Thursday, July 29, 2010

So ... did I mention the place needs some TLC?

Bearing in mind that we first saw the place in the depths of a snowy February, there are certain things you tend to overlook. One of these was what I refer to as the "potting lean-to". It's actually the very first part of the house that you notice when you pull up the driveway, and as such, really did not give a good first impression. When we returned in May, we realized just how shabby it looked. As soon as we were able to get in the house, Paul, not being the kind of guy to let the grass grow under his feet, set about taking it apart.

The view from the driveway - not very appealing.

The stone wall is actually quite charming, but the rest of the structure left a lot to be desired. The purpose of the area is to provide a warm, sunny place to start seedlings and herbs. It was fairly obvious that the whole front portion had to go.

All the old frame and torn plastic was tossed. Repairs to the stone wall were also necessary before new wood could be put in place.

Did I mention this was blackfly season? It had also turned over really hot and humid. Highly unpleasant conditions for a job like this.

New wood on the repaired stone wall. That's not going anywhere!

If you're going to do a job, do it right ... Paul also re-shingled the roof over the lean-to.

Did I mention it was buggy?

New wood goes up.

A good angle to catch the sun.

Thick plastic to protect from the elements. This is a temporary fix, which we plan to replace with something like this: which will provide the necessary sunlight for seedlings and herbs.

It's strange to feel attached to such a small and insignificant part of the house, but there's just something about this spot that charms me. Maybe it's the worn flagstone step, or the exposed logs, or the wall built from stones gathered from the surrounding land; or maybe it's the thought of growing our own herbs from seed, laid out in rows of terracotta pots, their scent lingering in the afternoon sun.

The dream continues ...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Willow Retreat on Facebook

Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that Willow Retreat has a Facebook page now ... you can find it here:!/pages/willowretreat/108479239182754?ref=sgm

There's not much on it yet but it's there. LOL.

If you're on FB and want to "like" Willow Retreat, please feel free to give our page a thumbs up! :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Beaver Wars, Part the Second

The beaver is not called busy for nothing. We soon discovered that as fast as humans take apart, and sometimes even blow up a dam, the beaver simply comes back to the scene and, while aforementioned humans are sleeping, builds the dam up again. So, when we returned a few weeks later, it was fairly obvious that (1) the beaver had his whole family involved in the repair job; and (2) the Department of Natural Resources had done exactly nothing. To make things worse, while we were away there had been a ton of rain. A few pictures will illustrate exactly what we were up against:

Paul is literally up to his knees in water. This is not the pond ... this is the road!

Our car gives a bit of perspective to show just how much water was flooding the road.

And this is what the beaver does best: fells entire trees with nothing but his teeth.

Stalking a beaver at dusk would, we thought, take patience and a lot of time. Strangely enough, we only had to wait a short time before we actually saw the culprit. He crossed the road in front of our parked car, paused to glare at us for a moment, then slipped into the water. After a few minutes he went back the way he had come. I wish I'd been able to get a photo.

Sometimes, especially with government departments, a visit in person gets a result. Within 24 hours, we had a trapper turn up at the house, and 6 traps were placed. Not our ideal solution, but sadly, it didn't take long for the traps to work, and soon there were two less beavers on the planet. The job then became a matter of breaking up the dam (again!) and clearing the culverts under the road which the busy guys had stuffed full of wood and mud.

Paul preparing to clear the culverts. Chest waders this time!

Mud pouring out of the culvert as Paul is clearing it out. Not an easy task.

Breaching the dam.

He's in there somewhere, I swear!

The secondary dam is now high and dry.

The water across the road is greatly reduced after the breakup of the dam.

When we left, the water level on both sides of the road was almost gone and hopefully, will stay that way. A couple of traps remain in place just in case ... but for now, the battle of the beaver is won.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beaver Wars, Part the First

So, having declared victory in the Battle of the Mouse and the Battle of the Chipmunk, we turned our attention to the Battle of the Beaver. The beaver is a determined and resourceful adversary, but as we need to drive down a road, not navigate a river, we had little choice but to declare war. This is what we faced:

Flooded out section of road, with gravel surface washed away, basically a river crossing the road to a depth of two feet.

The other side of road showing water pouring from one pond, across road, from there it flows into dammed area.

The water flow was considerable, as you can see, and would eventually have eroded away the gravel road making it impassable.

This, you might say, is a small dam. But this is only the secondary dam! This was built just a couple of yards from the road to further raise the water level. In the distance you can see the main dam.

That beaver did a dam fine job.

Beaver dams are extremely well-built and very difficult to dismantle.

The resulting pond on the other side of the dam is actually quite beautiful.

These dead tree stumps look like fingers.

Paul used a rake and his bare hands to take apart the dam piece by piece.


