Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pink Salmon & Dandelions

Our gardens have been tucked in for the winter.

After we harvested the potatoes we turned in the soil with the potato plants and the season's mulch of reeds, grass and cardboard. Aki broadcast rye seed and peas. Let them grow for a month and at about 5" high turned them under with some seasoned chicken manure, raised the bed, skirted the rise with bark and cardboard, planted 2/3 of the garlic crop for next and covered it in a thick blanket of reeds.
The reeds will be pulled back in the spring to let the soil warm. When the plants are up the reeds get distributed throughout the garlic as mulch.

Some yells, some screams.

Some friends gave us some red kuri squash. It looks an awful lot like pumpkin. So we carved it for halloween. We had it lit for a night...then we ate it... Jack's head. We found our halloween tradition.

We have been spending some time in the forest collecting firewood. Always rejuvenating. We are looking forward to the deep dark winter.

The three of us watched a movie a month back set in Afghanistan, "The Kite Runner". It spanned a timeline of 30 years. We're still thinking about it.
Basted in honey and butter. Roasted and eaten.

Served on a moose antler platter.

Pink Salmon, dandelions, artists and farmers all have something in common, and we are still trying to grasp and pin down this thread.

December 21st. We are alone and we've got something all to ourselves.
Deep in thought in the deep, dark winter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Smoke in Our Skies

It's been a spring and summer of sunshine, hot, dry and fires. In the last month smoke from forest fires blocked out the late afternoon sun for a couple of weeks. A forest fire just south of us was 53,000 hectares big. Very high ground water levels. The mosquitoes were extreme and lasted an extra month into August - still a few around.

For Aki, Kai and I it has meant a great harvest. This winter holds a palette of sun dried tomatoes, dried broccoli, cauliflower, broad beans, peas,herbs and kale. Aki is canning pesto, hot pepper jelly, Saskatoon jam etc, etc... .

Every knife and tool we've made this year has been produced with just solar power. We work with the Sun. The Sun basically dictates what we do, how and what we eat, what time we go to sleep, when we wake up, how many movies we watch and in the deep, dark winter, how many emails we can write. We'd much rather be guided by the sun than by Exxon or Shell.
We've been harping about solar power for 15 years to anyone who would listen. Not many were listening but a few were watching. To us it is mind baffling that everyone hasn't a panel or two. We all know the sun.
Today, silicon, which makes up roughly half the cost of making of most solar electric panels, has dropped from $400/kg to $70/kg in one year..... and the silicon Baron's are still making money. Kind of sounds like the oil companies. Right now you can get Sharp panels for 2/3 of what they were a year ago. .

At the time when we moved here we invaded Iraq. Now we're occupying Afghanistan. Sure is a disgraceful situation we find ourselves in. All for a pipeline. All for oil.
Anyone can.
Running your shop on solar electric power is easy. With this system we've run our cabin and shop for 13 years. We started with one panel, 2 batteries and an inverter.
We are 100% solar powered from the end of March until the end of September now. March and October are good for sun energy just not unlimited. We work full time making edged tools. Our power needs decline until December 21st, by the end of February we have the power we need from the sun again. It's December and January when we slow down and burn candles in the evening. If you're connected to a grid there is no fluctuation. We tried to keep up the production for these dark months only to fall behind and get stressed. This year we'll snow shoe, think more, and play more music.

We designed and installed our system. It was fairly easy.
We went with 6 volt golf cart batteries. They are tough (We've frozen them solid and they have come back). These batteries are inexpensive and easy to replace although we haven't had to. 8 batteries and they are all in good shape. Twice a year I'll clean them with baking soda and water, then top off each cell with distilled water.
We've seen people spend lots of money on batteries. You don't have to, tough golf cart batteries are the way to go, especially for a shop. If you live within a grid you don't need batteries.

We have 390 watts of panel. 2 are BP and one is made by Sharp, a 20 amp regulator and we have a 2,500 watt (with a surge of 3,500) inverter we bought at Canadian Tire.

We built a manual tracker. Three panels, framed, on top of a 20 foot steel pole set cemented into the ground. As we work we turn the panels to face the sun.
This has increased our power by 35%.
The tracker put us at the level of power we are satisfied with and gave us a very good ground.--- An excellent ground is really important. Ground your inverter, batteries and panels.

Trick is to work with the sun when it is out. We don't think of it as storing power. Use power when it is there in the sky.
At night we use stored power for light, music, watching movies, and small amp tools.

If you have a steady wind, a wind generator is the way to go.

It's quite amazing once you begin... A different way of seeing. It feels like a breakthrough. Life on another level. Being responsible for your own power instead of being forced to be part of the crime. We are all, in this part of the world, part of a crime.

