with 2 Comments

Puss in boots

This week: Sufficient is never enough; Better built on site; Different “no dig” approach; Puss in boots;


Early morning in the olive grove
Early morning in the olive grove

Suddenly it is Saturday afternoon again.

The days pass with what seems like ever increasing frequency. But when I look back on the we ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]Ldddfffqqqqqqq5555555555555555555555555555555eek, I’m really not sure what I’ve done.

Do not adjust your device – that was little Argent practising his keyboard skills. He’s been asleep on my knee for a while, then he woke up and paddled across the keys. The burst of movement didn’t last long before he went back to sleep – lying across the keyboard.

Sleepy Argent
Sleepy Argent

I was ready though, I have a virtual keyboard I can use instead.

The kittens characters are starting to emerge. They are spending a lot of time outside, even bearing in mind they are only six weeks old. All five are at the ‘curious and into everything’ stage.

My study is just a huge adventure playground for cats!

Adventure playground
Adventure playground for cats


Sufficient is never enough

One of my Granny’s saying was “Enough is as good as a feast”, to which I apparently once replied, “Yes, but too much is better!” Her response is not known but being of a certain age it can be imagined…

This week I set my sights on constructing the Stevenson Screen frame. Once I have the frame in place I can begin the more complicated task of making the four sets of double louvres for the walls and door.

The first job was to cut out a section in each of the corner posts to take the three floor pieces. I am using 12 mm external plywood for these pieces. The fourth piece is a sloping overall roof.

It didn’t take long with the electric router to make neat and tight rebates for the plywood shelving.

Routing rebates
Routing rebates

I did have to buy some 8 x 50 mm lag screws to fix the posts to the concrete bases. While assembly was in progress and until the flooring was fixed, I only bolted a single post to a base.

I took some time to make sure that it was completely vertical in each plane before bolting it down.

I’ve run through several scenarios for fixing the plywood shelves. Because of the size of the screen, I decided the simplest method would be to install everything in situ.

The completed screen would be just too heavy for me to assemble it off site and then lift it up steps and through the arbour, to get it into position.


Far better to build it up on site

I’m using external grade wood adhesive. I had a brand new tub of Bison PU wood glue, but I found that since buying it, the whole tub has set rock hard.

This is not what I expected in a sealed dispenser. So as well as the bolts, I needed a new tub of glue as well.

With the first post secured, I used “G” clamps to fix two more and then did a trial run with the first of the shelving pieces.

Building the screen to WMO standards means it requires a double skin all round. I’ve cut two pieces of plywood for the base and two for the ceiling.

Togther with the double louvres, the double shelves means that there is no direct or radiated heat, either from the sun or from the ground under neath. This will result in a more stable temperature inside the box – at least that is the theory.

A dry run made me realise that I needed frame clamps to tighten the plywood into the posts and hold them in place until the glue had set. Being tight will result in there being no gaps and will prevent moisture ingress.

I put wood glue into the rebaits in two of the posts, added some more glue onto the base and offered it up to the posts. With hand pressure I could get the plywood so far into place, but I needed to use a frame clamp to tighten it up completely.

Frame clamps
Frame clamps hold the shelves in place

Large frame clamps are the sort of tool that you only need occasionally. They are expensive, take up storage space and my larger ones, which are two metres long are heavy and hard to manoeuvre into place on your own.

I used two smaller and lighter clamps to get everything almost square, then the final clamp to true everything up. The wood glue needs to be allowed to properly dry for 24 hours to attain maximum strength.

But with hot sun beating down on the joints during the day – I had the base piece in place by 10:30 – I decided to fix the second one at tea time and then leave it overnight.

Effectively this means that I can only fix two pieces of plywood to two uprights every 24 hours. If I had had another pair of frame clamps, I could have reduced the fixing time from three days to two, but its not as though I am on piecework.

Clamping in progress
Clamping in progress

I would rather take a little bit longer and have the job done well.

With thunderstorms forecast for Monday next week, I decided to also get some paint on the exposed joints and plywood, so that everything is sealed before the rain comes.

I’m not too worried about not having louvres in place to make the central area weatherproof.Just being able to complete the frame for the screen is good, the detailed bits can come later.

I did a final check of the legs with spirit levels and found that they are all within a millimetre of being vertical. This I think that vindicates my plan to “build on site”.

Check for vertical
Check for vertical

By lunch time on Saturday I was able to bolt all four posts to the cast bases. However as it was another day with a temperature of over 33ÂșC, I decided I would wait to do the painting.

Just needs painting
Just needs painting

I could feel I was being burnt, just fixing the lag screws into the uprights to secure them.

A different no dig approach

I do a lot of reading each month – some books, a couple of online magazines, my monthly National Geographic Magazine but also horticultural websites.

This week I came across a new term, “a hemiparasitic herbaceous annual plant “ .

Try saying that ten times in quick succession! The herbaceous annual plant bit I completely understand, but “hemiparasitic” was a new term.

One article was in relation to Rhinanthus minor, also known as the Yellow Rattle plant. I’ve never come across the plant before, but I’ve ordered some seeds to try in the orchards.

