Life in a Dol house
2018 - Week 06

Hügelkulture, Berms, Swales and SuDS ​

We have had a lot of rain this week, often mixed with bright sunshine.

​This has somewhat limited the scope for outdoor activity, but I'm not complaining because we need winter rainfall, to soak the ground so that when in a few weeks the summer heat begins, everything which grows can survive until the autumn.

I realised some time ago that I needed a system to harvest and store the rainwater that falls on the roofs of my home. 

Currently only 50% of the rain falling on hard areas flows to orchard or productive ground. The rest falls on areas where the runoff just percolates through the sandstone underneath and into any aquifers which exist deeper underground.

Especially the runoff from the courtyard area, I want to harvest and direct into the top orchard. Once in the orchard, which has the best soil on my property, I want to keep it there using natural means.

Search online for "Rainwater harvesting" and you will get 2.7 million responses, many from companies trying to sell you the latest, greatest, best (and most expensive) systems.

I favour natural methods, which are generally low cost, DiYable, sustainable and are in sympathy with their surroundings.

I have followed with interest the UK experiments to slow rainwater runoff, and whilst it would be lovely to have some Eurasian Beavers, to well, er, beaver away at doing what Beavers do best, building lodges and damming streams, sadly there are no longer any Beavers in Croatia, and there are no flowing streams for them dam on the island.

So the alternative is Hügelkulture, a Berm, a Swale or a SuD system. 

My favoured option is a combination of a Hügelkulture and a Swale because it would fit into the character of the orchard. But first I need to get the water away from the courtyard and into the orchard.

I have already dug a channel along the length of the courtyard to move water away from the Konoba and into my cess pit, but this week I have started the extension from the cess towards the orchard.​

This has entailed moving some of the boulders that formed the foundation stones of my old buildings. 

I had left them after the baby JCB dug them out last year, simply because they were too heavy to move comfortably on my own.

​This week, with the help of the Egyptians, I have at least got them out of the way.

Weighing upwards of 250 kg (500Lbs) I manoeuvred them onto wooden rollers and because I was going down slope, I could get them away from my work area without too much difficulty. Brakes were a bit of a problem though.

This allowed me to mark the route of the underground drain and start digging with a pick and mattock. 

Fortunately this is sandstone bedrock, so it did not take too much effort to break it, and I always have my pneumatic breaking hammer to fall back on as and when I hit an especially tough part. 

However in the immortal words of Brian Johnston, "rain stopped play" as another rain system moved in, before finally clearing to the east late on Thursday.

In between times, I have had to put the planned building work on hold - again! 

I saw the District Surveyor this week, to ensure that the application for critically important new plot number is progressing. 

This has to be in place before the plans can be deposited at the local municipal council. And I was told that even though it is being treated as urgent, it will not be issued for six to eight weeks. So three steps forward and two back again.

In this country, where bureaucracy is all pervasive and the 'work around' used by locals is to build illegally, then sort any problems out afterwards, I am simply not prepared to go down that route. 

It is fine until someone complains, and I already have some 'little local difficulty' with the absentee owner of the land and derelict buildings immediately adjacent to my home.

After all the work on the old cottage, aluminium guttering was installed for the first time, to stop rainfall cascading off the roof (except where it leaked inside), and down the walls, making everything damp. 

The District Surveyor told me that this absentee owner had contacted him by phone to complain that I am taking "his" rain water. 

The rain which falls on my new roof and runs into the guttering is channelled away from a passage between the buildings and into my orchard.

This is a man who has shouted at me once in four years, when he was ranting about my car blocking his access in our shared entranceway. 

Never once has he been to say 'Hello', to introduce himself, shaken hands or anything. Rather he prefers to pass messages of complaint remotely. 

But then I also have discovered that there is a family dispute between him and the person I bought the property from, which goes back 60+ years - something I can never solve and will not be getting involved in.

Being a foreigner in a foreign land is far from easy. However I do not feel down or despondent. 

I look at this as yet another challenge to be overcome along the way. On the subject of the bureaucracy, I have suggested to my felines that they speak to the local Bureaucats - but no fighting!

Friday dawned clear, dry and sunny and in the light of the postponement of the building work, but my desire to still continue the improvements, I looked again at what I can do which does not need any permissions.

I still have the inside of three buildings to restore, the utility room and the pantry in the old cottage, and the Konoba. 

I can shift things around and do so some minor work in the utility room, to make more space, as I was planning to use this as the pantry store as well. Major work to the walls can wait. 

Then I'll try and clear the Konoba, where all my big furniture is stored, pending having a nice lounge - part of the planned building work.

So with a clear day, and in an effort to see how much space I need to make, I started to remove the cardboard from the Konoba.

This is a very large ground floor area that was next to the donkey stables and fold yard, which used to house two 6.5 cubic meter wine vats, together with storage for processing wine, olives and herb oils. The vats were demolished before my container arrived from Abu Dhabi. 

Each of these two tanks if full, could hold 6,000 litres of wine and several of my neighbours still have them in their Konobas.

I learned when I first came here that the cardboard used for packing makes a superb weed suppressant for the annual weeds and some of the less persistent perennials and I still have a lot of it. 

There are still things you have to dig out by the roots after covering the soil, for example the bramble briars, but just covering the ground saves having to keep on top of the weeds.

I have a plan for the Top Orchard, and have been planting trees with mulch mats, but without bothering too much about the weeds.

​I am also using it as my architectural storage area, where the old dressed stones have been sorted - to a degree - then piled high ready to be re-purposed. 

So it has not been on the list of priority actions. To be fair, it is still not on the list, but I decided to lay the cardboard now and then see where I go from here.

As well as an ornamental pond, fruit and olive trees, a very old and substantial plum tree, which produces kilos of fruit every year, I want to install a Swale to capture and retain the rainfall we do get. 

And it is into the general area of where the swale will be, that I am digging the trench for the rainwater harvesting system. 

See, everything is linked... All the thoughts on these pages, week by week, are actually linked, sometimes you just have to work hard to find it!

While laying the cardboard and holding it in place with stones, I felt something on my neck, and suspecting I had caught a spider, as there were a lot around, I shook me head. 

I NEVER harm spiders, even big ones that hide in glove fingers.

A few minutes later I could feel something again, so brushed my neck with my glove. 

As I was picking up the next piece of cardboard, I caught some movement on my shoulder in my peripheral vision, and when I looked I had a stick insect crawling down my sweater.

​This is the European Stick Insect, Bacillus rossius, and it is the first time I have found one here.​

I don't know where it came from, or how it came to be on the neck of my sweater, but I put it on my Lemon Grass, in the greenhouse, for the time being. 

Reading up on the species, they seem to have bramble leaves as a favourite food. As I had been pulling the briars out, that may well be where it was, so I put it back on some brambles in an area I am planning to leave wild.

Also in the Top Orchard, the first blossom has appeared on all my plum trees this week.

​That is a full four weeks earlier than last year.

The Mimosa I planted last February is in full flower this week too.

​​The way things are growing at the moment, I suspect that almost everything will be early. 

That does beg the question though about the availability of food for the later migrating birds, unless they are early too.