Chickens in Business Suits

In Michelle’s and my continual reinvention of ourselves economically, I am about to embark on the most exciting business pursuit yet! We’ve run our own businesses for 30 years, done electronic publishing, published awesome books on renewable energy and sustainable living, done workshops at colleges and at our homestead on independent living, run a CSA … oh the list seems endless.

This next one though … it’s gonna be “Something to Crow About” and I’m going “Rule the Roost!” In other words, it’s my best idea yet!

I am now the world renowned business guru (which really is all that’s necessary for this qualification … just refer to yourself as such on the interweb) presenting talks to corporations and organization throughout the world. The topic?

“Applying everything I’ve learned from my chickens to make your organization prosper.”

How awesome is that!

It comes from a blog I wrote a while back called “Lessons Learned from my Chickens” (read it here). During the summer I was contacted by a Director at a large organization in the UK (that’s right, the British Isles…and they ruled the world at one time, so they know their stuff) to let me know he had used the themes in this blog for a presentation he had done to a business group. He had chickens himself and found the principles of the blog most appropriate.

How cool is that!

It shouldn’t surprise me that he was British because as I recall the chickens in the movie “Chicken Run,” about chickens who decide to escape their captivity, had British accents. Which begs the questions, do my Canadian chickens have Canadian accents? Probably eh! Sorry!

Someone finding value in a blog like that is one of the many cool things that have happened as a result of our blog and Michelle and I continue to marvel at the whole process.

So now that we’re officially out of the CSA business (thanks to climate change/Mother Nature/and droughts … not necessarily in that order but all equally relevant in the decision) we need a new gig. So why not use what we’ve learned growing food and running a food business to apply it to a business case … especially in the challenging and fast changing climate we’re in today.

First off, I need a new suit. I feel I should wear a real power suit. Like Armani. Or Hugo Boss! Are these still trendy? This way people will take me seriously. No wait, that’s what everyone else is wearing.

Nope, I’m gonna wear overalls! That’s it! And a straw hat! I don’t wear overalls when I work on the farm, but that’s what people will expect, and so that’s what I’m going to give them. Live the cliché baby!

And props. I’m gonna need props. I used to use them in my renewable energy talks, so I need something new and fresh … something that really brings home what I’m talking about. A big TV? Binders? Computers? No, no, I’m going to bring a chicken! I’ve got some great cages I’ve scrounged, so I’ll take one of the ladies along to add legitimacy to the whole process. I mean, anyone can put on overalls and call themselves a farmer, but if you show up with a chicken, well no one can take you to task.

I’m trying to decide on which of the ladies to bring. We have two black ones. Michelle probably knows their breed, I just know they are a heritage breed and they make what I find a really annoying squawking when I’m out with them. The other ladies make more of a cooing sound as I fill up their bowls with mashed potatoes or apple peels, but the black ones have this kind of grating squawk, like nails down a black board, that they make constantly. While I risk being drowned out by her during my epic presentation, that kind of distraction can add infinite humor and human interest to a presentation.

Note to Self: Train black chickens to make noise during PowerPoint presentations.

photo-5

The chicken, of course, will need to be wearing a little business suit, which I will have photographed beside me in my farmer garb for the promotional materials … chicken in suit … obviously the one in control of the situation.

So that’s it then. I’m ready.

I’m just going to dump a highlight/promotional preview on the website and YouTube and just sit back and wait for the bookings.

It is going to be epic. Corporations will want to fly me to training sessions. Organizations will recruit me to annual general meetings and events to attract widespread interest. Because really, who could pass up a chance to see a guy, and a chicken, tell you how to behave at work? That’s gotta end badly!

Note to Self: Make sure people film presentation on cell phones, have faulty latch on cage, train chicken to free herself during presentation, try and catch escaped chicken which is basically impossible since they can run faster than you (see the movie “Rocky II”), have witty seemingly ‘off the cuff’ observation of how this fits into overall business theme, get video posted on YouTube, once it goes viral double rate on presentations … no triple the rates!

People seem to love Jasper, so I’m thinking I will have to incorporate Jasper the Wonder Dog into the whole affair. Even if I just bring him along and get him to sit beside me during the presentation I know that the number of people rating my presentation “Exceptional” will increase significantly, just because they like him. Plus, I’ll ask him to use his Jedi mind tricks on the audience to “LOVE” the presentation, and “Like” me on that social media thing that I no longer belong to. I watch the talk show “Chelsea” (Handler) on Netflix partly for her and her great writers, and partly to see her dog “Chunky” greet guests and just lay around on stage, chewing on his front paws, just like Jasper! Who’d have thunk other dogs would do the same thing!

face close up

I can see it now. My time here at the farm will become increasingly rare as I fly from exotic location to new and exciting countries. My passport will fill up with pages of those stamps you get when you fly (not sure what they are) and I’ll have frequent flyer miles coming out the ying yang to use up. Which I won’t want to do. Because I hate flying, and well, the whole carbon thing. Kind of like how I hate being away from the farm. Like I how I hate not being able to keep the net zero-carbon woodstove warming our cozy little piece of paradise going if we go away overnight. And how when I eat eggs at a restaurant I feel great guilt because they were probably from chickens in cages, as opposed to our own, that as we speak are roaming the property, eating what’s left of the kale and brussel sprouts, and digging in my raspberries! Hold on, I’ll be right back, gotta chase them outta there.

So, huge income, high name and business recognition, less or no time for firewood/growing my own food/tending the chickens/walking in the woods/just hangin’ out.

Note to Self: Never mind!

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Michelle’s Message: Tomorrow is not only Thanksgiving for our American readers but it is also Cam’s birthday! Time for homemade pizza and Black Forest cake! It’s the simple pleasures…..

 

 

They Shot a Movie Once…

I got a chance on Wednesday to spend the afternoon with my daughter and grandson. My son-in-law was out of town on business, so I went down after my grandson’s afternoon nap to hang out with them.

