Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Coastal BC Plants: Alaskan Saxifrage

S is for Alaskan Saxifrage

Alaskan Saxifrage among the moss.
I have to walk up four flights of stairs to get up to my hillside potato patch and compost bin. I make the trek several times a week and always look at things along the path. The granite cliff itself is always interesting. And I like to see what the natural vegetation is doing.

On a trip up the stairs I saw some pretty little white flowers. After depositing my vegetable scraps in the bin, I went back to the cabin to get my camera. I used the pictures and my nature guides to find a match. With limited Internet access, books are a great alternative.


Paging through Plants of Coastal British Columbia I found that it was Alaska Saxifrage (Saxafraga ferruginea). This plant is quite widespread and there are several variations along its coastal range from southern Washington to southern Alaska, and from sea level to alpine regions. As a perennial plant, it gets an early start in spring.

Thin reddish stems rise from a cluster of basal leaves.

The plant’s fleshy, hairy, spoon-shaped leaves are arranged in an array around the base. A short (10-35 cm) stiff stem rises straight up, sometimes branching, ending with small white (to purple) five-petaled flowers. The stamens on short stalks in the center give the flowers a spiky appearance. Its nickname is Rusty Saxifrage because of the rust colour in the sepals.


Alaskan Saxifrage can be found on moist cliffs, wet rocks, and mossy spots. Mine were tucked in among the mosses that line the notch up our granite cliff. We are at an elevation of 155 feet.

References: Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon (Lone Pine Publishing, 1994) and E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia (online).

For ABC pictures from around the world, stop by the ABC Wednesday blog. This is the twentieth around of the meme established by Denise Nesbitt.

Thanks for visiting part of my world this week. For more great posts from Our World Tuesday, click here.

And also a meme called Through My Lens by Mersad. -- Margy

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Riding Pickles on Powell Lake

Approaching the Pickles barge ramp on Powell Lake.
Sounds funny, but that’s the name of a Western Forest Product’s site on Powell Lake. I don’t know origin. Maybe it was the nickname of an old timer in nearby Henderson Bay, or some obscure gastronomic event.

We took advantage of a sunny spring day to head out with our barge and quads. Pickles is about twenty minutes from our cabin and we’ve watched with interest as road builders reopened the barge ramp and blasted their way through granite cliffs.

Burning slash in 2008 after first logging at Pickles.
Pickles is an isolated block. Roads offer limited riding, but there was a unique draw. After building ends, roads are left to settle for several months. That lets you ride through the beautiful mature forests with its robust understory before logging begins.

We didn’t have our barge when Pickles was first logged. Because quick growing alders had blocked the roads, this was the first time we could ride Pickle's old and new sections.

Our barge at the Pickles dock looking up the east arm of Powell Lake.

Wayne on one of the old cleared logging roads.
On the north-south road there were views of Goat Island, First Narrows and Chippewa Bay. Loggers even had a roadside bench at the most spectacular spot. The most extensive road building was at the end of the east-west section. Here road crews had to blast their way along granite slopes (easily heard from our cabin). Trees logged during the road building process won’t go to waste. They are stacked and ready for removal when logging begins.

Looking north with First Narrows in the middle and Goat Island on the right.

This is the second time we’ve been able to ride new roads to experience mature forests up close. The first was at nearby Chip South. As a part of the reforestation process, new harvests in previously logged areas occur after about ten years. This allows new trees to grow and “green up” in the open areas. Western Forest Products is a responsible company that carefully manages our forests on Crown land.

A new section of road with logs waiting ready for removal.

If you want to ride in the Powell Lake region, you can contact Western Forest Products to get current information about logging activities.  In addition to the hotline listed below, there is a @WFPRoadInfo Twitter account, a Stillwater Operational Information Map (pdf updated monthly), and online information page.

Stillwater Forest Operations
201-7373 Duncan Street
Powell River, BC V8A 1W6
Office: (604) 485-3100
Road Hotline: (604) 485-3132

I invite you to come visit Powell River and enjoy quad riding in our glorious backcountry. For information about quad riding in our area click on the ATV category or visit my other blog Powell River Quad Rides. -- Margy

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Coastal BC Insects: Giant Water Bug

Giant Water Bug

Giant Water Bug
Wayne and I have lived at our float cabin on Powell Lake since 2001 and this is the first time I’ve seen a Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus americanus). The only other time was when I was in high school. A boy friend stationed in Vietnam knew I was putting together an insect collection for a biology class, hence he sent me an unusual “present” in the mail.


Giant Water Bugs are common in the United States and Canada. They are found in among bottom vegetation in ponds and lakes. It is the region’s largest aquatic insect, up to 2 3/8” long and 1” wide (60mm x 25 mm). Flying, it has a wingspan of 4 1/8” (110 mm). When flying, they look a lot like bats. I wonder if that was what I saw the other night skimming over the water.


Giant Water Bugs eat fish, tadpoles and other insects. It has a large beak to pierce its prey and injects digestive juices. Once the innards are dissolved, the bug sucks the contents out, leaving a husk behind, not a pretty thought. And if you handle one, the bite is painful.

