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Month 6: Homesteading in the Eastern Shore

After a month of traveling to various places we have finally arrived in Canada. We will be here for the next four months, living in a cabin of the eastern coast of Nova Scotia. There is no road to the cabin and you can get to it by walking the rocky beach at low tide or by boat or with some hardcore bushwhacking.

I have been coming to this cabin for three years now, the first year I stayed for a month, the second year for two, and this year I will be here for four months.

Spring time Cabining

I have never been here in springtime before. There is a lot more pollen in the air and water. There is a yellow sheen in all the water teeming with pollen. There are mushrooms everywhere (the fruiting bodies seem to be abundant during early spring and early autumn and I will delve more into the mushrooms in my third month note) and the Japanese Knotweed is growing like wildfire. Knotweed is a bamboo-like plant with heart shaped leaves and reddish stalks. They are very deep rooted and can produce whole plants from even tiny root fragments and once they take over, they destroy all the vegetation around them. They have in the past at the cabin grown through the tarps that were placed on top of them. At the moment we periodically just remove the plants. To clean them out would require removing at least 1 meter of soil beneath them.

Japanese Knotweed. Photo Credit: CBC

There are also many more animals in the springtime: rabbits, porcupine, deer showing themselves & seals coming really close to land! The birds(an Osprey and a bald eagle would make the rounds everyday from their nests into the open water in search of food), seemingly braver and still not used to the summer crowd of human visitors slowly trickling in.

There are also these alien-looking purple, blue, and pink wild flowering plants called Lupin that are dominating the landscape.

Lupins in Nova Scotia. photo credit: Susan Fisher

(How the Lupin Arrived in Nova Scotia: The Lupin is endemic in Nova Scotia. It is found almost everywhere. They bloom in early summer for roughly 2 to 3 weeks. All lupins in Nova Scotia came from a single planting in Yarmouth. A Dutch woman, Miss Phoebe Robbins brought the seeds from Holland and planted them early last century. Until the 70’s when they were sold as garden plants and spread from there.)

It is lobster season and the wharf is crowded. At around 4 AM, the boats take off and come back late evening. A fog sets in almost every other day enveloping the entire area in thick water-laden vapour and you can’t see anything beyond your own fingers.

A little bit of history

The first year (2017) when I came to the cabin, the cabin existed (having been built six years before) and so did the composting toilets and pits (which were built the year after). The year I started visiting the cabin a floating dock was built and an open plan cook shack was built in the back of the cabin.

The next year I visited the cabin I helped install a wood stove and set up the solar panels and by the end of the two months we had heat and lights working in the cabin. We also built a bookshelf repurposed from an old loo door and leftover lumber and we made a small woodbox for inside the cabin to hold the wood we were going to burn in the wood stove. Each year, the cabin has gotten more livable and this year we will be staying in the cabin for the longest time and we will attempt to do this without renting a truck.

Wood box, Wood stove and book shelf from previous year

In early June once we landed in Halifax airport, our neighbours very kindly offered to pick us up from the airport and let us have their truck for a few days. We bought some groceries on the way and got to the cabin quite late on the same day, walking the rocky shore with our backpacks and groceries.

Every time we come to the cabin, we need to first perform a series of basic setup tasks which I will be asterisking.

  1. *Turn on the electricity: There is a basic solar set up in the cabin now which needs to be turned on. The batteries had drained over the winter and took about a day to register on the solar charge controller. Once running, we have enough battery to charge our electronics, our lights, as well as the Hot Water On Demand (HWOD) which is our shower set-up.
Solar panels and shower platform

2. *Toilets: Setting up the compostable toilets first involves removing all the tools stored in the bathroom and then setting up two potty areas with 5-gallon buckets (one is the toilet bowl and the other, the bidet). The bathroom bucket is wrapped in newspaper and peat moss is used to line the base and cover each poop thereafter.

The composter is cleared of all the previous compost, making space for a new pile and spruce and fir needles are collected for dry carbon in the centre box. Plenty of dry carbon is required to offset the nitrogen found in faeces and urine.

These toilets last two people about 3–4 days after which the bucket’s contents are emptied into the composter and covered in carbon. The bucket is then washed and cleaned and re-news-papered every four days. If this is done correctly, it should not smell and usually each year, we are greeted with either strawberries or tomato’s growing in our compost!

The composting toilet with the composter on the right.

3. *Setting up of the kitchen: This involves moving all the basic necessities (pots, pans, oil, spices) into the open plan kitchen shack in the back. This also includes figuring out means for drinking water (which at the moment involves lugging 20L blue jugs filled with water from our neighbour’s well) and propane (the propane leftover from the year before will do until we make a trip into town).