We started at the Kingston Penitentiary where they are shooting a movie. Since the band The Tragically Hip are from Kingston, and they have a song that starts with the lyrics, “They shot a movie once, in my hometown…” I felt that it was synchronistic and cool to check out a movie being made in Kingston. Does that make sense? Actually a lot of movies are made there, since it is very old (in North American terms) and was once the capital of Upper Canada.

Kingston Penitentiary was built in 1935 and considered Canada’s Alcatraz. It housed the baddest of the bad and closed in 2013. The movie “Alias Grace,” based on a book by Margaret Atwood, is about a young woman housed there in the early 1900s after being convicted of murder. The great thing is that the movie is a joint production between the CBC and Netflix, so I will get to see it eventually! I remember I loved the book when I read in 25 years ago … in my novel reading days.

They had dumped dirt on the road over top of pavement in front of “KP” (as Kingstonians call Kingston Penitentiary) to make it look like it would have a hundred years ago. It was a long walk to get there since there were so many roads closed around it. My grandson, who is now walking and prefers to not be stuck in a stroller is also not able to focus on long distance walking. Every blowing leaf and empty recycling box (which made a great stomp-like drum) is a new source of wonder. In front of KP he was mostly interested in the lumps of dirt. I share his wonder with soil but was I distracted by whole movie-making process.

movie-set

After we were done we visited my Dad, my daughter’s grandfather, and Liam’s great grandfather. What a wondrous time we live in when 4 generations are sometimes around to enjoy each other’s company. My father marveled at Liam’s dimples. Liam marveled at the 6 remote controls on the coffee table. Everywhere else that Liam spends time, these types of gadgets have long since been moved to higher places because regardless of how many brightly colored, BPA-free plastic toys are around, cell phones and TV remotes are always way more interesting in his opinion.

After dinner I was playing on the living floor with him at one point and he brought over a book (Six Little Chicks, a gift from Michelle) and sat on my lap wanting me to read it. At his age he has about a two-minute attention span for books, but I must say, I melted when he snuggled in wanting to be read to.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, this all took place the day after the U.S. election when so many people seemed off-kilter … even Canadians! Admittedly it had been a raucous and pretty brutal election, and I hope that the message the electorate sent was simply one of dissatisfaction with the way the status quo is unfolding. Based on that, I’m supportive of the results. Message received, hopefully.

But in a world where the zeitgeist of the day seems to be negativity, “us against them”, it’s that ‘they’re the problem’ or whatever, spending time with a child is delightfully distracting. My grandson is happy and content. Every day he gets up with a bright, unclouded view of the world. Every day is going to be a great day. He doesn’t have any negative baggage. If he had done a face plant on the sidewalk, and I hadn’t been able to stop the fall, I’d probably still be feeling great guilt, but he’d just be ready to chase leaves again, holding no grudge. As a grandparent I’d like to see him walk around in a one of those giant plastic balls you see people rolling around in. With a football helmet on. Alas, this does not seem to be a practical way to go through life.

I love my daughters very much, but I don’t seem to be able to remember very much from when they were this age. I was working long hours getting a business established, being involved with the local environmental group, being on the city’s “Sustainable Development Committee” and trying to pay bills. It was a time of sleep depravation and stress, and those wonderful moments that children bring to your life can be overlooked when you are so overwhelmed.

I think the difference with a grandchild is that I only see him about once a week so I have pent up affection and enthusiasm that I have a brief opportunity to shower on him. Then I get to leave and have a great night’s sleep.

The love of grandchild is a wondrous, powerful thing. It’s the kind of thing where you want to move mountains for them to have the same quality of life that you’ve had. Or run in an election for a party that probably won’t win, but that might move the dial on the need to deal with climate change a little further to the “Action” zone. No one likes to lose, especially in an election where the outcome seems so important. It is a depleting, exhausting activity.

My grandchild is teaching me to be positive everyday. To value the important things in life. To get over the slights against me, or the actions of others I may disagree with, and focus on all that is good in this amazing world of ours. To be grateful in the moment. I am giddy at the thought of spending time with him. There is no joy greater than getting a grandchild to smile. I love him fully and completely.

Only love prevails.

walking

 

The Feng Shui of My Wind Turbine

Remember that scene in the first Star Wars where the Death Star blows up that planet and Obi-Wan Kenobi says, “There’s been a disturbance in the force”?

That’s been the theme of my life for the last couple of months since our wind turbine got knocked out by lightning. For the last nine years, I’ve been able to look up and see the wind turbine, from pretty much anywhere I stand near our house. It’s a wonderful, glorious, beautiful thing. It reminds me of the cost of living in an advanced society … that requires electricity … when electricity poles don’t run to your house.

So while it was down, first so that I could diagnose the problem and then to order and wait for the replacement parts, there was a disturbance in the force here. I felt like the “Feng Shui” of the place had been thrown off. Not that I know anything about Feng Shui. I thought it referred to where you put your couch in the living room, but according to Wikipedia it is the Chinese philosophy of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment. With that description it makes sense to me that the Feng Shui of this place has been off kilter.

In so many parts of my province people are vocal in their opposition to large wind turbines, claiming they are a blight on the landscape. They never mention the utility poles that line every roadway and the power lines which crisscross the province, and the enormous electricity towers that dot the landscape. Nope, it’s the wind turbines that are the problem.

And yet I somehow find them so beautiful. And I absolutely love mine. Especially at this time of year! With less and less sunshine, and more and more wind, the wind turbine is a marvel. I’m surrounded by trees and forests and somehow it just feels like it fits in.

This may be because of the literal translation (according to Wikipedia) of Feng Shui which is “wind-water.” You see, after our drought this summer, the pond that the turbine towers above is dry. It’s never been dry before, but this summer’s historic drought did it in and we have yet to see enough fall rain to put any water back in to it. In my silly, rose-colored glasses, idyllic world, wind power represents the potential to reduce how much CO2 we belch into the air to make electricity, and therefore reduce these weather anomalies like droughts. And therefore the wind/water connection is very close.

