Diocletian  as his retirement home, early in the 4th Century AD. 

It should be remembered that very, very few Roman Emperors saw it through to retirement. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Monument, the well preserved palace is a magnet for tourists and locals alike. But today, as well as doing some shopping in the market, I also headed for the Undercroft,  where the annual plant and tree festival was taking place.

Very soon after arriving on the Island of Hvar, I was told about this wonderful annual sale of trees and plants and I was not disappointed. The undercroft is accessed down a flight of marble steps, polished smooth by the shoes of millions of residents and visitors over the millenia, from the just off the Peristyle.  In one of the many galleries which lead off on either side, I found the festival.

A narrow path led the full length of the gallery, between serried ranks of plants, shrubs and trees. Whilst many of the plants bore hand written labels in Croatian, the majority also had their Latin botanical name label as well. I had come with a shopping list. I wanted to complete my new Citrus orchard with Blood Orange and Pink Grapefruits, also a Lime tree. Then there is my new development for 2016, a stone fruit and drupe orchard, which needs stocking.

I came home with more than a dozen bare rooted Maiden Whips and potted citrus trees.  I didn't manage to find everything that I had on my list, especially Mango and Guava  but there is enough for a good start. I am reminded of the old English proverb, that you "Plant plums for your sons and pears for your heirs". 

In years gone by, when trees took much longer to mature, this proverb was indeed true, but now with modern methods, grafting and rootstocks, I hope to have a fruit crop in about 4 seasons from now. So if you want to come and visit, Autumn 2020 should be a fruitful occasion.

Coming back on the ferry it was the same story as going, with just 12 vehicles in total. There were a lot of carrier bags from the tree and plant sale in the foot passenger luggage, so I wasn't the only one coming back with things for the garden.

Wednesday was a perfect day for planting - warm, overcast and virtually windless. All the bare rooted trees had been soaking in a bucket of water overnight.

I started by erecting the supporting post at either end of my 8 metre rows. I have decided to use the "Cordon" method of growing for the stone fruits, and "Fans" for the drupes. In the area I have set aside, I will have five 12 metre rows, each spaced two metres apart, with grass walk ways between. Initially, not all the rows will be completed.

I want to plant a good selection for starters, and then look at some of the more exotic fruit trees that can be successfully grown in the Mediterranean climate.  For example, I would like to try to grow Custard Apple, Annona Cherimola  which should grow here, although it may need some winter protection, much like lemon trees. And there are a few other so called exotic fruits as well.

With the wire frame in place, I set too removing the annual weeds which have grown over the winter, then digging a hole just larger than the roots of the trees.

This pear tree then had a little general fertiliser sprinkled into the hole before soil was returned around the roots and gently firmed in, before the soil was back filled to the original soil mark on the trunk.

Growing trees using the "Cordon" method requires that the trees are planted at an angle of 45º and then tied in to a cane, which is attached to the support wires. In the northern hemisphere, trees are planted angled towards the north, to maximise the amount of light and sunshine they get during the year. They are also planted so that the Scion is facing upwards.  This is so that any rain which collects will not get into and rot the grafted union between the tree and the rootstock. By the end of the day, I had five pear trees planted, including one of the novelty fruits I want to try, the Japanese Pear,  Pyrus Pyrifolia, a russet Kosui. If you have never tried one, they are round like apples, and when ripe have a slight rusty coloured, shiny skin, but with hundreds of light spots like tiny drops of dew. Their flesh is firm and sweet with the slight hint of vanilla.

On Friday I planted the final plants in my Citrus orchard. The Meyer Lemon  already has flower buds, but sadly I will rub them out as I want it to develop a strong, open branch structure before it starts to fruit. But it bodes well for the future. There is still a lot of work to do in the citrus orchard. The green manure crop of Red Clover which I planted last autumn seems to have failed, so a little later in the spring I will plant Lucerne,  which is a very useful and long lasting legume, as well as an insectary.  


Ivan and Darko, the plumbers, have been this week, to connect up the bathroom soil pipe. First they had to drill out the old pipe from the wall, install a new grey PVC pipe and then uncover the septic tank.

Here on the island, there is no foul water drainage system, rather properties all have their own or communal septic tanks. The heavy concrete block which formed the access hatch had not been opened for many years and I had to resort to a hand winch to lift it free - simple manpower was just not enough.

This is not a task I had been looking forward to. With the access hatch swung clear, we peered into the black hole.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no smell. The second thing was that it was dry. I have been using Elsan Tank Care Sachets as microbe support to disintegrate waste matter and it seems that this has done the job intended. The third thing was that there were a lot of roots, probably from the big fig tree at the back of the donkey stable, and from the White Mulberry behind the goat house, both of which border the tank. What I did discover is that it is not a true septic tank, as there are no baffles and there is no outflow for water, rather it is an open bottomed sump pit or cess pit.

"Septic Tank",  the term used in English, sounds quite a clean term for such a necessary evil. In Spain where I lived they were also quite common and were known as the "pozo negro", literally the 'black hole'. Here in Croatia they are also called the same, "crna jama", literally the 'black tank'. 

With the new soil pipe installed and concreted in, the cover was dropped back into place and my very own Black Hole was closed.

The last day of the week has been a beautiful sunny day with a clear azure blue sky, although overnight there was a very slight frost in one corner of the garden. The 5 cm soil temperature is still in double figures and with the steadily rising sun, all of the garden is getting morning sun and the natural world is quietly awakening. Having glued the ledgers into the frame for the first of the new gates, I positioned it to check for clearances and marked the stones that had to be drilled to take the wall hinge posts.

Very carefully I drilled pilot hole for the bottom hinge post, then gradually enlarged it to take the 16 mm wall plugs. Finally I wound in the threaded hinge post to a point where I thought it was at the right depth. Next I checked the vertical alignment before repeating the process for the second and third posts. As each post was wound into the wall, I checked the alignment, vertically and horizontally. Finally I offered the gate up to the posts before marking where to drill the holes for the bolts that will hold the strap hinges.

Finally I drilled the holes, then gave the gate frame its first coat of Sadolin wood preservative.  This is one of the best protective coatings that you can give external wood. The sunshine of Saturday helped the coat to dry, but it has been left out and will get another coat on Sunday before I put the frame away under cover, because next week is going to be unsettled with rain on several days.