Yellow Rattle in flower
Yellow Rattle flower in closeup

Regular readers will know of my constant battle with the weeds. This together with the extremely poor, mineral deficient and alkaline soils and lack of rainfall all make for a challenging growing environment.

Reading about this plant, it seems as though it is worth trying it as a ground cover and weed preventative measure.

I have followed a “no dig” philosophy for the past three years and have tried mulshes and plastics to try and reduce the amount of weeds. It is taking time, but I have had some success with the strategy.

This year, because of the building work, I have neglected the weeding, apart that is from removing thistles when they have appeared. What I noticed was that there were a number of grasses, but some of the more invasive weeds have been absent.

So just perhaps, ever so slowly, I am winning the weed battle.

The Yellow Rattle is defined by botanists as a hemiparasitic. You would probably recognise Mistletoe as an example of one such plant.

The Yellow Rattle has modified facultative surface roots, which invade nearby grasses and then feed off their roots, drawing water and nutrients from them. But it also photosynthesises too, so is not completely dependant on finding nearby hosts.

A field of Yellow Rattle
A field of Yellow Rattle. Photo: Alex Hyde

As I was reading, the second interesting fact is that it is acclimatised to dry ground (I have lots of that) and grows well in Machar landscapes.

Machar are alkaline soils, with high levels of Calcium Carbonate and very low in nutrients and trace elements. These soils do not hold nutrients well.

So apart from my Top Orchard, and the Fold Yard, where the animals were kept and their droppings have increased the fertility of the soils, all the rest tick every box in that list.

The old adage “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” comes to mind.

On the face of it, this plants seems as though it may help me control the wild grasses, whilst at the same time providing some pretty yellow flowers.

This is going to be another of my experimental plantings, but one that will be worth watching I think. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Puss in boots

I learn something new every day.

To me and probably to many British readers, “Puss in Boots” is Christmas pantomime, a musical comedy, something which as children we would go to the theatre to see and enjoy as part of the Christmas festivities every year. It has also been made into several films.

Puss in boots
Puss in boots – the film

Pantomime story lines are all based on fables and folk tales. So with an international readership, I had thought I had better explain a little about Puss in Boots.

As I researched the history of the fairy tale, which is about an anthropomorphic cat, I was surprised that the story does not originate in England. In the folk tale Puss uses trickery to win the hand of a princess for his impecunious master,

The earliest written record of the story comes from Italy in 1550, in a tale written by Giovanni Francesco Straparola. It then passes through France, the Low Countries and Germany before being translated into English by Robert Samber in 1729.

Folklore historians point to stories of the “cat helper” in many European folk lore stories.

Being in English it soon spread to the Antipodes and North America, but also the story can be found in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. So perhaps I don’t need to explain the Puss in Boots story.

Isabijela moved the kittens out of the house when they were just four weeks old. It’s inbred in the nature of feline queens that they move offspring so that predators don’t attack them.

Isabijela on our morning walk today

In the wild some Tom cats are known to kill male kittens because they view them as future rivals.

So the move to the Top Orchard, and into the pile of reclaimed stones, where there are a lot of voids between the largest stones, was not unexpected.

At bed time on Sunday, the neighbourhood Eagle Owl was calling from somewhere close by. I suspect it was in one of its favourite perches, a large tree just beyond my neighbour Steve’s house.

That was the direction from where the calls were coming, although I couldn’t see the owl.

At 23:30 Isabijela woke me, jumped on the bed crying and was clearly distressed. Then I heard one of the kittens cry.

Investigating, I found she had carried Pongo (the boy with Dalmatian spots) up to the house but then couldn’t get him through the cat flap.

No problem, I picked him up and put him back in the bottom drawer in the bedroom, then I went looking for the others. I found Zavo (with the crooked tail) crying under the car in the courtyard.

With a torch in hand I went down into the orchard and called the kittens. They come when I call them and are well habituated to human contact.

The remaining three emerged from between the stones in the pile. I brought all of them in to where Isabijela was calmly waiting for them.

Bearing in mind that their first four weeks of life were spent inside, there was immediate recognition that they were at home.

After more supper we all went to bed and I heard no more until I got up at 05:30. I was aware that they were playing with my shoes and flip-flops, but thought they were probably just chasing the laces.

You have all these special toys for kittens, but they are just as happy riding on boots, playing with laces and with balls of scrunched up newspaper.

Several times I have discovered them inside my work boots, with just their heads peeking out.

It’s not my first experience of this. When I lived in the UK, I had a kitten who used to like to go to sleep in my flying boots.

Puss in boots
Puss (Tigger) in boots

So watching them settle down for a snooze, the thought came to mind of how the folk tales of old and a cat wearing boots came to appear.

Perhaps Giovanni Straparola had a cat who liked to sleep with his boots on? NRC

2 Responses

  1. Brian

    I too inherited some large frame cramps from my a Dad. They are very heavy but I am so glad I kept them because on occasions I could not have done without them.

  2. Marcy

    What a great tale of the kittens. So sweet. Wanted to pass along a tip I heard from friends about weeds. The idea is to plant clover. It is soft and smells sweet, and crowds all weeks out. It has no stickers and can’t hurt the babies. Just a thought. Thanks for a great blog.