Do you think about electricity all the time? I do. It’s amazing stuff. And when you make all your own you get a marvelous appreciation for how difficult a process this is. And expensive. Without the wind turbine I had to run our gasoline powered generator several times, which I haven’t had to do at this time of year for, well, 9 years. It was horrible.

It’s not the expense of doing it, it’s the carbon I put into the atmosphere. It feels like defeat. I grew up watching ABC Wide World of Sports, so I have been experiencing “the agony of defeat” every time I turned that generator on, like the ski jumper who goes off the ramp to bad results.

But now the turbine is up and I am living “the thrill of victory” once more. Michelle keeps finding me just standing there gazing at the thing. “You gonna get any work done today?” Nope. Just gonna stand here looking at this marvelous machine. And if I do any work, I will probably use some electricity to help my efforts, and some of that power is coming from that amazing machine up at the top of that tower.

cam-admiring-wind-turbine

Once we got the tower down and my friend/neighbor Sandy, the engineer, spun the blades he noticed there was too much movement in it. He said the bearings should probably be replaced. I was skeptical. But since I was ordering a new rectifier I added bearings too which were not expensive.

When they arrived Sandy helped me remove the old bearings and put in new ones. So much grease! Again, the old bearings looked fine to me, but whatever, if it made Sandy happy, I was fine with that.

Then my other wonderful neighbor Ken and Sandy and I put the tower back up, and I turned off the brake, and it started to spin, and generate electricity, and I said to Sandy “Listen… there’s no noise!” There was noticeably less sound coming from it than previously. The noise was never excessive and because it meant I was making electricity, I loved it, but clearly, Sandy was correct. The bearings weren’t sitting correctly or there was too much play and the new bearings corrected this.

Ken has a saying that he often repeats to me when we work on projects and I say stuff like, “Are you sure that little weld is going to keep this tracker from flying apart in a wind storm?” He says “Oh ye of little faith.” The solar trackers have never flown apart. And once again my skepticism was proved false when Sandy’s diagnosis of wonky bearings proved bang on.

I believe I am becoming, slowly, less skeptical … ‘of greater faith’ in people more knowledgeable than me. I would rather not have taken the turbine down. Lowering and raising the gin pole tower is a stressful job, for me anyway. The forces and stresses seem enormous. And yet somehow down and up it goes.

And if it hadn’t been struck by lightning we wouldn’t have taken the time to replace the bearings. Now it’s not only quieter, but there’s less vibration and new lubrication and things are all working better, I’m potentially getting more electrical potential out of this marvelous machine.

More electricity for cutting wood, and watching Netflix and making toast! I do love toast!

Feng Shui has been restored to Sunflower Farm. It is once again the “Sun- and Wind-Powered Farm” and it features ‘all-you-can-eat toast.’ Well, within reason.

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Thanks once again to our wonderful friend and blog reader N.B. for his generous donation to the “Help Fix the Wind Turbine Fund.” Your donation could not have come at a better time and was most appreciated!

 

 

 

Channeling My Inner Horse Whisperer

I’m one of those people who has a way with horses. I’m terrified of them, and they know it.

I love horses. Or rather I love the results of their hay consumption and how it helps build my sandy soil. So I do spend some time around them.

I was thinking about horses recently because of an incident in a nearby city. A young person, perhaps with the help of spirited beverages, decided to slap a police horse. No really, they did this. They were probably egged on by people nearby. So they slapped the horse, but showing a complete lack of self preservation, they slapped it on its hindquarters. Really? You slapped a horse there?

And the horse, even though it is one of those amazing crowd-control trained horses, still managed to aim a good kick at the butt slapper.

I have learned from my time around horses that they know exactly how you feel about them. Show them who’s boss and they will do exactly what you want … most of the time. Fear them, and they will treat you like dirt … or a play toy … whichever comes first.

From time to time I have helped to look after my neighbor’s horses when she was away. This often meant getting them from the barn, across an unfenced lane to a paddock where they would spend the day, and then leading then back into the barn again at night. A real horse person would make it very clear to them exactly how things were going to go down, and discipline them verbally if they got off track. I bribed them with oats and I even did that poorly. I wore steel toed work boots, my chain saw pants and several layers of bulky jackets to hopefully absorb some of the shock of a kick, but the horses still knew they were in control. And why wouldn’t they? They’re about 2,000 lbs. heavier than me.

Yet somehow this same neighbor is able to jump into horse trailers the size of a small bathroom, wearing shorts and sandals, with 4 of these monsters, and uses Jedi mind tricks to get them to do exactly what she wants. This just isn’t fair, but like my inability to make it to an NHL team, I have accepted my limitation.

Recently I was over at my neighbours’ to retrieve the horse manure trailer (a happy time for me). The horses were in the barn, but they didn’t seem too interested in me, just a passing, dismissive glance out the windows when I arrived. But for some reason, on this particular day, once I got the truck hooked on to the trailer, they decided to investigate. And so 4 or 5 lumbering, Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized monsters were clustered around the truck investigating my presence.

jasper-in-the-truck

Jasper the Wonder Dog thought it was awesome … like Jurassic Park, only he got to watch from the inside of the truck cab, although my window was down and it’s amazing how far a horse can get itself into your truck when it wants.

Eventually I was able to squeeze myself back inside and slowly drive over towards the gate. But on this day, the horses had decided I would not be leaving the compound unescorted. Whether due to boredom or just some horsey mind trick they blocked the exit and showed no signs of moving.

So out I waded into the sea of towering extremely dangerous horses to try and coax them out of the way. First I tried the gentle, calm verbal persuasion technique. They didn’t even acknowledge my presence. Then I started with the friendly face rubs and firmer “Time to head back to the barn” talk, which got me nowhere.

They had decided that something about my Ford Ranger was extremely attractive and 4 (or 5?) horses were licking the truck hood, sticking their heads into the window, examining the truck bed and checking out the manure trailer. Now, they could have examined the manure trailer any time during the previous weeks but suddenly because I was trying to leave with it they were intrigued. Really? You have to do that now?

