Going Underground!

As promised, I am going to divulge  another one of our growing secrets: underground greenhouses!

What? That’s crazy! How can that work?

digging holes march 2014 083

Digging holes…

After doing much research on reliable growing techniques, my dad discovered a man in Nebraska, Russell Finch, who has now given himself the title of “Nebraska’s Largest Citrus Grower.” He has developed a plan for a partially underground greenhouse that uses geothermal heat to heat the plants within it. The greenhouse is 12 feet tall, 5 of which is underground. Pipes that transport the natural heat from within the earth up to the greenhouse are dug 8 feet into the ground. Fans are used to transfer this air into the greenhouse, keeping the temperature in the greenhouse hot enough to grow citrus and a variety of tropical fruit… all the time!

There are potential instances in which additional heating might be necessary, especially in colder months. My dad hopes to have an automated system that will switch on when the temperature drops to a level that is dangerous to the plants. A possible source of heating for the greenhouse could be our hydronic, high efficiency wood boiler that we have just put on the property. However, Finch has not had issues with this, not even in emergencies; he has had his greenhouse for 22 years, and the temperature has never fallen below 35 degrees. To this day, he has not lost one plant due to frost.

courtesy of www.citrusinthesnow.com

courtesy of www.citrusinthesnow.com

In a region where it normally costs close to $200 a month, Finch estimates that he spends around $450 A YEAR to heat his house and his greenhouse. The initial cost of setting up something like this, which could be around $8,000, is paid off very quickly.

Clearly, this project fits perfectly with our goals of sustainability and is extremely cost-effective, especially since we are able to create our own energy and heating, and there are little to no maintenance costs. Comparatively, this system is also much more cost-effective than other geothermal exchange systems and has a very low water consumption rate.  And if that wasn’t enough motivation to go through with this plan, we can have oranges in our backyard… when it’s SNOWING! It’s a crazy world!

Stay tuned as we put these growing techniques into motion! And check out Russell Finch and the success he has experienced with his greenhouse!

http://www.citrusinthesnow.com/index.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnYC_7CDmlo

 

Next week…. things are getting fishy!

Home Alone, Farm Style.

I am who I am because I was raised on large areas of land, inhabited by livestock, coyotes, frogs and mosquitoes. I have a love for tractors and hay lofts. At one point, I developed an obsession for animal feed (literally, I sat in feed buckets and ate it. No idea how I didn’t ingest some kind of lethal disease).  old99

My younger days consisted of playing with chickens, catching frogs, riding my ponies, collecting eggs, and playing with my goat, Lucy Locket(seen below). Needless to say, I am no stranger to the ways of the farm and I am ultimately comfortable with doing everything that needs to be done on properties of this magnitude. old98

That being said, since I have been at university, my mom and dad are the primary caretakers and, when they go away, farm duties are taken over by Ian, Twirley (my adoptive Aunt), or myself. On one such occasion  last summer, I was left alone at the farm for three days while my parents looked for properties in the interior.

The first morning alone on the farm appeared by all accounts to be a normal morning: I let all the animals out in the morning, and checked their water. Most of the time, we would just leave the animals to do their own thing out in the fields without checking on them until it was time to put them in, but, being a little paranoid, I checked on them multiple times throughout the day. Normally, I don’t find anything of concern on these checkups, but that particular weekend, my constant checks turned out to be quite necessary; I found a sheep that had gotten its head stuck in one of the metal hay baskets (how, I have no idea) and, the next, a dead chicken that had fallen victim to a nasty predator of some kind. On the last morning of my checkups, I witnessed some very odd sheep activity that I was not familiar with. I found all of the sheep crowded in one corner of their pen, stamping their hooves in a concentrated area and thrashing about, not dissimilar to a rave or mosh pit where everyone wears large, furry sweaters. Picture 966

I broke up the dance party to find a rather large dead rat, trampled in a pile of manure. Now, I was impressed. To think that our seemingly unintelligent sheep joined together to kill a potential threat gave me a new appreciation for their instincts, despite the fact that they had never displayed any such instincts previously. I am not saying that sheep as a species are unintelligent, but I am saying that our sheep are not the sharpest tools in any shed that I know of (read more at http://www.offgridchick.com/2014/02/22/a-shady-sheepy-business/ ).

