How long does it take?
This week: The last fling of winter?; Bugs life; Strawberry matters; How long does it take?;
Sipping my morning coffee in the sunshine on my terrace this week, I heard the wonderful sounds of returning swallows overhead.
Their tweeting calls are unmistakable, as a small flock of perhaps half a dozen swooped and zoomed as they headed north.
These birds are passing through on their migration north. It will be a couple more weeks before the local residents arrive.
These were the first I have heard this year. That doesn’t mean there have not been other, earlier birds, rather I’ve just not heard them.
I have heard single birds and groups calling every day since, including a large flock this afternoon just before I started writing the blog.
We have had more welcome rain this week.
I have changed the way that I analyse the data from my weather station. Instead of by the calendar year, I am graphing data seasonally, in this case from mid-summer to mid-summer.
Summers here are always dry, whereas the winter wet season starts around October and this year is running into April. It has usually ended by March.
What the chart shows is that we are exactly on the rolling average for total precipitation, so this new chart more accurately reflects the “new normal” of climate breakdown.
The temperatures remain depressed though, but with a steady rise forecast for the next few weeks.
A steady progression is actually much better than a very sudden and rapid increase in the temperatures.
However, when the sun is out, it is really warm. Sufficient for me to consider wearing shorts this week. I decided against the idea though.
But hot sun was very quickly melting my first ice cream cornet of 2022 on the Riva! There is nothing to beat a double chocolate iceberg cornet, with as much ice cream above as there is below…
The last fling of winter?
On Saturday evening we had a thunderstorm with rain and hail.
This was no ordinary storm though, because the hail was Graupel or soft hail. This is unusual and the first time I have seen it here in Dol.
Within the storm, a supercooled drop of water surrounds an individual snow crystal and freezes on it.
With snow flakes that form a dense surface once on the ground, it is impossible to see individual flakes without high powered magnification.
Graupel however, retains its characteristic circular shape, even within an accumulation, as you can see in this photo of the cover on a citrus tree.
The individual rounds are clearly visible.
Graupel is also soft, rather than the hard hail which causes damage to fruit buds and crops.
In previous years – I had started to write “in a normal year”, but what is one of those? – I usually remove the top covers of the citrus shade netting in March and remove the side covers completely by early April.
However this year, because the temperature is still below the average, I had left everything covered.
With 42mm of rain and Graupel falling, which is 42 kilogrammes per square meter, it is not surprising that the weight of the hail on the covers has bent some of the steel frames out of shape.
This photograph is of the melting remnants on Sunday morning.
Each citrus tree cover has an area of 2 square meters.
I’m keeping a careful eye on the weather, and I think next week it will be time to remove all the covers, after the chance of cold winds and more hail has passed.
I found some worms this week.
Nothing really remarkable in that you may think, except here I celebrate every time I find one.
They are nowhere near as numerous as in temperate countries, and during the heat of summer disappear completely into the cool depths of the soil.
With recent rain, they are close to the top of the soil so when I am digging out weeds I am always on the lookout for worms. When I find one, I make sure it goes safely back into the soil.
I found several, which is a good signs, and also Chrysalids. They were chestnut brown and very shiny. I suspect they are moth rather than butterfly pupae.
However I put them back underground so I’ll never know what species that actually are.
I have also found more egg cases laid by Preying Mantis.
I have moved these to safe spaces to hatch as well.
On a sad note, I opened my large refrigerator this week. Readers may recall me saying last autumn that I had found a colony of Hummingbird Hawk Moths hibernating between the fridge and freezer doors.
Most of the colony have left, but there were three dead moths.
Even though not everything survives, I am happy with the diversity of insect life that I find, which suggests that I have a healthy environment in my orchards.
I have been holding off planting my potted strawberry runners out into their permanent bed for a while.
Strawberries are hardy plants, but the soil conditions have not been right.
Earlier in the year everything has been too dry. A dry soil combined with cold, drying northerly winds were far from ideal conditions for planting out the small plants.
I prepared the bed back in February, forking out the long rooted perrenial weeds. As the sun has warmed the soil, so some annual weeds have germinated. These have been easily dispatched with a Dutch hoe.
I needed to extend the underground irrigation system, but had to buy some more connectors when I was at Bauhaus.
My plan was for four rows of Pineberry Strawberries. However when I counted the number of plants that I have, there are enough for five rows. Even then I will have a few left over.
So this week I have done a bit more weeding and made space for a fifth row. I mean, can you ever have too many strawberries?
With more rain overnight on Wednesday, the soil conditions are now perfect, however there was still some preparation work to do.
I will cover the bed with black plastic and then plant the young strawberries through it.
To make sure that whatever precipitation we receive goes where it is needed, I am copying nature.
The European Brown Hare is known for making “Forms”, where they rest, hide during the day and even rear their young. The Form is a depression excavated in the soil.
By excavating a Form for each of my plants, rain falling on the plastic will run into the Form and to the roots of the plants.
I have tried to get a bale of straw on the island, to go round the plants, but have failed, so I will use leaves from my Bay trees, Laurus nobilis instead. The tree is an evergreen and the leaves do not rot down.
How long does it take?
How long does it take one man to hang a radiator on the wall?
Would more men do it faster?
The short answer is a day and a half, and No. However that belies the complexity of the task and unexpected things like pipework problems.
Slowly but surely I am fitting out the utility room, but the work is not continuous. Tasks like planting strawberries get in the way.
Fixing the radiator, which is itself a special order, required some holes to be drilled in the wall to take the fixing brackets. So after measuring and marking the wall, I consulted my photo archive, to see exactly where the pipes run.
It is for reasons like this that I photograph everything.
Back in the utility room, the holes for the support brackets were well clear of the pipes.
I tend to drill holes with fine tolerances. So an 8 mm wall plug (they came with the radiator) is fitted into an 8 mm hole, drilled a bit longer, but no wider.
The first bracket was fitted without a problem, but as I was fixing the second bracket, one of the lag bolts (also supplied) broke. I then realised that the brackets are not “handed”, so I had also drilled the holes in the wrong place.
Looking at the lag bolts they are very cheap and made of a soft metal.
The breakage wasn’t a problem, I turned the bracket the right way round, measured and marked two more holes in the right place this time, then drilled and plugged them.
I decided to fit the reflective backing sheet at this point, rather than over the top of the fixed brackets.
Reflective foil behind a radiator is highly effective at preventing excess heat going into the wall behind, especially when thay are solid walls, like mine.
By now it was late afternoon. I hung the radiator and immediately saw that I had a problem with the cold water return pipe. I would need three 90 bends to make the pipe line up and there was not enough vertical space.
At this point I quit for the day, decided I would sleep on the problem and come back afresh.
On Friday morning I had the answer. Release the HEP20 pipe from the wall junction, cut a longer piece of pipe, then use just one 90 bend, with a pipe up to the radiator balance valve.
Releasing the pipe was a little easier said than done. This was because when the walls were rendered, part of the wall junction was covered. I used a couple of tiny mason’s chisels to remove just enough render to allow the HEP20 key to be inserted and the pipe was released.
This is one of the benefits of using the HEP system. If the pipes had been soldered, there would have been a lot more work and mess.
With the new pipes fitted, the radiator slotted neatly over the cold water pipe.
I have run out of 15 mm copper pipe for the hot side, so will have to get some next week to finish the job.
Almost every week I seem to have some job which will be finished the following week, and that is with an extensive amount of supplies in my stockpile too! NCG