 

All my finagling is premised on never, EVER getting near the kick zone of one of these beasts, which just slows the process to a dead crawl. Finally, because Alyce wasn’t there I asked another neighbour who often looks after the horses to help. He came down and was able, with great difficulty, to finally cajole them out of the way, and to allow me to exit the gate, which he closed behind me.

I’m pretty sure alcohol must have been involved in the horse slapping incident, because no one in their right mind does that. I’m pretty sure our DNA contains the same intrinsic warnings about the potential harm from a horse’s rear section, as it does about snakes. If it is slithers on its belly and hisses, proceed with caution.

A local radio station suggested that punishment for this slap could include cleaning up the horse stable. And I wondered, is that punishment? I love these places. That’s where the best soil supplement you’ll ever get comes from.

Michelle and I seem to have spent much of our lives enjoying activities that society sees as punishment or deprivation. You hear about prisoners living on ‘bread and water.’  I can’t count the number of times Michelle has made a fresh loaf of bread, and along with a glass of our awesome well water, provides our lunch. It’s fabulous. Why is this problematic? Shoveling horse manure as punishment? And this is punishment because….?

sandwichloaf

My time around horses has taught me a great new respect for any movie I see with legions of horses riding at high speed. This is an extremely dangerous activity and one viewers should be (but I don’t think usually are) in awe of.

When Hollywood comes calling, which it will, when the world has grown tired of Ryan Gosling, and Ryan Reynolds and all those other Canadian imports, and they want me to finally step up and fill the void, my contract will emphatically specify that some nudity is fine, but nothing to do with horses. Unless the horse is animatronic like at Disney World or the role requires the cleaning and shoveling of a horse stall. This is what careers are made of.  (And great raspberry patches!)

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Thanks to PB for his recent generosity. Thank you for not only expressing your gratitude in a comment but with a donation as well. Both were much appreciated!

Picking Spinach in the Dark

I am NOT in a rut. I don’t think I’ve ever really been in a rut. Life constantly throws new things my way, and I’m getting better at just going with the flow. When I think of people who put on car doors for 30 years, I am grateful for the path I have chosen.

The last few CSA delivery days found me in the garden, in the dark, picking spinach by headlamp. And it was kind of weird.

headlamp-spinach

During CSA season, I try to get on the road with our weekly boxes by 11 a.m., and as the season progressed and there were more and vegetables to go into the boxes, this became increasingly challenging … like those games you play where the machine throws more and more balls at you and you have to try and deal with them.

At the end of the season we had all of the regular fall stuff … squash, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes, kale, etc. as well as a new crop of stuff that our members also got in the spring, like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce… and a bunch of other stuff.

I think spinach is really healthy and I therefore assume our members like it. But it is time consuming to pick. I could pick it the day before but I believe it’s better picked on delivery day, and we aim to delight our members. I could have skipped the spinach because there were already a lot of other greens in the box, but no, I wanted the spinach in there.

At this time of year it doesn’t really start getting light out until 7 a.m. or so, and there was no way I could get everything done for the delivery unless I started before 6. And so I got up and headed out in the dark, with my headlamp on, to start on the spinach. My headlamp is awesome. It is a really good LED one that my daughter gave me last Christmas, so I could set aside my cheap and ineffective Dollar Store ones finally.

It’s usually around 10°C (50°F) that early, and since we’ll have had a dew, it’s wet, and once your hands get wet they get really cold. Which brings up the point of this blog.

How the heck did I find myself in a situation where I’m out in the pitch black picking spinach? My instinct is that it’s less than ideal. I’d rather be in bed. Or reading. But alas, spinach picking it is.

I just read a book by Chris Hedges called “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” He talks about struggling places like Camden, New Jersey and he devotes a chapter to a city in Florida where workers, many undocumented, meet in parking lots at 4 a.m. to hopefully get picked to be bused out to produce fields to harvest crops all day, for meager pay. Much of the produce is grown under plastic mulch and has heavy pesticide residues and it sounds pretty lousy.

And I am grateful that my harvest activities were very much voluntary and under much better conditions, not counting the brutal heat this summer, which my comrade harvesters in the south would no doubt be dealing with as well. There was not a time during the season that I didn’t haul around a box of vegetables that I picked that I didn’t feel a kinship to others who put the food on our tables, often for very low wages in brutal conditions.

As I picked in the dark once in a while I’d hear a vehicle go by. And I’d think it was someone on their way to a job in the city. The two likely cities they’re headed for are a good hour away. And I wondered how long they have to work to pay for the vehicle and fuel and maintenance to get them to that job. Which takes me back to the first decade we were here when I drove 3 hours back to the Greater Toronto Area to see customers every 4 to 6 weeks. And I’d be up around 5 a.m. and on the road in the dark, and I never really thought much about it.

I would spend the day eating industrial food and dodging huge trucks and stressed-out drivers and constantly monitor the 680AM All News Radio station “with traffic on the ones” to figure out how best to navigate some of the worst traffic in North America, with it’s awesome new “All Day Rush Hour” … traffic that just never ends.

As I picked spinach I did the math on how much easier it is to make more money commuting to a city job. But except for the odd car on the road, I am in a place of peace, and quiet. Right now we hear a lot of owls. And I can hear the Canada Geese on nearby ponds. I don’t think I’ve heard the loons recently…I guess they’ve headed to overwinter in Florida.

When I think about it, harvesting spinach in the dark is pretty awesome. I have this great gift … property to grow food on, people who will pay me to grow organic produce for them, no neighbors, no man-made noise cluttering the sounds of nature … a wife who will be out to help once it’s light enough to start packing the boxes.

