Diocletian: “Come back to Rome, are you crazy?!”

Reason #135: living on Brač makes you feel like a Roman emperor

The legend has it that after Diocletian retired from being a very successful Roman emperor and moved into his palace in Split, Rome was in trouble and so they asked him to come back and run the place again. To this Diocletian supposedly told them: “If you could see the raštika* growing in my Palace garden, you wouldn’t be asking me this.”

That pretty much sums up how I feel when someone calls to ask when I’m coming back to Zagreb. Without the part where anyone there needs me to run the place, though :D

The view of raštika from my Palace in Selca:

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As mentioned before, the credit for anything growing in our garden goes to my amazing Aunt Nada.

*raštika is collard greens in English. More on this yummy plant in this post: Planting your own multi-vitamin (raštika).

Limestone oases

Reason #132: get yourself a sinkhole and plant a crop

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Deserts have their oases and karst topography has sinkholes where fertile soil is found. Soil is otherwise scarce on Brač, as it’s mostly made of limestone.

If your land plot has one, you’re lucky because you don’t have to dig up too many rocks to find soil. And the soil found in sinkholes is usually very fertile, too.

To give you a bigger picture, a large part of Croatia is made up of karst topography. The most notable area is Plitvice Lakes, a National park that’s on the UNESCO Heritage listing for this particular reason.

Don’t let the snails fool you

Reason#107: snails are not as cute and innocent as they would have you think

We’ve had a few April showers last few days and that means the snails will come out.

I always thought they looked funny and cute.

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But they are not as innocent as they appear. As a city girl until recently I was totally clueless, but now that I have my precious greens growing in the garden I know full well that snails are evil. Yes, evil. They feast on my beautiful greens and leave ugly holes in the leaves. Bad snails!

To poison or not to poison, that is the question

Reason #92: sheep and goats could get poisoned if tras-grazing

As dramatic as that sounds, apparently it doesn’t happen too often.

So I came across this the other day, on a bike ride.

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If we take a closer look, you’ll see that the sign says OTROVANO:

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Otrovano means poisoned in Croatian. As in, the land beyond this fence has been poisoned. As in, the owner of the land has treated the land with toxic weed killer chemicals recently.

So, I’m told that there have been a few people known not to notify like this and when another guy’s sheep or goats die from poisoning, they feel justified because they should not have been on the land in the first place.

Another, more common way of communicating that a piece of land has been treated is to leave the container (of the chemical you used) up on the gate, for all to see.

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Luckily for everyone, humans and animals alike, not everyone resorts to using chemicals on their land.

Olives and olive trees

Reason #72: olive trees are all around you

It’s estimated that there are more than 500 000 olive trees on Brač. That sounds grossly overestimated, but no matter what the actual number is, the impression you get when you’re here on the island is that they’re everywhere. No matter which way you turn, you will bump into an olive tree.

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Photo by Anton Whittle. Thanks, buddy!

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Photo: Masline by Vankufer

You could argue that olive trees are ugly, but I find them fascinatingly beautiful. Each tree is unique and full of character.

Some olive groves on Brač are hundreds of years old. The handy thing about old olive trees is that you can cut them down and let new ones grow out of them.

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A baby tree growing out of the old tree.

Even though olive trees are incredibly resilient, they still need some water and grooming in order to produce good olives. That means that in particularly dry years, or if you completely neglect them, the trees will survive, but there won’t be a lot of olive oil for your salads and grilled fish. And nobody wants that, no, no.

That’s why in early spring everyone goes to their olive groves to groom them.

You’re supposed to saw off some of the big branches and cut off lots of small ones. The aim is to control the shape of the tree for easy picking, and reduce the number of branches so that the remaining ones give you a good yield.

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To get rid of the piles and piles of branches you’re left with, most people burn them. This has to be done very, very, very carefully and in controlled conditions, so as not to cause the fire to spread. Always far from any trees, with buckets of water standing by. And no wind.

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Watch out for these buggers, though.  They can cause bad skin reactions. They’re normally around pine trees, but this one got lost and ended up on this olive tree. I didn’t touch him, luckily.

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Pine Processionary (borov prelac in Croatian) and we’ve seen them here before.

If all goes well, these olive trees will bear fruit and we’ll pick and press the olives in November. More on that in… well, November.

One of the most famous klapa groups in Dalmatia, named after olives – Maslina. Here they are singing about… well, olives :)

Bunja – Stone huts

Reason #71: stone huts to hide from rain when you’re in the field

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Photo above by Selca. Thanks, Malcom!

If you look carefully in the fields, vineyards and olive groves you’ll still find plenty of these on Brač. Bunja is a hut created by piling the rocks found in the field that had to be cleared in order to get to the soil. You have to remember, soil is hard to find on Brač, and rocks are ev-ry-where.

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If Peter Jackson ever runs out of locations in New Zealand…

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They were built by farmers and shepherds as shelter from the elements.

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Nowadays people don’t use them as they don’t spend all day in the fields anymore. But I think they offer a great spot to come to, relax and contemplate the past; times when life was much simpler, definitely harder, but also healthier, in some ways.

Planting your own multi-vitamin (raštika)

Reason #68: it’s easy to plant collard greens and they’re super nutritious

Collard greens, or raštika and kupus, as it’s known here, is all the rage among health freaks out there. And it just happens to be the most basic veg over here, next to blitva.

So, I decided to plant some of my own. With the help of my aunt Nada, who’s  basically my Mr. Miyagi for all the Brački skillz.

IMG-20140226-01076First you get some seedlings from teta Antica (above).

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Plant the seedlings and water them. Make sure the soil doesn’t go dry until they take.

IMG-20140226-01078I will report back on them over the summer.