Filling our vessels


Who would have thought that anyone in Victoria would be wishing for the rain in February?  Well, we are, and are happy to announce it’s arrived 4 months late, and it’s filling our vessels!   Not Ann’s or Gord’s bladder type vessels, but our pond, infiltration pits, swales and soils.  Unfortunately, with the rain finally arriving, our well water is now contaminated yet again which has become a yearly event following the seasonal rains…this year, it was just a few months later.  Water has become very symbolic this past year (2013); it’s been a year that’s caused a lot of reflection after witnessing Californian’s lose their ability to see their reflections in their lakes and reservoirs due to a continuation of their 3rd year of drought, and the rest of the continent reflects on what is in store for their food supply as a result.  We have become aware of how quickly things can change due to government policies allowing fracking and toxic dump sites to occur atop of watersheds and watching industrial accidents spill copious poisons into the life blood waterways.   If this doesn’t define stupid, I don’t know what does.  Consequently it has been a winter of thinking of water, where it flows, how it filters, where it stores and how blatantly it’s destroyed with absence of thought.   How are we preparing here at Eco-Sense and what are we learning… hold on… we are about to tell.Rainwater Collection

Coming out of our MUD Cave

Like treading water, Ann and I had taken a hiatus for a year to reflected on a lot learned over the past 7 years  – with the past two, feeling like we were stuck in the mud.  This basically provided a year off from speaking engagements, tours, and teaching, and instead allowed us to turn our energies and efforts towards the land.  I’m sure we hear laughing from those who know us (as solar energizer – free range organic bunnies) and wonder what taking time off looks like.    We have had some bumpy potholes, as family’s do, feeling like we were drowning in the small details, and losing site sometimes of the bigger picture. This was compounded over the past 2 1/2 years, with the maturing realization that rather than focusing on avoiding (mitigating) abrupt climate change, we have already passed the climatic tipping points.  Mitigation no longer seems like an option, adaptation must now be our focus, with connected local economies focusing of basic needs like food and water.  Food systems for a changing unpredictable climate with tougher plants and eco-systems should’ve been planted 5 years ago.  We’ve all got lots of work to do.

350 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2 is long gone...

350 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2 is long gone…

This awareness redefines our priorities and has spawned urgency to get our compost together with our resilient and redundant food and water systems.  This past year we started on the creation of perennial food systems, and now we are again ready to begin teaching classes, sharing our successes and failures, and selling plants that we have incorporated for our drastically changing climate.   We are coming back out of our cave.

Tour group learning about grey water

Tour group learning about grey water

The Compost is Hitting the Fan

The global climate is changing rapidly… powered by the decrease in temperature differential between sub-tropical air and the arctic air powering an unprecedented shift in the jet stream.  From historic floods in the UK, to the droughts in California, to the heat waves in Australia and the arctic, the melting permafrost, the methane release, and the freezing temperatures throughout central north America, one can easily see that civilization and ecosystems are in decline…rapid decline.  We can’t change this, and instead of being crippled by despair and the inaction of our global society, we can just get on with living and helping people to help themselves.  This is a time of immense opportunity and change.  Time to adapt as best we can and put some roots in the soil.

Putting roots in the soil with some friends

Putting roots in the soil with some friends

Identifying Opportunities and Facing vulnerabilities 

Pond(ering) this reality, and understanding what the implications are for us, we expect to have longer drier summers and this winter in particular a lack of rain.  We cannot think of any one strategy in isolation.  Our food relies on water, water is impacted by the changing climate (politically and environmentally), energy  is required to move water, and then we must store it and look after it.  Aside from the standard rainwater cisterns, earthworks are used in a variety of ways to help control water resources – we are always amazed at the earthworks demonstrated on some of the mo(i)st amazing projects around the world… but unlike many of those projects, our opportunities are different as we live on a hill of fractured bedrock, with limited soils, and summers of drought lasting three or more months.  One thing for sure, we know that our home, on top of the hill, will never flood.


Water: slow it down, spread it out, soak it in. New blueberry and tea patch. This area accepts the water run off from the upper driveway.

Taking out a blackberry patch - installing swales and hugelkultur beds preparing for perennial plantings

Taking out a blackberry patch – installing swales and hugelkultur beds preparing for perennial plantings

But when the rains do come, we have to plan for water abundance (extreme rain events).  We need to drastically slow it down, spread it out and sink it in, or we’ll lose this resource as runoff taking our soils with it like a thief.  We need to keep it in the soil, soak it in, and recharge our ground water.