As I look back to the house the kitchen light is on. It’s powered by electricity from batteries that were charged the day before by the sun. For the last 100 years or so people have been looking back at this house in the early morning, after milking cows when the barn still stood, or picking spinach…without a high tech lithium-ion powered LED headlight… and seen what a warm inviting place this is. I would finish picking the spinach around 7:30 and that’s when we’d have breakfast.

the-glow-from-the-house

Breakfast included potatoes from our garden and eggs from our chickens. At this time of year, I chop up some spinach and throw it in the scrambled eggs to give it some color, and for the iron and other goodies it contains. That spinach … I picked that! In the dark!

sunrise

Gas Tube Arrestors, Busted Wind Turbines and Spiders from Mars

I’m maturing as a person.

Oh, I still have my fits and tantrums, but I’m getting much better. As one approaches their 60s perhaps this resignation to certain outcomes becomes easier.

Several weeks ago we had a major storm blow through with tornado warnings in our area. I never remember one in the middle of September, but the brutal heat of summer carried on into September so it shouldn’t surprise me.

As I was walking towards the front screen door at one point during the storm, the loudest thunder bolt I’ve ever heard struck simultaneously with the flash of lightning. It was terrifying, like a World War I artillery barrage, and more worrying from an off-grid standpoint.

We have a marvelous 1 kilowatt wind turbine on a 100 ft steel tower that reduces our generator run time significantly. But let’s be honest, it’s just this massive, tall lightning rod screaming “Hit me, hit me, HIT ME!” during a lightning storm.

Sure enough the following morning the turbine was spinning very slowly, even though the wind was still high. Not a good sign. This is when my newfound maturity appeared. Rather than grabbing an axe and chopping down the nearest tree on the “To Be Cut” list to deal with my rage, I just assumed the turbine was toast and shrugged my shoulders with resignation.

The absolutely wonderfully brilliant news was that there was no noticeable damage in the battery room. The last time we got hit by lightning (3 summers ago, a week before my younger daughter’s wedding! Read about it here.)  it took out the inverter and lots of other expensive equipment.

So the other day, my neighbor Sandy and I brought down the turbine, which is on a gin-pole tower. It’s still kind of scary, but pretty gratifying when you finally get it down. The problem last time (3 years ago) was that the DC Rectifier had been blown up. I say “blown up” because you could see where there had been sparking and big chunk of plastic was missing. A rectifier is like the opposite of an ‘inverter.’ It takes AC electricity, that the alternator on the turbine produces, and it converts it to DC to go in to the batteries. All those black ‘bricks,’ the black plastic boxes that you plug into wall outlets to power your computer or charge your cell phones are DC rectifiers, converting AC from the plug to the DC the phone battery wants.

When we replaced these the last time we got hit, Bergey, the manufacturer of my wind turbine, suggested that we add a “Gas Tube Arrestor.” A Gas Tube Arrestor is basically a fuse. And low and behold, as soon as we got the turbine apart we could see that one of these had blown.

view-of-turbine

guts-of-turbine

 

gas-tube-arrestorThe bad news was that I have to replace it and the rectifier. The good news is that it blew up and apparently took the short or surge of electricity down the turbine into the grounding wires to the grounding rods, rather than into the battery room. How cool is that?! Which begs the question … why hadn’t they provided them when I installed the system a decade ago? Continuous quality improvement I suppose.

As we were taking the turbine apart I noticed this little spider hanging around. Let’s call him/her Ziggy. I sort of assumed she had jumped on from the sunflower nearby where the turbine had ended up when we took it down. But then I noticed she didn’t want to leave the area.

ziggy-on-the-edge

ziggy-at-home

So finally I looked down the tower and noticed that she had a web there.

Nature is a funny thing sometimes. We live in the bush and have no shortage of bugs but all the things the bugs want … pollen from flowers, people to bite, etc. are at ground level. How many bugs would want to hang out at 100 feet, the height of the tower when it’s erect?

But there was the spider, and there was the web, so apparently she had a thing going.

And since she was a spider that hung out at high heights I started singing David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” with the lyrics “Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Wierd and Gilly, And The Spiders from Mars.” And I could not get that song out of my head all day, and it was a good thing.

Taking down a wind turbine is kind of a stressful process so there is a great sense of relief and accomplishment when it’s finally down. So you have a natural buzz afterwards. I’d rather not bring it down, but when I factor having to bring it down twice in 10 years, with the huge amount of electricity it has generated to improve the quality of my life, without the carbon I would have produced if I’d run my generator, then it’s a pretty good trade off.

Couple that with a catchy tune from a recently deceased musical icon, and it was a pretty good day all and all. Luckily we haven’t yet hit the grey days of November, so the wind power hasn’t been missed. Every time I bring down the turbine I get better at it and learn more. I finally understand this whole DC rectification thing.

I’m intrigued to see if Ziggy hangs in for a week or two while I order the replacements and install them. Fall is in the air; I’m thinking she’s probably better to find a place to overwinter at ground level.

I just wish Bergey could figure out another improvement that would take the lightning jolt at ground level so I didn’t have to drag the whole thing when it gets trashed. I can dream, can’t I?

 

A couple of notes from Michelle;

  • Thanks to RH for his recent (second!) donation. As you can imagine, it will help pay for these wind turbine repairs! Even though Cam does the repairs himself, the parts and various bits & pieces are not cheap! You’ll find the “TIP JAR” above on the right hand side of this page. Every bit helps and is most appreciated!
  • Many of you probably found this blog through our writing in Mother Earth News magazine. They’ve offered us a small commission for every Mother Earth News subscription that is purchased using our link; https://www.motherearthnews.com/store/Offer/EMEBGGAF. Mother Earth News magazine is one of our favourite magazines!
  • HAPPY THANKSGIVING to our Canadian readers! We’ll be celebrating here at Sunflower Farm with our family and lots of great food from our garden. We have so much to be thankful for!

If I’m Livin’ The Dream, Why Does It Feel Like a Nightmare?

The other day Michelle told me over breakfast about a Facebook post she’d seen. It was one of those canned generic things that people like to repost. It was a photo of a cabin in the woods. I paraphrase but it said something along the lines of  …”Livin’ off the grid … no electricity bills … growing your own food … sounds pretty good to me.”

