Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 22

It's just a little injection. It won't hurt at all...

Summer is well and truly here with daily maximum temperatures in the shade of over 28ºC. 

Just after the solar noon on Wednesday, I happened to look up and could see a complete halo around the sun. 

The phenomenon is caused by sunlight refracting through and reflecting off ice crystals in the very highest clouds, a thin veil of Cirrostratus some 8 - 10km or 4 - 6 miles above the earth's surface, towards the top of the Troposphere. Even with my wide angle 28mm lens, I was unable to completely get the circle into the frame.

These optical events come in different shapes with some quite common and some very rare.. Some common phenomenon would be a circumscribed halo which is oval, a light pillar that can often be seen before dawn or just after the sun has dipped below the horizon and sun dogs, called scientifically Parhelia. Taking a photograph of a solar phenomenon is difficult because I did not want to look at the sun through the camera and the auto focus resolutely refused to work. With my small Canon, I did manage to get all the halo into the frame.

Apart from the odd sky watching, most of the week has been spent in the study gradually working away on the various tasks. 

As the weather has heated up, a priority has been to complete the construction of the insect mesh frames for the windows. It wasn't too difficult a task to build the frames, glue and screw them, then create the removable fixings.

My design is quite simple. I use a piece of 4mm threaded brass rod, brass being rust proof, some 5.5cm long with a straight cut in one end to take a size 1 flat blade screwdriver head. 

With the frame held in place with a clamp, I drill a 3.5mm hole through the frame into the wooden shutter surround. The piece of threaded rod is then screwed into the hole in the shutter surround, using the cut in the head. 

The hole in the mesh frame is enlarged to 4.5mm before the mesh material is fixed to the frame. 

Everything is then slotted over the brass threaded bar and should be held in place with an M4 butterfly but and a washer. 

I say "should" because I seem to have run out of these small butterfly nuts and of course I can't get any more on the island, so I used a standard M4 nut instead. Less easy to fix, but still removable, until I go the Bauhaus again in the autumn.

With the mesh in place, there is a constant flow of cool air through the room, but without any insects, especially the Tiger Mosquitoes. There is now the little task of converting the existing glass single pane windows into double glazing. But I did find a useful tip online for removing old putty - heat it with a hair dryer first to soften it. A hair dryer is not something I have much use for...

I finished channeling out the walls for the electrical conduit and then had to cut recesses into the stone work to take the pattress boxes.

What I have noticed is that the lime plaster in this old room is a lot thicker than any of the other walls I have had to channel out. The conduit could be laid into the channeling without having to cut any stonework and in fact in places it is so deep, a lot of back filling will be needed. 

Several of the locations for the pattress boxes also required minimal cutting, with just a couple needing stones to be drilled and then removed with a cold chisel and lump hammer. I broke the handle on one lump hammer which is a shame. 

The handle was made of Ash, but where it entered the head of the hammer, it had started to rot and just broke, fortunately without causing any injury or damage.

I have had the hammer well over 30 years, and it wasn't new when I was given it, so it is probably 50 or 60 years old. Still, I will now try and source a replacement handle because it is a really useful size and weight.

In a couple of places where I was attempting to gently break up a piece of stone, the plaster surrounding my ever-so-neatly cut channel had delaminated from the wall behind and came away in pieces. 

As the wall will be covered with a lining paper before painting, I am not too worried about the repairs, because they are unlikely to show. 

With all the holes prepared, I installed the mains wiring loom and then did an initial fix of the pattress boxes. I am using two types of sockets. I mainly have European Schuko sockets which use plastic pattress fittings, but in a couple of places, I also have fitted UK BS1363 standard MK metal pattress boxes to take UK plugs. These are thinner than Schuko fittings so do not need any stones to be cut.

The main reason for this is that I have a number of devices which have moulded BS1363 plug/transformers, so I can plug them straight in. Another point is that the new standard UK outlets also come with USB charging points, something not yet available in the Schuko faceplates here.

The steel boxes are easy to fit, being screwed straight into the stonework behind. The thin plastic of the Schuko fittings has to be mounted in cement or plaster. A first fitting of this entails spraying the stonework with water, then making up a smooth, thin mix of mortar and embedding the box in this, until traces of the mortar show through the plastic.

Once the boxes have been left to dry in place for a few days, they are further fixed into the wall by packing mortar into the space around them.

I have deliberately made these gaps as small as possible, but that in itself makes back filling them more difficult. Not being especially adept with a builders trowel, I bought a pointing gun to make the process easier. 

This is essentially an oversize syringe, rather like something you would see being wielded by Hattie Jacques in a Pinewood studios "Carry on" film! 

Filling the pipe with a sloppy mortar mix, it is then a very simple and mess free task to use it for a little injection of mortar into tight spaces around the boxes. This is definitely another of those tools that should have been invented years ago...

Just for good measure, while I was waiting for the mortar to dry, I started to lay out the floor. I mentioned last week that the floor is, ahem, 'a little uneven'.

This photograph shows just how uneven the floor is - it dips in the centre by 4 centimeters! There is going to be quite a bit of wood working required to level this up. Fortunately I have the tools. It would just be nice to be able to use them in the workshop. But as it has not yet been built, I will just have to work outside....​

Looking back over the week, I really do not know where the time has gone, but passed it surely has. 

Apart from my daily checks of the orchards and morning and evening irrigation of the salad crops and the young trees, i have done little around the grounds. 

The heat of the sun, together with a drying wind has turned the soils to dust again. A good example of the difference that a little shade makes can be seen with these BuckWheat plants, Fagopyrum esculentum. They are against a north facing wall and I am growing them for their seeds which are eaten as a cereal.

This patch is in almost constant shade, whereas the rest of the crop is in full sun and is seriously affected by the dry conditions, with spindly leaves and shriveled stems, despite the water I give it.

On one of my inspections I noticed that the Pomegranate trees are covered with Aphids, a variety of 'white fly'.

But then on closer inspection I realised that they are being farmed by ants.

What is known by the scientific term "Ant Mutualism", the ants fight off aphid predators, like the Ladybirds and in return they harvest the sticky excretions from the aphids. 

I don't spray any of my orchards with any kind of insecticide. You can of course get all manner of sprays to combat insect pest, but most of them also kill the many beneficial insects. 

Then there is the residue that is left on the fruits. As these aphids do not seem to do much harm to the pomegranate crop, I will tolerate the infestation.

In the top orchard where the mini JCB re-arranged the soil back in February, I noticed that amongst the early weed colonisers, I have a lot of Poppy plants. 

However in one spot, the poppy flowers are different. Generally the poppy flowers around here tend to be orange to pale red, with a light coloured capsule and crown. I have a lot of these, where ever the soil has been disturbed.

But these poppy plants have a deep red flower with three rows of petals. The capsule is dark as are the four very distinct tufts of stamens, shaped like fans.

I will be collecting the seeds from these to add to my wild flower garden. Let me know if you would like some.