Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia
Edibleforestguy or anyone.
Take a look at a wood fired boiler to heat your homes, Barns, sheds.... one unit placed outside can feed A number of requirements. I had a unit from “central boiler” and it was wonderful. We had in floor heating but If have a forced air system, you just put a radiator unit at the old furnace location and your good to go.
All the work and mess of bring wood into the stoves/s is eliminated. I topped mine up only once a day during the coldest -40 days. I could leave Friday night and come back Sunday evening and still be plenty safe, I just filled the fire box up and walked away.
Lower insurance rate as well because there’s no wood stove in the house and no chance of fire! On a normal eastern Ontario winter day, I would in five minutes, chuck maybe ten good pieces of wood in and that would keep me at 180 degrees for 24 hours. Used to do it in a suit sometimes before heading to a meeting. Onetime I was in a boardroom and kept smelling what I thought was maple smoked bacon. Just the Maple smoke coming off my suit 😆 😆 I kept looking at people to see if their noses were picking up the same odd smell 😳
The other awesome thing is, you don’t need to split the wood!! Huge time saver. If I had a six - eight inch log, I would cut at three feet and just toss the log in. I burnt all the brush / branches as well. If I had a two foot thick tree, I would cut up into “hockey puck” slices /8 inches thick and toss in. It saved my back and arms lifting a big log onto wood splitter.
Nope, Besides a tractor with bucket, it’s the best damn thing I Ever bought for the property.
I got good with burning down the coals and emptied the box of ash about three times a year, so super easy maintenance. Topped the water up 2-3 times a year as well
Put it on a nice Raised concrete Base so box is at knee height so you don’t need to bend at all, simple mechanics of one aqua stat and one transformer to control the electronic damper and the pump inside the house of course.
Other huge benefit was we hooked up to hot water tank and NEVER ever came close to running out of hot water, house of teen girls and showers, cloths... and always had 180 degree water if needed.
You only need power to work the electronic damper and to pump/ circulate the water continuously. So you do need power but a solar system would work.
Loved it and farmers from around here would come and look and eventually get one for their dairy farms / abundance of hot water for cleaning of milk equipment... and of course heat the old farm house. We ran pure water in it but some people run a coolent mix so it won’t freeze when not in use!
If you have power to run the pumps or a forced air system ( if not hot water radiant heat in the floor) then for me, this would be the way to go. Less work, safer and less mess.
110) This is the first time I write an update from our retreat, rather than from our city home. We are spending a lovely summer here in rural Nova Scotia. Life is grand with long warm days surrounded by humming birds, cool starry nights, and the views of green right to the distant horizon. We have been here for seven weeks now. The game changer has been the installation of unlimited highspeed Internet. It has allowed us to be here for an extended period, since both my wife and I can work from home and there is no school in the summer. Highspeed Internet isn‘t quite the same as what you get in a city. There are obviously no fibre optic cables in rural Nova Scotia. But technology has advanced to the point that Internet can run through regular phone lines fast enough to play YouTube videos and the like, and I have been told even Netflicks. Another nice part of our Internet setup is that for the times we are not here, we can call Bell Aliant and have Internet remotely switched off, and pay a simple $20 monthly carrying charge.
111) We have completed the expansion of our on-grid/off-grid solar system and are now an offical provider of green energy to Nova Scotia Power, with net metering in place. This alone makes us breathe much more easily. Come what may, we have electrical and enough to run some power tools. We were curious and checked out the average size of residential solar and an American number we found was 5.5 kW. We have 7.5, and in an ideal placement where the panels face true south,with nothing in their way to get sun all day. The system is large enough for our modest needs that we are confident that from now on, we have net energy generation. Bye bye power bills and a friendly hello to receiving our power cheques!
112) We had a bulldozer over, who cleared out new areas for us. We now have 4000 m2 for agricultural use. We don‘t know yet how to best use it and we may let a lot go to grass until we figure it out. At that size, we need professional tools. We seriously look into getting a BCS walk-behind tractor with tilling attachments. One consideration is that we don‘t have a snowblower yet, but for a year-round ready retreat, we obviously need one. Good ones that are actually dependable for years to come, such as the best Honda models, are expensive. BCS also makes one for their walk behind tractors, and this may well prove the deal clincher for us.
113) A pleasant surprise was the condition of our river bottom land that we had cleared out last year. It was filled with alder bushes before with waterlogged soil. The surprise was in how dry the land was in the spring and this has continued into the summer. Our lesson is that when a land is waterlogged, it may just be that the roots hold all the water tightly and don‘t let it go. Remove the roots, and the land dries right up. There are no stones and quite deep soil. Indeed, the guy who did the bulldozing is a neighbour who told us we have some of the best land of the region close to the river! This was unexpected. What we thought was our most difficult and unproductive land now turns out to be our best!
