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Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia

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Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia

Postby edibleforestguy » Wed Dec 30, 2015 8:10 pm

Background: we own a decent size rural property in Cape Breton but live out of province. Here are observations we gathered, in no particular order.

1) It's delightful and lovely in Inverness county.
2) Even though it's very rural, Cape Breton (and Nova Scotia) are not self sufficient in food production. One can even say, relatively little food is produced locally.
3) The Inverness countryside is mostly forest and abandoned farms and occasionally dotted with hay farms and cattle farms. There are occasional orchards but few grains.
4) Casual observation of rural yards indicates that home vegetable gardens are not widespread.
5) My soil is typical, I think, for my region: deep, acidic (pH well below 5), moderately rocky (many stones but few large ones), clay, slowly draining after rains.
6) It's clear why the farms have become abandoned. The terrain is not made for large scale mechanisation, and the soil poor.
7) Having said that, you can grow just about anything in Cape Breton with enough lime and fertiliser. Water is plentiful and you really don't need irrigation.
8) It's natural orchard land. Apples do well.
9) There are wild food sources. Wild apples are everywhere, so are choke cherries. I bet in a SHTF scenario, a guy with a quality apple press has his business made.
10) The most available firewood on many properties are the alder bushes, which, curiously, the locals don't use.

To be continued. Feel free to comment of course.
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Re: Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia

Postby edibleforestguy » Thu Dec 15, 2016 1:05 am

It's been another year. So, continued,
11) Three years in, I feel comfortable saying it's possible to set up and manage a fruit farm from 1000+km away. We're in Nova Scotia about 6 weeks total per year.
12) The Jerusalem artichoke experiment failed. Soil too acidic? I have tried a second planting.
13) Garlic turned out small but it grew. I wasn't there to clip the flowers, neither did I fertilise it.
14) We set up a vineyard. Grapes are forgiving. We did everything at the wrong time. We got the rootless cuttings in June (2015) when they were no longer dormant. We planted them and were not there to water them all summer. We transplanted them to their permanent location this July and again were not there to water. Most survived anyway, when last checked in November.
15) The wild apple trees are productive. We harvested 70kg, pressed them to 30 litres juice and concentrated that to 4 litres on the woodstove.
16) I did a calculation on wood ash: each kg is worth about 70 cents in terms of lime and fertiliser content. 2kg of ash is equivalent to 1kg of lime. Of course, not a lot of ash is produced. If one burns wood all year, maybe 5,000 kg of wood goes into the stove. Less than 2% of that becomes ash, thus under 100 kg.
17) When clearing land, I keep the food sources for the birds, frogs etc. The beneficial wildlife. Thus, the choke cherries stay, as do small seasonal wet areas.
18) The growth rate of many plants is very slow in Cape Breton. Even the haskap grows slowly. It shows the low fertility of the native soil. It'll become better with the lime.
19) Liming is far more important than fertiliser. A small fraction of nitrogen, phosphor and potassium is actually available to the plants when the pH is 4.5.
20) Community life is delightful.
21) Oh a demolition hammer with clay spade attachment does wonders to help dig holes and help with trenching in the hard stony clay soil.
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Re: Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia

Postby Antsy » Thu Jan 05, 2017 3:28 pm

I appreciate the posts and your observations. We are 'year one' into the same exercise in Antigonish County.

I've noted a lot of gardening, however not in obvious places. People appear to be land rich and don't necessarily keep their gardens by their homes in my area. My in-laws grow potatoes, beet root, carrots, and beans. Lots of canning going on.

I've also noted the abundance of wild apples. This last year micro cider operations were the rage in NS however I am not sure if the fruit is all locally sourced. I've also seen strawberry and blueberry operations around town and in Guysburough.

There is a large dairy operation outside of Antigonish and this is the only large scale agricultural operation I've noted however I'm not scouring the back roads. There appears to be more going on around Truro. The commercial fishery appears to be alive (if not well).

Like you, I appreciate the community. The people are kind and welcoming.

I will look forward to your observations next December.