Questions like, "what do you do when the sun's not out", or statements like, "solar panels are made by oil energy" seem true enough in an all or nothing way. When the sun's not out we relax. The real cost to the environment of a panel is paid off in as little as 5 years. Life is saved. Solar electric panels are guaranteed for 25 years.

Electric cars are a boondoggle unless you plug into the sun. Electric anything, otherwise your plugging into oil, coal and nuclear reactors.

Living with the sun as the source of power, growing your own food, taking time to think, taking only what you need and most of all being empathetic, not psychopathic.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


We can see and hear them coming. This one is a storm to the northwest. We've experienced many terrific lightning and thunder, wind and rain storms. This was a new and ominous sound to us. Threshing, mashing sounds of a huge wind. Aki was at the coop preparing a space and run for the new hen and chicks. "What is that", I said in part incredulously because of the unfamiliarity of this steadily approaching sonorous sound. I headed down toward the lake where the sky opens up for a better look. A storm of solid dark grey blanketing the northwest sky moved swiftly, loud, swiftly and louder. I stood in this wide sky space in wonder, taken by the power of it. It wasn't coming head on. The path of the storm was just north of us and the sound was becoming very loud. Instinct kicked in, adrenalin shot into my system. I was awake.

It was across the lake, in the middle, then a loud "tat" on the metal roofing of the outhouse just behind me. For that split second I pondered and could not really believe how dense I was. "Hail!" . We raced for the gardens grabbed all the tarps still, luckily, in their positions ready for the next frost. Working quickly as the hail moved across the lake with deafening sound Aki and I just had the vulnerable plants in the garden covered when the hail hit full force. We stood over the last half dozen broccoli plants, straddled over the bed holding a piece of plywood to shield them. We stood and waited out the storm, pelted by hail stones .

This kind of storm happened 6 years ago while we were away. We get hail all the time but this hail is big, solid and comes down thick. 6 years ago it pummelled the garden leaving every plant in shreds. It shreds the leaves on the trees, puts dents in our truck hood.

We are always in awe of the power of the elements, as we mattock sod, coax boulders out of clay, turn hard-packed soil and carefully build garden plots. Every year it is different with different challenges. This year we watched as tadpoles congregated between the onion and zucchini plots, and we still have to roll up our pant legs in order to weed the garlic. Dikes, we concluded, would have been the solution. Perhaps next year, unless the lake drops again.

When we moved up here we found a mound of rocks just down the hill from the cabin and some 200 ft up from the lake waterline. The discovery of an old fish hook led to speculation that it was the remains of a dock, and that the lake had once been much higher. Around the lake's shallow shoreline the reeds are tall and the grass grows lush for 100 to 500 feet up to the forest line. 20 foot tall skeletal remains of spruce trees rise out of the grass referring to a different time, a higher water level that drowned them and a stretch of time when they grew.
An old timer told of us of a time in the 30's when our lake was a meadow that, as a boy, he used to help hay.
This year the lake has taken most of our lakeside garden. Over the last 2 years the lake has risen 3 feet. 6 years ago we had a 100 ft pallet walkway built over the soft mud to the receding water line. At least 7 feet lower than it is now.

The gardens on higher ground are looking green and lush now, and as we feast on chard and spinach and basil and watch the tomatoes ripen and the cucumbers and apples form, it is often with amazement.

They call this the simple life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


We both grew up on middle class streets in Canadian cities during the 60's and 70's. Gas was 35 cents a gallon. Electricity was almost free. Water was free.
During that time I watched my father convert our whole backyard into a garden with fruit trees. After reinsulating the roof and upgrading the windows, he plumbed in an 80 gallon preheating tank beside the furnace which received cold city water before entering the hot water tank, put a wood stove in the basement and plumbed it into the central heat, cut and dug a small root cellar off the basement. Our house was an average looking house on a city block but way more efficient. That was 40 years ago. If he was still alive he'd have at least a solar array on the roof and a heat pump in the cellar.

Following that patriarchal line, he was doing what his father and mother did. They did what my great grandparents had taught them. My great, great grandparents were pioneers and they did what they had to do to survive in a rugged environment.
The environment cannot be denied. All lines do lead to the same... survival. Our environment is everything.

Like so many boys of my generation, I didn't get to know my father because he died young. Heart attack. Doing all kinds of stuff for the environment and feeding everybody he could...didn't take care of himself. He was 56. Aki's dad died of stomach cancer when he was 47. Looking for a better life for their children, Aki's parents brought the family over from Japan in the 60's. The only "ethnic" family in their suburban neighbourhood. Aki was one of three Japanese-Canadians in her high school of 1200 students.

