Monthly Archives: June 2012

You Grow Potatoes By Planting Potatoes (And Other Things I Learnt WWOOFing)

In mid-June, I did a two-week WWOOFing stint at Wild Roots Farm on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms – a pretty amazing system of trade where you volunteer your time and skills in exchange for meals and accommodation. It’s mainly farms that participate (hence the name) but you can also work in hostels, B&Bs and other services. (The website explains the concept in greater detail)

I’d heard about WWOOFing here and there for a couple of years but it wasn’t until my friend Katie went WWOOFing in British Columbia – and loved it – that I seriously thought about doing it. I figured this trip across Canada was the perfect time to give it a go!

Thom and Jane were my hosts. They have a gorgeous 10 month old son, Felix, two cats, four chickens and  beautiful big property about 15 minutes drive from the nearest town. After spending a year and half in Toronto, it felt like the middle of nowhere!

The chicken tractor (built by one of the WWOOFers studying architecture). The idea is that the chickens walk around and eat the weeds in the garden bed. Once the weeds are gone, the tractor is picked up and moved to another bed.

Thom and Jane’s lifestyle was very different to what I was used to (as was the whole WWOOFing concept) but over the two weeks, I learnt heaps about sustainability, food, gardening and health.

Here are some lessons I took away from my time at Wild Roots:

1. You grow potatoes and garlic by planting potatoes and garlic! This may seem obvious but I guess I had never thought about how these vegetables actually grew. (As a sidebar, one potato normally yields 6-8 new potatoes.)

The potato and garlic beds.

2. I can – at least temporarily – live on a vegan diet. Not as scary as I had imagined (but the transition was made much easier by my hosts and fellow WWOOFers who were amazing cooks)

Vegan feast. L-R: Homemade hummus (Costco size!); potato salad (my contribution); Nova Scotian red wine (now that is some vegan I can easily do!); beet salad.

Nothing better than salad straight from the garden!

3. There is immense satisfaction in admiring the result of six hours work pulling up big, stubborn dandelions by hand!



Oh, and I found out you can also eat said dandelions. Who knew?!

Dandelion kimchi (a Korean condiment).

4. The appreciation of peace and quiet.

I’m such an urban person, and love the hustle bustle of big cities. But there was something so nice about only hearing three cars go past the house a day. I also learnt to really enjoy the solitude and silence that accompanies farm work. No need to talk, just get in and do the work.

5. WWOOFing reminded me to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Nothing goes to waste at Wild Roots!

Leftover pasta water and beer yeast (from Thom’s amazing homebrew) is used to make bread; leftover oatmeal (our daily breakfast) is made into muffins; containers are always reused for something; there is a well and two rainwater tanks; and they compost everything they can – including “humanure” through their compost toilet!

The compost toilet was the first sign that life at Wild Roots was going to be a little different than usual.

The toilet itself is basically a normal toilet seat and lid on top of a bucket. You do your business, cover it with woodchips, then empty the bucket into the compost when it’s full. “Bucket dumping” was definitely my least favourite job on the farm but as Jane said to me once, “It’s important to take responsibility for your own shit!”

6. That it’s ok not to shower every day! (I actually already felt this way, I just finally found other people who shared my view.)

For anyone interested in WWOOFing in Nova Scotia, you should definitely look up Wild Roots!

Mabou Harbour (a half hour drive from the farm)

A provincial park in Wycocamagh, the nearest town.

Day trip to Port Hood beach. Still freezing in June!

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Salty Bear Statistics

As I mentioned in a previous post, I started this three month trip across Canada without a valid driver’s licence.

This posed a bit of a problem for seeing Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. There’s literally no way to get around independently except drive or hitch.

Enter: Salty Bear Adventure Tour.

Tour groups can be a bit of risk considering you’re stuck with the same people for days on end: crammed into a bus with them, sleeping in the same room as them, eating with them, drinking with them, sightseeing with them…arrgghhh!

But I was lucky enough to share my three days with a pretty entertaining group: Mike (tour leader); Erika (who I’d already met in Digby); Sarah; Jessica; Andi; Karen; Kevin; and Yvette.

