Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 07

Let the work commence

Sunday's are quiet days here, when no noisy tools or equipment should be used. 

So I cut up a lot more of the tree remains in the top orchard by hand, ready for shredding on Monday. When the trees were cut down to make way for the nice stone wall (on the left in the photo) they were piled up, then covered to keep the winter rains out. 

What I discovered was that the most efficient way to shred such a large quantity was to cut them into straightish lengths and lay them next to the machine. I could then run the shredder for a short period of time, feed the branches into the hopper and when the pile was exhausted, turn the engine off and cut another pile.

In today's hurly burly the simple pleasures of life often get overlooked. It's nice just to be able to slow down, relax a bit and not feel pressured to do things. 

Especially as the strength of the sun is increasing noticeably, day by day as we head into the northern hemisphere spring. 

I was tempted to get a garden chair out and sit in the sun - but I didn't give in to the temptation. The weeds are starting to grow so I pulled a few out by the roots instead and generally did odds and ends in the garden.

I also had a phone call to say that the JCB would be here on Monday to start the building work. However, that was amended on Monday morning, after the machine broke down, to "sometime later in the week". As I had moved the car, the windsurfer and kayak out of the courtyard, in anticipation of work starting, I decided to continue my dismantling.

On the corner of the old cottage, a tower had been built of stone. However, it was not tied into the building. At three metres above the courtyard level and with a several substantial stones, it was solid but weeds and ferns were starting to grow into/out of the crack between the tower and the building and moisture was getting into the corner making it damp inside.

It's purpose has been lost in the mists of time. Clearly well constructed with very square pieces of stone and little infill, there was no obvious purpose. Nothing was attached to it, it didn't support anything and was actually in the way.

Because the base, which was reinforced with concrete in 1958 (according to an etched date), stuck out into the courtyard, it meant that every time I reversed the car in, I was perilously close to the wall which stuck out almost half a metre and at an acute angle to the gates, so on Monday I set about removing it.

The top was a thick single slab of stone and the pillar was held together with lime mortar, so it was easy to insert a large wrecking bar into cracks between the stones and simply lever them apart. Smaller stones were carried down the ladder. The ones too heavy to carry were tipped over the edge onto the concrete below.

By coffee time, the pillar was half down and by lunch time, it was down as far as two huge stones, which seem to be part of the cottage's foundations. I decided to leave these alone for the time being, and await the JCB to break the concrete base. The dark colour of the damp wall can clearly now be seen.

After lunch I started the cleanup, and by three I was using the assistance of the Egyptians again, to move the very largest stone away.

At four, the courtyard was completely clear and it was time to pack up for the day. All the recovered square, dressed stones will be repurposed into the new building, which calls for stonework on the external corners, but modern blocks and thermal insulation between.

As the week has progressed, so the days have been warming up. 

I have been able to work outside in shirt sleeves every day. I have been pushing hard to get all the branches chipped into mulch, so that I can cultivate at least some parts of the top orchard this year.

With a large volume of reclaimed stones, part of my architectural salvage, covering the orchard floor, coupled with I would estimate 20 metres covered with branches, I have spent three days this week working on their removal.
What has surprised me though, is the complete absence of evidence that anything has been hibernating inside the mounds. 

They have been in place since the end of Autumn last year and have been covered with plastic sheeting to keep the rain out, so in theory they should have been an ideal place for small mammals, insects, butterflies etc., to hide away for the winter.

I have been carefully looking for anything but have found just a half dozen edible snails. In one sense it has been disappointing not finding anything, but on the other hand, I have not had to relocate any found inhabitants either.

The process of chipping the branches is taking time. Using the big Denqbar machine is quick and easy, but I found that the most effective and quickest way was to prepare the branches first. That means removing them from the pile, cutting them into lengths and then placing them next to the machine, ready for feeding them into the hopper.

On Wednesday I estimated I have created three cubic metres of mulch, of which one has bee spread around fruit trees in the other orchards and a big pile has been created under a plum tree, somewhere not too wet, so the mulch will not rot and also easy to access with a wheelbarrow.

Every time I go past the plum and apple trees, I think I should really be pruning them, but with only one pair of hands and a lot of jobs to do, some things inevitably get left.

Thursday dawned fine and clear and I set too finishing the pile of branches. I was interrupted mid morning when my neighbour came round to do some surgery on the old olive tree. 

With a mixture of secateurs, parrot bills and a chain saw, he gave it a "haircut". He thinks that it may still produce fruit next year, but if it doesn't then it will have to come out by the roots.

That produced yet more branches, but by 3pm, I had completed the last load to be shredded, and had put the machine to bed until next autumn.

Just after lunch a hydraulic dump truck was delivered, and on Friday morning at 07:30 the JCB came on the back of a truck. Work commenced shortly afterwards.

By the end of the day, 3/4 of the concrete had been broken, most of the large stones were lifted with ease, the roots of the old mulberry - also rotten - have been dug out together with a big pile of subsoil from the footings. At last the work has started. 

I want one of these!

It might be small, but it is an incredibly versatile and powerful tool.

I finished clearing up in the Top orchard on Friday and laid a weed suppressant mat around the olive trees in between helping the JCB driver. 

There is still a lot of work to do, the wall along my boundary to finish, the new wall to be pointed and then all the building mess to be cleared, but with luck by the end of spring I should be able to plant at least a few trees. The cardboard is weed suppressant which I laid last year and has over=wintered in place. It is starting to disintegrate now.

My next door neighbour called me over to look at a bug he had found while pruning a fruit tree. 

He had cut it in half while pruning, but it is a large caterpillar, with an orange colour and maroon spots. I presume it is from a moth of some kind.

The bug was completely contained inside a woody twig and was invisible. 

The diameter of the hole it was eating right through the centre was about 5mm, so quite a big moth. This is yet another example of a species I have never come across in other countries. I am now trying to find out what the moth looks like and how big it is.

There was little wonder that the tree it was in was looking quite sick and I wondered how many more there might be?

Wildlife continues to get ready for spring. 

A mail European Robin, Erithacus rubecula, was strutting his stuff all week while I was in the orchard. But they are not as tame as the ones in the UK, preferring to keep their distance in a tree, and aggressively warning any invaders of their territory.

The first Hyacinth have also burst into flower in the garden this week.

I had to go down to Stari Grad early one morning to collect an order and found that there was a lot of feverish activity taking place, getting things ready for the first visitors of the year at Easter - only 8 weeks away now. 

In the harbour a big dredger was removing silt from the centre, ready for the annual influx of yachts.

Whilst elsewhere in the back streets of the town, the streets were mostly deserted with the shutters on the apartments still firmly closed.

So at the weekend, I can say there has been real progress this week. 

The footings for the new buildings have been dug and the pile of spoil is waiting for removal.

The concrete courtyard has been broken up and the next step is dig out the sub soil to make it level.

And I have found some nice permeable pavers to go down instead. 

Called eco-pavers, they have central plugs which can be filled with soil and then planted. I would like to put in some low growing Roman Chamomile, Chamæmelum nobile, and perhaps some Thyme, which is harder wearing and has several native Mediterranean varieties (Thymus præcox). 

So with the thought of the sweet smell of Chamomile and Thyme, I will leave you for this week, with the sound of spring rain beating on the Velux windows over my desk.