I have seen many dead rats in my time, so I had no qualms in shovelling it out and cremating its body in a metal drum at the back of our barn, just to make sure one of the dogs didn’t dig it up and eat it for lunch. Later that evening I called my parents to check in and tell them about the genius our sheep had displayed. My mom burst into a fit of giggles and thanked me. “Why are you thanking me mom?” I asked. She continued to explain to me that she had found the rat in one of the water buckets a couple days earlier and had taken it out but “didn’t feel like dealing with it.”

Things I took away from this experience:

-Even though my mom can perform minor surgeries on pretty much any animal, and has birthed many a kid, lamb and foal/colt, she still can’t deal with rats. One farm point for me!

-My sheep still have some work to do in the intelligence department.

Our Garden of Eden – Permaculture

For my family, part of living off-grid is being completely sustainable in every way, including producing our own food. Through extensive research, my parents have determined a few different projects that they plan on pursuing in the next few years that will help us achieve that. They all require a lot of planning and labor, but will ultimately help us in our pursuit sustainability.

The first of these food-growing adventures is what my dad likes to call…

The Permaculture Food Forest

*insert angelic voices here*Picture 1568

Here are the basics:

By  my dad’s definition, a food forest consists of two acres or more of land that is dedicated to permaculture. This is a concentrated area of food-bearing trees and bushes that essentially create their own ecosystem. By finding perennial trees and bushes that will produce fruit, berries and nuts each year without replanting the plant, you have a continuous supply of food. The seasonal progression of these trees and bushes also produces their own natural fertilizer when their leaves fall to the ground. Additional fertilizer can be added to the process by having pigs, sheep and other livestock shuffling through the area. These animals also love to eat any spoiled produce. The plants and animals obviously attract lots of bugs, which then in turn attracts birds, bees, and frogs, thus controlling insect population and promoting natural animal activity.

Now, before any of these awesome things can happen, you need to find fertile land. Thankfully, our Sorrento property has great ground for growing and we already have a few fruit trees that have thrived there for years. If you are not fortunate enough to have naturally fertile land, there are things you can do to help your land fit your needs The most effective way of doing this is through the use of swails. These are dug out sections of ground that stretch along the length of a sloping piece of land (ie. not down the hill but across it). You can dig a few of these trenches and they can stretch however long is appropriate for your hill. There are two main ways these can help you in your quest for The Garden of Eden:

1) Dry soil is not good for permaculture. When it rains, the water will collect in these swails instead of running down the hill, making the soil more moist and evenly distributing moisture.

2) By putting rotting plant material in the swails, the combination of water from the rain and nutrients from the natural fertilizer allows the land to absorb these nutrients into the soil.

photo courtesy of www.belpermaculture.com

photo courtesy of www.belpermaculture.com

So once all of that is set up, you are good to go! It is a no labour, consistent food source! Once all of the plants reach maturity, this food forest can easily support a family’s needs. By preserving the fruit and berries during their seasons, there would be more than enough food through the winter as well. At this point our food forest is in the very beginning stages so there is nothing super exciting to report yet, but this is a technique that has been proved extremely successful, so stay tuned!

Now I know what you are thinking, “a family can’t just eat fruits, nuts and berries ALL the time.” True. Don’t worry, we have thought of that. As far as our checklist goes we have got most things covered already, once the food forest is up and functioning:

– nuts

-fruit

-berries

– milk and cheese

– eggs

– meat (if absolutely necessary)

– power

-heat

-water

 

But check back next week when we divulge our other crazy techniques for growing veggies, citrus, and other tropical fruit… ALL YEAR ROUND.

It’s gettin’ hot in here!

 

Complaint of the week…

Picture 1980

To whichever goat(s) it may concern,

It has come to our attention that there have been grave misdemeanors that have been committed by one, or multiple, members of the herd. We, your owners, would like to bring it to your attention and give you the opportunity to admit to your mistakes before we take punitive action.

