Five sunny days
This week: Five sunny days; Snakes alive; Donning my parkour shoes; Getting ready for winter; Winter approaches; Harvesting grapes; A plastic coating;
Things were going well on Saturday as I prepared this week’s Blog. This is until I tried to upload the photographs and text. I was unable to log in to my remote server, so everything came to a grinding halt.
I then couldn’t access the server farm help desk and it took more than 48 hours and eventual contact through facebook for me to get back to where I had been.
It seems that my IP number – the internet Protocol number that every internet router has – had changed and that caused the problem. Anyway, back to normal now!
We have had a lovely week of weather this past week.
For five days we have had warm sunshine and barely a cloud to be seen so it has been warm, however the night temperatures are dropping markedly.
It is well into autumn now here in Dol and of course Friday was the northern autumn equinox.
On Monday the 19th I watched almost all of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. I know from experience the work which goes into even a normal Royal visit, so the amount of preparation for the funeral and the visits of more than 100 heads of state is incredible.
All in all a send off Her Majesty would have been proud of, so well done to all concerned.
Sometimes just having a day of not doing a great deal can be recipe for coming back refreshed.
Five sunny days
With good weather forecast up to Saturday, I have been doing a bit of walling this week.
At the end of the Top Orchard, where the concrete was poured at the end of June (blog 22-26), the concrete blocks have been waiting for the right weather to lay them.
The temperature needs to be just right for mortar to set with maximum strength. Using mortar for walling is more than just using glue, it is a chemical reaction which bonds the surfaces together.
If it is too hot, or too cold, then the mortar cures too quickly or too slowly, leaving a weak bond.
So as the temperature this week has been just right, I mixed a couple of wheelbarrows of mortar and set the blocks in place. They still needed to be kept moist for a couple of days as the curing process finished, but nothing like the amount of water which would be needed in high summer.
With the back wall in place, my attention turned to the front wall.
I have several huge piles of stones in my architectural salvage area. These are all stones I recovered when I dismantled the old donkey stable and pig sty.
Looking back I now wonder how I ever manoeuvred all these stones down into the orchard!.
Choosing my stones carefully, I have placed the front wall with a 90 cm gap for soil behind. This will be somewhere for more colourful shrubs to go.
Moving these stones also cleared some space inside the poly tunnel frame.
When I dismantled the buildings, I graded the stones by size and some of the largest went in this heap. They are the ones which remain.
These will be used in my boundary wall, once I have removed all the accumulated debris which is at the back of the workshop.
Shifting some of the smaller and easier moved stones into a pile under the old plum tree has meant that I now have a clear access to the metal frame of the poly tunnel and in due course this winter, I can get the polythene sheeting in place and keep it warm inside.
Moving stones like these does allow you to find muscles which have been long forgotten!
Gizmo is my oversized teenage feline. He arrived as a kitten one late October morning in 2019, from whence I know not, just appearing at the gate, hungry but otherwise unharmed.
So that makes him three years old. Gizmo likes food, dozing in the sunshine, food, dozing at the foot of my bed, food, going to play in the orchard and really never gets ruffled about anything.
He acts as “uncle” to the teenagers, letting them climb on him. curl up next to him or play chase. Gizmo isn’t a hunter, in fact I don’t think he has ever brought me any “presents”.
So I was extremely surprised on Thursday afternoon when he brought me a small snake and dopped it at my feet.
The snake was frozen with fear but all Gismo did was look at me and back at the snake as if to say, “OK, now what are you going to do?”.
I recognised it as a Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis) because of the change in colour with the front part being mottled with lack flashes and the rear part just a plain grey.
It is non venomous and hunts insects and grasshoppers.
Although the Balkan whip snake has a reputation for speed, I think this one was traumatised by being picked up and carried by Gizmo.
It was not worried about being handled and I let it go amongst the sage and where there are plenty of places to hide in the stone walls. I watched it quickly slither away into the shadows.
Gizmo received food and some goats milk for his enterprise.
I suspect that he found it sun bathing and it looks like one of this year’s brood as it was only 20cm long.
Donning my parkour shoes
I realised on Thursday morning that my solar water heater water is not as hot as it has been. Not surprising really, the sun is lower in the sky so its strength is less as the rays have to traverse more of the atmosphere.
The bad news was of course that Friday (at 01:00 UTC) was the September solstice. That means it will be three months of shortening days and cold nights before the first signs of spring appear here in Dol.
I decided that I should remove the covers on the solar tubes, to allow maximum solar energy to heat the water.
However to do that, I have to do the “Light fandango” across the ridge tiles and around the tubes, undoing the fastenings of the foam covers.
When you see teenagers and young adult ‘Traceurs” doing their Parkour free running it always makes me wish that I had had that kind of spring in my step.
Instead I found gym work, vaulting horses and similar equipment akin to being in a torture chamber.
None the less I was reasonably fleet of foot, generally coming a creditable second in the firearms fitness proficiency tests. First place always went to a real athlete…
I have a variety of footwear for around home. In winter it is work boots, and in summer too if I need the toe and sole protection.
During the heat of summer it is work trainers, lighter with breathable fabric, but still with toes protection. I was interested to read about the different types of Parkour shoes.
My need is actually for something wide and flexible, but with protection and a sticky sole for gripping sloping surfaces.
I found this is some of the “Site” range of work footwear. So with my Site trainers on, I was up on the roof.
The huge amount of research into how human feet work, and how shoes should be tailored to the task means that there is a vast range of different footwear available, for whatever job it is that you are doing.
My system of holding the foam panels in place is just green plastic coated gardening wire, so it is easy to both fix and remove.
