Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 17

A Tiger Moth in the garden

I have been working hard on getting the wiring finished in the guest room this week. It has been complicated by the fact that I am not just dealing with electrical wiring, but with coaxial cable for the weather station antennas, video feeds from the weather camera and fibre optic data cables for the internet. 

Added into the mix is a new system to convert a USB cable to data as well. 

I decided that I would add a couple of extra data cables for the future, while I was in the hall ceiling, the theory being it is easier to add them now than later, when I need them and have to try and feed them through. 

I invested last year in an Oscillating Cutter and it has been worth it's weight in gold this week. This is one of the newer power tools to become available. There have been electric drills and circular saws for donkey's years, but this tool has a number of different blades for different materials.

The head and the blade oscillate from side to side with adjustable speed, and with different width blades, you can work in extremely confined spaces, where in the past it would have required a hand saw, small chisels and lots of elbow grease.

Mine is manufactured by SKIL and goes by the name of "Multi-Tasker", but most power tool companies now offer them. If you do work around the home and don't have one, it is certainly something I would recommend. 

I was able to cut very neat and precise holes in the lath and plaster walls to take pattress boxes and wires, something which in the past would have been impossible to do with a circular saw.

The wiring is in colour coded conduit or various diameters, and there is a requirement to keep electric cables and data cables separate because of the electro-magnetic fields that are created when electricity flows along a wire. The wiring loom does not look very pretty in it's raw state.

But once I was able to clip and secure the wires into the wall space, it looks considerably neater. There are nine cables of different types side by side in the conduit in this photograph

Because cables for the camera and radio antennas run externally, I am left with a few hanging wires outside, which in time will be neatly hidden from view. Almost every job I do seems to leave another job waiting to be completed, but until the building work starts and is completed, I do not have a permanent mast for the antennas, so the wires will just have to dangle in the wind for a little while longer. 

With the wiring in place in the walls, I was able to finish installing the insulation into the ceiling void. This really is an exercise in planning, because once the new plaster board ceiling is in place, I do not intend to remove it again, ever! It is a horrible, messy job which requires eye protection, a face mask, gloves and a long hot shower afterwards.

The next task was to mix some very smooth lime plaster cement, to fill in the holes in the wall. At the same time I filled around where the pattress boxes will go to provide stability in the cavities around the box. These voids still have the sticks and twigs in place, so the cement will bind with these and the laths to prevent movement as plugs are inserted into and removed from Sockets.

The lath and plaster walls have cracked quite badly in a number of places. Around points of movement, for example the door reveal, cracks radiate in all directions.

This has meant that although I have carefully used the oscillating cutter, some quite large chunks of plaster have come away from the wooden lath backing and will have to be replaced. 

I had thought about using a flexible filler on all the cracks before painting the room, but when I now look closely at the walls, I think after filling the cracks and sanding down the filler, I will try and get some lining paper to stabilise the old walls before painting them. In this way, any future cracking will be contained behind the paper. Now I know where the term "papering over the cracks" comes from.

I make a practise of walking the orchards at least once every day (except when it is raining), so I know what is happening with the trees and plants and can intervene if I see anything starting to go wrong. 
I have just done my evening patrol, with my young cat, Callie, who likes to check and see who has been visiting during the day.

On this occasion, all that was needed was some gentle watering of the tomatoes, peppers and salad crops.

One morning this week, I thought my raspberries had come down with a nasty virus.

From a distance I could see small leaves that had turned black and white. That was until I got up close and realised that I had moths, the shape of a leaf on the plant.

The colouring was that of a Tiger Moth, but it took a little research to discover which one. This is a Cream Spot Tiger Moth, Epicallia villica, and one of its favourite food sources are plants of the Rubus species, of which raspberries are one. I am pleased I have left the rasps to go a little wild if they attract these pretty moths.

Raspberries are not generally grown on the island, it is too dry. But raspberries and blackberries are fruits I do miss, so I have planted several varieties. Some have not survived, even with irrigation, but the variety I planted last year are thriving and spreading everywhere. They are covered in flower buds and pollinating insects so I expect a good crop this year. I will be looking out for the dark brown furry caterpillars of this moth, know as "Teddy bears".

