Monday, August 29, 2011

Building the Fuel Depot

Although it's a beautiful late summer day today, the evidence is all around us that winter is on its way.  The maple leaves are beginning to turn red and fall, the apples are ripening, and berries of all kinds are abundant.

Living where we do on the edge of the highlands, we are pretty much guaranteed a long, snowy winter season.  One of the most important things we have to do is make sure that we have enough fuel reserves in case we get snowed in for a long period of time.  This is the idea behind the pad we had made just behind the house.  It will eventually become a fuel depot so that we always have plenty of backup heating oil as well as a heavy duty generator.

Recently, we had a load of cement delivered, and made a concrete foundation.

Nobody can really complain about our road anymore - not when a fully loaded cement truck made it to our place!

Paul had previously laid down a frame and metal mesh to reinforce the cement.  The cement was then poured down the chute into the frame, and Paul worked furiously to rake it all in.

Cement sets very quickly, and it's essential to work fast to get it into the right place.  I had never worked with cement before, and let me tell you, it's very hard work.  All I did was help with the final leveling off ... and I was left with the definite impression that I needed to pump some iron to get my puny arm muscles into shape!  Good job my husband is strong as an ox!

The finished foundation.  There was a bit of cement left over, just enough to make a second level to step down.

Of course we signed our names!

Once the concrete was cured, the next step was to put up the extra oil tanks.  These will be our backup supply of heating fuel in case we need it during the winter.

Two new tanks, in addition to the one we already have at the back of the house, will give us plenty of heating fuel.  This is the way they come straight from the store; they now need to be painted and to have valves installed.

Eventually we will also have a heavy-duty generator in the fuel shed.  But wait!  There's no shed ... yet.

Last week, Paul cut down some of the "standing dead" - trees that had died but remained upright - and cut them up for firewood.  He also cleared away a large area of dry brush and deadfall that had accumulated over a period of many years at the back of the house behind the new concrete pad.  The last thing you need is to build a brand new shed, and then have a tree fall on it!  Not to mention, it really does look so much better without all that debris.  Now the young saplings can have some light to grow up, and no risk of dead trees falling onto roofs/cars/people.

A dry, sunny day presented the opportunity to get the framing started for the shed.  This will eventually become our fuel and power depot -
far enough away from the house to be safe, but close enough to be convenient.

Paul bracing the framing for the walls.

Framing well under way.

When finished, the shed will have a sloping roof to reduce snow loading, a couple of windows, and barn doors for easy access.

We may be off grid and tucked away on the edge of the wilderness area, but one thing's for sure: we're definitely going to stay nice and warm this winter!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Day Off

When you've been working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday for so many years, you assume that when you finally escape from that routine, you'll be working fewer hours and your weekends will be extended. Wrong. We recently stopped and realized that in the two months we've been here, we had not had as much as one day off, let alone two consecutive days! The weekend as we had known it, had ceased to exist for us. A dry, sunny day was a painting day or a gardening day, and there was just so much that had to be done that we found ourselves overwhelmed and unable to make time to just rest. It seems strangely difficult to arrange a "weekend", and even taking a couple of hours off to watch a movie made us feel guilty somehow. Then one fine, sunny morning we woke up still feeling exhausted even after a night's sleep ... and that's when we decided to take an entire day off.

Funny how, when you live on the Cabot Trail, you're too busy to actually see any of it. We decided to rectify this before the summer was gone. It was a beautiful sunny morning, at the bottom of our driveway we turned right instead of left, and headed towards Margaree.

The harbour at Margaree is lovely and I snapped a few pics:

Lobster is a huge industry here in Nova Scotia, and everywhere you look there are lobster traps:

I hadn't realized until we stopped off at Margaree, how much I missed that ocean smell! The scent of seaweed and salt water is quite intoxicating.

Further up the Trail from Margaree is Cheticamp, which is part of the Acadian region of Cape Breton. Cheticamp is a charming town, packed full of places to eat and hotels, motels and B&Bs. The French influence is quite apparent. It was very busy and seemed like a very popular tourist destination, with whale watching tours on offer, and lobster dinners at every corner. There also seemed to be a disproportionate number of hairdresser's.

As you pass through Cheticamp and get closer to the National Park, the mountains start to get higher and the landscape more rugged.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada cuts across the entire northern lobe of Cape Breton Island. There is a $15 entrance fee for a passenger vehicle with two occupants, and if you are going to be camping there, you need to buy a permit.

As you drive along the Cabot Trail within the National Park, you steadily climb into the higher elevations along the coast. Some of the mountains are over 400 metres, and the views are spectacular. Scenic lookoffs are thoughtfully placed, and you can get some incredible photos.

It was definitely a good day to tour the Trail, with blue skies and sunshine the whole way. We stopped off at a place called the Rusty Anchor at Pleasant Bay for an excellent fish and chips lunch, the place was busy and the food delicious. The very northern section of the island is not in the National Park, so you exit the park at Pleasant Bay and then it's possible to take some side trips off the Trail to places like Meat Cove, which we decided to leave for another time. Then you turn back south and enter the Park again (you only need to pay once!).

The National Park is very well maintained and the roads are excellent, but you do need to pay attention while driving as there are some very steep inclines and hair-pin bends. The views say it all:

There are many different camping areas within the Park, with terrains to suit every taste. There is fishing, hiking, swimming and mountain climbing all within reach, and beautiful coastal areas with rocky cliffs and beaches to explore. Did I mention that this is all along our road?

We stopped at this area which had a nice stretch of rocky shoreline and a couple of beaches where people were actually swimming.  There were lots of little trails to explore as well.  All of the camping stop-offs within the Park were very nicely equipped with parking areas and washroom facilities.  As well, every so often along the Trail there were emergency shelters with a phone available.  This would definitely save your bacon if you were caught out.