In the past couple weeks we have noticed a vast decrease in our egg production. In the past, we have collected at least three dozen eggs a day. The chickens were happy and healthy and laid a commendable amount of eggs accordingly. However, in the last week  there were days on which we collected NO eggs. Initially we assumed that this could be the result of a change in environment or an invading predator. But after investigating further, ruling out these scenarios, and finding conclusive evidence that clearly points to your involvement , we presume that you, or some of you, have somehow developed a taste for eggs.IMG_0662

Now, the puzzling part about this is you have been in the same barn as the chickens since September and there have been no problems up until this point. Why is it that this is now becoming an issue? Is this an act of revolt? A demonstration of discontent?

Of course we would prefer to resolve this without any hard feelings, but drastic measures will be taken if you cannot control these urges. Perhaps a psychologist or counselor is required in order to aptly address the deeper cause of this change in behaviour. To be clear, this is not a personal attack. It is a necessary action in order to preserve a valuable product of our labors. We will continue to have your best interests at heart.

Any comments or complaints can be registered with the Barnyard Boss (aka Mom)at morning or evening feeding times. Head butts, kicks, and any attempts at climbing will not be accepted as valid methods of registration.

Best,

Your owners

Introducing…The Veggie-Mobiles!

“The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become in course of time, as important as petroleum and coal tar products of the present time. ”

Rudolf Diesel, 1912 – the creator of the Diesel engine.

My family is a compilation of extremely busy people, especially now that we are doing a lot of travelling into the interior and all over B.C for work. Given that we are a  family that is trying to be as “green” possible, my dad decided to do some research on alternate fuel sources back in 2010. He discovered that people around the world are converting their diesel vehicles to run on vegetable oil.

Yes, you heard correctly, that stuff we use to fry our food.

How? That’s nuts! Can that even work?

Yes, my friends, it does. Here’s the abridged version of the process:

-Secure a diesel vehicle that is suited to conversion. (Technically most diesel engines can be converted, but there are some that are easier to convert than others).

– Acquire the appropriate parts. This includes heaters, extra fuel tanks, many pipes and valves as well as some kind of filtration equipment. Many companies are now selling all of these materials in kits.

-Find a Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) provider; basically any restaurant that is willing to give you their used oil. Many restaurants get charged by waste companies to have their used oil taken away. So when you show up saying “Hi, I want to take your used veggie oil FOR FREE,” they are happy campers…or genuinely confused.

– Run your WVO through a filtration system, and you are ready to use the oil!

Dad's filtration system

Dad’s filtration system

From what I can tell, to convert a vehicle can range from $2,000 upwards, depending on the size of the engine. Trust me, it pays itself off within three years or less. Once you have converted the vehicle, the engine works a little differently when you turn it on:

1) Turn on the car. You must always start your car using diesel in order to heat the WVO to a temperature that allows it to stay in a liquid form. It goes through at least three filters and heaters within the converted engine. You can still drive when the engine is heating up.

2) Once you are notified that it has reached the right temperature, your engine will either switch over to veggie oil by itself or, if it is not automated, you can flick a switch in your car.

3) Drive!

4) When you plan on turning off your car, there must be a period of time allotted to flushing the system of veggie oil in order to avoid clogging pipes with cooling and hardening oil. If it is automated, the engine will continue to run even after you have taken the keys out of the ignition until it is notified that the pipes are clear. If it is not automated, you must run the engine for 20 seconds on diesel, at which point the system will notify you that the engine pipes are clear.

So, why convert to veggie?

It’s Affordable:
Well lets start by looking at gas and diesel prices at the moment. It doesn’t take an accountant to know the cost of fossil fuels is considerably high… and rising. If you can find a good supplier, veggie oil is often free. Some restaurants now charge for their veggie oil, as it is used by larger companies for creating biodiesel (but this is a different conversation).  Veggie oil as a fuel source is a more economical choice, and, as I mentioned, you can typically expect a full return on your investment within three years or less.

It’s Responsible:
It is a prime example of reuse, reduce, recycle; you are essentially repurposing waste material. Sweet!

