Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 15

The view from the donkey track

It has been another beautiful week for weather, with wall to wall sunshine every day. However everyone is talking about how dry it has been over the winter and how much we need rainfall for the crops (and my gardens).

The Mediterranean climate is known for its hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. But this climate is also found throughout most of coastal California, in parts of South and Western Australia, along part of the Pacific coast of South America and in parts of coastal South Africa too. But this last winter has been far from wet.

The 2015/2016 winter is only my second here in Dol, so I have to accept that what locals say is correct. My weather station has only been in operation since November 2014, so I have just two years worth of data, which is not enough for any real comparison. But just for my information, I totalled up the rainfall amounts for the two winters and found that in the winter just past, here in Dol we had just half the amount of rainfall that we had over the winter of 2014/2015.

The total amount of rainfall from November 2014 through to April 2015 was 643.4 litres per metre², but from November 2015 to April 2016 it was just 323.4 litres per metre², with the only month having the same amount of rainfall in both years being March.

There is little wonder that everything is so dry and my wells are less than a quarter full. I emptied the wells last year, using the water for irrigation. This year, I have already started to irrigate the orchards and we are barely at the start of summer.

This I'm afraid is climate change, coupled with the effect of the huge Pacific El Niño last year, which is still affecting global weather patterns. So while the UK has seen record levels of rainfall, as has Abu Dhabi (although a lot of that is because of the Government cloud seeding programme) other parts of the world have become dryer. There is little rain on the horizon for this part of the Mediterranean. I should add that my figures are only for Dol. On either side of the village, both Stari Grad and Jelsa have different weather patterns which affect both temperature and rainfall and there is often a line across the road, where on one side there has been a soaking, whilst on the other side there has been no rain at all.

I have concentrated my work this week in the Drupe and soft fruit orchard. 

I needed to get it ready for the irrigation pipes to be installed, but that required the soil to be turned again with the rotavator and the trees and bushes to be protected with a plastic weed mat and then a thick layer of mulch. I started the week by cutting the last remaining stand of Caliente Mustard green manure and then shredding the stalks in my big wood chipper machine to create a biomass. The orchard was then turned over again with the rotavator and this was followed by raking it to make it level.

Next I used black plastic on the soil surface to shade the roots of all the trees and bushes. I found last year that I could buy a roll of bin liner bags very cheaply from the supermarket and these could either by laid one each side of the trees, or cut and placed over plants like raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. With a few stones to weigh the plastic down, I then laid a layer of mulch around each tree and plant, on top of the bag.

My experience last year of the special purpose agricultural weed matting was not good. It was quite expensive and by the end of the summer, where it had been around my citrus trees, it had rotted away because of the effect of the strong sun and UV exposure, whereas the roll of cheap bin bags that I used around my Tomatoes didn't rot down and was still protecting the soil this spring.

There are a huge number of small stones in the soil here and I used another of those really useful tools, specially imported from the UK because you can't buy them here, a garden riddle.

Once the soil has been raked a few times, there are quite large moraines of stones and pieces of clay soil formed into balls, which I then sift through the riddle. The stones I have then been using around soft fruit plants, as a pathway on the black plastic. I realise that weedling will of course grow but I hope that I can easily pull them out from between the stones. This year, I simply don't have enough mulch to put a layer everywhere I want and have had to prioritise the trees and bushes. I have now chopped up just about everything that I have to chop and will have to wait until the Autumn for more material to become available to be made into mulch.

Several times this week while I have been working in the Drupe orchard, people passing on the old donkey track behind my property have stopped and commented on how nice everything looks. I just need to try and keep it looking this way all summer. 

Weedlings will of course grow, but I intend trying to keep on top of them with a Dutch hoe and a rake. It has taken two years of hard work to get the ground into this condition and I intend keeping it this way.

I also installed two more posts to support trees - these will be for fan trained Fig trees.

The posts are ones which were used to support a grape vine on the old flat kitchen roof, so I am recycling them. First job was to dig a deep hole.  Then I gently slid the concrete base over the hole and pivoted it downwards, so than no soil fell into my carefully excavated hole.

Last task was to backfill around the post and cover the concrete.

As the days grow longer and warmer, I have been planting out plants which have been over wintered in the greenhouse. Last year I grew four different varieties of Passiflora from seed. These are the varieties which produce fruit, as I think that with the summer heat and length of growing season here, I should be able to get them to fruit in Dol. The seeds germinated successfully and they were in a large seeding box in the greenhouse. All was well until the day that Callie decided she wanted to sit on the shelf where the Passiflora seeds were. I found the box on the floor and the seedlings spread across the pile of growing compost. All my careful labeling of plants went out of the window! I recovered the seedlings and potted them up. The survival rate was OK and they have been in the greenhouse all winter.

This week I put up some transparent netting between the poles on my Arbour and then planted 10 of the seedlings in various places. I could identify two different types of plant by the colour of the stems and shape of the leaves, but the giant Granadilla, which has an especially beautiful scarlet flower, seems to be missing.

I shall have to wait until later in the year when they are in flower to see exactly what I have planted.

Other things have been planted, for example the Lemongrass which has also been overwintered inside and is now growing strongly, together with some red, white and blue Buddleja

The buds have burst in the Giant Alliums I planted in January.

The Allium flowers should be globe shaped, but as this is their first year, I will be happy just to see them bloom at all. The bees certainly seem to appreciate the nectar.

Elsewhere, I have blue Iris in flower and the buds are forming on the yellow iris.

All these flowing plants have been strategically positioned so that they can be seen from the Donkey Track and will hopefully provide a nice view all summer. My eventual objective is to have something in flower every month of the year, but to do that I need to understand the microclimate here in Dol and then select and plant accordingly.

One unusual growth pattern I have seen this week is with my very large and very old Fig tree. There are two branches, just above the roof of the donkey stable, which are covered with fruit, whereas every other branch is bare.

Reading up about figs, I find that given the right climate, figs will produce two crops a year, an early crop in late May to June and a regular crop in August/September. 

It would seem that these two branches have been protected so that the fruit buds which formed last Autumn have not been killed by the winter cold and have produced an early crop this year. Now I just have to work out how I will get up to harvest them.......

There are butterflies of myriad different colours everywhere. I spotted this Small Copper, Lycaena Phlaeas, on some wild flowers and grasses.
In the orchards, both Risha and Callie are enjoying chasing the grasshoppers. I'm not sure the grasshoppers are as keen on the chase as the cats are though.

I hope the weather where you are this next week, will allow you to get out and enjoy the countryside.