On the way back down the other coast, we were treated to more stunning scenery.  Cape Breton resembles parts of Wales and Scotland, with probably the best parts of each, and improves upon both in its own unique blend of highland landscapes.

One of the highest mountains in the Park is Cape Smokey, and the driver needs to have both hands on the wheel at all times to safely negotiate the steep roads which snake up and down the hump backs of the highlands with plenty of hairpin bends.  We were driving behind a guy who was riding his brakes practically the whole way, and the smell of burning rubber told us that by the time he got home, he`d need a new set of brake pads!

When you once again exit the National Park. you come across the town of Ingonish, home of not only the Gaelic College, but also the Highland Links golf course.  Ingonish is a very well-kept town and definitely worth a visit.  From Ingonish we travelled back down the Trail towards the Bras D`√ír Lakes, past St. Ann`s and thence back towards Baddeck and our section of the Trail.

It was a glorious day and the weather could not have been better.  If you have never seen the Cabot Trail, it is well deserving of its status of one of the seven wonders of Canada, and should be on everyone`s bucket list.

All in all, our day off was very enjoyable indeed.  We`ve agreed that we must try and find a way to schedule in two consecutive days off every week.  Now, what did we used to call that -- there was a term for it -- oh yes, a weekend!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Potting Progress

I wanted to post an update on that little part of the house that we call "the lean-to".  It's kind of like a garden room/greenhouse/suntrap and it's the perfect spot for potting up seeds and for getting sunlight to seedlings while protecting them from the elements.  I don't really know what else to call it but it's a really quaint area with the rough stone walls and rustic feel. 

Anyway, remember this?

This is how it looked when we first took ownership of the place.  Torn, ill-fitting sheeting and odd bits of plastic covering the openings.  Most of the wood was not in great shape either.

Then Paul replaced the frame, and put up strong plastic to keep the elements at bay until we could get something permanent.  Well, I'm pleased to report that we now have Suntuf in place!  Suntuf is a corrugated plastic product that lets 99% of sunlight through, and is strong enough to withstand the UV and heat of summer as well as the freezing temperatures of winter. 

Putting up a strong framework so that the sheets of Suntuf won't flex in the high winds we get here.  There's also the issue of snow loading - the steep angle means the snow should slide off, but we are in the snowbelt, so best not to take chances!

The view from inside.  Did I mention it was buggy?

The finished product, from inside. 

... and outside.  What a difference!  Note the strange optical illusion where it looks as though the top squares are empty.  They're not - the sheets go all the way up to the top!  We still need to find a triangular piece to fit the end section, but for now the plastic will suffice.

Since this has been done, we've had high winds, torrential rain, and intense heat.  So far, so good - no leaks or cracks.

Seeing as now I have somewhere to put my pots, I figured that's exactly what I'd do:

Looks good!

I'm hoping something will grow!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jack Hargreaves would be proud

There's one element that is critical when you're off-grid, and that is water.  This is especially true when your power comes from micro-hydro.  If there is a reduction in the water that flows down the mountain, and therefore through your turbine, then you are not going to generate enough power for the house.  There are many things that could affect the water flow: a kink or break in the line, a blockage somewhere (small stones washed down in a rainstorm, for example), or a change in the actual source water (the stream could be blocked by a fallen tree, and the water has diverted elsewhere).  In winter of course, you have to deal with freezing in the line.  It stands to reason therefore, that regular checks and maintenance is necessary on both the water line itself and the turbine that generates the electricity.

This is an example of the many brooks and streams that flow down the mountain.

A pretty waterfall.

We recently had no choice but to replace the entire 1200 feet of water line, that runs from the intake (up the mountain) to the house.  Luckily for me, my husband knows more about water lines (and water in general) than anyone I've ever met!  Still, it was a huge (and expensive) task.  But at least now we know that the line is good and more importantly, we know where it is and where the joins are.  Later we'll bury it down about a foot so that it won't freeze in the winter, but for now it's just laying on the surface. 

The other thing that Paul did was separate the water for the house from the water for the garden.  With five acres of organic gardens and an abundance of grape vines and fruit trees, it's very important that the garden gets enough water.  I'm pleased to report that we now have excellent water pressure for a variety of garden taps and hoses, which does not affect the water pressure in the house.  It's a real pleasure to see the sprinkler whipping water across the vegetable beds, and still be able to turn on the kitchen tap and have water gushing!

One of the garden taps with hose attached.

This was way back when the potatoes were teeny weeny! 

Look at them now!

Now, we also have a pond, which is fed from upstream, and then feeds into a downstream water table.  It's critical for the health of the pond and the life that depends on it (fish, frogs, toads, snakes, insects, birds, etc.) that we are able to manage the water level. 

A lovely sight.  But what if the water level starts to drop?

Behold!  A sluice gate.  This will make it possible for us to control the water level in the pond.

Putting it in place.  This is positioned over the outflow from the pond as it begins its flow downstream.

So this basically acts as a weir.  If there is too much water exiting the pond, and the pond levels are dropping, it can be closed off to allow water to build back up in the pond.  Then it can be opened to let water flow out of the pond and down the waterfall to the downstream water table.

When my husband and I were little kids, we both used to watch a British TV show called "Out of Town."  It starred a wonderful older gentleman called Jack Hargreaves, and he would expound in a very jovial and entertaining manner on all kinds of ways and means of country life in days gone by.  He would clip-clop along in his horse-drawn buggy, chewing on his pipe, and to this day the theme music gives me goosebumps.  He was like our own favourite uncle, and the knowledge that he passed on was (and still is) priceless.  It is the kind of knowledge that is almost lost now, in our modern world.  When I saw what Paul had done here, making a weir for our little waterway, I said to him "Jack Hargreaves would be proud."  And he would.