114) We did plant some rye last year and have harvested it. It was not a particular success. Rye is supposed to grow 2m+ tall and outcompete any weed, but that did not happen. It grew chest high and not dense enough to affect abundant weed growth. We harvested what we could and will try again. We do know that older rye does not germinate that well but that‘s what we have for now. The „Small Scale Grain Raising“ handbook from Gene Logsdon recommends the Chinese way, which is to grow grains in rows rather than broadcasting. This allows for weeding between the rows and overall better control. We‘ll attempt this.
115) Our garlic was a success. From 1 kg of seed garlic we produced a 3 kg harvest. And this, without weeding until mid July (since we were not here).
116) Our fava beans look good. We were worried about them. There was a period of 2 weeks with no rain and temperatures sometimes above 30. The fava roots are not that deep. However, they passed that period unharmed and always stayed green, although with a possibly reduced harvest due to atrophied flowers higher up the stalks. We recommend fava beans to anyone reading our blog. They are easy and satisfying to grow. You can sow them as soon as the ground thaws, you get an excellent harvest:seed ratio (30:1 or so), they enrich the soil and you don‘t need to worry much about weeding. They grow a metre tall on sturdy stalks. They are also not fuzzy about the soil. Ours grows on soil where the pH currently is below 5.
117) We‘ll have our first apple harvest this year. We planted grafted high-stem apples on B118 rootstock and we knew at the the time it‘ll take 7 years to the first harvest and another 7 years to a full harvest. The first number is spot-on. We planted in 2014 and so 2020 is the 7th season. About half our trees have apples on them, maybe about ten apples a tree. They are rather small, probably due to the rather dry summer. It doesn‘t matter. I expect come automn, they will stay small but will have their full flavour. I am not that particular with my apples. I grew up on a fruit orchard as a child. I ate apples with any and all blemishes and also with worms inside. That kind of stays and my apples don‘t need to be perfect for me to enjoy them fully.
118) We have taken an inventory of our fruit orchard. Currently we have, in various stages of development,
40 currant bushes (black and red currants and gooseberries)
1 mulberry tree
2 goji berries
6 black walnut trees
2 raspberry bushes
47 haskap bushes
32 apple trees
2 pear trees
10 buckthorn bushes
1 elderberry bush
15 highbush cranberry
3 sour cherry bushes
32 highbush blueberry
5 Aronia berry
5 Bracted Honeysuckle
119) We found one wild highbush cranberry growing on our property. Apparently they are easy to propagate by cuttings and we have just started with that. The irony is that we had highbush cranberry shipped to us from Western Canada, when they are not only indigenous to Nova Scotia, but even already growing on our property!
120) We actually managed to run our well dry. A few hours of watering with a hose did it. The next day, the water table in the well was almost back to normal. Our water table in our well is typically about 2 metres high, and even after two weeks of no rain and having run the well dry, it instantly came back to 1.6 metres. Water isn‘t really a limiting factor for us, even with that one episode. We never want to run the well dry again, however. It took us five hours to properly prime the water pump to get normal flow. We have a 1/2 hp submersion pump that we tested to draw water from the river. It worked fabulously. From the creek to the garden area is about 35 metres distance, with a 4 metre vertical lift.
121) When we look at USA-based preparedness sites, guns figure high on their priority list. We just can‘t motivate ourselves that way, and armed defense isn‘t on our list. The best defense from society’s troubles are a remote retreat, which we have, keeping a low profile, and building neighbourly relations, which we also do. Shooting each other isn‘t the Nova Scotians way. That said, I have a firearms license and even have a shotgun with three interchangeable barrels and an unambitious amount of ammunition. After I bought it a few years back, I have stored it safely. I have never used it, and for that matter, I have never used any gun, outside the training I took to get the license. I have never fired a life shot. When we permanently move to our retreat eventually, I plan to take the gun out and ask a trusted neighbour to remind me of the basics. Then, I plan to take it to a public range and try it out. I want to be able to deal with a problem coyote from close range. I also want the option to hunt ducks. I could do this from my patio. The ducks fly along the river regularly.
122) With the dryness, there are zero Saskatoon berries for us to harvest this year. The unripe berries atrophied into nothingness. We also hear it‘s a poor year for lowbush blueberries. That said, our highbush blueberries carry a normal harvest.
Sounds like your having a grand time and some great success out there.
Whether you enjoy guns or not, if you have them, do get very familiar with their use. If not for anything but your safety and that of others. Real time potential need for use at two AM is not the same as a controlled classroom environment.