It’s Green:
Vegetable oil is considered by many to be carbon neutral and, by using it, you may be reducing your carbon footprint. In contrast, fossil fuels  have been sequestered by the earth and stored for hundreds of millions of years. Essentially when you burn non renewable fossil fuels such as diesel and gasoline in your car engine, you are releasing carbon dioxide and other environmentally damaging gases and particulates into the atmosphere, that should have never been released in the first place. On the other hand, when you use a renewable source of fuel  from a plant based source such as veggie oil (canola oil, peanut oil, etc.), you greatly reduce your footprint. As a renewable fuel, vegetable oils causes no additional output of CO2, as growing crops absorb almost the same quantity of CO2 that they release on combustion. And, another plus for the environment, you don’t need huge fossil -fuel-using,drilling machines to dig up vegetables…

It’s Cleaner:
The combustion of diesel produces considerable particulates (the cloudy part of exhaust smoke) into the atmosphere. These are known to cause health and respiratory problems in humans and animals. The combustion of cooking oil is known to produce less particulates in comparison to standard diesel.

It Works the Same:
Does it drive like a regular car? In terms of performance, there is really no compromise when using vegetable oil. Our vehicles run the same as the did before the conversion, with the exception that the engine needs to run on diesel for a minute or two at the beginning and end of each trip.

our favorite place to get veggie oil!

our favorite place to get veggie oil!

Sure, using vegetable oil as a fuel source takes some extra work; there is the time it takes to source the oil and the time it takes to filter the oil. But at the end of the day, it is an opportunity to rethink the system, reduce your dependency on fossil fuels and it is kind of a fun hobby. Not to mention a good point of conversation.

Oh, and there is one more notable pro that should be on the list. Do you like onion rings? French fries? Tater tots?

Yeah, my cars smell like that 24/7. Be jealous.

 

Feel free to contact me with any questions or thoughts! Love to hear what you think!

 

First ten things you learn when you move off-grid…

As I mentioned in “Horsefly Hospitality”, Rose Hill is our property in Horsefly, B.C and functions as a retreat center for our family and anyone else who feels the need to have an off-grid experience. We live full-time in Sorrento on our other off-grid property and go up to Horsefly to commune with the lynx and moose (seen below in pictures taken from our kitchen window). We have many plans for the property including a state of the art composting toilet and cabins insulated with our sheeps’ wool. Spending time there is an amazing experience; you are four miles away from any other human essentially, providing you with the rare opportunity to be truly removed from every part of the chaotic lifestyle that is now the norm. Given that we had all become accustomed to the hustle and bustle of city/suburban living, there were some major realizations and adjustments that we all experienced:

moose-neighbour

hello there

hello there

1) When you see a light outside that looks like a searchlight, it is not a searchlight. It is in fact the moon. Believe it.

The first few nights I stayed there, I woke up a few times because I thought there was someone shining a light in my face. Because there are no other lights in the area, the moons and stars are ridiculously bright, unless of course there is cloud coverage. It is something that definitely took some getting used to.

moon

2) Don’t worry, the water may smell like garbage, but it is absolutely fine.

Our water is pumped from the surface well into a pressure tank, and from there goes through a filtration and purification system. This system is state of the art and removes all dangerous contaminants including bacteria, parasites and protozoa. However, this cleansing system does not take out all the minerals in the water, which results in a totally safe but slightly cloudy water from the taps. The water is high in magnesium, calcium and other minerals, and is healthy for bathing or using in any way. It just makes every glass cloudy…no matter how many times you wash it… first world problems.

3) When you have the option to chop wood or not to chop wood, always chop more wood.

Although we do have a propane generator that we use if the need arises, we prefer to keep the heat going with wood, which we are not going to run out of on our property any time soon. The key is, chopped wood has to season for at least six months in order to use it, so you really have to plan ahead. Bottom line, you never want to run out of chopped fire wood, especially in the winter, so the more chopping the better.

4) Showers may be cold sometimes. Deal. It’s good for you.

5) If you leave a light on, you will be yelled at.

The solar panels work very well collecting the sun’s energy on bright or even slightly overcast days and meet all our needs
when we live within our usage capabilities. But, if there is a really dark day and we don’t have enough power and you left a light on all afternoon, oh boy run for the hills.