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Re: Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia

Postby farmgal » Sun Jan 08, 2017 9:16 pm

Great overview, thanks for the read and updates.. please do another one as the time comes.. There is a company in Nova Scotia that sells a few kinds of the Chokes, they would be naturalized to the island and might be worth considering.. I have five kinds now on my farm and the difference between them can be quite a bit..
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Re: Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia

Postby Skillman » Sun Feb 12, 2017 4:18 am

I am on the old family farm in rural Pictou county. The soil here is much richer and far less rocky than up at my in laws in Margaree area of CB. Lots of wild apples, cherries, and several types of berries. Hazel nuts do very well, but you have to get them before the birds and squirrels. Water table has been very consistent on our property for 20 plus years.

I love it here.
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Re: Notes from 2 years in Nova Scotia

Postby edibleforestguy » Tue Dec 12, 2017 8:26 pm

It's been another year. Counting, it's been 4 years in Inverness County. We continue to expand the orchard while living far away in a big city. In 2017 we spent about 10 weeks on the farm. Continuing my notes and observations, in no particular order,

22) It continues to be delightful and lovely in Inverness County. The locals are kind. I knew full well, coming in, that it's an area of the country of established families where anyone new coming in is an outsider for life. I attend local church services and make a point visiting with some neighbours. I am very grateful to the neighbours for all their big and small outreaches to help me feel welcome. It's a part of the country where the population has been shrinking rapidly and locals are glad that anyone is coming in and work on a farm rather than it becoming yet another abandoned property. In turn I am glad to call Inverness County our second home and we also have a paid subscription to the local Inverness newspaper delivered to our home in the big city.

23) Moonless nights are truly pitch black. I found that out visiting a neighbour by bicycle. I had no bicycle light. On the way back, about a km long, I could not make out the hand in front of my eyes. I had to walk the bicycle. Carefully. I had no idea where I was walking on the road. Here and there I seemed to come close to the ditch on either side and corrected course. Even with eyes accustomed to the dark after 15 minutes walking like that, I could make out nothing. Pure black. Completely blind.

24) The StatsCan Census numbers show that the rural area of Inverness County has a population density of 5 people per square kilometre, and falling. Even though, the farm is best described as "remote but not isolated". Ironically it takes us less time to arrive at the hospital than in the big city. We can get there in 13 minutes right to the front door of the hospital. I have timed it.

25) We had another big year of planting. We put about 20 nut trees into the ground (walnut and hickory varieties), spacing them at least 15 metres apart. I don't expect a harvest for 15 years. We also planted 2 mulberry trees. Mulberries are said to produce within a few years and give plentiful harvests. When harvested, they rot within 24 hours so they need to be processed on the spot and that's why we don't see fresh mulberries in stores. In addition, we planted 30 more hazelnuts, and 20 gooseberries/currants.

26) Mostly things grow steadily and slowly on the farm. The haskaps we put in in 2013 have spread and look healthy but are not much more than knee-high. The berries and apples grow slowly. A few things grow fast, especially the hazelnuts, which are two metres tall and we had a harvest.

27) Our 20 grafted apple trees may or may not survive. The water table is way too high where we planted them. We dug out the drainage ditch and planted willows to lower the water table. The issue is possible crown rot disease over time. To help protect the roots, I have started treating them with an Agri-Fos foliar spray.

28) The philosophy remains of a permaculture- oriented food forest. There is no aspiration to make it fully organic but certainly with sound responsible stewardship of the land. We continue to use commercial fertilizer in small quantities (liming is more important) and we also treat any seeds we plant with a commercial fungicide. The apple trees get insecticidal soap (organic) and now also Agri-Fos (kind of organic) and permethrine (kind of organic).

29) The apple trees have suffered from the white spiral plastic we put around them during the planting in 2014. We thought we could leave that permanent. Not so. We looked underneath the plastic this summer and saw some trunk rot and also roots from above the graft zone into the soil. We cut those roots, treated the exposed trunk with a fungicide and removed the spirals. As of this autumn, the trunks look mostly fine and I seem to have saved them. A few were also half girdled by what is almost certainly mouse damage, and that despite the spirals.