I don’t wish to go into a gun “thing” but do practice, understand kickback, reloading dynamics, obviously being able to hit the target intended, different types of shotgun shell strengths and patterns etc. Do it now while it’s nice out and you don’t need it.
Hi Clarence. Your point is well taken.
Our blog, continued:
123) We have spent three weeks on the property in October and November. Getting from Central Canada into New Brunswick was suprisingly difficult. We did not know that the Province had moved to mandatory electronic pre-registration. We came to the border and were turned back. We had to drive a few km back into Quebec. There, we found a spot with WIFI and got the registration done. Approval was instant and we entered NB. Someone who does not know that and does not have a smart phone is in trouble at that checkpoint. Entering NS was painless. The Province called us several times while we were on our property. We pregistered with NB before driving back, of course. We used our usual small crossing - and there was no checkpoint either on the NB nor on the NS side. Atlantic Bubble. Though there are checkpoints on the TransCanada. In a more serious squeeze, where interprovincial access gets prohibited except for a few, we pray that our official NS farm registration papers will get us through the Quebec/NB border. And in a pinch we can also pull out our Apiary permit -- bees count as protected lifestock and a statement they take care should get us through. If not,then the situation is so serious that we have made a big mistake in not being on the property in time. Especially, we have full Internet there and can work from home during the virus crisis.
124) Our first business on the property was planting garlic. We planted about 300, about 10cm apart and with 50cm between rows. This is from experience. Last year we planted 15cm apart and 40cm between rows. The distance between the rows was too tight to run a Stihl cultivator through comfortly.
125) We continue to use our 5.5hp Craftsman rototiller, which we got on kijiji. It works well. That said, it's a workout. In years past, we rototilled 30m2 with it, this year it was a much expanded 200 m2. Next year, we push to the limit what this little machine can do. We plan to plant about 400 m2 of fava beans next year. But overall we have ten times this land (4000 m2) that we can plant, and we'll expand en fur et à mesure. We have done serious research into equipment without a firm conclusion. One practical and interim solution is to ask in the neighbourhood if a farmer will do some tillage for us.
126) We have moved from a small garden to a large garden. When we move from a large garden to a small farm, for expanded equipment, there are two main options we identified. One is a BCS hand tractor with attachments. These are sturdy long lasting machines with a solid Honda 390cc gas engine and high quality tillage, power harrow, seeding and snow blowing attachments. Altogether, and without skimping, that runs at $20k, new. A hefty sum, which, however, still means a major workout and slow going. We are reluctant to buy this used, as scorched pistons from abuse, and the like, are a real possibility. For small equipment like a tiller we take that risk, for bigger equipment, no. The other option is a Kubota BX 23s tractor (or an older equivalent), with an assortment of attachments, that used lightens the pocket by also north of $20k. We would not go below the BX 23s category, because when plunking in that kind of money, we want to at least have the option to add a backhoe later. We have no problems with buying Diesel used. We currently use a Kubota F2000 from the 1980s, which has an indistructible drivetrain and great 4x4 pulling power, especially with chains. We can't use it for anything but pulling however, because it has no PTO. The area is low in crime, but we are reluctant to have fairly expensive hunks of equipment sitting there. We'd consider it if we actually lived there. Until then, we really hope we can cut a deal with a neighbourhood farmer to do tilling for us.
127) We harvested 10kg of fava beans from about 100 m2 of plantation, so that's 1 kg per 10m2. We would have harvested more if we had been there two weeks earlier, some had already fallen to the ground. We are curious how much a 400 m2 fava bean plantation will give us, as our first large-scale test. We place much hope into fava beans as our main, trouble-free and reliable staple crop.
128) We put our "Little Pea Sheller" to test. It worked well. Not very well, but well. It took around an hour work to shell the 10kg. That's the good news. The bad news is it does so imperfectly, and there is some product loss. Still, we recommend the product. Handshelling would have taken us a full day.
129) We had our first apple harvest, about 6 kg. The harvest would have been higher had we been there in September. We have many varieties that bear at different times. The apples were for the most part small, but with a true grafted apple taste.
130) The Swiss chard did well in our absence. We ate it throughout our three weeks and there was left to spare. We took the kohlrabi and the cabbage with us to the big city. The cabbage was full size. That is a welcome surprise to us. The earth on which we grew the vegetables is acidic and only had one application of lime. The slugs are a real problem and ate away on our other cabbages. Slug pellets are a must on selected plants in our garden. The leeks did also very well. We left them in the ground for a May harvest.
131. We planted a further 10 apple trees. It’s the same kind we planted earlier this year. The apples come from British Columbia and are grafted onto the Malus Fusca rootstock. This rootstock is a wild pear rootstock that works with apples and can handle wet soil conditions. Half are grafted and half are for us to graft later.
