Island Updates


Infrastructure Update

Post by Silas Rogers, Sustainability & Infrastructure Intern

Installing new windows and re-shingling the boathouse

Hurricane Island is a very busy place, and the summer season is in full swing. Not everyone on the island is involved in programs, however. It is essential to keep the island infrastructure in good shape, and Harbor Builders, of Rockport, Maine, have been commuting by boat to the island to carry out improvements to some of Hurricane’s existing buildings. They are installing new windows in the Boathouse, and re-shingling the exterior. The crew is dedicated, and accepts the challenges of working on the island. Working from an off-grid power source, scheduling commutes around weather conditions, working around programs, and getting materials to the island are a few of the complications the job entails.

Jim “Jimbo” Bernardo and his crew have not only made improvements to the Boathouse, but they have replaced the pier planking with new hemlock, are re-shingling a few of the cabins, and most recently they installed a new double door and screen at the north end of the Galley.

Installing the new inverter

Electricians from Rideout Electric worked July 7th to update and improve the solar electric system by installing a new Outback Power Systems 48 volt inverter to power the main buildings. The new system replaced the two 24 volt inverters of the old system, and twenty new AGM batteries replaced the old battery bank, allowing the system to operate at its full capacity of eight kilowatts. One benefit of the Outback inverter is that it can wirelessly controlled from a laptop, tablet, or smart phone, and data can be recorded very accurately.

The island also recently acquired a large wood chipper, on loan from Chip Bauer, a long time supporter of Hurricane Island and co-owner of Harbor Builders. The chipper, powered by a six-cylinder Ford engine, is a very effective way to break down brush, which is then spread on roads and trails.

Island improvements are well on track, and the buildings and grounds are improving little by little, with the help of these friendly people!

Harbor Builder Crew L-R: Ben "BP" Pomeroy, Ben "Okie" Oaks,  Jim "Jimbow" Bernardo, Mark "Putsky" Bowden

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Planting the Straw Bale Garden

After three very wet and unseasonably cold days on Hurricane I finally was given a sunny day to plant the straw bale garden! Visitors to Hurricane will see that the bales are arranged in a similar pattern and shape as last year. Placing the bales in rows oriented East and West maximizes the sun’s southern exposure and allows for good walking paths.

Last year we planted vegetables that flower and grow above ground in the straw bales, and we are doing the same this year. We planted two long rows of tomatoes, two rows of vining cucumbers, squashes, and zucchinis, one row of broccoli, and another of peppers. The herbs are still growing in the window of the mess hall but I plan to try growing some basil and cilantro in the bales this year too.

Last year the deer broke my heart by eating the entire straw bale garden within two days. We got a few good zucchinis and cucumbers before they feasted, but we didn’t enjoy one tomato. I refuse to go through the same heartache this year, or at least I’ll try like crazy to prevent it. Oakley worked hard with volunteers in May to put up an indestructible garden fence around the meadow garden, and he continued to put his skills to use with the straw bale garden. I’m crossing my fingers that this will be enough to prevent the deer from literally enjoying the fruits of our hard labor.

I mentioned in the garden blog post a few weeks ago that the bales we got this year are different than last. When we bought them they had already started to decompose and break apart easily. A few weeks of conditioning the bales and letting them sit outside in the May rain has helped expedite this process even more, and has made planting the bales very easy. To plant the bales I first took handfuls of potting soil and spread it across the top of the bales. Next I took a small garden trowel and carved away a spot to put the plant and its roots, just like I do in the gardens that grow in the ground. After placing the plant in its spot I cover it with more potting soil and water it in!

One change this year is that I added more flowers to the straw bale garden. I planted nasturtiums (a popular edible flower for kids) and am using the deer fence as a trellis of sorts for climbing Black Eyed Susans. Once more of the flower seedlings are ready to go outside I’ll also plant Sunflowers and Zinnias.

Gardening is a very cathartic activity that helps me clear my mind. After three cold and rainy days of emails and to do lists this day of gardening felt like a breath of fresh air, literally!  

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2015 Garden Update

April showers bring gardens to life on Hurricane!

This month marks our third year of growing food for the Center For Science and Leadership. Returning visitors and students will see both similarities and differences in our gardens from previous years.  

