Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 12

The law of holes.... and a 20º degree week

With another week of wall to wall sunshine, the cracks in the parched orchard earth are growing wider. 

As the soil has baked harder, I have given up trying to hoe the weeds and have resorted to a glyphosate spray to eliminate the worst of them. Weeds seem to be a recurring theme of my garden musings!

I have been working on finishing the cesspit this week. It didn't take long to establish a rough level round the pit. 

Once that was done, I used a bucket and shovel to remove the sand and sandstone pieces which had fallen in. It did rather remind me of the Law of Holes - "When you reach the bottom of the hole, stop digging!" With that task finished, I started to make the frame for the wooden shuttering which will form the base of the concrete top.

Perhaps a bit of overkill, but I have used pieces of 25mm square steel section as the base for the boards, because the boards are all well beyond their "sell by" date. 

All this is recycled material. The steel sections came from the old metal roof over the patio and the wooden boards, which will remain in situ once the concrete has been poured as there is no way to remove them, are the old floor boards from the dining room. They are fit for nothing but this, or firewood.

Installing and levelling the first metal support was easy and I found that my approximate level was very close and just a minimal amount of packing or material removal was needed to get them spot on.

I also reinstalled the soil pipe, with a new piece cut to size and the 90º bend changed to a 45º instead. It should mean that the rodding eye will never need to be opened. 

With the level established, I then spent a couple of days installing all the formwork and shuttering for the concrete. Once again, getting a master point level was the key, then using a long spirit level I could lay the formwork onto the steel supports and cut the shuttering for the south edge. The other three sides are bounded by earth and will be covered by the final floor, so having a neat, perpendicular edge is not necessary. 

With the woodwork finished and level, I started to build the reinforced steel framework which will sit in the middle of the concrete. I can buy the ready made steel mesh, but the standard size in 6 x 3 meters. I need less than 3 x 3 meters, so I would have had a more than half wasted. 

So instead, I ordered lengths of 6mm steel rod, and then built the frame myself, wiring the joints rather than welding them. With holes drilled into the edge shuttering, I simply slotted in all the longitudinal pieces and then cut them to the exact size with my angle grinder. The off cuts were then used for the cross pieces.

The longest job has been using thin wire to lock each joint together. Once I had the right length of wire I needed, I just cut lots of lengths off a roll of wire and then used a pair of pliers to tighten them. 

 As Saturday lunch time arrived, I wrapped up for the week, with all the steelwork cut to size and a third of it wired together and the support legs installed.
Work on Tuesday was interrupted because I had a delivery of some more fruit trees. 

These are the special columnar varieties, which will only grow to a restricted height and will not produce any side branches.

These trees are bred so that if you have restricted space availability, or want to maximise the use of the available space, which is my idea, the trees can be planted close together. It will mean that if it becomes necessary to protect the fruits from birds (here I am thinking of cherries particularly), being close together and being only two meters tall will make them easy to net.

As the spring advances, many of the trees I planted last year in the drupe orchard are now in blossom.
Sadly though, I will be going round cutting off all the blossoms, because in this, their second year, I need them to put all their energy into developing a strong root and branch system, not into fruits. 

Much as I am tempted to leave some, I need to prune for the future, not to get a few fruit this summer. 

The raspberries are a different matter. Although a few of the plants from last year seem not to have survived the winter, quite a few are growing really strongly. 

Mid-day temperatures every day have been over +20ºC, so I also brought out and fitted the screen door for the dining room. This has meant I have been able to have the doors open without worrying about any of my neighbours cats coming in and helping themselves to lunch. 

These temperatures also mean that I have started to irrigate the trees I planted this year and a couple from last year which are already looking stressed with the heat.

A stray cat is also trying to get himself adopted. 

Called Snagglepuss he is a Tabby with a white shirt front and white cuffs on both front paws. I think he has been someone's pet who has either been thrown out or has got lost, because he is not a ferral. He likes being stroked, actually plays nicely with my two felines and has laid claim to a cardboard box by the door to sleep in.

This week when he got stuck up the old grape vine near the kitchen, he was quite happy for me to lift him down. Feral cats tend not to get stuck and definitely won't let you pick them up!

While working in the Top Orchard, I felt something crawling up my arm and when I looked, saw I had a tiny green Katydid nymph, no bigger than a grain of rice.

Last year I found a number of adult katydids and I was concerned that having moved soil around with the mini JCB back in February, quite an amount of insect larvae in the topsoil will have been disturbed.

Katydid's over winter as eggs. Their life cycle is a year or less. In the autumn, the female lays grey eggs on evergreen plants or in the soil. In the spring the Nymphs emerge. They then go through several moults before becoming adult size. This nymph has no wings yet, so it has only just emerged. 

They are welcome in my orchards because they eat insect pests and I hope there are many more than this little guy.

As the day length increases and the days warm up, so many insects are hatching.

I saw the first Swallowtail butterfly, Papilo machaon, of the spring on Friday morning, feeding on nectar.

We have also had several foggy mornings, just until the sun was high enough to burn it off.

Although the bitterly cold weather at the turn of the year is but a distant memory, I am reminded of it every day. One or two of my citrus saplings are showing the first new shoots, but there are several which seem to have been killed off by the cold weather.

Some plants seem to have responded to the cold. My large Fig tree has dozens of Breba fruit

There are a number of fig varieties which are called Breba, because they fruit twice in the year, once in the spring and then again later in the autumn. Looking at figs around the village, they are all showing signs of the breba crop - the first time I have seen it, so I presume it has something to do with the cold spell. 

The rain never materialised this week, but looking at the forecast, there is a 25% chance of rain tomorrow morning, so I better go and cover up the 375kg of cement I have had delivered, ready for concrete mixing next week!