6) Make sure you charge your solar flashlight during the day or you will fall down the stairs.

Of course, at night time there is no possibility at all of charging the batteries from the sun’s power, so we make every effort to be careful of our power use after the sun sets; when everyone is in bed, the power is shut off entirely at the inverter control panel. So if you need to go to the bathroom during the night and you don’t want to kill yourself, make sure you charge your flashlight during the day (speaking from personal experience).

an evening at Rose Hill

an evening at Rose Hill

7) Learn to light a match and use lighters. This is something I greatly struggle with.

8) Just accept that, if you want to see people, you are going to need to drive at least half an hour. Good thing most of our vehicles run on veggie oil! (more on that in posts to come)

9) I promise you, the person you are speaking to on the phone has NOT hung up on you.

Because we don’t have telephone lines going to our house, we have a satellite phone which is the norm in that area. For the most part, it is awesome and works very well. There is however a supremely frustrating delay on the phone that leaves a few seconds in between your last response and the response of the person you are speaking to. I think I have it down to a fine art now where I try to speak over the last part of someone’s sentence which then makes them receive my response at the right time. In the moment you feel rude, but the person on the other end appreciates it.

10) Relax!

 

There is always a lot to do up there, if you choose to do it. But it is so funny how everyone changes once we get up there. There is this coma that falls over everyone once they realize that they have the choice to go on a walk or take a nap or play a board game. No one is rushing off to an appointment or meeting because, even if you were meeting friends, everyone is on Horsefly time; an hour late is more than ok. There are moments where the coma is lifted and productivity reigns for a period of time. But then, without fail, napping occurs.

cuddles

cuddles

 

 

 

Horsefly Hospitality

rosehill

Up until this post, I have not yet spoken much about our property in the Cariboo regional district. It is comprised of a house, a cabin, and a barn on 162 acres in the lovely little town of Horsefly. The house was built on the edge of a small lake  that past owners destroyed by planting hay throughout it to create a cash crop. Fortunately, the water currents that created the lake prevailed and it is now, slowly, returning to its previous state. Horsefly itself is a wonderful area with wonderful and diverse people living within it. We have named our property Rose Hill because of the multitude of rose hip plants on our land, as well as the fact that my mom loves to name her properties…probably a Scottish thing.favicon.ico

We purchased Rose Hill with another family. They live there throughout the year and we try to go up at least three times a year. It functions as a retreat center, a place away from people and all environmental toxins. When we are not there, half of the house and the cabin is rented out to people seeking removal from city life and all that comes with it. It was our first large-scale solar project and is powered entirely by eight, strategically placed solar panels that are moved throughout the day to track the sunlight.

The community of Horsefly has been entirely welcoming and we had lots of people come to our house to say hello after we moved in, many of which bringing baked goods and offering services to help us get settled in. We grew accustomed to random knocks on the door, so when a rather burly man came to the door one afternoon, we assumed it was a neighbour who wished to recommend a good spot for fishing or a community event we should take part in.

My mother went to the door and the conversation went as follows:

Visitor – “Hello! I live just down the road.”

Mom – ” Oh how nice! We just moved up here.”

Visitor – “Yes, I have come about your beaver.”

Mom – “I’m sorry, my beaver?”

Visitor – ” You have a beaver making a home at the end of your marsh and you know they are a terrible nuisance.”

Mom – “Well I don’t really mind the beaver because it is making a lake for us again.”

Visitor – “Even still, they make a mess on your property and I would be happy to take it off your hands.”

Mom – “I should really talk to my husband about this, let me get him. What was your name?”

Visitor – ” Mr. Hooker.”

* barely containing her laughter, mom walks into the living room*

Mom -” Ernest, can you come to the door. There is a Mr.Hooker here about my beaver and I think you should deal with it. ”

After telling Mr.Hooker once more that we were going to keep our beaver and thanks for his concern, he left and we have not heard from him again. My mom’s beaver is safe for the time being.