Salty Bear Statistics:

People: 9

Aussies: 3 (actually a bit lower than the typical ratio)

Hostels: 2

The gorgeous view from HI Cape Breton, overlooking the Bras d’Or Lake

Monks: 3 (at Gampo Abbey)

These little statues are hidden all through the grounds of the Abbey

Wildlife count: 1 deer, 1 raccoon (roadkill); 4 snakes (harmless); some Canadian geese; 2 minke whales; and 9 delicious lobsters

I couldn’t get a photo of the ACTUAL minke whale so you’ll just have to use your imagination.


Hikes: 5

The view at the end of the Skyline Trail.

Kayaking trips: 1

Photo credit: Erika Oakes

Waterfalls: 2

Try to spot Yvette!

Times Andi stripped down and jumped into a freezing waterfall: 1

Times Mike missed the turnoff for the hike we were supposed to do but ended up finding us a way better one: 1 (you redeemed yourself, Mike!)

Pee stops: At least every half hour (we never managed to synchronize our bladders. Poor Mike!)

Rolf Harris songs: 3


S’mores: 30+

Games of Twister: 6

Times I won Twister: 0 (I’m just not tall or bendy enough!)

“That’s what she said” references: 50+

Bottles of wine: 1 (mine)

Photo credit: Erika Oakes

Beers: Unspecified

Would recommend this tour to anyone wanting to travel Cape Breton!

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Daytripping Around Digby (Nova Scotia)

I’m a last-minute traveller.

Most of the time it works out; sometimes it doesn’t. But they’re odds I’m willing to live with to allow maximum trip flexibility (and if I’m being really honest, procrastination also plays a pretty big role).

While staying in Digby, I had a rare moment of organization and decided to book a hostel and shuttle two days in advance of my next destination, Mahone Bay. Of course, this also happened to be the one time when my plans changed at the last-minute. As we say in Australia, bloody typical!

This change of plans was spearheaded by Erika’s arrival at the Digby Hostel (a great place to stay, by the way). Erika is a fellow Aussie who also happened to be travelling around Atlantic Canada (and the rest of the world, actually!). But there was one big difference between Erika and I – Erika had a car!

(Background Note: I also could have rented a car if I had bothered to get an Ontario drivers licence in the 1.5 years I lived there – one of those times procrastination did not work in my favour – and I had not realized one week before my three-month trip that my Australian driver’s licence expired in November 2011. So I was travelling around Nova Scotia without a car; a bit of a hassle!)

Anyway, back to Erika and her car.

Erika was planning an awesome trip for the next day, a day trip I had wanted to do but it would have been impossible without a car. After deciding she was a pretty good sort (there haven’t been too many Aussies I’ve met overseas that I haven’t liked), I agreed to join her and promptly cancelled my other plans.

Here’s how our day panned out:

11am: Annapolis Royal Farmers Market (half hour from Digby)

Local food, live music and art/craft vendors on one of North America’s oldest streets (in terms of European settlement). Spent a lazy hour wandering around, chatting with all the vendors (Nova Scotians love a good chinwag!). The only disappointment was a piece  of date slice I bought that was unfortunately lemon flavoured (why? WHY?! You don’t mess with a date slice recipe!!).

12pm: Bear River

This is a gorgeous artistic community just a little out of Digby and visiting The Flight of Fancy gallery/store was a definite highlight of the day. The owner, Rob, spent ages chatting to us about the different artists (all local, bar one) and the creative process behind a lot of the pieces. Ok, we were the only ones in there, but it was still pretty nice considering we clearly couldn’t afford any fine art on our backpacker budgets!

The Flight of Fancy Gallery

1.30pm: Long Island

We didn’t find any iced tea but we did find a rock that’s over 200 million years old, as well as some pretty amazing coastal views.

Balancing Rock

2pm: Ferry to Brier Island

As you can see, it’s not a big stretch of water to cross…

so the ferry journey only took five minutes. Why they don’t just build a bridge, I don’t know! Especially considering the ferry runs every hour, 24 hours a day.

On the ride over, we got chatting to Freddy. He made us repeatedly promise to go to the store and bring him back some brochures to give out to passengers (we didn’t let you down, Freddy!).

2.05pm: Brier Island

Making full use of the car, we literally drove down every road on the island (and some parts that weren’t actually roads – whoops!). Here’s some things we saw along the way…

We finished off our afternoon sitting on a deck drinking Keith’s (like good Nova Scotians!). Ahhhhhhh.

9pm: Back to Digby for their famous scallops. Delicious!

Sidebar: This post took place in the skinny, finger-like area on the West side of Nova Scotia.

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