Gord’s irrigation system moistens Ann’s gardens.  Perennials



Don’t jump to conclusions… we’re married.  What we are trying to elude to is finally the installation of an irrigation system and perennial food system.  We are transitioning our food systems to more perennial plants for six main reasons:

  • They require less/no irrigation once established
  • They hold the soils together in extreme rain events
  • They don’t need to be replanted every year in changing weather patterns
  • They produce abundant more reliable food crops with LESS work…eventually
  • They build more soil and do not require outside fertilizer inputs when appropriate design is used.
  • They are not subject to failure due to late or cold springs (like annuals)

So on the water theme, we installed an irrigation system hooked up to the rain water catchment from the house, with a redundant top up support from the deep well.  This freed up our time to get a little more dirty, so much time in fact that we created a food forest (or three).DSC00696

A food forest is a human designed forest of ecosystem enhancing plants that follows the basic design principals of forest ecology to provide for our human needs and that of many other species.

The first phase is planted amongst a grove of Arbutus (which had been previously gardened).  We’ve planted tea, seabuck thorn, josta, black currant, gooseberry, hardy kiwi, fuzzy kiwi, European olive, autumn olive, Arbutus unedo, grapes, chestnut, mulberry, Capulin cherry, amaranth, Sezchaun pepper, goji, blueberries and more.  What does this mean?   More water please.

PONDering the dilemma

Hidden away at the top of our driveway there is a man made pond that was here before we moved in, long since overgrown with willow and cedar, and due to its unkept status was as useful as a leaky gumboot.   As any woman could attest to, the pond was a failure in it ability to hold its liquor of life for the very reason that it was man-made.  So to remedy this, Gord de-forested it over two months, and then looked to Ann’s womanly skill at retaining water.   The size is about 100,000 gallons (400,000 liters).    The pond process did require the use of a machine for 2 days, which dug and sorted the existing soils and clay, and re-laid them with the worst layers on the bottom, progressively better layers atop, capped by a top layer of blue clay.  Over the summer we sprinkled 30 sacks of bentonite clay into the cracks and then waited, and waited, and waited and…. while waiting we used all the chipped materials from the clearing to mulch all the bare landscape surrounding the pond and planted copious nitrogen fixing plants to enhance the soils for this year’s plantings.

resurfacing the old pond

resurfacing the old pond

In deciding to go this route with the pond sealing we researched out a variety of systems, inclusive of gley (building an anaerobic bio-film layer using straw and manure layers capped under clay soil), EPDM liner, Polyurea spray liner, concrete, animals (pigs) to puddle the existing soils, geese/ducks… the list is endless.  Finances, materials, time frames, and ecological concerns, lead us to choose the clay for re-sealing the pond.  Fingers crossed!

DSC01116A pond in and of itself has great ecological diversity, but the fun part, is to imagine and expand how many uses it has, and integrate resilience and redundancy into integrated systems.  So… we connected the house rainwater cisterns to feed into the pond as needed; we can pull from the pond to water the upper gardens and house as required;  we have enhanced fire suppression both as a source to draw from and to maintain a more moist less flammable vegetative barrier;  we installed a suction feed out of the pond to the lower gardens and future site of a small dwelling.

The pond also provides:

  • Micro climate for the other food forest areas being installed  this spring (another 1/2 acre),
  • A home to a host of plants that are edible for us (Sagittaria latifolia) ,
  • Food for us/chickens/ducks (Azolla, duckweed and eventually fish),
  • Supply of green manure for summer mulch and compost fodder,
  • Future home to a modified aquaculture systems, tied to the new greenhouse (salvaged solarium), heated via thermophilic compost next winter,
  • Continued support to the ground water recharge as the earthwork slowly seals over the next two years,
  • Protection from storm surges washing out roads and other infrastructure,
  • A beautiful reflection of the fullmoon  into the new (all used materials) Eco-Hut perched beside it, acting as the new office for our farm/nursery/resiliency/get-your-shit-together-connect-the-dots business.
Eco-Hut (under construction)

Eco-Hut (under construction)

Slippery slope

So the slippery slopes of the clay pond lends itself to providing a fine excuse for taking a year away from our sustainability advocacy role.   What it also means is a host of projects including a new building (the Eco-Hut or as Ann calls it, the “Woman Cave”), solar PV systems installed, cob being made, plants being researched, ground covers planted (and already harvested).  Even Ann with her stoic rationale manner has slipped into the murky waters and has been busily searching for perennial vegetables to fill the gaps, been creative once again with trowel in hand, and flapping her arms and saying  “Quack, quack. ”

Gone Quackers?

Quack, QUACK?  Yup, Ann has (quacky) khaki Campbell ducks on order, for adding to the grass eating, wing flapping, egg laying antics around this crazy place.  Duck coop built and installed, symbolically in the rain… the wonderful rain that has made us mucky, wet, cold, and happy.