We are excited to be growing in straw bales for the second year in a row! Last year we had a blast experimenting with straw bale gardening and we especially loved using them as a teaching tool for our students. They provide a great lesson in compost and circular agricultural techniques, and have allowed us to grow a lot of food on Hurricane’s stubborn granite bedrock. This year we were able to get bales that have already started to decompose a bit from sitting out in a field all spring at Spear Farm and Greenhouse and in Warren, Maine. I’m interested to see how they play host to our vegetables compared to the bales that we used last year.

As I write this I am in the middle of the two-week process of conditioning the bales. Every day I soak the bales through with water (from our conveniently placed fire hose). Every other day I put a half-cup of fertilizer that is high in nitrogen on top of the bales, and continue to soak them through. This process gets the bales “cooking”, by breaking down the straw to start the decomposing process. In about a week they will start to smell sweet and hold moisture really well, and in two weeks they will be ready for planting!

The flower garden has Day Lilies, Sweet William, Echinacea, Bee Balm, and a beautiful Bleeding Heart coming up again this year. We planted Marigolds, Snap Dragons, Calendula, and two high bush blueberry plants in the flower garden, all in the hopes of inviting pollinators to this area of the island. The flower garden is one of my favorite spots on Hurricane. I love seeing bright colorful flowers peak over the old foundation wall that was once the bowling alley during the quarrying era. It’s a joy to see nature reclaim Hurricane’s old historical sites. 

Our volunteer Betsy Rich planted our flower, cucumber, and zucchini seedlings. These are happily sitting in front of the big windows in the mess hall catching as much solar heat as possible. We have also placed our two cold frames over the herbs in the herb garden since they are the most exposed to wind and cold ocean air down by the waterfront.

A big addition to our gardens this year is the expansion of the meadow garden. The students from our Botany program last year helped us turn the second half of the garden over and we covered it with tarp to kill off the weeds and grass. During a very productive volunteer day this past April we had three people help turn the whole garden over and start to form and rake beds. I decided to layer straw over the walking paths in hopes of suppressing weeds, fingers crossed it helps! We planted carrots, peas, kale, spinach, and head lettuces, the perennial rhubarb is as enthusiastic as ever, and the peony looks like it will bloom again this year!

For now we are playing the waiting game for all of our seeds to pop of out of the soil. Stay tuned for more garden updates!

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New Buzz on Hurricane

This summer, Hurricane Island will be home to nearly 40,000 new residents! We just picked up two 3-pound packages of Apis mellifera ligustica (Italian honeybees) from Sparky's Apiaries, operated by David Smith from Hope, ME. Each package contains worker bees, attendants (a specialized type of worker bee that takes care of the queen), drones, and a caged queen. When we set up the hives, the bees will chew through a sugar plug to release their queen from her cage and she will take off on a mating flight. Except for when the hive swarms, this is the only time she will leave the hive, and from that point on, laying eggs and repopulating the hive is her full-time job.

Apart from the queen and male drone bees, the bulk of the hive consists of female worker bees, who are attending to the queen, cleaning the nest, taking care of larvae, defending the hive, and foraging.Producing honey is no small task. Bees will travel up to 50,000 miles visiting nearly 2 million flowers to forage enough nectar to make one pound of honey. Additionally, it takes a hive to get the job done: a single worker bee produces only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey her lifetime.

Remember, bees and wasps are different! You can tell if the creature buzzing around you is a bee by observing a few key features: bees have hairy bodies, no defined waist, and flat legs to help collect pollen. Wasps are predators, streamlined to hunt insects, and produce papery pulp nests from chewed up fibers and saliva. Wasps can sting and live to tell the tale, but a worker bee will only sting if it is an absolute necessity--she will die from ripping the sting barb out of her body as she flies away after the attack.

We are excited to welcome this docile breed of bees to the Hurricane Island Community, and are already scheming where to plant new flower gardens around the island to expand their nectar resources. With bees also comes an opportunity for new programs on beekeeping, pollination, colony behavior, and we are excited to start collecting scientific data on our hive health and work with students to conduct new research on bees. Most importantly, we'll be spending time this summer perfecting our waggle dance... Stay tuned!


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Showerhouse Renovation Project Complete!

Post by Sam Hallowell

Over the past several years we have been renovating the existing buildings and structures on Hurricane to best meet the current and future needs of our programs.  We have been fortunate to have inherited these facilities on the island as a part of our 40-year lease, but this has also proved to be challenging in identifying and prioritizing which structures should be remodeled each year to support our new programs on-island. We have a working Master Plan to help inform and direct the process of infrastructure development, and in that process we have identified several guiding factors that have helped inform our decisions: capacity and sustainability. 

