Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 20

They're Back!

Have you ever tried to find out the name of a plant? 

It's not always as easy as you might think. Talking over the fence with my neighbour, she pointed to a small bushy plant with yellow flowers and said that if I broke a stem at a leaf joint, the orange sap which appeared could be used to treat spots and sores on the skin.

I duly broke a stem and a gooey orange sap quickly formed at the wound site. I was intrigued by the story and tried to find out more about the plant. The leafs are quite distinctive, but putting my description into Google did not produce the name. I uploaded photographs in an attempt to match it to something already on the internet, but whilst Google came back with huge numbers of plants with small yellow flowers, none had the same leaves.

I have two books of Mediterranean wild flowers, but neither has a particularly easy way of searching. The illustrations are excellent, but without ploughing through several hundred pages, in the hope that you spot the right plant (which I have done in the past), I was drawing a blank.

I decided that I will keep it in the top orchard, perhaps move it in the autumn or save seeds and plant some in my wild flower garden, but I really wanted to know what it is.

I sent the photograph and a description to a friend who knows a considerable amount about Homeopathy. She also drew a blank in her books, but with a simple search for a "plant with orange sap and yellow flowers" came up with the answer. It is a Greater Celandine, Chelidonium majus, and it has a number of useful properties as it contains a range of medical alkaloids, is antimicrobial and can even be used for cauterizing small wounds. Useful for considerably more than the treatment for spots. But it did make me wonder about what knowledge will be lost as people who can practice homeopathic medicine on the island pass away and what else there is on my land, that I do not appreciate the value of.

Also in the top orchard I have just a single specimen of a pretty cerise flower.

I found it last year, and this year have protected it, as I was cutting down the grass and applying herbicide. There is only one, under an old olive tree. This time it did not take me long to find out what it is, a Grassy vetchling, Lathyrus nissolia, a member of the sweet pea family.

In my perambulations around the village, I have noticed the huge number of wild flowers which grow in old olive orchards. 

There are two different kinds of orchards: one where the owner uses a rotavator to clear all the grass from underneath the trees, leaving just bare earth; and the second where grass and flowers are allowed to grow, with the grass being cut to stop it getting too long. Whilst a neat and manicured orchard is pleasing to the eye, equally so a traditional orchard, with the gnarled trunks of old olive trees and an under covering of grasses and flowers can also look as though it is cared for, but in a way that is in sympathy with nature.

It has made me more determined to ensure that my orchards are in sympathy with their surroundings. Once the invasive perennial (and often deep rooted) weeds have been eradicated, I want to plant between the trees, but with plants that will sustain beneficial insects and at the same time will prevent weeds from gaining a foothold again, by covering the soil. I think there will have to be some trial and error to see what grows here in the different soils, but I have the time.....

With the increasing temperatures, some of the less welcome insects have reappeared.
I was bitten by an Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus, when I was in the kitchen on Tuesday.

This is an invasive species in the Mediterranean, coming from Asia, and believed to have arrived in Europe through the import of so called "Lucky Bamboo", that curling, attractive plant which is often seen for sale in shops and nurseries.

It has gradually spread around the Mediterranean basin, becoming a pest in many places,

because of its preference for a human blood meal, and the fact that they will fly and bite throughout the day and twilight hours, will bite through clothing and are vectors for a number of diseases, including the Zika virus. In 2010 it was established that they were carrying Dengue virus in parts of Croatia.

My immediate thought as I tried to swat the pest as it buzzed away after biting my arm was, to use the cliched movie catch phrase, "They're back", followed by, "I need to get the mosquito mesh out". And thirdly, "where is my electric bug swatter"? Because of the danger that these insects present, a lot of work is being done on ways of catching them. One promising development from France is a picture sized sticky board, that smells of sweaty feet. Apparently they are highly attracted by human body odours! They land on the board to investigate, and stick fast. (They're all over! - pause as I try and swat one that just flew in front of me here in the study)

Until these developments are commercially available, I will have to make do with the simpler option. I opened the box for the screen door that I bought last year, but never assembled. When I read the instructions, I discovered that it needs to be mounted inside a wooden frame. Looking at the box, it seemed to be fitted to a wall, which is what I was planning. That meant I needed to build the frame. I have a reasonable supply of timer in store, so chose a straight length of 5 x 7 cm. After cutting it to size, I ran them through the thicknesser machine to give me two uprights and a top rail, all exactly the same dimensions.

I then used one of my favourite and useful wood working tools, an adjustable marking gauge to mark where I will cut the joints.
I am only cutting one tenon joint in each upright, and a straight one at that, as it is not load bearing.

Cutting the straight cuts was started on my band saw, and things were going well until the steel saw band snapped, so I finished the cuts with a sharp tenon saw, then I removed the centre tongue with a chisel.

Last job was to undercoat and top coat them before gluing and fixing them to the wall outside the dining room door. By the end of Saturday they have had primer and two coats of undercoat, before being left to dry.

Next will be fixing the joints, then a gloss top coat and attaching them to the stone wall and building the screen door.

The white Day Lilies, Hemerocallis, have come into flower this week. They have a wonderful scent and standing in three drifts look lovely in the sunshine.
Being visible from the donkey track, they are a talking point of people walking past.
Fruit on my big White Mulberry, Morus alba, has started to ripen.

This year there are a lot of fruits on the tree and they are big an juicy. I have picked some which had ripened.

We had some much needed rain in Friday. 

Not a huge amount, but just the right kind of slow steady rain which soaks in rather than runs off, and does a lot of good. It will make more weedlings germinate of course, but I am keeping on top of them at the moment. With the rain came some isolated lightning strikes and distant thunder, but even so it was sufficient to cause power outages. Then later the electric company cut power a couple of times, presumably when resetting their systems. I am pleased to say that the on line UPS system I bought and installed after the last power cuts worked flawlessly cutting in and continuing to supply power to the routers and weather station when the mains power was lost. Power was not off long enough to see how long the batteries and inverter would last for, but at least I know it works.