Shaking off our sense of entitlement.
By the second year we knew we were onto something but still a long way off. Now 16 years later we're still settling in and are just plain sad that more people aren't living this way. It is simple. Working with nature. More healthy physical work. Breathing fresh air, drinking fresh water. We grow all our own  vegetables, keep bees and keep chickens for meat and eggs. We know the organic farmers who raise the pork we savour over winter.

There are people doing this in the cities. Small , large backyards and container vegetable gardens...

for healthy food.

Eating fresh food, drinking fresh water and breathing fresh air, of course, is possible in the cities.

Nancy and Rosa's gardens in the lower mainland.

We initially came here for the same reasons that anyone would have.

We separated the compressor and condenser from the backside of our freezer, carefully bending the copper tubing so that it is away from the freezer.  Our Sears freezer is a bad design. Heating while you're trying to freeze. So much of this society is designed with the assumption of entitlement to cheap, unlimited and uninterrrupted power and resources. Separating just the motor will make a big difference. We throw a duvet over the freezer when it's not on.. Huge difference. We haven't had a fridge for 13 years. Between the freezer, pantry and root cellar we don't need one. We don't have a basement but our pantry floor is not insulated. From September until May the bottom shelf in the pantry keeps things cool. The root cellar always keeps things cool. An old sixty gallon water tank thermal cycling through our wood cook stove is like having a second wood heater and supplies us with hot water. A small green house off the south wall of our small house heats up for vented heat into the house, and supplies greens earlier and later in the season for us. For our power we've 416 watts of panel, a 30 amp controller, 8 - 6 volt heavy deep cycle batteries and a 1750 inverter. With cable, wire and connections, $3000 Canadian for everything.  A second 12 volt system for the water pump, a couple kitchen lights, pantry light and music we have 2 - 12 volt deep cycle batteries charged by a 50 watt panel, no contoller. This system is almost 17 and working fine. One battery is 17 the other is 12 years old. Maintainance is key.  These systems have paid for themselves at least 4 or 5 times.
The newest stat I've read is that the real cost of a solar panel operating in ideal circumstances is paid for in 5 years of operation financially and environmentally. In the city there is the huge advantage of being able to tie directly into the grid, eliminating the need for batteries. So many possibilities.

We went a little watt heavy as far as panel:battery ratio. During the dark months of January and December when the batteries get low repeatedly I'll sometimes disconnect 2 of the batteries to make it easier to break down the batteries' resistance to accept a charge. I found that reading a bit about batteries and 12 v (DC) was a good thing. From March until September power is not an issue here. We run our cabin and a small shop without any sacrifice. Working with the sun is the key.  We really live by the sun. For a couple of years it was an adjustment living off grid... now we wouldn`t live any other way.

Nancy Brignall and George Rammell's web sites,
Mike Edwareds and Rosa Quintana, and
Together they're changing their neighbourhoods. Sites of art and rejuvenation.

Our site,

We humans excel at adjusting, adjusting, adapting - until we almost completely forget how we used to do things... Forget what we've done, forget what we're doing. Forget where we're going.
Aki and Scott                 

* It's an updated blog.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Don Quixote

Aki is reading Don Quixote. Every day or so she gives Kai and I an update on Don's exploits.

Reminds me a bit of Notes From the Underground by Dostoevsky in the way that you almost want to close your eyes before it happens again. Before Quixote attacks again, donning his barber's basin. Before the underground man delves deeper into the depths of human despair and humiliation.

 Two stories more opposite to each other.

Our shop in the evening.

Thinking one's onto something when everyone else thinks you're insane.

A tragic folly? Interesting to consider these two stories from our little spot in the bush, with no curtains on our windows. Here we are thinking we are perfectly sane...

We are 43 dozen eggs ahead of ourselves.

Most winters our chickens take it easy and almost come to a halt in egg production.

During one of the cold spells, one of the chickens decided to go out for a stroll, found a nice spot under our work truck, and found herself frozen to the ground. That evening when we went to close up the coop we discovered we were missing one, went looking but couldn't find her. The next morning (-26 C) Kai found her under the truck, clucking softly. It took several buckets of warm water and an evening in a box infront of the woodstove, but she seems to have recovered completely.

We are eating a lot of eggs.

The temperatures of Winters past.
Some Chilcotin neighbours say 30 years ago it would hold at -40 C for weeks and dip to -50, -60 some nights.

I found that the wood stove door became a regular workbench for me.

The beast that plows our road.

We don't feel insane but are still trying to understand the point.

Just put in our seed order for the spring. Hope springs eternal.