We have been intentional in developing systems to support the island community that are designed with and based on the use of sustainable technologies that are scaled to meet the demand of our human capacity, and that are also capable of expanding to meet future demand. While we are expecting and hopeful for continued growth in programs, we are also conscious of growing at a sustainable rate so that all or our resources can handle the demand.

Phase 1: building the deck extension to house the showerhouse, and give enough above-ground clearance to house the composting toilet bin

Phase 1: building the deck extension to house the showerhouse, and give enough above-ground clearance to house the composting toilet bin

In looking at these factors, we identified that we needed to expand our shower and toilet facilities to be able to accommodate larger groups for a sustained period of time.  Our current use of these facilities was reaching the extent of their functionality.  We worked with GO Logic of Belfast, Maine to help design an expansion of our current shower house building to incorporate another Clivus Multurm composting toilet as well as 2 additional showers.  We contracted with the skilled craftsman of Harbor Builders based in Port Clyde, Maine to build the extension off of the existing structure.  Extending from the original structure allowed allowed enough clearance above grade to accommodate the height of the new composting toilet system, and also consolidated our toilet and shower facilities located close to the constructed wetland that manages all the greywater produced at that facility.

The Clivus Multrum M12 composting toilet systems that was installed is designed to accommodate ­­­­­­­­­­up to 30,000 uses per year.  This composting system is slightly different system than the “foam flushing” version that we installed in 2013 in our other bathroom facility closer to Main Pier.  Without the need for water, these “dry toilets” will be able to be used throughout the year when our water system in not online, but still function with the same composting principals.  (Visit Clivus Multrum for more information on these systems.)

The complete extension! (Note the outdoor showers!)

The complete extension! (Note the outdoor showers!)

The extension has been connected to the existing solar thermal system that produces hot water (roof mounted evacuated tubes:  Click here to see a description of this system that was created by a volunteer staff member Juliette Bendheim) and has also been connected to our Constructed Wetland (designed by Russel Martin of Public Health Solutions and approved as an alternative wastewater treatment of grey water by the State of Maine).  

In planning of this structure, we decided that we wanted the facility to be self-sustaining and powered by a stand-alone photovoltaic system.  To do this we contracted with Rideout Electric (based in Warren, Maine) to install 4 solar panels, charge controller, inverter, and batteries to supply power to the whole showerhouse to make this a self-sustaining facility. Until this photovoltaic system was online we had been using a portable ReGenerator Power Management System, known as the “Power Cube” (designed, developed, and donated Lyman-Morse Technologies and Reluminati, and now owned by ZeroBase) as primary source of power for the existing shower house.  The “Power Cube” also served the primary source of power for the entire building process, with limited used of a gas generator during periods of the building process with peak electrical needs.

We are excited to have this system online for all of our fall programs and to be able to start the spring season with increased ability to handle larger programs without stressing our systems.  We also are excited to use this building as an educational demonstration facility for sustainable technologies to allow people to gain an understanding of ways to mitigate the impact that we have on our environment.

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Fall Update: Straw Bale Gardens

Post by Josie Gates, Program Instructor

With growing vegetables comes the task of protecting them from pests of all shapes and sizes. For us on Hurricane our most pesky nuisance is the handful of deer that live on the island. In late August they unfortunately found our straw bale garden (you can read about how we set this garden up here), hopped our fence and ate everything within a night. While it was a bit heartbreaking (every gardener who has experienced this can sympathize) it did get us excited about taking the bales apart and turning them into the plot they sit on in our hopes of making that plot an in-ground garden for vegetables in years to come.

A look at our newly turned in garden

A look at our newly turned in garden

Pulling the straw bales apart

Pulling the straw bales apart

To start that process we first took all of the remaining vegetable plants out of the bales and turned them into our compost pile, which sits in the adjacent granite foundation. Next we cut the strings around the bales and pulled them apart. The bales have been decomposing for the past few months, so they came apart incredibly easily, and what we found in the middle was rich, brown decomposing straw and actual soil! While I knew that this was the goal of the straw bale garden it was very rewarding to see that our summers worth of hard work had really paid off. We grabbed our pitchforks and shovels and turned the straw as best we could into the in ground plot. Next we will cover straw with seaweed and let it sit and continue to decompose all winter. The straw bale garden was a fun and fruitful experiment this year, as well as a great learning tool for our summer programs. I hope to try this gardening method again next year, as well as work on our fencing methods…

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Meet the HIF Fleet

Post by Oakley Jackson, Program Instructor

The Hurricane fleet has grown! We now have a boat for every purpose and, let me tell you, they are all fine vessels. Our most recent additions to the fleet are three fiberglass sea kayaks, soon to be named Flicker, Redstart, and Heron. These brand new kayaks were generously donated to the foundation and everyone on the staff is grateful for the all the opportunities they offer.