The panels were soon off, however they are showing their age.
Having been out in the baking sun for probably five years, the strong UV has decayed the surface to the point where in places they are only half the thickness they were.
The small black caps are to hold the wires fasteners in place, but you can see how much of the surface has been eaten away around the plastic.
So I have put the covers away for the winter, but will have to buy some new before the spring next year.
Getting ready for winter
Autumn started early this year, although it was what is called a “false autumn”, when trees shed their leaves as a sign of stress because of the heat and drought conditions.
However as we are in the third week of September, the real signs of autumn are everywhere to be seen.
Most of the trees and shrubs in the Maquis are evergreen, but those which are deciduous are changing to their autumn colours.
As I walked down in to the orchard this week, just at the right time as the sunlight illuminated a Dogwood, the leaves positively radiated a golden glow as they change to their autumn hue.
I have harvested the last of my white grapes this week, taking several 20 litre containers round to my neighbour who is an artisan wine maker.
The few bunches I have which remain are dessert varieties. It had been a bumper year for grapes, although it has taken time for the sugars to develop in the fruit.
Sadly the same cannot be said for the local olives. The almost complete absence of rain, especially during the crucial later summer period means that the fruit are shriveled and will be almost without any oil. I think Mediterranean olive oil may be expensive next year.
This week I have been cutting more wood this week for the winter. The small logs fit nicely into potato grow bags and stack by the door.
I have also removed the mosquito screen doors. There are still one or two mosquitos about on warm days, but they don’t seem to be biting as much.
The autumnal colours are everywhere. My vines are turning to their rich golden colours.
In the garden I have Chinese Lantern plants, Alkekengi officinarum, which are starting to change to the deep red autumn colours.
Whilst down in the shrub border the Batchelors Button, Kerria japonica, is in flower again. This shrub flowers in both the spring and the autumn, so is a very useful border filler.
I noticed this week that the plastic cover on my mini digger has started to disintegrate. This is caused by the UV suns rays acting on the plastic, causing it to break down.
While I was in town I bought a new length of sheeting and replaced the cover. I think I should probably look for an all weather small car cover for next year. Probably made for something like a Smart Car.
Walking past my neighbours winery, there is the smell of fermenting fruit.
I watched this week as he fixed the cover on the vat holding his Rakija.
Once all the juice has been extracted from the grapes, the residue is put in vats, sugar is added and the fruits ferment to produce the potent clear spirit which is drunk across the Balkans.
During the fermentation process, the top has to be wedged down so the contents don’t explode everywhere. Instead the liquid can be heard bubbling away as the fermentation takes place, giving off a rich, fruity scent.
I didn’t dare ask what he is going to do with 800 litres of 70% proof spirit. You could always use it as hand sanitizer though….
There was rain forecast for next week, starting on Sunday. It has been so dry that anything will be better than nothing!
My neighbour came round on Friday to ask if I could help them pick the last of their red grapes on Saturday morning. I was delighted to be able to help as I often sample the end product!
So I was up at 6am and off with my neighbours down to the Stari Grad Plain at 7am. The sun had only just risen and the air was deliciously cool and fresh in amongst the rows of vines.
Me being me, I didn’t follow the established pattern of starting on one side and working along a row.
Instead I worked out that the easiest way is to go to the very end of a row and pick both sides, so that the 20kg box does not have to be carried as far.
I was told that I was “doing it the old way”! Sometimes the old ways are the best…
We finished one field and Cvjetko came with his truck to load the proceeds. The total for the day was 2.5 metric tonnes of fruit delivered to the winery.
After the first load was taken away, we moved on to another field.
By now the sun was high in the sky and bending down to pick the ripe fruit meant that I constantly saw the light change as it played on the leaves of the vines.
After filling some more boxes, everyone stopped for a mid morning snack.
Hunks of freshly baked bread, Pršut (cold cured ham), local cheeses, water and fruit juice were served, with grapes of course too.
Then it was back to work for the last push to finish the field. Everything had been picked and boxed by lunch time and we were off home to shower and change.
My neighbours are very happy with this years harvest and I look forward to the first tasting. Two and a half tonnes of fruit will produce over 1,000 litres of high quality red wine.
I came home with a small bucket of grapes as well. Now I think I need to dig out my juicing machine from the Konoba…
A plastic coating
My poly tunnel is gradually getting closer to being constructed.
I constructed the frame a couple of years ago, but then other work got in the way.
This week, as well as clearing the area around the support bars, I have also been adding a plastic covering.
The support structure is made from 10 mm rebar steel. Rebar is the steel reinforcing which goes into concrete structures to give the strength which the material is known for.
The steel is ribbed and roughened, allowing the cement in the concrete to have something to grip as it chemically sets. This ribbing makes the steel exceptionally strong, but also somewhat flexible.
The downside is that unlike smooth steel rod, rebar steel has many facets and corners where moisture can accumulate. Add salt in the atmosphere, because I am only 5 km from the coast and you get corrosion.
The rough surface also means that it will snag on any polythene cover and tear it.
So what I tried on one support bar was a cover of plastic tubing. This is weatherproof, stopping rain lodging on the steel and so reducing corrosion, but also providing a smooth surface for the outer covers. It has been successful.
I bought more tubing this week and on Friday afternoon I slipped it over two more support bars.
I still need some fittings which I cannot get on the island, and also some polycarbonate sheets for the ends, so I think this next week I will have to go over to Split.
The remainder of the fittings I have bought are all in stainless steel, so they will not rust.
I have my plans drawn for how it will all fit together. I just need the last bits of the jigsaw. NCG