Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 08

What to do on a wet Saturday?

With a week of mostly good weather, a lot of progress on the building work has been made. 

I am surprised by the difference just the removal of the concrete courtyard has made. I think it was the forced perspective or "Tunnel effect". The courtyard narrowed in both width and height (there is a walkway over part of it) and the narrowest point coincided with the minimum height of 1.83 meters. So as you looked, your eye was drawn to the centre point.

It took two days for the JCB to break some of the sandstone formations, and then load the spoil into a dump truck, which then loaded it into a tipper truck for disposal.

But now, although the width remains the same, the courtyard is now level, instead of being half a meter higher in the centre than at the ends. The height to the walkway is 2.4 meters. And that difference is what shows.

Even if the steps make it look as though the tide has gone out!

The floor is almost pure yellow sand, with odd lumps of sandstone. I will have to get used to it, because the last job will be laying new paving blocks. As building work starts, you could imagine the mess that sand, cement and concrete, not to mention the machines, like the dump truck and wheel barrows would have on newly laid stone sets. So it will stay as bare sand for the next few months.

The little JCB (actually a Kubota make, not a JCB) was worth its weight in gold. The way it shifted stones, too heavy for three people to lift, as though they were made of polystyrene was simply incredible. Then there was the digging and loading of the dump truck.

By Wednesday afternoon, it had completely leveled the entire site, 

removed all the spoil and then left on the back of the tipper.

But not before it levelled the annoying soil mound in the Top Orchard.

There will now be a few days before the next phase begins, when the footings will be cleaned and the first concrete poured.

While all this has been going on, I have not been idly sitting by watching.

 Wherever possible I have done work, for example the breaking out of the rising water main by hand.

This had been partly renewed during work in 2015, but with some strange joints between the new 25mm green Vargon pipe and the old mild steel, I broke up the concrete to reveal a joint where I can attach the new pipe to.

I will also now have to lower the outside tap, so I got all the various bits I needed from BEPO, the plumbers merchant in Jelsa. Going to Jelsa early in the morning is always a little strange at this time of year. The square and cafes are deserted, but so are the car parks, not like the summer when you fight for a space.

Coupled with changing the pipe connections is the need to bury the pipe below the level of the new courtyard block pavers and at a depth which will not freeze. 

That question led me to do some research into how to calculate the Freezing Index Degree Days - how deep to lay the pipes to stop them freezing in other words. I calculated it at 35cm, so I dug the trench 40cm below the finished courtyard level.

The pipe had been buried, but as the height of the courtyard has been lowered to a single level plane, the pipes were exposed and hanging in mid air, a few centimetres above the sand.

On Thursday I began by excavating below where the two new rising main connections will be made, and then digging a trench to take the pipe, all the way back to the water meter box. I say "all the way", it was actually only 6 metres long and an average depth of 25 centimetres.

However because of the underlying sandstone bedrock, it took the whole of the day. I have a trenching spade, but it was useless on the sandstone. 

I had to employ my big breaking hammer to smash the outcrops, which it did easily. The wrecking bar was used to lever the bigger pieces out and my old pickaxe brought the smaller pieces out, that is until the handle broke in two when I was trying to lever up a piece of rock which did not want to come unstuck. I was left with quite a pile of rocks.

At 4pm, with the level checked along the whole length, I decided it was too late to start welding and joining pipes, and with a sore back from all the bending and lifting I came in for a nice hot drink.

I have been thinking about digging out a pond in the Top Orchard. 

I have had ponds at my homes before and I enjoy the sounds of water gurgling over rocks. But there are several things to think about before starting to dig here.

From late spring until late autumn, we are plagued by the Tiger Mosquito, a nasty biting alien species from Asia which has made itself unwelcome around much of the Mediterranean. They lay eggs in water. So I would need to keep the water moving, perhaps with a solar pump, but they are not especially powerful. Or I would need fish as well, to east the mosquito larvae.