New Duck Coop near the pond

New Duck Coop near the pond

Come April we’ll be busy with:

200 more plants to plant (see list of what we are growing at the end of update)

Food Forest Plants

Food Forest Plants

Getting ready for the first farm gate sales open house on April 26th.  See

Our first course this year with a 2-day immersion of “Permaculture Systems In Action”.  We have partnered up with Tayler and Solara from Hatchet & Seed.

From feeling drained to feeling, well, pumped, with vessels filling every day, we are ready for the storm and expecting to be swamped.   So for those in despair, don’t cry us a river, grab a paddle and build something that floats (a life boat perhaps) and paddle against the currant to a place that has less life stuff and more lifestyle.Ann and Gord


Gord and Ann

Links we found interesting or useful recently (just a few of what we have read or viewed):

Local Communities Dismantling Corporate Rule, part 1:

A localvores Potluck:

Clive Hamilton,”Requiem for a Species”:

A must read with lots of very useful links:

Salmon documentary:

Crash on Demand, by David Holmgren.

Plants at Eco-Sense

Shiny Leaf Yellowhorn, Heartnut, Butternut, Siberian stone pine, Pinyon Pine, Swiss Pine, Italian/American sweet/Chinese chestnuts, Gingko, Catalpa, Honey Locust, Black locust, Siberian pea shrub, European olive, sezchuan pepper tree, fuzzy kiwis (Hayward and S. 12), comfrey, borage, lambs quarters, bay laurel, EFB Resistant hazelnuts (Jefferson, Yamhill, Gamma, Theta, Eta), Chinese Date Plum, Japanese persimmon, American Persimmon, Hardy pecan, Apricot, Japanese plums, Italian plums, Wild plums, tayberry, josta berry, goji (lycium and babarum), goumi, tea (2 types), autumn olive (6 types),  seabuck thorn (6 types), hardy kiwi (2 types), Arctic Kiwi, fig, red/pink/white currants, black currants (Ben series), lingon berry, wintergreen berry, oregon grape, salal berry, trailing wild black berry, Himalayan/thornless black berry, logan berry, black/red/yellow raspberries, yellow/red gooseberries, saskatoon berries, echinacea, Chinese ginseng, siberian ginseng, arbutus unedo, capulin cherry, dwarf sour cherry (Romeo, Juliet, Cupid), Russian Almond, Paw Paw, apple (10 cultivars including our very own unique Boo Surprise), Elder Berry (4 edible cultivars), Russian olive, English (Carpathian) walnut, Black Walnut,  Mulberry, hostas, grapes (6 varieties), pears, daikon, Jerusalem artichoke, sunflower, sweet potatoes, yacon, oca, Japanese yam, schisandra, camas, chocolate lily, squash (various), Melons (various), yerba buena, yarrow, stinging nettle, parsley, ginger, sage, rosemary, oregano, garlic, potatoes, kohlrhabi, carrots, parsnips, beets, broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, peas (various), beans (various), pomegranate, fuki, Meyer lemon, Cornelian Cherry, Chinese dogwood, azolla, Sagittaria latifolia, mints, basil, butteryfly bush, Fava, dock, mustard, lettuces, Chinese greens, mustards, willow, walking onions, ground cherry, hops, mushrooms (garden giant, oyster, puffball, shaggy main, prince agaricus, black morel), miners lettuce, cranberry, quinoa, chick peas, blue berries, rosa rugosa, poppy… with the hopeful additions of ramps, perennial leek, welsh onion, good king henry, sweet cicely, giant soloman seal, asparagus… just to name a few.

2 responses to “Filling our vessels

  1. Wow! You guys are amazing, and I really miss the coast.
    I’ve been growing Good King Henry on the high prairie in Alberta for several years. I think it would be great for naturalizing between trees, mine grows in full sun and wind, however. The early shoots are a fun asparagus substitute, the greens are great in salad, the flower bud tips are also really good, and it has an edible grain. I now know that I must cut the seed tops from it, because it will seed in a circle all around it, and of twenty plants, only one survived transplanting. It needs to start from seed. I also find it quite bitter cooked, so I only eat it raw, and before the summer heat strikes. Let me know if you need some seed! But it will have to wait for fall, I didn’t preserve any.
    Another plant you might like very much, while not a perennial, is a prolific self seeding annual which is delicious all season and doesn’t get bitter: strawberry spinach. This I have seed for, though not much. Also, I hope you plant some cattails in your new pond, they’re pretty good too. And the red winged blackbirds love them. 🙂
    Happy Spring! (even though it’s -20 here today~)

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