And we started laughing. Not in a nasty way (I could have used ‘pejorative’ but frankly I overuse that darn word), just a kind of ‘ah yes, the dream vs reality’ view of the world.

This started a number of years ago when we had a friend over and we had just toured the garden during a drought (yes, another one) and he looked around at the garden that did indeed look petty awesome from all of our hard work and said, “You guys are livin’ the dream.”

So anytime anything goes wrong this has become our mantra, said in a very sarcastic tone, of course …” We’re just livin’ the dream!”  On the day that Michelle was describing this Facebook post about how great livin’ off-grid and growing your own food is, we had just had a storm with tornado warnings roll through. We’d experienced an unbelievable lightning storm which had trashed our wind turbine … yes, again! It was at breakfast too…prior to us heading out to the garden for our 237th consecutive day of 100°F heat and no rain dustbowl drought conditions (okay I exaggerated just a bit here, but not that much.)

Which brings me to the point of the blog …yes I do have a point. Michelle and I are ‘focus grouping’ the title of our next book, and by default, by reading this blog, you’re in the focus group. Thanks!

So this is the title for our new book … “If I’m Livin’ the Dream, How Comes It Feels Like a Nightmare?” subtitled something like “Dispatches and observations on two decades spent living off-the-grid, growing our own food, living far from the maddening crowd” … or something along these lines.

So what do you think? Am I correct that it has “BEST-SELLER” written all over it? And film rights with a big pay-day. With Ryan Reynolds playing me … or Ryan Gosling … doesn’t matter, they’re both Canadian eh.

I know what you’re thinking, that it sounds like a pretty negative title. I agree. It’s more to attract attention and bring a huge payday for us … so we can buy some hummers, bling, a private jet … you get my drift. Most of the time our life here has been awesome. But I can’t tell you the number of times I feel like just flopping on the couch in November and vegging in front of the TV and I realize we’ve had some cloudy days, so I have to go out and check the batteries to see how low they are and decide if I should run the generator or not. And then if I do have to run it how I have to get up and check it constantly. I don’t HAVE to check it constantly, but I do, because that’s just how I am.

Turns out there’s more to living this ‘low carbon’ lifestyle than meets the eye.

If anything I think it may be a bit refreshing for people to get some of that perspective. Yes, I have NO Electricity Bills! But I have spent way, WAY more on my solar and wind system in the last 20 years than anyone reading this blog has spent on their electricity bills. FACT: Generating and transmitting electricity is really complicated and expensive. It is in fact not a right, but a privilege, and when you spread all those generation and infrastructure costs across a whole society, your electricity bills are outrageously inexpensive for the value of the electricity you receive and how it improves the quality of your life. If you doubt this, take a second and think about the last extended power outage you had. No lights. No fridge or freezer. Or stove. Or washing machine. Or internet. Or NETFLIX! Yup, it’s pretty amazing stuff.

We published “Little House Off the Grid” more than 5 years ago, so by the time this new book is ready there will have been a reasonable hiatus for us to revisit what it’s like to live the way we do. Things change. Circumstances change. Life happens. Time to revisit the whole little adventure we’re on here in the woods.

So what do you think? Sound like something you’d want to read?

Better yet, what do you think of the title? Too negative? Too misleading if we end up writing that it’s awesome more than not? Such an awesome title that it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius (thank you Dave Eggers for the best book title ever to slip in).

Please let us know. Feel free to post below or send me an email at cam mather…with no space… at gmail.com. (Hopefully the evil internet robots won’t figure that out.)

Thanks in advance!

2016: The Year of the Tomato

Just so I’m not accused of being totally negative about the summer of 2016, aka the summer of the drought….the spring/summer/fall of our record breaking drought…the summer of the soul-sucking drought from h*ll … this was an awesome summer for tomatoes.

It was an awesome year for all our heat loving crops – peppers, eggplants and tomatoes.

Our previous two growing seasons (the summer of 2014 and 2015) followed ‘polar vortexes’ (vorti?) and so they were relatively cool and wet. Awesome for the grower working in the fields all day, not so great for heat-loving vegetables.

One recent summer our entire tomato crop was decimated by some sort of blight. (Read about it here.) That was heart breaking.

So, since I never know what kind of summer we are going to have, I used my usual ‘carpet bombing/cover all bases’ strategy of cultivar selection this past spring. In other words, I plant a whack of as many different varieties as I can. My assumption is that surely something will work.

And this summer the Best Boys worked, the Beefsteak worked, the Early Girls, the Glamor, The Roma, The Cherry, The Healthkick, The Amish Paste tomatoes…every single type of tomato that I planted thrived.

So we have had truckloads of tomatoes! The tomato season starts off so joyfully! We reveled in each and every tomato! That first harvest day when we carried buckets full of beautiful, cosmetically perfect, blight free, healthy tomatoes into the house to wash was just amazing. As our cardboard flat trays filled up with tomatoes it was fantastic. Carrying them all out to the sorting station on CSA delivery day was just joyful. I was over the moon.

It is quite surprising how quickly the shine can come off the bloom or whatever the expression is, after a few days of hauling tomatoes. By the second week I was harvesting every second day and the haul was usually about 8 buckets. Each delivery morning, I was getting up earlier and earlier so I could lug the tomatoes out to the sorting station for Michelle to start filling baskets.

And then this week hit. I convinced Michelle to take some photos just so we’d remember what our summer was all about. I was carrying flats out by 5:30 a.m. which at this time of year was dark. So I had on my headlamp as I carried them from the cold storage out to the sorting station. Michelle suggested that I should use the truck but by the time I got them loaded and drove such a short distance it seemed easier just to haul them out by hand.

lotsotomatoes

 

Weeks later the darn plants just keep pumping out the darn tomatoes. It’s like the brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. They’re never ending. I keep saying “Well this should be the last heavy week” which just ends up ludicrous on delivery day as the flats roll out endlessly. What an awesome problem to have!

tomatoes1

 

This summer really proved the value of greenhouses to me. Our greenhouse tomatoes were much earlier than our outside ones, and they were much nicer cosmetically. Not a blemish. Hardly a zipper or bruise. They were a work of art …thanks to Mother Nature and the heat.

camandtomatoes

I cannot recommend enough getting a greenhouse if you live a more northern area like me. And not a big fancy greenhouse. I’ve built all of mine from scratch. Just ask a neighbor for that portable garage frame that lost its cover years ago that’s been sitting beside their house, and order a sheet of 6 ml plastic to put over it. The tomatoes will thank you.

newgreenhousewoodenframe

The greenhouse BEFORE the tomato plants took over!