In the garden my yellow and blue Iris are at their best this week and the giant Alliums are all in still in flower.
Having planted out most of my greenhouse seedlings, I have put more seeds into the propagator this week. 

These include second plantings of peppers and tomatoes, a number of herbs and a few flowers just for good measure. I am a little concerned that some peppers and tomato plants received a "good thrashing" when we had the recent heavy rain. I hope they will recover. At least the slugs and snails have kept away! 

Spotting the approaching showers, I planted some wild flowers, green manure and pollinators - a bulk pack from Marshalls - into the headland strip of the Drupe orchard. This is in the shade of a wall for most of the day, so is cool and generally damp. With "heads in the sun and feet in the shade" I hope they​ will set seed and become a permanent fixture. Three years of work is starting to pay off and in the two orchards nearest the house, it is only one pernicious perennial weed, a convolvulus like vine with roots more than a meter deep that I keep fighting.

Despite regular hoeing, it clings on with roots under the tree mulch mats, popping green shoots out round the edges, which promptly get removed. In the open areas of the orchards, which regularly get hoed, I have eliminated it. There are of course the annual weeds whose seeds blow in on the wind, but they are fairly easy to clear. But it has taken three years of concerted effort to bring these areas under control and plant them up with new trees and soft fruits. 

I only started to tame my largest orchard last year, so I know I have another two years of hard work to bring it under control. The torrential rain last week has washed the soil from all the rocks and stones where the mini JCB levelled a soil mound. There are a huge number of both large and small stones to remove before I can think about digging a pond, but I have planted several trees in the area, around my design for the water feature, so that they can settle down and establish. Trees take a lot longer to establish than shrubs and flowers.

One afternoon while I was in the Top Orchard, I heard the unmistakable crackling sounds of fire.
There was little smoke but I could see flames jumping tens of metres into the air as the flames consumed trees on land to the west. 

This is the source of the lead photograph this week. 

When I went to investigate, I found my immediate next door neighbour was standing at his boundary, with a charged hose as the ready. It was a land owner a couple of plots away who was clearing his hillside and burning the brush that he had cut down.

The village is surrounded by wooded slopes and in the past there have been a number of major wildfires on the island. In places the charred stumps of trees can still be seen. 

All fires are prohibited from 1st May until 1st October, so my neighbour was getting rid of the underbrush and debris before the annual summer fire ban comes into force. 

I know the local Chief Fire Officer and his constant fear is of another major wildfire breaking out and many of his appliances are built for fighting forest fires. In this case, the somewhat uncontrolled burn was contained within the owners plot area but because of the dry winter, it shows how easily the hillsides would burn if a fire did take hold.

At the end of the week we had more rain, which has curtailed the outside activities, but has enabled a leap forward in the guest room work progress. 

My friendly builder, Cvjetko turned up with four sheets of plasterboard and whilst the rain fell on Friday afternoon, we got the plasterboard fixed to the wooden frame and all sealed. He then turned his attention to the holes I had excavated in the walls.

I often learn by watching and this was no exception. I have been using a light engineering plaster manufactured in Poland by Baumit. Called MPI25 Fine, it mixes to a very smooth paste, which can then be used to fill the gaps in the lath and plaster wall. Cvjetko showed me a useful trick of using ¼ of Portland Cement to ¾ MPI25. This speeds the drying and increases the strength of the plaster. Most of the holes were filled on Friday and he returned on Saturday to finish off.

I fixed all the electrical and data pattress boxes ready and by mid morning the primary work in the room is all finished. Extra help makes an incredible difference to the way project work goes. Thanks Cvjetko! At the end of the week the major portion of the work in this room has been finished and I will let everything dry for a few days.

On Sunday I need to sand down the plasterboard ceiling joints, then the walls once the MPI25 has set and then everything is ready for painting. 

Of all DIY jobs, painting is my least favourite. Then the last job is creating a new level floor. But that is wood work - something I know well.

It does mean that for this European public holiday weekend, I will not feel too guilty if I don't spent a lot of time on the room. 

There is still lots to do, but it can wait until next week. I hope you have a good weekend too.