132. We explored the back part of our property, which is 70 hectares, thoroughly. We hiked 3 days on our land and took notes, GPS points and photos. The land is dominated by yellow birch, with much maple, hemlock, spruce, tamarack, pine, others mixed in. Acadian forest. It’s also a mix of land that was cut at multiple times, yet with many tree giants standing. We counted several dozen majestic hemlock, maple, yellow birch, pine. It brings a sense of awe to stand before towering giants that have been there for centuries. We came across a sad sight: moose antlers with wires wrapped around them and bones on the side. Along the trees was old electrical wiring from the electric companies for hundreds of metres. The moose got wrapped up in it and then starved to death. Not sure how long ago. Maybe it laid there for more than a decade before we came across.
133. We continue to explore ecologically sound forest management with a private-public partnership that is meant to restore the Acadian forest in win-win-win way. The most important is the forest. The forest gains by thinning operations, removal of intrusive balsam fir and encouragement of the native hardwoods, in addition to hemlock. All mature trees stay. The company gains by marketable product. Woodland owners gain either by getting a cheque or in-kind. In our case, we want 2.5 km of road network inside the property. The company has promised us a proposal coming our way. We’ll be curious. One astonishing part is that Nova Scotia subsidizes private forest road building. When a forest road gets build on private land to grade „D“ standard, which is 5 metres wide, elevated and ditched, the Province pays for a portion. That is to encourage responsible land management and for forest companies to keep coming in for thinning operations.
134. Property lines are incomprehensible. There are property maps but they are not necessarily in accordance with the property description. Ours isn’t. According to the property description, our back parcel is 40 hectares, but the provincial property survey map shows 48 hectares. We are taking steps to clear this up. Obviously, our position is that the survey map is correct.
135. We identified two sites with a lovely view towards the lake. In our vision, we see a clearing at that site and a cabin.
136. Should the land management on the back portion work out to what we envision — forest restoration, proper and well maintained access and internal road network, lovely lake view, cabin, then that portion of land would dramatically gain in market value. We paid next to nothing for it — $20,000 for 40 hectares. It’s not that we wish to sell — we do not for our lifetime - but monetary appreciation is still a very good thing for the next generation.
137. Another instructive element has been how long brush fires burn. We burned one big pile. After a few hours, it stopped showing flames and we named it our „little volcano“. Our little volcano fumed for …. 11 days! This shows just how how dangerous brush fires can be. Very instructive.
138. Our solar system performed reasonably well in autumn. For the three weeks there, we had electricity surplus. The surplus was however all created in the first week, which was sunny. The last two weeks were cloudy and we had had a modest shortfall. We did not use electricity for much: lights, washing machine, water pump, wood splitter, and sometimes the hot water heater for washing dishes and showers. We did not use the stove nor the fridge nor the freezer. The reality is that we would have shortfalls in winter. Our little battery backup for the solar system, probably, won’t cover the shortfall in cases of weeks of winter grey.
139. We tackled the large mountain of unsplit wood that has accumulated over the years. These are mostly from wild apple trees. Our 9 ton electric splitter from Canadian Tire works slowly but well. A few of the largest pieces remain unsplit, the rest went well. It took two full days. We now have a measured 11 cubic metres. A note on the splitter: given the bursts of electricity it uses (the full 15 Amps), we used a very thick extension cord, normally used for welding, to run the splitter. That doesn’t count the smaller wood from the alders and small trees that remains on one big pile, waiting to get cut with a mitre saw.
140. We installed an IP security camera and are surprised at the poor image quality. Not that it was expensive, but it did say HD quality. The image looks fine on first sight, but on zooming in, one cannot make out a licence plate that’s a mere few metres away. Upon further research, it seems HD does indeed not cut it, one needs 4k with optical zoom. That said, we did not find one camera that appears to deliver. On Amazon, for example, there are quite a few cameras with 4 star ratings. But the trick on Amazon is to disregard those average ratings. There is a lot of tricks by vendors to get those ratings up. Instead, one is advised to look at the proportion of low ratings and read those 1 and 2 star ratings carefully. When enough detailed and recent low ratings appear, then those tell the real story. Strange that in 2020, we cannot find a reliable IP camera that can take a licence plate photo from ten metres away. Actually … truly is, we found one and it costs US$800. Errrr …no. We’ll wait. One will appear!