30) Also, I corrected the soil around the apple trees. The trees have sunk somewhat into the ground since planting. Everything planted from this autumn forward is somewhat higher to anticipate later sinking. The sinking of the apple trees was modest and I corrected that by moving the surrounding soil.

31) The grapes survived the winter. If they ever bear, is an open question. They are local, yes, from a Cape Breton vineyard. That said, we planted them on a hill that gets optimal sun but that unfortunately is somewhat of a frost pocket in winter and spring. Most vines came up from the bottom this spring, rather than from the upper portion of the plant, which mostly died. That may be a temporary phenomenon as the plants are yet getting established. If growth continues to shoot however up from the bottom every year, we never get a harvest, because the fruit grows on one-year old vines.

32) If somehow the grapes don't do well in this location, the effort to establish the vineyard is not lost. I put in North American blue grapes or the like, which are actually good tasting and those are very hardy.

33) The Jerusalem artichokes finally took. I am very happy about that. These are a true perennial food source that can even be eaten raw. That said, from what I know, the human body can only easily absorb 250 grams of those chokes per day because the calories don't come in the form of starch, but a less digestible variety. And no weeding is needed, they grow tall with big stalks.

34) Fava beans is another success story. They also survive with no weeding as they grow about a metre tall with thick stalks. Favas will be our go-to food plant for our first attempt to grow a larger, family-nourishing crop. We had a harvest this year that took zero effort.

35) Garlic grows well and also can be grown with long absences. It'll do better if we were there to weed and fertilize. That said, we planted 20 last year and they all came through, and we planted more this year.

36) Still no success with winter rye. Could be a variety of factors - seed quality, planting too late in fall, not deep enough in ground, rabbits munching it in spring before we come up. We'll keep at it.

37) Buckwheat and oats grew great on their test plots, until the rabbits ate them in late summer. That can be fixed with deer fencing. Overall, deer fencing is the way to go to protect gardens. It's relatively inexpensive and it works.

38) When coming up in summer, the locals said they just experienced drought and it hadn't rained in weeks. Looking out the window, I saw green grass. Note to self: what the locals call "drought", is not a drought by Central Canada standards. In Central Canada, you get bone dry brown grass in a drought. That never seems to happen in Cape Breton. Good.

39) In automn, we processed 25 kg of wild apples to about 4 kg of apple butter. We de-cored them, threw them into a big pot on the wood stove, added about 10% sugar, some cinnamon, and boiled it down, with the peel. Very nice tasting end product.

40) Running count of plantings. 40 fruit and nut trees, 30 hazelnuts, 80 grapes, 50 small fruit.

50) The best part of the farm as a retreat property and eventual retirement property is that living expenses there are astonishingly cheap. When you start your long-term retreat / retirement with a mortgage-free farm, a good functioning vehicle and some basic farm implements, yearly expenses are low. Property tax $1,000. Food expense: half that of the big city, with much grown on-site. Utilities: low. Free unlimited wood heat. Enough solar to keep a few deep cycle batteries going, which is enough for an emergency. Fridge, freezer and other non-essential power hogs stay grid-tied.

51) A contractor examined the site for possible solar. He recommended a stand-alone hut. We plan to have a root cellar dug, and put said hut on top, and the electrical wiring to the house in place. Put a panel on top and a battery or two, others can be added later.

52) We found that any structure of 20 square metres or less doesn't need a building permit. That's great because that's actually a lot of space. I also received a written opinion from a provincial building inspector that the 20 square metres can be underground, say, for a root cellar.

53) The idea of possibly being snowed in in winter for a few weeks doesn't bother me. With a wood stove, food and a few deep cycle batteries to run lights, there is not much of an issue.

54) We have a shallow well about 50 metres from the house. I bought from Lee Valleys a cast iron hand pump and from Home Hardware enough hose to run a path from the pump to the door step of the house. So we now have a way to get well water to close to the house when the pump is down.
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