New Kit on the block
This week: Dampness in the air; Creative solutions; Tanking; Sun + Rain = Weedlings; New Kit on the block; Autumn flowers;
I’ve had a busy week, this week. There is a degree of winterising going on. What must be done before the onset of the cool and hopefully wet weather? What would I like to have done? Are there tasks I can safely leave until one and two above have been completed?
Not knowing what the weather holds and still being 50mm or more under the average rainfall for this weekly period in the year, I have to think hard about making the irrigation system more efficient and effective, because around that will flow all the winter work in the orchards…
Then there are plants to be moved and winter seeds to be planted. Apart from plantings, most jobs can be left for a while.
Dampness in the air
I am really fed up with the lack or response from the builder to whom I have entrusted the work I need doing. It was suposed to start in the Spring, before Easter. Then it was going to be late May but it rained. Then in June the heat arrived.
The architect has designed the footings to include ring beams to support the walls. This will require a constant pour of concrete to meet the civil engineering requirements for the strength of the rings beams.
A man and a cement mixer will just not “cut the mustard“, it will need some large capacity concrete mixing capability which only a limited number of island builders have.
Concrete does not harden well in high temperatures and baking sun. Instead it heats, dries and cracks, so losing strength. Then there is the annual summer building work noise ban. However when September arrived, I expected the builder would too. Wrong! I’m still waiting.
When I went into my Konoba store this week, where the motorcycles are, amongst other things, I could smell damp. Renovating this old wine making cellar is part of the first phase of building work.
Because the floor is more than a meter below ground level on one side and there is no DPM in the floor – it being just stones laid on bare earth – I had already laid plastic on the floor, before putting anything on it. I think with the rain last week, the floor has sweated.
When I moved some boxes, I found that the ones which had been on the bottom, even those on plastic had got damp and opening them, some of the contents were showing the first sign of mould.
I emptied the boxes and left the damp contents outside in moving air to dry. Overnight I left my dehumidifier running. When I checked in the morning, the three litre tank was full and the machine had switched itself off.
I looked for and found a gap between stones and it didn’t take long with a 22mm wide wall drill to bore a meter deep hole into the sandstone which the floor is laid onto. That meant that I could connect a permanent drain pipe up to the dehumidifier and can let it run and drain deep into the sandstone.
It doesn’t solve the problem of the dampness though.
Whilst I have started searching for an alternative builder, as the weather cools I will have until the end of November before I need to light my wood stove, so there is a finite and closing window in this calendar year to get the work started and finished.
My central heating pipes will have to be cut for the building work.
When I took the dust covers off and looked at the motorcycles in the Konoba, there were the first signs of damp penetration A little bit of white mould could be seen on the leather saddles and some dulling of the exposed chrome and polished alloy casings.
These are 50+ year old vintage machines so I am looking after them. Fortunately things like vintage chrome work was well done in those far off days.
I need to get them out and polish the metal, then protect them, but also I have furniture in the store, to go into the as yet un-built lounge extension. So it was off down to Volat, my favourite builders merchant to get a six meter length of thick plastic.
The storage shed has been filled with the materials for the building work. Doors, double glazed windows, radiators, pipes, insulation and cables have all gone in this week.
Removing these materials has freed up space in the Konoba, so with an eye on the weather, looking for long sunny days, I identified Friday and Saturday as suitable for emptying the store and laying the plastic sheeting.
There are few buildings in the UK which do not have Damp Proof Membranes. When I purchased my first house, a cottage built immediately after WWI, I discovered it had no damp course in the walls, or DPM in the floors.
But in the UK, it is a phone call and you have a specialist come round to give you a price for injection damp proofing. Like here, the walls were solid – though nowhere near as thick. The ground floor was Random Ashlar on the outside and brick on the inside with no cavity.
Before moving in, the walls were treated inside and out with a chemical sealant to stop damp. In due course the floors were lifted and a DPM installed.
Here, even new buildings do not have damp courses as part of the walls, but my friend who does the small building works has “tanked” the rooms he has completed.
This is essentially sealing the floors and walls with bitumen and cement sealants, creating a water proof tank on the inside and these have stopped any damp completely.
The Konoba will have to be treated in this way, but for now, I am creating my own tank with thick polythene just laid on top of the solid floor.
It took the best part of a day to empty the store, sort the boxes which were dry and those which showed signs of damp and then start to create the tank.
I unfolded the polythene sheet, and then rolled it around a pole, to make it easy to handle and lay. The back wall which is below soil level had already been lined with thick cardboard and plastic, so I just stuck the new layer on top, at a height of a meter.
On the floor I was careful to make sure nothing would perforate the polythene and then started to unroll, putting dry boxes on the bottom.
With a clear night and a light wind, I left all the damp boxes outside in the courtyard to air, then on Saturday morning continued carefully returning them to the store.
It looks as though most have not been badly affected and do not need to be opened and repacked.