141. Overall, we are content with 2020. The virus accelerated our preparedness. On the most important items this year, we added full internet, completed solar and net metering, had our fully enclosed and roofed utility room with wood cook stove completed, expanded our area useable for agriculture from 230 square metres to 4000 square metres and built on community contacts and relations. In a pinch, we could escape the big city to the retreat and live and work there. This was not possible before. We are far more ready than before. Nova Scotia is lovely, and the troubles of the world have to be strong, before they reach the gravel roads of rural Cape Breton.
One of the most interesting threads on here. Like the detail.
Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.
Thank you for the details and overview.. wonderful to read
What peppercorn and FarmGal said...
We are rooting for ya!
Our blog, continued.
142) This is the first season we are serious about starting seedlings well in advance. Beginning of March is a good time to start for transplanting in May. Today, we cut out egg cartons and created 100 cells in two of those commercial plastic seedling starters. We started cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, kale, swiss chard.
143) We took part of an online Nova Scotia based gardening course and were introduced to companion planting. We did not know before that for example, onions should not be growns beside peas. Each has bacterial/fungal companions that disturb the development of one or both plants. A simple google "companion planting chart" will give you pages you can print.
144) We are motivated to transform one garden area to a "Hugelkultur" as popularised by the permaculturist Sepp Holzer. It's a lot of physical work. You remove existing top soil, put it on one side. Then you place a semi-rotten log or two at the bottom. Next, you place mixed layers of soil and semi-rotted light twigs and brush on top, with a good layer of top soil on the very top. You want to get to 150 cm high or more. Then you let it sit for a year, because it'll settle some. You place more soil on top next season if necessary. All that done, you have an astonishingly productive vegetable growing area. There are numerous youtube videos showing the benefits. For those who have a tractor with a bucket, the work is much easier than doing this by hand. We'll do it by hand cause our old F2000 Kubota doesn't have working hydraulics and thus no bucket. Since this is hard labour, we plan to spend half an hour a day on it, not more. We'll see how long it takes us to get there. But we will get there.
145) We looked into the sensibility of greenhouse construction and decided against it. A greenhouse is only useful if it is heated, otherwise the benefits are marginal, as no real extension of automn or spring takes place. That makes no sense for us.
146) We ordered a Wizard Planter A-20, which is on its way as of this writing. It is hard to find equipment that fits the scale of a large garden/small farm. We do not want to spend days on our knees planting fava beans, sunflowers, corn. To use light hand equipment such as a Hoss seeder, you need a perfectly fine seed bed with no clumps, ridges, hills, valleys, and stones. Our seed bed, once roto tilled and raked, however has clumps, ridges, hills, valleys and stones. The Wizard seeder seems perfect and we'll report on our experience with it later this season. It's a heavy (60 kg) vaccuum seeder not much bigger than a bicycle, maneouvrable and confidence inspiring. There are YouTube videos. Note that there are expanded models like A-30 which do multi row planting.
147) We looked into literature that touts the advantages of no-till gardening. The turning of soil is touted as problematic, as soil structure is disturbed and may create hardpan and erosion. The reality however is that no-till gardening makes weed control and seeding difficult and time consuming and you can't work amendments, like lime, into the soil. There are numerous stories of people who went from till to no-till and returned to tilling. We stay with tilling once a year in spring. Our old Craftsman rototiller works well but is a major workout for any area larger than 100 m2. Since we now have much larger areas to till, we need a better solution. Ours is two-fold. For larger fields, our F2000 will pull a Kunz Till-Ease, followed by a drag harrow and a cultipacker. Kunz produces high quality stuff. We can assert to the quality of their brush mower. What we like about the Till-Ease is the compact size and that it's pullable by our little tractor. We'll also report on this later this season. For smaller fields, we have an order in for a Honda FRC 800 rototiller. The rototiller also serves as a row weeder. Let's hope we get the unit. We paid a $500 advance. There are dramatic supply chain issues. People who ordered certain Honda equipment in spring 2020 still have not received it!
148) None of this equipment is particulalry cheap, what is cheap is our old little tractor, which can do nothing but pull. But the equipment is necessary. Hand gardening hundreds of square metres is not realistic. That said, anyone who decides to develop a property in Nova Scotia, rather than Ontario or southern Quebec, is dramatically ahead financially, simply because your up front cost to purchase agricultural quality land in Nova Scotia is inexpensive. We already disclosed that we paid $130,000 for our homestead in Nova Scotia with 70 hectares of land. You pay 3 times that in rural Ontario. A few thousands of dollars of equipment purchases doesn't hurt financially when it's planned that way. Our homestead and equipment and we personally are debt free and will remain that way. Any debt robs freedom. Use of savings for long lasting productive farm equipment is money well spent, the way we see it.