The two front legs are used for grasping prey. The four hind legs are fringed and designed for powerful swimming.


Females lay eggs in late spring and early fall. Nymphs hatch in two weeks, but few survive due to cannibalism and other aquatic predators. If disturbed, they may play dead or fight back with their beak and caustic saliva.

With a nickname of "Toe Biter," I got close enough to take some pictures from various angles but wasn’t tempted to get give it a touch. -- Margy

References: Bugs of British Columbia (Lone Pine Publishing, 2001) by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon and National Audubon Society Nature Guides: Wetlands (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997) by William A Niering

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Compost Quick

My compost "barrel" next to last years buried compost pit.
Many years ago I made a simple compost "barrel" out of chicken wire. I use it to store plant-based kitchen scraps and garden clippings from late spring through early fall. My garden is small, so it's large enough to hold what I need and turn my scraps into compost quick.

It's located up on the cliff next to my hillside potato patch. It's not the most convenient place to take my compost since it involves climbing three flights of stairs, but when the compost is done, it's in the perfect spot to dig into my growing triangle of soil.


In fall after my potatoes are harvested, I dig a big hole in the middle of the patch (click here to read more). Fresh clippings go in the bottom and the partially rotted mix from the barrel goes on top. I water thoroughly then put soil from the hole on top. I cover the pit with garbage bags held down by boards. Using compost accelerator such as Rot-It makes the pile decompose quickly.

Home grown Yukon Gold seed potatoes.
This week I uncovered my pit and found wonderful new soil. Wayne and I worked it up and prepared rows to plant my saved Yukon Gold seed potatoes.

They've lasted all winter for eating and the remainder are nicely sprouted for planting.

The potatoes will love the rich new soil and the loose texture to allow them to develop nice big spuds.

Seed potatoes ready to be buried and watered by spring rains.

Do you make your own compost? What are some of your techniques? -- Margy

Saturday, April 29, 2017

“At Home in the Woods” by Vena and Bradford Angier

I like thrift shops and used bookstores to find books about living off the grid and wilderness adventures. One I found recently was At Home in the Woods: How two young people forsook civilization to live the life of Thoreau in the Canadian wilderness (The Macmillan Company, 1951).

The book was written by Bradford and Vena Angier with Vena Angier as the narrator. The story was told from her point of view.  I really enjoyed reading about their experience of moving off the grid to the Canadian wilderness.

The Peace River near Hudson's Hope in 1994.
Vena and Brad had city-folk jobs in Boston. They enjoyed the outdoors and greatly admired Thoreau’s simple life at Walden Pond. They searched for property and selected Hudson’s Hope in British Columbia's interior to live out their dream. They found an abandoned cabin six miles from town and used it while they built one of their own with recycled materials.

While living a simple life away from civilization they learned the skills needed to survive in the wilderness. They had minimal income from writing magazine articles, so they got as much of the food and materials they needed from the land.

Wayne in front of the Hudson Bay Post in 1994.
They made friends in Hudson’s Hope and explored the area by boat on the Peace River, by horse to a mountain lake, and by hiking everywhere, including up the ice and snow encrusted Rocky Mountain Canyon.

The Hudson Bay Company Post in town was not only the trading post, but also a center for community life. People from around the area, including Vena and Brad, would go there for celebrations and events.

After three years, they left the bush and returned to the States. After a time back in civilization, they chose to return to Hudson’s Hope. And in the end, Brad was able to purchase the land on which their cabin stood. Now no one could take their dream away.

Arrow 997 with our tent at Hudson's Hope Airport in 1989
Wayne and I stopped in Hudson’s Hope on one of our trips in Arrow 997. I remember walking down to the small village from the airport 6.6 kilometres (4 miles) away. Remembering the trek back up the steep road made me appreciate how difficult it was for Vera to walk the six miles from their cabin to get mail and groceries.

At Home in the Woods was re-released in 2015 (Down East Books) and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers in print and e-book versions. If you want to read a timeless off the grid adventure book, this is the one. -- Margy

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cabin Baking: Flaxseed Bread

Stovetop toast with homemade flaxseed bread.
We ran out of bread and wouldn’t be going to town for a few more days, so I decided to make some for our breakfast toast. I didn’t want to wait for my sourdough starter to work, so I tried a recipe for flaxseed bread I'd saved from an old Our Canada magazine.

Flaxseed Bread

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup whole-wheat flour
1 ½ to 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pkg (1/4-oz) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups milk
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ teaspoons butter for topping
½ cup ground flaxseed
½ cup whole flaxseed

Directions:

Add warm milk mixture to dry ingredients.
In a large bowl, combine the whole-wheat flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour, ground flaxseed, whole flaxseed, yeast and salt.

In a saucepan, heat the milk, brown sugar, honey and 2 tablespoons of butter. Add to dry ingredients when it has cooled to just warm.

Stir in enough of the remaining all-purpose flour to form a firm dough.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. I had to add about ½ cup extra all-purpose flour during kneading to keep the dough from sticking to the breadboard.

