This has definitely been a month for the books. I have not been forced to work this hard since I started my grounds keeping business 25 years ago. Hard work has not hurt this much since…..lets face it, it has never hurt this much. Am I surprised how hard this is to do? Not really, I did enough homework to know what to expect. Am I discouraged, and thinking of giving up? Not for a micro second. This place might kill me, but I won’t be leaving in anything but a box or the ambulance that takes you to a mental institution.
The frustrating thing straight out of the gate is the virtual impossibility of staying on one project all the way to completion. The reality of the early days on the land is one of being pulled in several directions at once and running around in circles. Suddenly losing all the normal services and conveniences means that just holding body and soul together with the minimal acceptable level of comfort becomes a time consuming job.
All the Comforts of Home
An absolutely essential part of establishing a homestead like this is to secure an adequate water supply. A good quality, high capacity shallow well is the best that can be hoped for and according to a number of the locals, there is cause to be hopeful that we might be able to dig a good well here. If that does not pan out, the other possible options would include a deep core drilled well, a dugout, rainwater collection, hooking on to the local system and failing all of that a cistern to store water hauled in. This is all in the future, our immediate needs have to be met by hauling water in. The first week or so out here, all water had to be carried in though the mud in one gallon jugs. As soon as the ground firmed up things improved greatly, being able to haul in 150 gallons at a time with our small tank in the back of the pickup and transferring to our stationary 325 gallon tank. We first tried to arrange to haul from the small water treatment plant in the hamlet that we border on, but arrangements were so awkward that we opted to haul from a municipal well about 17km away. I suspect local politics are at play here, and I would prefer to steer clear. We have adequate water for a reasonable amount of resources, so that is all that matters.
Refrigeration is more of a challenge than we had hoped. We have an old 3 way RV fridge that we had planned to run on propane. The first couple weeks there was no time to set it up on propane so we ran it on electric which required running the generators more than we would have liked. When I finally got the thing running on propane, I was still tweaking the venting arrangement when the propane control burned out. So at present it is back on electric, until I can figure out whether repairing the propane control is possible or practical.
The electrical system is far from adequate at this point. The battery bank consists of two golf cart 225 amp batteries, a 45 amp charger and a 1500 watt inverter. Waiting in the wings are 6 more batteries, two 75 watt and one 100 watt solar panels, a 400 watt wind generator, a 1500 watt marine inverter with a 70 amp charger, a 1000 watt true sine inverter and a small 600 watt inverter. All I need is the time to set it all up.
One of the main reasons for the delay in getting the electric system up and running properly is the partially completed shack #2. With the amount of rain we have had, and the additional rain forecasted, I need the shack up and protected by roofing without delay, or warping and deterioration of the osb panels will threaten the quality of the whole project.
Driveways, trails and access have shown some progress in the last month. Our access from the beginning has been across a neighbours property, and even though he has been very patient with us, we are keen to have our own proper access. The most promising way to open up short term access for the least resources, seems to be to re-open the old driveway to homestead #2. My best information at present is that we are building the fourth homestead on this property. When ours is completed it will stand on on a different location from each of the other three that have been here over the last century. I am thinking of attaching a page to this blog that will cover the history of this property as I am able to piece it together. The driveway of homestead #2 is being reclaimed because it is closer to our planned cabin site, because it requires comparatively light clearing, and finally because it was once a driveway and therefore should have a gravel base under the surface. If this route ever had a culvert, it was long gone. By following the RM (Rural Municipality) minutes published in the local newspaper, I discovered it was common practice for property owners to install and maintain culverts for road approaches. If you take this option, the culvert is supplied by the RM free of charge. The RM will upon request supply, install and maintain the culvert, but then you pay, pay and pay some more. As in most things, I find my own labour rates more agreeable. So with the help of a neighbour, I brought a shiny new 12” x 20’ culvert home from the RM yard. The ditch was very shallow, so I had to dig the culvert in a bit deeper than the bottom of the current ditch. I did this because I fear that any really heavy vehicles (like gravel trucks) would crush the culvert flat passing over it. By going a bit deeper, I think it will be better protected but now I have to do some additional digging on both sides of the culvert.
The next step was to have some gravel delivered. For roughing in the approach, driveways, parking and work areas the common practice is to use what is variously called “scrapings” or “pit run” which is a by product produced by gravel pits. In this location it is a mix of sand, gravel and small rocks that may not be pretty, but gets the job done for less coin. When we are satisfied that we have a good base, we will apply a relatively thin layer of crushed gravel over the pit run base.
Recently one of the locals felt the need to tell me the story of an eccentric fellow who lived in these parts on a piece of bush like my own. Apparently this reclusive man spent years laboriously clearing his land by hand. When he finished, he set to planting the entire patch with trees. I think my storyteller was trying to evaluate my sanity. My disdain for bulldozers runs against the common wisdom that this northern bush is merely an obstacle that needs to be swept aside to make way for cereal cropping or grazing.
You may have noticed that this post rambles and meanders in various directions, and on the one hand, I would like to have the time and energy to pull this together in some sort of coherent form. If I do that, I will not get around to posting this until about the early part of December. It is in a way suitable, that my posts this summer are a chaotic mess, because that is a true reflection of the situation here on the ground. Stay tuned because I am sure things will improve in two or three weeks…..or months…..years? Umm… decades?