Life in a Dol house
2018 - Week 11

Well clarted boots

I've made the best of the rainy weather this week.

There will be an interesting even taking place in the summer, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Mallard, the LNER A4 which still holds the world speed record for a steam engine. 

A scale modelling group I belong to will recreate the record speed run, but in miniature using the Hornby Live Steam model of Mallard, complete with a dynamometer car

To help out I designed a flyer, using some carefully edited photographs of my copy of the great locomotive.

Remember that is is a 1:72 scale model, just 30 CM (1 foot) long, powered by steam, generated in a boiler in the tender. Altogether an incredible piece of engineering.

I have been out in the citrus orchard.

With some replacement citrus trees to plant, for the ones killed by the cold in January 2017, on the two fine days we have had, I made best use of what little fine weather there was.

Most people know that citrus trees generally come from warm climates, but that is an over generalisation. 

Although citrus, especially Lemons, have been growing in the Mediterranean basin for many centuries, brought overland via the Great Silk Road to Anatolia in the distant past, they have been spread by humans around the Mediterranean sea and by the Spanish Conquistadors to the New World.

Fossilised citrus leaves have been found in China, dating back 7 million years, but the growing of citrus commercially is little more than three centuries old.

The National Geographic magazine published an article last year on the history of citrus with a useful inforgraphic about how the different kinds are genetically related to just five types of citrus.

When I bought my home in Dol, there were two citrus trees, an ancient orange and a Mandarin, both of which produced a lot of fruit, especially the Mandarin.

Being old, the actual variety is unknown.  One of the first new planting I made was the Citrus Orchard. 

With newer named varieties, I planted Washingtonia and blood oranges, bitter and Meyer lemons, grapefruit, kumquat and limes, all of which were grafted onto a wild citrus rootstock.

The citrus orchard is on the south side of the property, so it is particularly sunny - something citrus like and need. The soil is not of the greatest quality, a very stony clay loam over bedrock, partly kharst limestone and partly red sandstone, which completely dries out and cracks in summer, and becomes waterlogged and sodden in winter. 

It is a type of soil that citrus actually like, which is good, because not many things will thrive in thin soils without considerable amounts of manure.

But different varieties of citrus have different tolerances to cold. 

At the low tolerance end, you have bitter lemons and limes, then moving through the grapefruit varieties and oranges to the kumquats at the high tolerance end.

Cold here is of course relative - what is considered cold in Florida or the Mediterranean is not cold in Scandinavia or the Yukon. 

The USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11 are generally accepted as the best places to grow citrus fruit, so occasional winter cold of -3 C can be survived, perhaps a little lower, but not prolonged cold. 

Citrus after all originated in east and south Asia and Indonesia, not places where cold is normal. 

Even through breeding and cross pollination, there is a limit to how cold hardy a plant will be.

Then we had the once in 50 year even over the first week of 2017, when the minimum temperature was -7.5 C, but the wind chill took the temperature feel to -15 C. 

Even though I had wrapped all the new trees with fleece and bubblewrap, the sustained cold killed every one of my two year old saplings above ground level. 

In addition, my big mature orange tree was killed completely and the mandarin was left stressed and leafless.  The big orange was sheltered, being close to the kitchen wall too.

Lemons, being the least cold hardy of the citrus family suffered the most, which is a shame because they produced well, but were killed outright

Over the course of last summer, several of the saplings sprouted again. A few from above the graft union, but several reverted to the wild citrus rootstock, producing tall growth shoots with fearsome thorns. 

Most cultivars are thornless.  It is those reverted wild trees I have replaced this week.

​Regular readers will know of my near constant battle with weeds.

 I have used a weed suppressant mat around each tree, covered with three or four centimetres of mulch. 

First job was to strip away and save the mulch, then peel back the matting and carefully dig out the reverted tree. 

I will keep them in pots and in due course when they have got over the shock of being dug up, I'll try my hand at grafting a cultivar onto the rootstock.

The replacement trees came in plastic sleeve pots, so once the plastic was removed, I teased out the roots from the ball and planted them in the hole. 

Before replacing the matting, I scattered the area with a specialist granular citrus fertiliser, then replaced the mulch.

All the trees have underground irrigation, so even in high summer they will get the moisture they need, and their water needs are part of my water management plan, so that the soil under the mulch never dries out completely, but also in summer, never becomes waterlogged. 

In between rain, I managed to replace my blood orange with a different variety, Tarocco Rosso VCR, from Italy, and the grapefruits with Star Ruby.

The change to warmer weather has brought on the blossom. 

I have sweet cherry, Morello cherry and peach trees in blossom and the apricots will not be far behind. 

There is too much blossom on this peach bush, so I will be pinching out the flowers before the fruit sets, after the bees have finished their work, so that the tree puts its energy into growth of strong branches for the future.

My pear trees, which need a period of cold for them to blossom, look as though they will be covered this year.

Looking ahead for the next week, there is going to be rain until the middle of the week. 

I think I will be struggling to do any meaningful orchard work until this current wet spell of weather has been replaced with more seasonable sun and warmth.

Even being careful about digging and where I was working around the citrus orchard, I finished with well clarted boots!

There are times (a lot of times really) when I have absolutely no idea what people  around me are speaking about. 

I had coffee one afternoon this week with some neighbours, one of whom is 75 and has lived in Dol all his life. At one point, I was asked if I understood the conversation. I said I didn't. 

I could barely understand one word in fifty, as he was speaking quickly in the local Chakavian dialect, interspersed with bits of Italian. 

To use the academic term, this dialect has "low mutual intelligibility", which means that they don't understand it in Split, on the mainland and in my case, it has no mutual intelligibility

It was a great shame because this gentleman was speaking about all the people who have lived in my home, together with the building history that he knew, going back decades.

Part of the problem is that I have no idea whether Croatian words I have learned are dialect, or Croatian. 

It is only when I look something up, and this week it was "Kariola", the name that everyone uses and understands for a wheelbarrow, or sack barrow, that I find out. 

I discovered that in pure Croatian a wheelbarrow is called a "tačke", and a sack barrow, a "vreća", but those names are virtually unknown here on the island. 

It does make life interesting though.

People are very helpful. 

The nice lady at the Volat builders merchants, was telling me when I asked for a paper bag, rather than a plastic bag for some small items, that on the island they are called a 'Šcartocsa', but in pure Croatian, it is a 'papirnata vrećica'.

So when I say that my boots were "well clarted" after working in the orchard, I know it is a solid, descriptive Yorkshire term for muddy boots, but outside of Yorkshire and perhaps the north east of England, few would probably understand it, although they might make an inspired guess. 

The Collins Dictionary says that the word 'Clart' was well known and used in the UK before the industrial revolution. 

In the East Riding, it is still used today by the farming community. 

Clarts are the lumps of mud that agricultural tractors leave on the road, when they come off a muddy winter field and travel at road speed, throwing the clods of mud everywhere, so in use it can be both a noun and a verb! 

Maybe it is this richness which makes language so interesting. It doesn't help me though, when I am learning Croatian!

At least I can take my boots off when I come into the house after doing some digging in the orchard!