Knead, let rise and test.
Place in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat all side of the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. I used the wonderful King Arthur dough rising bucket that my friend Jeanne gave me.

To test the dough, use your fingers to indent the surface. If it doesn’t spring back, it’s ready to punch down.

Form into a loaf.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a loaf. I’d already cleaned my breadboard so I used a piece of plastic wrap taped to the counter for easy cleanup.

Place it in a 9X5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Let the loaf rise again.
Bake at 375°F for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the pan to a wire rack. Melt remaining butter and brush over the bread (optional). Then let cool before slicing.

I like the slightly sweet nutty flavour for our morning toast. Topped with some of my homemade grape and plum jam, it was perfect with our morning fruit.

And for an added benefit, we could stay home instead of running to the grocery store in town. -- Margy

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Coastal BC Birds: Talk to Me Goose

After a long quiet winter, it's nice to have birds returning to Hole in the Wall on Powell Lake.

The first to arrive on the scene were the Canada Geese. A flight of five came honking their way into Hole in the Wall early in April.


Since then, the group has split up. Three have been congregating at the back of the Hole, and two have taken up residency in John's back bay across from us.


We can hear them honking back and forth early in the morning. Usually they stay out in the lake, but recently a pair has been coming up to stand on our log booms and swim in our inner pool area.


I've been keeping a eye on them because I don't want troubles out at my floating garden. In the past, geese have climbed aboard to partake of my tender crops. But so far, so good.


I had to play a little joke on the male goose. Top Gun is one of our favourite movies (after all, we're pilots). One memorable line was, "Talk to me Goose." Goose was the call sign of pilot Maverick's EWO (electronics warfare officer).


We enjoy watching all of the birds and animals that visit our float cabin home. What critters have returned to your area already? -- Margy

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Off-the-Grid Living

Wayne and I have chosen to live where we are surrounded by nature.

We've always been outdoors kind of people. We met each other on a flying camping trip to Canada and have gone on many adventures since.

In 2000, we stopped at the Powell River airport for fuel and an overnight stay. We fell in love with the area, so we returned the following summer and discovered floating cabin. We knew immediately it was where we wanted to live.


One of the main draws was the opportunity to live a simple, off-the-grid lifestyle. Off-the-grid is typically defined as living away from public utilities, especially electricity.

Our float cabin isn't connected to electric, water or sewer grids, so we had to find other ways to handle our utilities.

The cabin came with propane as a power source for lights, refrigeration and cooking, and a woodstove for heat.

The cabin floats on the surface of a freshwater lake so our water source was located four feet below our floor.

A hand pump at the kitchen sink brings water into the cabin with just a few pumps of the handle.

Because we wanted to have some electricity for cell phones, computers, lights and a few small appliances (think shaver, spice grinder, radio), we installed a solar panel and two batteries. Over time, that has grown to three panels and two sets of 8 batteries.

To augment our solar power we added a wind generator, but we only create power during stormy weather.

During winter we periodically recharge our batteries with a 1000 watt fuel efficient generator that's fairly quiet.

When we purchased our cabin we started with an outhouse that was three flights of stairs up the cliff.

When started living here full time we upgraded to a compost toilet and added a bathroom onto the cabin.

Off the grid living isn't for everyone, but for us it's the perfect choice.

Want to know more about float cabin living? Wayne's written a book: Off the Grid the Grid: British Columbia Stories. It includes stories about how we do off-the-grid living on Powell Lake in Coastal BC. It's available in print and e-book formats at Amazon.com and other online booksellers. -- Margy

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dividing Rhubarb Plants

I've grown rhubarb in a medium sized container since 2010.


It started from bare-root stock and has provided me with enough stalks each year to make several pies and crisps.

I knew my plant was becoming pot bound due to visible splits in the plastic container, and the reduced production in larger stalks.

I researched online and watched YouTube videos about how to divide and replant rhubarb.

The root mass removed from the pot.
I waited for fall when the plant became dormant.

It was so pot bound it took me a long time and lots of digging to loosen it from the container.

You can see what a tight mass the roots had formed.

Using a serrated knife to cut the roots.
There was no evident division point in the plant, so I decided to cut it right down the middle.

Large roots sliced through.
The slice exposed very large roots cut right through the middle.

I worried that the "wounded" roots might die or become diseased, but that didn't happen.

I used a larger pot and placed both sections in with plenty of spreading room in between.
The two halves get a larger pot.
I made sure the plant crowns were even with the top level of the soil.

I used fresh potting mix to fill in the empty spaces between and around the the roots.

To protect my plants from the coming winter's freezing temperatures, I covered the top of the pot with crumpled newspaper, cardboard and an inch of soil.

Removing the winter covering.
Here's a post of a similar process I used with my dahlia tubers.

When spring arrived, I removed the covering to expose the budding shoots.

I'm happy to report that both sides have not only survived, but are thriving.



I can hardly wait for my first crop to make a strawberry, apple, and rhubarb crisp. -- Margy