Of right, privilege and freedom

I woke up this morning with my family aboard a sailboat at a peaceful anchorage in Mahone Bay just a couple of hours sail from home.  And shared my thoughts:  “We are so privileged to be doing this.  Not just having the boat, but to be able to sail where we want and drop the anchor where we deem best, want without paying a toll to anyone, and to enjoy this beautiful scenery so freely.”

Sunset at Covey Island, one of the islands protected by MICA.
Sunset at Covey Island, one of the islands protected by MICA.

The first settlers of Lunenburg must have been in awe at such freedom.  What we now call Germany was at the time an assortment of many principalities of various sizes.  Going down the “highway” of the river Rhine to Rotterdam, where they boarded the ship that would take them across the Atlantic, the emigrants would have been stopped at every border crossing and paid tolls.  Many of them had even needed to secure permission from their feudal lord to leave the land they were bonded to as peasants.  Once they reached Lunenburg in 1753, they must have been very appreciative of the freedom to profit from their own labour and build their future with their own hands.

Even some of the modern-day German immigrants to Nova Scotia that I know have expressed to me their appreciation of the freedom they have here in a society that is less regulated than the one they left behind.

The entire natural coastline of this island has been destroyed and replaced with a rock wall.
The entire natural coastline of this island has been destroyed and replaced with a rock wall.

The Mahone Islands Conservation Association (MICA) works to protect public access to the islands of Mahone Bay, as well as to preserve their natural environment.  The islands are increasingly under pressure by private owners and developers.  Natural shorelines and nesting habitats are disrupted (photo right).  Owners of some islands chase visitors off beaches that have long been used by the general public. (Some have been known to brandish guns in their efforts, something  that Canadians or at least Nova Scotians just don’t do.)

From what I understand, depending on the type of deed, the intertidal zone has legally remained public except in a few cases where water rights were transferred.  In a country where travel by boat was the norm, the right to land on a shore would have been an issue of public safety.  Nowadays, it seems that there is a trend for private property rights to be extended into the intertidal zone –  whether by deed, by custom, by complicity of the authorities or by ignorance by the public, I don’t know.  Enlighten me if you know anything more about this issue, please, by commenting below.

Meanwhile, I take pleasure in seeing the decendants of the original Lunenburg settlers, with names such as Meisner and Ernst,  involved in MICA, perserving public access to the islands of Mahone Bay for future generations of humans and seabirds.

Pioneer garden

The deer netting is practically invisible so I've run flagging tape around it so the deer will know that something is there.
The deer netting is practically invisible so I've run three levels of flagging tape around it so the deer will know that something is there.

My deer fence looks like a carnival, the thin mesh festooned with orange and yellow flagging tape. What’s inside is not terribly tempting to deer, not yet anyway. It may not be big news for hungry humans either. The potatoes should do OK, and I hope to get some beans – especially if we get a bit of heat around here. But when your broccoli matures early with heads the size of a loonie, you know the plants are feeling stressed.  They somehow know that under these conditions, they’d better reproduce while they can.

This broccoli plant has given up already. It doesn't think it'll grow big enough to support a floret larger than a loonie.
This broccoli plant has given up already. It doesn't think it'll grow big enough to support a floret larger than a loonie.

How many pioneers tried to feed their families out of soil no better than this?  Recently forested, no topsoil brought in, rocky, no manure integrated into the dirt yet – not  much  good for anything but potatoes.

It takes time to build up soil like this – plus compost, manure and other organic matter.  My ambition is to enlarge the garden with time.  Newspaper and black plastic are smothering the weeds in future sections of garden.

I’m sure glad I can BUY my groceries!

Update on the deer fence, July 3, 2010

Will the deer fence hold?

Thin, almost invisible netting separates my garden from this deer.
Thin netting separates my garden from this deer.

I’m determined to develop a garden on this corner of our property. Grass won’t even grow there, just weeds and wild strawberries. Over the 5 years that we’ve lived here, I’ve cleared a 15’x15′ patch and tried growing things like beans, potatoes and broccoli. But deer, and maybe rabbits, have munched whatever managed to grow – even potato plants, which surprised me as potato leaves are rather toxic.

This year, however, the recession and the spike in oil prices last year have got many of us thinking more about growing our own food. So I’m getting more serious with the garden. It’s time to learn to grow food!

The soil is terribly poor. Over the years, I’ve added a bit of seaweed and compost, but finally this year I paid for a load of manure. That was the first firm step of commitment.

The second step: a fence. But I needed to do it cheaply, using mostly materials at hand.

The only thing I actually had to buy was 100 ft of 7′ high “deer fence” – black plastic netting – from Lee Valley for about $27 plus shipping. For the support posts, I had some 8-foot lengths of old aluminum tubing from a shed structure which had collapsed in a winter storm some years ago, and some leftover copper pipe which happened to fit just inside the aluminum tubes.

To erect the support posts, I pounded 4′ lengths of the copper tubing halfway into the ground with a sledge hammer, then used a plumber’s pipe-cutting tool to cut off the top bit that had got mashed by the force of the sledge. The aluminum tubing slid over the copper and another foot or so into the ground. Hopefully it will be strong enough at the level of the ground to withstand bending forces. In fact, I haven’t had to run guy lines or construct inside props to support my fence posts.