Having fish would mean making it deep enough so that the water didn't freeze completely, even when the winter is cold, as the one which has just passed was. There are Grey Herons, Ardea cinera, here. I have seen one flying low over my Dol house, and Herons love fish. So I would have to net the pond to prevent unwanted "fishermen". In the UK, my garden pond was emptied of fish more than one by Herons.

Then there is the possibility that the water would attract snakes, as well as the dragon flies and amphibians which I want to attract. It is said that the snakes come out of the Maquis in summer to look for water, and certainly last year my friend Cvjetko showed me a photo he had taken at a small permanent lake on the Stari Grad Plain, where there were a lot of snakes.

I didn't see a snake in the garden at all last year, and also saw no evidence. But previously, when I had a lot of green vegetation in the orchards, I have seen snakes in the grass and in the grape vines. I have also found the discarded skins.

There are 16 species of snakes found in Croatia, although only half are found on the Islands. Only two venomous species are found on Hvar, the Common Adder, Vipera Berus, called Riđovka in Croatian, and the Horned Viper, Vipera ammodytes ammodytes, known as the Poskok.

This latter species causes fear amongst locals, with folk law talking about it jumping out and attacking people. It is one of the most venomous snakes in Europe, so being bitten is not trivial, however they hate water so are unlikely to be a visitor. And for the record, they are unable to jump!

So I think I have more to fear from Herons and mosquitos than from snakes. Apart from which with all the cats who live round about, any snake trying to get to the pond will have to run a ferocious feline gauntlet.

The most practical problem I face is where to obtain butyl rubber for the liner. But with a LOT of other jobs to do at the moment, digging the pond is on my list of priorities, but close to the bottom.

On Friday I set about the removal of the old mains water pipework and its replacement with Vargon green plastic. 

Cutting in the new joints and elbows was not difficult, I had planned what I wanted to do well in advance. I did need a couple of extra pieces as the main connector between the new and the existing was a ½" joint and I had a ¾" fitting. But after a trip to Stari Grad I had the required parts.

It was then just a slow, methodical process of measurement (3 times), cutting once then welding the pieces of pipe together. Using the electric welding machine is not difficult, except where the space available is constrained. Most of the parts I cut and welded out in the open, only connecting them once they were assembled into "modules".

The final joint was the one where the original steel pipework and shut-off valve appears, under the walkway.

This pipework runs to the old cottage, supplying the utility room, and then underground to the kitchen and is sufficiently inaccesible to make replacement too difficult to contemplate.

Opening the gate valve at the meter, I was pleased that there were no leaks. But as it was raining, I decided to retreat inside again and I will backfill and level the trench tomorrow. I always try and plan to have a fairly easy day on Saturdays. Long gone are the 35 hour, five day weeks!

However, even those plans have to take account of the weather. I woke up to rain, heavy rain, "Beating the Retreat" on the Velux windows, cascading from the guttering, running down the garden path and pooling in the courtyard. I now have a pond. Not quite where I intended it to be, but definitely a pond.

We had 15 litres per metre (15mm) by 9am and even though it was coming from the south east, it was cold too, so my plans of back filling the trench and doing a few other jobs in the garden have gone by the wayside. 

Instead I have spent the day inside, backing up computer data and drawing scale plans of the Top Orchard and what I would like to have where. I already have quite a number of trees in the orchard, so,e quite large. Each square is a half meter.

To do that properly, I need to get the long tape out and actually fix the location of the trees exactly, but as I write this after lunch, there is some quite heavy drizzle which would make open air work unpleasant. 

I have the waterproofs, but can choose when to use them! So at least the day has been productive, even if I have done little more than poke my nose outside a few times.

In the garden, the Hyacinth are in full bloom.
Also the Snowdrops which I planted last autumn have finally poked their heads above the ground. It will take a year or two for them to settle and spread into a carpet I think.

So with the rain today, this week's newsletter is being sent early.