Now you might think that was the end of it - but think again. The beaver is not called "busy" for nothing - and he soon repaired the damage and once again, the road was flooded. A few days of torrential rain to follow, and we were in big trouble - but with a call in to the Department of Natural Resources gave us hope. We really didn't want to have to camp out all night with a shotgun ...

Stay tuned for Beaver Wars: Part the Second ...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

OK you asked for it: Micro Hydro System, or How To Make Tea

Some of you have been asking for a basic outline of our off-grid power system. Paul to the rescue! (Anne has been sent to make tea, as she clearly has nothing useful to contribute to this post)

Electrical Power System at Willowretreat.

The system is based on basic principles of gravity, and as far as we know gravity is still free and readily available.

All our electrical energy is generated by a micro hydro plant.

Oh you want details?

OK grab a tea/coffee or other drink, and have a seat and I'll start…

The micro hydro system is at the mid base area of one of our larger hills, the water flows year round with varying amounts of flow, gallons per minute (gpm) depending on rain, snow temperature etc etc.

The intake for the turbine is approximately 170’ above the turbine, referred to as the head. And this can be extended another 600’ should we wish to increase power.

The water passes through a small sluice, basically channeling the water to our filter at the intake point; here there is a coarse mesh stainless screen, designed for removing larger objects, such as branches, leaf mulch and small animals.

The water then enters 2” HDP pipe (high density poly), this pipe is tough durable and will take freezing without bursting, trust me I know this from using it in remote camps in the Arctic.

Drop from the intake to the turbine is 170’ and by the time it gets to the turbine manifold we get appx 65 psi water pressure at the nozzles.

Nozzle size varies according to flow, but these range from 1/4” to ½”.

The water is injected at higher pressure onto the turbine blade, there are many calculations that are required to get the nozzle size, distance from turbine and angle correct, fortunately there are a number of programs out there that you can download, and these will do the math for you. Or you could buy a pre-made unit from a dealer, and just bolt it in place, hook up the water and away you go.. NOT……

The turbine spins and via a connecting shaft this drives our permanent magnet generator.
We produce 230v at 60 Hz at the generator head, L1 and L2 are at 116v and neutral is bonded to casing.

Current power production is around 1.1kwhr. Appx 26kw a day.

The power then passes thru a bank of capacitors, and then passes along our power lines, number 8 wire, for a distance of appx 1km.

When the power enters the house, it gets transformed into 12v dc, this splits off to the battery bank and maintains our bank of 20 Nickel cadmium batteries, each battery is 1.2V with 220amps.

Total amp reserve is 4400amps at 24v, quite enough to make toast...

Our battery reserve is used as a load spreader and sudden surge bank.
I.e. if we suddenly use the washing machine, this will overload our generator's capacity, so power is diverted from the battery bank, via an inverter to supply the extra power we require.
When the extra load has finished its demand, the system will automatically recharge the batteries, ready for future demand without any noticeable loss of power to the house.

Now as our generator is running 24 hours a day seven days a week, the system will get to a point where we are generating more power than we can use or store, this happens on a regular basis, this is where the charge controller comes in to play.

The charge controller is basically a switch, that once it detects a increase above a certain voltage, it will dump power.

The power dump at this point is a bank of ceramic coated electrical coils, basically a big electrical heating element, which uses up the surplus power by converting it to heat, a waste of energy indeed.

We have plans to purchase two electric golf carts for running around the retreat and going down to the road to pick up mail and general chores etc, maybe even a plug in hybrid for highway use; this will offset the need for dumping power.

When the cabins are built we will be increasing the power output by a factor of three, this is being planned and built as I type.

The cabins will utilize a low head high volume system, running two units of one stream with sluice gates to direct and control water flow and volume.

This will give us additional 2.3kwhr, and in combination of increasing the head from our original system and increasing pipe size and turbine, we expect to generate another 2.3kwhr from this system as well for a conservative 4kwhr, generated 24X7 by 365 days a year. All from clean non polluting renewable energy.

This is just a basic outline of the system, there are many technical details that I have left out, due to space, time and the fact that I'm not a technical writer etc. but feel free to e-mail us with questions, or better yet plan on a visit...

Our drinking water is a whole other story, that is if Anne makes me another cup o’ tea lol

Battery bank. The batteries were liberated from the old Diefenbaker bunker when it was decommissioned.

After waiting too long for tea, Paul's having a go at the electrical panel. DO NOT DO THIS. ;P

Back to the Garden

I promised garden pics, so here they are. The rain has made everything go nuts, and it's so humid right now (fairly unusual, I think, for the Maritimes) that it feels more like a tropical island than Atlantic Canada. It's a full time job just to keep the grass under control and Paul's spent two whole days with the ride-on mower and strimmer just to get it back into some resemblance of a lawn. I can't believe how many wild foxgloves are spilling over everywhere, the place is a butterfly's dream.