Then I attached the deer netting to the posts, which have boltholes at the top and halfway down, with plastic ties. I cut pegs from twigs and hammered them through the netting into the ground to keep the rabbits out, although there are a few gaps which concern me where the netting doesn’t reach the ground.

The black netting is practically invisible from a distance, so I’ve run plastic flagging tape around the perimeter halfway up for the deer to see. Deer can jump up to seven feet high, so I need to finish the job by running more tape all the way around the top. Another thing to buy.

So far so good. But with the weather we’ve had, the garden is growing slowly, so the temptation may not yet be very great. The wild strawberries are much more interesting to grazers (me included). Stay tuned.  [Update on the deer fence, July 3, 2010]

Novice gardener with deep roots

My Danish grandfather at 83, cheerfully digging up a nice lawn to grow vegetables.
My Danish grandfather at 83, cheerfully digging up a nice lawn to grow vegetables.

I consider myself a novice gardener with a strong inclination – even compulsion – to dig and plant. It’s got to be genetic.

Both my grandfathers grew things for a living.  They were European immigrants to Canada in the 1920s, and, well, that’s what you did in those days.  One died too soon from the effects of farm chemicals.  The other carried his passion long into retirement, and tore up a Dartmouth backyard into a huge vegetable garden which my father inherited and dutifully maintained.

My dad checking out the new pile of manure
My dad checking out the new pile of manure

I now have my grandfather’s rototiller and hand tools, and his elderly son still takes a keen interest, although he’s too feeble now to dig.

My mother and her (second) husband grow a showpiece garden in Mahone Bay. It’s her passion. Her other passion is flower arranging and decorating, an obvious match for gardening. Oh – and photography. I can’t wait until she gets her blog going!

Two coneflowers: Rudbeckia and Echinaecea. Photo J. Maginley
Two coneflowers: Rudbeckia and Echinaecea. Photo J. Maginley

I’ve lived in many places and worked in other people’s gardens, and am glad to finally have my own.

Rising fuel prices suggest that learning to grow your own food and building up the fertility of your own soil are good things to do.  I feel I have a lot of learning to do as I build the soil.  I cannot claim the competence that my grandparents have, and as long as I build websites for a living, my learning is limited by my time.

Flowers and photo by my mother, June Maginley

However, gardening is the perfect antidote to sitting in front of a computer. So I will surely continue to grow as a gardener. My parents are still around to give advice, if I will take it, and my grandparents are smiling down on me. Stay tuned.

Bike ride on Martin’s Point

Biking on Martin's Point
Biking on Martin's Point

A beautiful day begs a bike ride. We headed for Martin’s Point, which sticks out into Mahone Bay between Oak Island and Indian Point.

Martin’s Point points towards the many Mahone Bay  islands that we like to sail to and around.

Older homes on Martin's Point
Older homes on Martin's Point

Like many coastal areas, it has a mixture of century-old homesteads, decades-old bungalows, and some new, modern, expensive homes that the average Nova Scotian can not afford, often built by come-from-aways as a  summer home and a place to retire.

People who move here by choice bring a lot to our communities – financial resources, income for local businesses, support for the arts, etc. There is often a conflict in values and lifestyle between them and the local population, however, who have a different sense of belonging to the place and a history that goes back generations.

Seagull and Great Blue Heron on Martin's Point

The result can be tension between groups with different priorities, as we have seen in the Town of Mahone Bay over the issue of whether or not to “develop” the woods and soccer field near the old school which is now a community centre. I could go on.

Meanwhile, it was a sunny Saturday and we enjoyed the peaceful bike ride on Martin’s Point.  Not a single car asked to share the road with us.

Buy Back Nova Scotia

J.D. Irving Ltd. is selling off vast holdings of land in southwestern Nova Scotia that it has been logging. “Professional forestry management” is what they’ve been doing there, and apparently it’s not worthwhile for them to continue.

170,000 acres of JD Irving lands that are up for sale
170,000 acres of JD Irving lands that are up for sale
The lands include whole lakes and lake systems, rivers, watersheds and huge tracts of forest land. It’s near Kejimkujik National Park and the Tobiatic Wilderness Area, where you can canoe and portage from lake to lake, meeting only a few fishermen along the way. It’s another world back there, and it’s all to easy to ignore what’s going on there.

Buy Back Nova Scotia” is a group that aims to save the 170,000 acres of land that’s up for sale and prevent them from falling into private hands and being hidden behind No Trespassing signs. Here’s the map (right) showing the lands concerned.

Below, there’s a Google Map of the area south of Digby and the Bear River Reserve. See the long, straight, engineered logging roads built for the sole purpose of getting the logs out, as well as the clearcuts. Use the + button to zoom in further, and you will get to more detailed aerial photos showing the effects of logging.

On the Buy Back Nova Scotia site you can get more information, sign a petition, and mroe. And here’s the link to the property listing with an American company – aimed, obviously, at foreign buyers.

View Larger Map

First sign of spring: maple syrup!

Just about the most authentic, old-fashioned maple syrup operation you could ever find is Mountain Maple in the Annapolis Valley, just outside of Wolfville.  Perry and Judi Munro are typical of Nova Scotian back-to-the-landers in that they decide first that they want to live here, and then figure out how they’re going to make a living, and they don’t get too specialized.  Besides the maple syrup operation, they make art, sculpture, baskets, they guide hunters and fishers and have a vacation rental on the lake.  Check out this video, then visit Perry Munro’s website to see what all they’re up to.