Oakley on Greased Lightning with Reliance in the background

Oakley on Greased Lightning with Reliance in the background

Also new to our dock is Grease Lightning, a 15’ foot long aluminum utility outboard. Grease Lightning’s rugged build makes her an ideal workboat and she is the perfect size for zipping into Vinalhaven to pick up our farm share, fill water jugs or do whatever else we may need. Perhaps the best part about Grease Lightning is her name and her highly fashionable new yellow lightning bolts (thanks Foxi Printworks!) down her sides indicating the immense speeds she is capable of traveling… 

The next step up from Grease Lightning is the vessel that is my personal favorite, Fifth Generation, a Banks Cove lobster boat with an inboard diesel Volkswagen engine and pot hauler. Fifth Generation is highly efficient on fuel and is a huge help with the handful of lobster traps we have set off the shore of Hurricane. Sam has a recreational license for five traps and the bounty of these goes on our table in the form of lobster rolls. So far the catch has been minimal, with many of the lobsters being just under the measure. Yesterday Sam caught thirty-one bugs out of the five traps and not a one of them was of legal size. HIF also possesses a special research license for twenty traps, but these have yet to go in the water.

Up from Fifth Generation there is Eastern Flyer, our speedboat for jetting to and from Rockland. Eastern Flyer gets her name from John Steinbeck and Dr. Ed Ricketts’s research vessel, Western Flyer, which they used to collect specimens around the Sea of Cortez. We thought the name was a good fit as Eastern Flyer is also used for oceanic research, such as filming lobster cannibalism and setting scallop spat bags. Eastern Flyer can be used to transport six students at a time with one of our licensed captains driving. With groups that are too large for the Flyer we have Reliance, a 37’ long transport vessel which we are leasing from Outward Bound. Reliance can carry twenty-five passengers and is capable of managing some sizable seas as we have experienced this spring.

One of The Twins (Pollux) out for a sail to Spectacle Island in 2013

One of The Twins (Pollux) out for a sail to Spectacle Island in 2013

We also have twin sailboats, Castor and Pollux, which we are leasing from The Apprenticeshop in Rockland. These beautiful vessels will be used during our ISLE programs to teach team building and seamanship skills, as well as explore the nearby White Islands. All in all it is a complete fleet and one that we are very proud of. 

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How do our gardens grow?

Post by Josie Gates

It is with great enthusiasm that we are pushing forward with growing more of our own food on Hurricane Island this summer. Along with some in-ground beds and above-ground planters we are testing our green thumb by trying a straw bale garden in an old granite foundation that is close to the galley. The bales are a great above-ground option for growing vegetables and flowers, and you can grow almost anything in them! On Hurricane we are interested in comparing how our food grows in the bales compared to our in ground plots. Here are some things we have learned about straw bale gardens:

Our newly planted straw bale garden! Can you spy the nasturtiums growing out the side of the bales?

Our newly planted straw bale garden! Can you spy the nasturtiums growing out the side of the bales?

To get the straw bales to start decomposing and ready for planting you have to go through a conditioning process. For ten days we conditioned our bales by each day putting about half a cup of fertilizer high in nitrogen on top and then soaking them completely through with water. This process gets the bales to start “cooking,” by breaking down the straw and starting the decomposing process. Once the bales have started to decompose they are a great holder for plants, allowing root systems to grow down into the bale just like they would in soil.

Our garden up in the meadow past the ice pond.

Our garden up in the meadow past the ice pond.

After the bales have been conditioned you can either transplant directly into the bale or plant seeds on top. We have decided to put transplants into our straw bales. To plant transplants we carved out a spot within the soil on top of the bale for the transplant and its roots and covered it with sterile potting soil. We have then watered and cared for them as usual.  So far everything seems to be growing happily, despite some regular raccoon visits...

A special thank you to all of our community members who have donated seeds, seedlings, and flowers to our gardens this year. Your generosity is greatly appreciated!

Here’s to a fruitful season of growing food and flowers on Hurricane! 

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