By mid afternoon, I had replaced the boxes, made some space and brought the car back into the courtyard. And the sun was still shining…
Sun + rain = weedlings
Suddenly the sun baked bare earth around my fruit trees has turned green. There is still considerable warmth in the sun, even if the sunlight hours are rapidly decreasing, so with the rain last week, then sun, all the weed seeds have germinated.
I spent a day with a hoe trying to remove them. Only “trying” because some already had stubbornly long tap roots and the number of small stones blunts the hoe blade very quickly and makes hoeing hard work.
Over the course of the week, doing a little each day has spread the load and by the end of the week, most of the orchard soils have been hoed over.
I am delighted that the Lucerne that I planted between the row of fruit trees in the drupe orchard have come back to life with the recent rains. They are extremely deep rooted but with the dry summer had died back.
Lucerne is a crop, although I didn’t cut it in the spring. I will when it dies back towards winter, then I will shred the stalks for mulch.
There is now a mass of new green growth, AND they have eliminated all the annual weeds.
I was planning on sowing more this autumn, to try and control the weeds in a natural way, but I think I will leave it until the spring.
Having hoed off all the new weedlings and broken up the surface, over the winter I will put some more paving steps down, keep the weeds in check with hoeing as necessary and really prepare the soil for planting in the spring.
I WILL win the battle with the weeds!
New Kit on the block
As soon as I opened the door, before sun up on Wednesday morning, I could hear the distress call.
Somewhere just outside my gate a young kitten was calling for it’s mum. There was no answer. As soon as I opened the gate I could see a small grey shape crouched under the protective leaves of a big, old fig tree, on the other side of the lane.
The little guy (it is a male) was distressed and calling constantly. The Golden Labrador of my neighbours, whose cat recently also had kittens, was barking. It normally doesn’t make a murmur. I didn’t recall a grey one being in the litter though.
He would come to within a couple of metres of my hand but no closer, continuously crying. I fetched a little cat food and left it under the Fig tree and went into town. Upon my return, the kitten was nowhere to be seen.
That was until I came in through my gate. No. 1 cat Risha had his hackles up and was making his chittering “keep away this is my territory” call. Then I heard the high pitch distress calls again, this time from in amongst my nursery plants.
The little guy had found his way across the lane, under the gates, up a flight of steps and into a corner of my patio.
Probably not the right thing to do, but as it was my felines breakfast time, he was given some too. He was ravenous.
I asked my neighbours at the back, but he wasn’t one of theirs. After lunch I checked with the Labrador’s owners – not one of their litter either, so where he came from and how he ended up under the Fig tree I know not.
He has especially nice, even markings. A lot of cats here are “Heinz” and have got terribly mixed up.
Their pelts telling the story of multiple different parents and grandparents.
He is a perfect Mackerel Tabby, with the clear dark lines on his cheeks and the distinctive dark striped forehead.
I tell folk who enquire that I have 2½ cats. Two who came with me from Abu Dhabi, and a half – Roger the lodger – a local miscreant who pops in and out and is just grateful for any food my two leave.
Roger is typical of the “mixed up” parentage. He is in places a tabby, in places white and in places nondescript blotches of coloured fur.
So it looks as though the little fella is going to adopt us. My resident felines are not too impressed at the moment though…
Now what did you say your name was again?
He is a hunter. Already he is bringing “presents” of grasshoppers, which I then release back into the orchards. He is also doing his best to win round Risha and Callie to the fact that he really, really wants to be adopted…
Warm and cool are relative to where you live. I said last week that it had turned cool and I had packed the shorts away – but I’m still wearing tee-shirts during the day.
One blog reader reported that they have had the first snow of winter. Another said that in north east England, they had had night frosts. Meanwhile here in Dol, it is still warm in the sun, but definitely cool (+12ºC) at night.
The autumn flowering plants are at their best. Everywhere you go there are the yellow flowers of Jerusalem Artichokes. They spread like mad and are just a weed here. Few people dig up the tubers to eat.
I planted some the first year I was here, in a corner devoid of colour and interest. They have now spread so are on my list to remove this winter.
I have added slower growing plants, but with colour and they will replace them. I will still grow Jerusalem Artichokes, but in a different location.
A Canna Lilly I planted in the summer is in flower. This is a perennial which will die back to ground level by January and then will flower again next year. I bought it in the local market and had no idea what the colour would be, but deep red is quite nice.
The Ice Plants have formed a nice carpet next to the path in the top orchard. I will encourage them to spread further next year.
The Bachelors Button is still in flower. I seem to have found a place which it likes. I’m waiting now for some of the winter interest shrubs, things like the red and the yellow Dog Woods to start to take on their autumn colours.
Meanwhile the insects abound. Everywhere I look there are Preying Mantis.
Even amongst the building materials I moved from the Konoba into the courtyard.
And there are still a number of Katydids around, like this female I found under the eaves of my new shed. NRC