Cook shack in the back of the cabin with propane stove and washing up area

There is a well on the property but it tested too high in manganese, iron, and coliform bacteria (thankfully, not e-coli) and we use it only for showers and washing up (also as it happened, an extra crock was added to the well over winter, forcing us to extend the pipe leading down into the well).

Well with extra crock

Early next day we went back into the nearest town. Our drinking water comes from our neighbour’s well and the propane from the gas station, so we took the propane and water canisters to fill*. We bought some more groceries and the extra piece of pipe for the well. We then drove into Halifax to pick up 2 bicycles we had purchased (with a plan to cycle into town for groceries for this trip) and a chest freezer we had bought online. Along with these two intentional purchases we also managed to get enough mineral wool (Rockwool) to insulate the whole floor, a Koolatron (a cooler that works with the 12v solar set up which turned out to be handy since the freezer went bust and is being used as a standing desk now), garden supplies for a garden we were going to put in as an experiment, and another battery for the solar setup. We also bought a white board weekly planner to pen down tide times, rain, half-marathon training days, and Coursera data science study days. We gave the truck back after ample shopping and resolved to make it on our own for a little while.

4.* Setting up the well: We managed to glue the extra pipe fitting and after priming, the well was now working. However with the heavy rains over early spring, the water was even more reddish and sedimented than usual.

Well setup with pipe and hand pump

5.*Cleaning out the eavestroughs: We cleaned out the eavestroughs and put the rain barrels in to get water from the next rain as a part of our set up tasks*.

Eavestrough with rain barrels set-up for rain water collection

Summary of the month:

We clocked in about 21 km of running for each week in the month of June and I managed to keep up with my weekly data science homework through the month. We also took our bicycles out for several grocery trips! We made a few friends among our neighbours because of our frequent running and cycling expeditions and went for a lovely supper to our neighbours place.

Us on bicycles back from a grocery trip

We also started on the projects for the year:

Project 1: Set up a garden.

We first chose an area with enough sunlight. We removed the sod from the tiny square patch of land along with roots, rocks and other artifacts from the humans who were living on this piece of land a 100 years ago. We then planted our plants: two rows of potatoes, tomato, onion, rutabaga, squash, parsnips, carrots, peas, and beets. We also threw some seeds down for herbs on the cliff side yelling “One Straw Revolution!”, but that did not amount to much. We later got some chives and rhubarb from a neighbour which we transplanted.

A) Preliminary garden and artifacts found while digging up the garden

Project 2: Get Koolatron working

My partner added another battery to the solar set-up and got the Koolatron working with the 12 volt supply. We unplug it at the end of each day (one of the drawbacks of this very cheap and simple cooling solution is that it doesn't have a thermostat and freezes things if left turned on for too long. I would not recommend this to anyone who needs a viable cooling option for meats).

A potential project could be to add a thermostat at a later stage. But this has proven to be quite a step up from the last few years which saw us hauling ice in packets every few days to keep things cold.

Project 3: Fix Boat

We fixed our friend’s fibreglass boat with motor that they had graciously left for us and now we had a tiny 2 horsepower boat to help us haul things back and forth that we needed. This took a lot of epoxy and hardener and was a slightly shoddy job. I am sure someone who knew what they were doing would have done better.

Project 4: Put the floating dock in the water

This is technically a set up task*. We managed to put the floating dock in the water with the help of our neighbours. It is a dangerous task with both components totaling well over 1000 pounds. We pushed the dock and ramp on to two sliders (fashioned out of tree trunks) from its storage area. Two people floated with the dock on to the installation area and two of us in the canoe pushed them from the side.The ramp was lifted and two sets of galvanized pins were used to hold the dock on to the ramp and the ramp to the a boulder on shore. Only one person fell into the cold Atlantic so it was mostly a success.

Once the dock was in place, we started our next project for the summer.

Project 5: Wood Box

We made a wood box with pallets on a bed of rocks. My partner then framed two triangles for the roof and we mounted it on top and covered it with plywood.

Woodbox with pallets and plywood

By the end of June, shoals of mackerel were swarming into the cove indicated by the flocks of arctic terns, seagulls and local fisherman at the cove fishing

Electricity flowing, bathroom ready, water pumping, garden growing, food refrigerating, feet warming, and firewood drying… we’re ready for our second month!

Books read recently

Milkman — Anna Burns

Romtha — Maheshwata Devi

Economics for the common good — Jean Tirole



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Preethi Govindarajan

Preethi Govindarajan

Puttering with data science. Thoughts are mostly derivative.