149) We had planned to construct a terrace around our solar shed for the sheer enjoyment across the green hills of Cape Breton that our property offers. This won't happen this year, as lumber prices are three times what they were last year. This can wait. We have a few deck blocks left and some extra wood, so we may construct a few square metres of temporary sitting area, large enough for three chairs and a little side table.
150) We aren't big meat eaters, so we never had a BBQ or even a propane tank. But I was curious about the relative costs of propane vs electric for cooking. The energy equivalence is 1L of propane = 7.15 kW. With our electric costs of 18c/kW, and 18L fitting into a standard 20lb propane tank, the cost equivalent of that propane tank is $23 in electric bill. I am unsure how much propane costs in NS but will find out. It looks similar cost. If that were so, I purchase three propane tanks, as propane cooking outdoor beats electric cooking indoors during summer. Three tanks are good for 50 hours of cooking. By quick extrapolation, that's good for 2 months of cooking and adds to energy security. Of course, we have also unlimited wood for cooking, but who wants to do that in July?
151) We have ordered numerous more fruit trees and fruit bushes from nurseries for planting in May. We'll write more about that later in the season. Our plan remains to plant as much as we reasonably can, and have fun, before we get to be 60, after that we just enjoy what we have. We have a few years of planting left.
152) Going back to farming, wireworms are a real problem for some crops such as corn. South of the border, you can get Chlorantraniliprole (GrubEx1) to deal with them, in Canada you cannot. Not even on eBay. Wireworm control is one advantage of using a tiller. After tilling, you walk your field and collect them. Other solutions are overseeding and planting as late as possible. I'd love to have the pesticide and be able to dust my seeds in it before planting, purely as a seed treatment. I wouldn't want to broadcast into the soil as it will kill earthworms. But for seed treatment, yes, I'd use it. Half a kilo would last a lifetime.
153) Carbaryl is also usually not available in Canada to treat Japanese beetles on fruit. Currently it is miraculously on Amazon Canada (brand name: Sevin ready to use 5%). Its a back up that I intend to use only in case of a major infestation. It kills bees so you never want to use it during bloom.
154) Community is very important to us. The word "very" is overused, as few things are truly "very". But community deserves the label "very". Even in the big city, we receive the local Cape Breton newspaper. It keeps us in touch and we cut out articles of small commercial farms and the like, that we intend to visit and make part of our network of friendly neighbours and farms and businesses.
Our blog, continued. This is the first update to our blog in a year, and we do it from memory. Here is our first go at it, we may add more colour or other items later.
155. We continue to live in a big city about 1500 km away from our secondary residence in rural Nova Scotia. We have been developing our Nova Scotia residence as a homestead and hobby farm since 2012. It will be our retirement property and is our SHTF bugout. We understand that the long distance, and three provincial boundaries to cross, means that in some specific scenarios, we might be unable to flee the big city and successfully arrive on our property. That’s a risk we take. The risk is counterbalanced that rural Nova Scotia is where we enjoy living. The landscape is varied with mountains just the rights size, it’s always green with plenty of rainfall, temperatures range from warm to cool, rather than from hot to cold. We have bald eagles and other birds of prey circling the skies above our house, and stepping outside on any angle on the property we see nothing but green, and full sun exposure from morning to evening. We are on a river that carries fish and that we can use for irrigation, and our property, which is 80 hectares, includes a range of ecosystems from good river-side cropland, Acadian forest, freshwater wetlands and bogs teeming with the full spectrum of animal life that exists in the province, including species that depend on functioning wetlands, such as otter and salamanders. There are no neighbours for hundreds of metres any direction. However, remote as our property is, it is not isolated. In 15 minutes we can arrive at a small but 24/7 hospital and other infrastucture. While we are not drawn to the ocean, it is nice to know it’s there, just a few km away. And sometimes we do enjoy walks on the long sand beaches, and swim in the water, which gets to above 20 degrees in the summer. In short, it’s God’s country here.
156. With age comes humbleness as life keeps surprising in ways one would not have thought possible. Someone asked me in March 2020 how the virus will affect the rural Nova Scotia property market, and my answer was, “as dead as it has been the last few decades, only deader”. Well, I have been dead wrong. Since the virus, prices have doubled across the board around here. To illustrate how unusual this is, it bears calling to memory that the rural NS property market had seen falling prices for decades. If you wanted to sell a property, you had to be prepared to wait years until you maybe got one offer, and then sell it for a pittance. When, equally likely, no buyer emerged, the property became just one more in a long list of abandoned properties that littered the NS landscape. The virus changed market dynamics 180 degrees. Properties that used to languish for years now sell within a matter of weeks, and often above asking. The going joke among the local real estate agents is that “half of Ontario now wants to live here”. The primary advantage that we drew from buying back in 2012 was that our low purchase price ($110k for decent house and land) meant that we had money left for improving the property. We outlined our improvements in earlier blog posts.