We have tons of tomato plants outside of the greenhouses that were slower to ripen but are going like crazy now. I had used most of my good steel cages in the greenhouses, so I had staked the outside plants. And of course, every Friday it was my responsibility to prune the tomatoes and tie them up. Yea, how’d that go? It never does. Even in regular seasons I fall down in this responsibility and with the drought this year and watering and irrigation taking all my time, they really suffered.

I had a couple outside plants in cages and I was amazed at how much better they did than those that fell over. While I got tons of tomatoes off the plants that eventually toppled over, the number of blemishes and marks on them is unbelievable compared to the ones that stayed upright.

So if you take nothing from this blog other than this it should be worth having read it. If you want great tomatoes, put them in a cage or stake them and keep them tied up properly. When you’ve been growing food for as long as I have you sometimes forget stuff, but Michelle walked over at one and point and said “Yea, it’s because the water (from the rogue raindrops that fell twice this summer or watering can water) splashed the disease up on them from the soil.”

It just made sense. I’m pretty sure I wrote about this in my gardening book, but at my age you just keep staking and caging because you always have. You forget why sometimes. I do discuss the benefits of pruning tomatoes and other stuff too in our gardening book which we still have copies of.

I do believe our CSA members are probably getting sick of tomatoes and I must say, I’m pretty proud of that. Now if Michelle and I can just take a few minutes away from the brutal heat that is continuing this fall and throw a few in our freezer, we’ll be able to appreciate them this winter too.

And here’s some of our pretty peppers too!

greenpeppers

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A couple of reminders from Michelle – Do you shop at amazon? If you do, please do us a favour and access amazon using the link along the righthand side of this page. It doesn’t matter what you purchase. By using our link, all of your purchases will pay us a very small commission, which helps us to pay for the hosting and URL of this blog.

And, as always, if you enjoy this blog and want to leave a “tip” to show your appreciation, the TIP JAR is on the righthand side too. Thanks!

Down the Wishing Well and My Coffee Can Solar Tracker

Several years ago, in the month of May, I was talking to one of our off-grid blog readers in California who has become a friend. We were discussing the California drought and she said “Oh we won’t see rain now until probably November.”

May to November without rain. That was my worst nightmare. And in the words of Alice Cooper, this summer at our house it’s been “Welcome to my nightmare.”

I will admit that I wrote this in the middle of August and we were getting the tail end of the rain that caused all the flooding in Louisiana. For us the rain was glorious. Too little, too late, but I welcomed it. (And since then we’ve had a few showers, never amounting to more than 3 or 4 mms. My garden still resembles a giant sandbox.)

Part of my “Embrace the suck, move the ‘heck’ forward” in the mess that was our summer running a CSA in the worst drought for 100 years, is my newfound knowledge of our wells. Mostly the ‘dug’ well near the barn foundation which provides the bulk of the water for irrigation.

The well was ‘dug’ by hand, in 1936. We know this because the builder put his name and date in the concrete and we know his son Ken, a former resident of this wonderful place, who is in his ‘80s ’90s now (see comment below from Ken’s son Lynn!).  The well is about 15 feet deep and how they managed to dig such a deep hole by hand, and then build forms and mix everything up by hand and add a foot of concrete all around boggles my mind.

When we arrived here almost 20 years ago the last vestiges of the shed that was built over the well had just fallen over. I used one of the walls as a cover for a few years, then built a better fitting one about 10 years ago (with scrounged wood of course). It was just spruce and softwood and had started to rot a lot, but like so many of the odd jobs around here I just kept telling myself, “I’ll fix it next year.” Human inertia is a powerful thing.

I use a 12V DC pump, which I just hook up to an 80 Watt 12V solar panel, to pump from this well. I used to move the panel around a frame I made, but it was cumbersome, so this year I built a tracker. I call it my “Coffee Can Solar Tracker”. I just put a cedar post in the ground, and bolted the solar panel to a coffee can that sits on top. It has worked marvellously all summer. Very low tech. No software has failed on it or had to be updated.

Version 2

Version 2

The pump is rated to only suck water from 8 feet below. This is fine early on during most summers, because the water level is high. But over most summers it gets pretty low and the pump basically loses prime constantly. This year with the drought this started happening earlier than ever before.

So I ripped the cover off the well. Then I built a frame, put the pump on the frame, and lowered the frame into the well. This way the pump is now closer to the water level so it doesn’t have to ‘pull’ the water as much. These pumps are great at pushing water once it has reached the pump, just not so good at pulling it up to the pump.

Version 2

It still loses prime sometimes and my trick to get it going is just take the intake pipe and ram it into the water a few times and off it goes. Once the pump was down the well though this technique wasn’t available. So I put an aluminum ladder down the well and so I have to regularly climb down the ladder to prime the pump.

I don’t think I’m claustrophobic, but there is something about being deep down in a well. I think it’s because of all those televised news events where a child falls down a well and has to be rescued.

As the water has gotten lower it’s allowed me to solve the great mystery of what is at the bottom of the well. There is some water-logged wood, and like all things immersed in water, they are pretty creepy. I, of course have been straining to see something shiny … something of a precious metal nature … because I’m pretty sure that’s where people used to put their valuables 80 years ago … down the well. Just makes sense, right?

Version 2

Since we moved here almost 20 years ago, I’ve wondered what was at the bottom of this well. Thanks to our awesome drought, I am now intimately knowledgeable on the well and all its workings. Just another reason the lack of rain has been so awesome. (Please note there is a lot of sarcasm in this blog).