Baby grapes!

Paul's work with the strimmer revealed a hidden stone pathway.

Foxgloves grow wild everywhere.

The hummingbird loves this fuchsia.

It's hard to get a sense from photographs of how large the garden really is, so I walked right to the tree line and took a picture.

The garden looks like a park at times.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Hey guys, just arrived for a week away from the 9 to 5 office grind. Holy cow, what a difference from the last time we were here! The garden has exploded, I mean it's literally bursting with life! I can't honestly believe it. The change from May to June was amazing in itself, but the change from June to July ... WOW. I mean, it's overgrown; there are no two ways about it. But it's just so ... fertile. There are foxgloves everywhere and daisies, wild roses in full bloom, bluebells, honeysuckle, and about a billion flowers whose names I don't even know.

When we arrived, the hummingbird was feasting on the wonderful deep cerise flowers with a trumpet-like shape (whose name I do not know) that cover the bush at the top of the driveway. [ETA: the bush is a fuchsia. I knew this. I'll be fine.]

We had the usual collection of mouse dirt, wood dust and dead bugs to sweep up. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Good news: We have water and power.

Bad news: Our resident beaver had practically cut us off with a two foot flood over the road. The Suburban had no problem driving through it, but something will have to be done. Hmmm ....

No bear sign as yet, but strange new scratch marks on the back door. Again I say, hmmmm ...

I'll update again soon with pics. In the meantime, beer good ... burgers are cooking ... all is well at the Cape. :) Hope everyone has a great weekend!

I don't quite know
How to say
How I feel

Those three words
Are said too much
They're not enough

If I lay here
If I just lay here
would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Forget what we're told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden that's bursting into life

~ Chasing Cars ~ Snow Patrol

Sunday, July 4, 2010

All Creatures Great and Small

I like lists.  So I made a few, detailing the numerous animals, birds and other living things seen (or evidence of, i.e. scat, tracks) on and around the property while we were there. 

Animals seen


Evidence of (scat or tracks)
White-tailed Deer

Birds seen
Downy Woodpecker
American Goldfinch
White-throated Sparrow

As well, a mystery bird that I can't identify:  robin-sized, yellow bill & throat, speckled/white tummy, blue/black back, long tail.  Anyone??

Seen at Baddeck
Bald Eagle

Speckled/brook trout (small, but edible!)

Bumble Bee
Spring Peeper
Water Boatman
and of course: blackfly, mosquito (dnw! gtfo!)

I failed to get a photo of the absolutely gorgeous fox who came sniffing around our deck.  He was a soft auburn colour and had a glorious bushy tail.  He looked very healthy. 

I did however get quite a few pics of the black bear that has apparently been used to taking his breakfast in our vegetable patch (the house has been empty for almost 3 years).  He ambled into the garden at 9 o'clock on a bright sunny morning, and proceeded to nosh quite happily on various herbs and plants.  He did no real damage, just grazed and browsed his way around the garden.   Dandelions seemed to be a particular favourite.  He was evidently comfortable enough to lie down and chomp away for a while, oblivious to our presence.  Paul eventually came out and sat on the deck (sensibly armed, just in case) and the bear didn't even bat an eyelid.  It was only when he stood up and made a bit of noise that Mr. Bruin took notice, but still didn't bolt, just casually lumbered away. 

I couldn't believe a bear would come out in broad daylight.

Beautifully healthy-looking black bear, around 300 lbs.

Breakfast time!

Having a good old nosh.

Snacking on dandelions.

Bear-watching ...

Note:  I took these photos through a window.  You don't want to get too close to a bear, even if he approves of your veggie garden!

Further note:  Mr. Bruin has come back a couple of times since.  Paul let off a warning shot over his head both times ... and hopefully that's done the trick.  The last thing we want to do is have to shoot him, but he has to learn that the garden is no longer his private grub stash.

I haven't been very successful at capturing birds with my camera ... I think I'm going to have to put a telephoto lens on my wish list.  Here are a couple of shots that I did get:


Not sure what this is ... looks a bit like a plump chickadee but has yellow belly & throat. 

Hummingbird at dusk

We've had a few mishaps with birds flying into the windows.  Chickadees do it on a regular basis against the back kitchen window but seem to escape unscathed, but this little green finch wasn't so lucky.  (if this is not a green finch, please feel free to correct me!)  And yes, I take photos of dead birds.  I'm weird like that.

Paul had to bury a huge hawk that also met its demise against the window.  At first he thought it was an owl.  He's been given back to Mother Nature ...

Scat we found in a clearing in the woods. I'm thinking deer?  We also saw moose tracks, and coyote scat.  [Edit: It is moose scat.]

A robin admiring (or ignoring?) our lovely crop of daffodils.