157. The disadvantage of having to cross several provincial boundaries was quickly apparent in May. We could NOT come to Nova Scotia. Not even my registered agricultural business made the difference, nor did contacting the local MP. It was not possible to enter New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, by vehicle, even by the smallest roads (which were blocked by boulders). The announcement of the border closures came lightning fast and with next to no notice, however, there was a window of opportunity: had we left the big city, upon the announcement, within an hour, we would have slipped into Nova Scotia before the closures. There were reasons we did not do that, including a lack of urgency and shaky internet on our NS property to work well from home, plus our child in school. That said, my wife concur that when a situation arrives where we think prompt action is needed, we will start the car and just go. That decision has become easier, because …
158. We finally have fully functioning high-speed internet here. Our connection was unstable because the cable which connects the house from the road was frayed. We had to get a whole row of trees trimmed before the phone company came back to install a fresh line. In a big city, you make one phone call, and if you pay enough, the tree trimming will be done the next day. In rural Nova Scotia, the clocks ticks slower. The charming part is that in a sparsely populated rural area, everyone knows everyone. The phone company employee recommended his uncle for the tree trimming. Upon speaking with my neighbours, noone had a better idea. The uncle arrived and announced that the tree trimming for safety needed a bucket crane, which he didn‘t have. To rent one is expensive. He called us once he had a second customer to split the cost for the day’s rental. What would have taken a day or two in the big city, took four weeks in the country. The Internet now works admirably. It’s not fibre optics, but enough for my wife, my child and myself to use video applications simultaneously, on 6.5 mbp download speed. It looks to us that fibre optics is more of a business need rather than a household need.
159. I jumped a point. We could not enter NS in May but we took the earliest possible opportunity, which was end of June. NS still was not open for tourists, but open for seasonal residents who own property. We needed to fill out online forms to enter New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and got instant approval. We crossed into NB from Quebec through a small bridge. We were checked by NB authorities; however, when we reached NS on another small bridge, there was no check. We stayed in Nova Scotia for eleven weeks. We then returned to our big city and returned to NS for the month of October. Again, we needed to pre-register with NB and with NS. The NB registration was that with full vaccination, you apply once, and you receive a permit that is valid forever. For NS, it’s still an individual permit situation. I am sure there are full checks on the Trans-Canada entering NB and NS. But we don’t take the Trans-Canada. There were no checks on the small bridges leading into either province on our October visit.
160. We could not plant the early season crops: fava beans and peas. Those need to be planted in early spring, where we could not be there. We came to the property with trays of seedlings, which we had started in the city: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions. We spread out landscaping fabric and cut holes for planting. We planted all end of June, and other crops: potatoes, string beans, lettuce, spinach, egg plant, oilseed pumpkin, sunflower, kale, swiss chard.
161. We had our share of hungry garden devourers. Slugs and cabbage moths abounded. We dealt with them with slug pellets and perethrin. The insects and limaces damaged our crops visibly. We could do much better with our weeding and thereby reduce the slugs and insects. We use our Stihl cultivator to weed between rows, but hand weeding is often needed. We hand weed to ensure the plants have full sunlight, but we don’t remove smaller weeds around the plants.
162. Harvests. We changed our way how we do garlic. In the past, we kept the best bulbs for eating and planted the smaller ones. That worked decently but from logic, we should replant the best bulbs for the best genetics. We harvested about 250 bulbs, many of good size despite our lack of weeding. We had excellent harvests of cabbage. Market-sized. We could have done better to preserve it. We kept it in our root cellar from October to December (yes, we spent Christmas at Nova Scotia). The temperature in the root cellar was above 10 degrees and the cabbage had rotten leaves deep into the inside. The best way to preserve cabbage, kale and swiss chard is freezing. The second best is to open the trap of our root cellar at night to cool it to under 6 degrees. We were not there (Nov-Christmas) to do that. Harvests of swiss chard and kale were also excellent. Broccoli was market-size. The egg plants stayed super small. We‘ll try again. Our small potato patch did well, our neighbours had a bumper crop of potatoes. The string beans did alright, but not great.
163. The fruit harvest was excellent. For the first time, we had a true hazelnut harvest from our three hazel trees that we planed in 2013. We had half a kilo of large nuts, with the shells. They looked beautiful and as big and pretty as you can find in any store, with excellent taste. Given we have 20+ hazel bushes, which we planted in later years, we look forward to future harvests. That said, the hazel harvest will never be reliable. A late spring frost can easily kill the flowers. Also for the first time, we had an excellent harvest of our haskap berries, a few kilos. They take patience to harvest, however. The fruit is hidden by leaves. Handpicking is alright for household quantities. We have 30 bushes in development, and to harvest them all will be a task. The birds like them and it‘s a bit of a race between you and the birds. WE had another bumper harvest of blueberries, decent harvests of currants. A few kilos each. All these harvests will increase every year. We need watch the gooseberries. Some caterpillars clean the leaves off within two days. The bush can deal with that, but not year after year. We‘ll treat the bushes with permethrin when I see caterpillars in future years.