Version 2

Version 2

Version 2

Thanks D. C. for your recent contribution to the TIP JAR. It is very much appreciated!

My Epiphany in the Pond

A few weeks ago Michelle posted the mid-season update that we sent to our CSA members. It was pretty bleak. We’ve been experiencing an historic drought.

First they said it was as bad as the one we had in 1959… the year I was born. Then they said it was the worst … like … ever … worse than the one in 1888…the year our house was built. It’s like, come on, is it really my fault? And who was measuring droughts in 1888?

We’d had basically no rain for 8 weeks here. Since that blog post we have had 5 mm (less than ¼”) one day, 24 mm (almost an inch) a few days later and then another 10 mm (less than ½”) last Sunday. All of Eastern Ontario is experiencing it although most places have had more rain than us. Everywhere you look as you drive around the corn crop is brown, the soybean fields have withered … and around here many trees are brown and dying, especially if they are growing in thin soil. Bleak bleak bleak.

I have been trying to put into practice my new mantra, which I learned from Tina Fey’s awesome movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” It’s a military expression … “Embrace the suck, move the ‘heck’ forward” (heck replaces that bad ‘f’ word you might use in combat that offends so many people).

It’s easy to have these mantras, but when you spend the day becoming more and more exhausted, watching your plants wither in the brutal heat, and become more and more parched because it doesn’t matter how much you water, you can’t replace a wonderful rainfall by Mother Nature … well, it’s easy to give in to the laziness of despair.

I have started to take some positives from it though. I knew this day was coming, this epic drought, and I meant to prepare better, but I didn’t. There is an inertia to human existence, and one tends not to be as proactive as one should be. It seemed as though during each previous drought, just as the wells were bottoming out, we got enough rain for me to say “Well, we dodged that bullet.”

So this time the first thing I did was borrow my neighbor’s gas-powered water pump. Then I started to learn about them and bought myself a Honda 2” pump, and Princess Auto 1” pump. Then it took 47 trips to 26 different retailers to get all the bits and pieces and hoses and fittings I needed to get them set up the way I wanted them.

I have the main 2” pump in a pond we call “The Hockey Pond,” because we are, well, Canadian, so it’s our natural tendency to refer to any body of water large enough to freeze as being related to hockey. It’s a long way from the house. It was created by beavers and their ingenuity continues to amaze me. It’s in a natural low spot surrounded by rocky hills. Just two dams and voilå … a great pond. It’s a pretty awesome spot. I try to remind myself of every time I make the trip there to run the pump.

thepond

 

When I was using Sandy’s pump I had put it a spot that looked like it had enough water, but with the ongoing drought the pond receded. So with my new pump I decided to get it to a spot where I hope to get a few more weeks out of it. Once I had the spot picked out and had dragged some beaver-felled logs over to it, I wanted to dig it out a bit to make a spot so I could put a big flat rock under the foot valve, and still have it covered in sufficient water.

So it basically meant being in the mud up to my knees while I dug with a shovel. I don’t own hip waders, so I took down an old pair of rubber boots that leak. I didn’t want to work in sandals because it would be hard to stomp on the shovel with them. Water leaks into the boots, and yes, creepy crawlies can get in but I figure it’s harder for the leeches and things to get to me this way. And so far, so good. The fact that it was brutally hot actually made it quite enjoyable.

When I was in high school in the 1970’s I belonged to an outdoor group called Intrepids and one day we were in groups hiking cross country to learn how to use a compass. We kept arriving ponds that weren’t on the map. By the end of the day we just waded through them up to our necks rather than walk around. This project takes me back to those great days.

I have a small posse of frogs that observe my every move.

lotsoffrogs

Correction, I have a huge posse of frogs watching. This pond is swarming with them. It is so absolutely fantastic to be in a place with so much life.

Plus, I have danger around every corner. With the drought, humans have more contact with wildlife … like bears…so I’m assuming sooner or later I’ll have to go swimming to avoid one. And of course, being a fan of movies, as I dig through the lily pads and mud I know it’s just a matter of time before some huge anaconda emerges and wraps itself around my legs, requiring a lot of struggling and hitting it with the shovel to escape. So many anacondas here.

My security backup of course is Jasper the Wonder Dog. Many people see him and think he could easily win “Best in Show”. This would require months of training and grooming. Sometimes I try and keep Jasper on the sidelines, but the few times I’ve been down there digging in the mud, I imagine that he says, “Forget that, I’m going for it!” at which points he immerses himself in the pond/swamp water and proceeds to spend the next half hour vigorously chasing frogs or anything else that moves. This would include bubbles he has made, hence his face being basically black here, because, with the drought, where he’s playing it’s just mud. Oh what fun he has.

Jaspercatchingfrogs

Jasperinthepond

I’m not good at reading pet emotions, but I can tell when Jasper frolics in ponds, he is joyful. I try and learn from him everyday. He’ll be a very smelly dog for many days to come, but really, who cares? It’s hot, and he’s having a blast. I’ll take him down to the lake in a few days to let him swim in fresh water. I will try and be more joyful like my dog.

So I’ll be trying out the new pump and the 124 different pipes and adapters tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Here are a couple of photos of the woods I have to walk through to get to the hockey pond.

walktopond

walktopond2

I know, pretty tough eh? This is where I work. I wish we weren’t in this drought, but it’s forcing me to spend time in the magical woods that we’re surrounded by.

I’m not a big fan of that “A bad day at the golf course is better than a good day at the office” bumper sticker, but when I think of my life in suburbia, and look around where I spend my days right now, I realize how pathetic whining about the drought is. Because really, in the words of David Lee Roth …” This must be just like living in paradise…” and his next line is “…and I don’t want to go home…” But I AM home.

I am “moving the ‘heck’ forward”.  Now just a little rain more please.

*******

Thanks to NB for his recent generous donation. We appreciate not only your ongoing support but your friendship as well!

 

 

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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