 

view from the deck, our marsh

view from the deck, our marsh

 

The Epic Goat Saga ~ Part 3

Goats are both wonderful and ridiculous creatures. Not only are they extremely intelligent and playful, but they are also as randy as pubescent teenagers. It is due to this fact that we have had some major goat difficulties in the past couple of years. Here is the third and final  notable issue to date, until something else happens at least:

My brother is a keeper. Truly. He is hilarious, charismatic and is great around the farm because he gets stuff done. He likes building things and is not afraid to deal with any animal. He and I are very different people in so many ways, but we work well together because of that; he doesn’t get anxious about things like I do and is able to keep a laid back attitude in the face of a challenge. I can always count on him to have my back, and for that reason, and the reason that he is now over a head taller than me, he calls me his little sister, despite a five year age gap.IanThat being said, he sometimes forgets important details that end up causing a lot of trouble.

This past September, my mom and I were out for an evening and asked Ian to put away the animals. The nannies had just had a bunch of little kids and needed some time apart from the billies to recover. The females and their kids were in one pasture and the males in another to make sure there was no funny business. When it came time for the nannies and kids to be put inside the barn and the billies inside their stalls respectively, Ian saw that the billie goats had gotten out of their pasture and were now milling around the outside of the barn. Instead of trying to get them back into their pasture, he thought it was easier to put all the goats together in the barn. They were in there for about an hour before my mom and I came back. Horrified, we separated the males and females once more. We assumed, and prayed, that nothing could have happened in that short amount of time. Ian was appropriately chastised and we forgot about the incident, only reliving it when in need of a laugh at Ian’s expense.

Fast forward five months.

Mid-January.The goats and the rest of the animals had all been moved up to the Sorrento property at this point. They were supremely happy in their new surroundings. Mom saw our three nanny goats getting fatter but assumed it was due to the nutrient-rich food we had found for them that seemed to be far superior to the feed we had acquired in the Lower Mainland. So, early one snowy morning, you can imagine how surprised she was to see two baby kids lying in the hay! Within the week there were seven new kids, 2 pairs of twins and one triplet. Now to emphasize the situation, this was after ONE HOUR of the billies and nannies being in close proximity. ONE HOUR. Poor Ian has been getting a lecture on this topic that has continued over the length of the past month.triplets

The fact that there was a bunch of newborn kids that just happened to appear might not have been an issue, but it was for three main reasons:

1) It was the middle of January which, in the interior, is extremely cold. Baby goats can die from over exposure in the spring time if there is a strong, cold wind, so the fact that there was three feet of snow was not good.

2) The mothers had just given birth six months earlier and their bodies needed time to recover. Therefore, they were extremely weak.

3) We were also renovating a house at the same time. To heat the goat barn and run all the workers’ power tools/ fans for the dry wall, we were going to need some more energy.twins

Once again, we were on a mission to save some animals. (Can you sense a recurring pattern here). Kid sweaters were fashioned out of old blankets and t-shirts to keep the little ones a bit warmer. Generators ran all day and night to keep the temperature inside the barn above minus temperatures. Different hay and minerals were found for the nannies in order to help their bodies stay strong through a pregnancy they were not prepared for. Most of the kids were also bottle fed to make sure they were getting enough to eat.jan 2014 019 (1)

So we were out of the danger zone right? Almost. Turns out Polly, our nanny who had the triplets, decided that having three kids was just ridiculous and excommunicated one of them. Who can have three kids when you only have two teats right? She denied the little one any food and physically kicked him to make sure he didn’t come near her. My mother witnessed this and knew that she couldn’t change Polly’s mind. The next thing I know, I am getting Skype calls from my mom with the goat in her arms. The little one was sleeping with my parents, playing with the dogs, and going on errands with my mom. He even accompanied her to places like the bank (where, I am told, he was welcomed and gushed over for an hour).

mom taking a selfie with the adopted goat

mom taking a selfie with the adopted goat

If there is one thing I can say about my parents, they are the most hard-working and dedicated people I know. They are working towards a lifestyle that most people are afraid to pursue, for obvious reasons; it is hard. There are things like this that come up all the time, and they take them in stride, adopting an orphan goat or lamb along the way. I know there have been moments when we all feel as if the pressure is just too much and that we should turn back and try something else. But then I realize, I get to play with baby goats whenever I want….

goat cuddles

goat cuddles