164. Also for the first time, we had a good apple harvest from the trees we planted in 2014. The description of the B118 root stock was accurate. It was said that the trees will take 7 years to the first harvest, and 14 years to the full harvest. That said, we are worried about the trees. Several got seriously uprooted during windstorms. The problem is the high water table and thus a shallow root structure. We stabilized the trees by building up soil and placing rocks on it, plus staking.
165. Our apple tree experiment is a mixed success. On the plus side, we are starting to see good harvests and good quality apples. On the downside, we are worried about the root structure as described above. But also, the decision to protect the trees with wire cages was wrong. The problem is that with the winds, no matter what you do, branches will whip against the wire cages and thus damage branches. This is a serious problem. We cut the wire cages to a much lower level, but of course this means that the trees are more susceptible to deer damage. Overall, the solution to fruit in Nova Scotia is to grow the berries and hazelnuts. These bushes grow easily, fast and also regenerate when damaged. There are millions of wild apple trees in Nova Scotia, so obviously apple does grow. We know of failed orchards in our region, and while ours hasn‘t failed yet, failure is a possibility.
166. Sunflowers did well given we planted them late. We plan to grow a large area in 2022. Our idea is to produce our own oil. Similarly, the oilseed pumpkins we grew also did well. Again, the idea is to grow a larger area and produce our own pumpkin seed oil.
167. Our solar system produced 5000 kw in twelve months. In winter time, the system will always be short with little production. Not only are there few hours of sunshine, but winter in our part of Nova Scotia typically has clouded over skies. We will be fine during power outages that last a few days, anything longer, in winter, we will have enough solar production to power a few LED bulbs, no more. Financially it‘s good, the 5000 kw are worth $1,000 at NS electricity prices. Point is: if a longer SHTF type power outage were to occur, we‘d have surplus power in summer, on-par power in automn and spring, but a dramatic shortfall of power from December through March. We‘d be alright, though. The solar still would bring enough power to keep the house lit and (fingers crossed) the water pump. For warmth and cooking, we have wood stoves. And the root cellar in winter replaces the refridgerator. The least pleasant part would be personal hygiene without the hot water heater.
168. One advantage of the low acquisition cost of our property is that we have extra money to spend on equipment. During the corona crisis, it was clear that we want our property ready for a true permanent refuge. Power equipment is a good thing. Despite the shortages, we managed to seriously add to our equipment. One is a small-commercial farm sized vaccuum seeder. It is the size of an old-style moped and about the same size and weight. It weighs 65 kg and runs on a 4.5hp engine. Basically, you prepare the seedbed but it does not need to be perfect. That‘s where the weight and the design of the machine comes in. You guide the self-drive machine by hand and it will make a hole in the soil, drop a seed in on a vaccuum-seeder principle, close the hole and move on. This is a god send for medium size plantations. Gone are the times where I need to spend endless hours on my knees planting hundreds of fava beans and other greens that benefits from row planting, including sunflowers. These machines are not cheap, they are made in small-scale production, and are typically used by small scale commercial farmers. Having one shipped to me including attachments, was US$3,800 plus shipping, custom fees and HST. For those interested, we got the Wizardplanter, A-10. https://www.wizardplanters.com/en/self-propelled/wz-a-series/
169. Other equipment we got this year was a quality snow blower. We picked the Honda 1132 model. It gives us freedom to come to our property also in Winter. We would not have come here for Christmas had we not had the snow blower there.
170. We also got a quality rototiller that allows us to make the transition from small garden to large garden to small farm. It is the Honda FRC 800.
171. We learned the hard way in 2020 that our shallow well will run dry in a hot summer if we abuse it. By abuse, we mean running a garden hose for hours on our plantings. Luckily, we are on our river and thus using a pump system is the solution. We got a 2“ Honda trash pump with extra hoses and a fireman‘s nozzle. We picked a high quality nozzle that can spray in a fine mist.
172. Our bridge across our small river makes progress. We spent many hours placing three additional gabion cages in the water, and filling them with rocks. The cages settle for the winter. I have enquired about obtaining metal I-beams to run across, which may or may not happen. If not, we‘ll work with 6x6 pressure treated.
Awesome post love reading your progress