Nothing but dribble! (and plants)

Dribble.  Drip, drop. Poof! It’s like magic… it disappeared.  Where did it go?  Didn’t see it coming.  Didn’t see it leave.

Yup we’re talking water.  Even Californians are talking water, or at least the lack of, and consequently farmers are being pitted against city dwellers, and rich pitted against poor (determining  who gets to fill their swimming pools).  All of a sudden that 3 litres of water that go into each and every almond is creating ripples (if there was something to have ripples in).  Who has more rights; the individual or the corporation or Nature?  It really is a fascinating opportunity to watch western culture in the throws of catastrophic issues that it is supposed to be immune to (kind of like the Titanic going down).  We are a culture that is supposed to be able to “conquer” all problems with technology and money.

The mighty almond, is an interesting story, as it used to be grown on bitter almond rootstock which is drought tolerant, but growers switched to the thirsty plum rootstock and then planted out the deserts.   Short term gain…long term pain.  Huge vast quantities of almond orchards (which already have a bad rap for  devastating bee colonies due to monocultures and no other food source), are creating some fuss as city folk see the waste of “their” water resources.    Olive growers,  impacted by the same drought, are tearing out their olive trees and planting almonds, not because they are more drought tolerant, (quite the opposite), but because the lower margin of profit on olives means they can’t afford the water, and thus are switching to the thirsty almond because it can help cover the increase price of water.   Magical thinking!

The pattern of this drought, highly predicted (by science) to get much worse over time as climate change and weather and ocean current patterns have dramatically shifted.  On the other hand, popular culture (the media) and political elements both seem to expect a magical re-emergence of rains, and it’s only a matter of time.   (True…but it may be 10,000 – 100,000’s of years kind of time).  What is also of interest beyond the temporal considerations is the spatial implications as the drought margins are migrating further up the coastline and into BC.    We would be stupid not to prepare for this as we are already seeing the implications.  Erratic patterns are seen along the margins, and this year the Mid Vancouver Island  region is scratching its collective head wondering what to do with a snowpack of only 15% (85% lower than normal).  No reserves, and low stream levels… who is going to get the water… the salmon, the industry, the farmers, the residents?

Bring in Gord’s experience on the lower island, where he sits on both the CRD and Jaun de Fuca Water commissions.  Discussions of water quality and supply are always the order of the day.  No names or particular commissions will be mentioned, but three stories shared below.

Story #1 – One commissioner looks at our water supply levels and says they are not in support of promoting conservation, that her constituents ask why restrictions are needed if there is water in the reservoirs?  The answer that she gets back is that levels are required to ensure the water is there for the rivers that drain them, because of the salmon.  Her response “Really, are you kidding me that it all comes down to the Salmon?”

Story#2 – Another commissioner, (a mayor) speaks up about pricing and says that the view he has is to not promote conservation as it means less income for the CRD, and that “If you have it, you should sell it.   I have always said conservation is the wrong approach”.

Story#3 – The Capital Regional District is in the public consultation phase of it new draft Regional Sustainability Strategy.  In this strategy it speaks to living within the means of our watershed and not having to expand it, and to ensure all activities down stream are in balance as the CRD develops and changes in the next decades.  Yet the other aspect of the RSS is that it speaks to growth…(you know “sustainable growth”…more magic thinking), it speaks to removing the present rules that contain the delivery of reservoir water to rural areas outside the urban areas, and is promoted by a few individuals who want to see growth (sprawl).  Dare I say this goes against the whole concept of sustainability.   Water is where the battle lines have been drawn on this topic.

Here in the Highlands Rights to Clean Water is topic that is being floated.    The Highlands Stewardship Foundation, a group of wise elders (mostly elders) approached the UVic Environmental Law Centre to have a law student draft a roadmap of actions the Highlands could take to better protect its groundwater.  The student did a wonderful job, and took into account the new BC Water Sustainability Act, the Highlands existing bylaws, zoning, OCP, ICSP, Policies and Groundwater Task Force Report, as well as the Community Charter and Local Government Act.    The surprising outcome… communities DO have regulatory tools already in their jurisdiction to affect and impact groundwater protection – but only through controlling the surface waters and recharge zones.

DSC01801 Outside of the political spectrum, and down here on the ground (or atop the rock)  at Eco-Sense, what does this look like?  Trials with almonds grown here on Vancouver Island are progressing where Gord is germinating almonds from an 18 year old tree owned by their friends Jamie and Angela.  Pictures of Gord’s attempt to crack the nuts was posted in our last update.   DSC01805 DSC01803 After two weeks and three different trials one method seems to show the most promise, dare we say Gord may have cracked this nut?    Here are the nerdy details.    Soaking then cracking/shelling/sowing – Soaking then cracking/sowing – Soaking then sowing.   The internet would have you think the first two options are best… but to date the healthiest most active germination with the least rot is sowing whole in an uncracked shell… a “well duh” moment… that’s how they evolved.  Oops… its actually magical!


Chopped and dropped all the old salad greens –  will compost for a bit and then plant more sweet potatoes in the mini greenhouse.

Now on to plants...local perennial edible plants.  Something  really positive to sink our teeth and communities into.  Sunday 10am-2pm at Eco-Sense (3295 Compton Road in the East Highlands, Victoria).  Even if you’re not growing plants come on out to look around anyways.

DSC01806 DSC01808Here’s the plant list kept mostly up to date (prices include GST).  

This week:  Still lots of sweet potatoes slips…we just planted ours under the poly tunnel…they like it hot.

DSC01768 DSC01785

We have some free raspberries to give away and some ever-bearing strawberry starts for $3 each.  We also have a whole bunch of little Good King Henry (spinach like) starts for only $5.  This is an awesome way to plant once and eat for years.  Ann is creating a whole garden bed just for perennial vegetables.  We also have skirret (a root veggie), and perennial arugula.  Restoration Seeds sells seeds for all kinds of perennial veggies…this is where Ann gets most of her seeds (and information) on these.  And then there are tomatoes, we have planted ours and they are flowering!  We have tomatoes available in 1 gallon pots (Black Prince, Black Early, Black Plum) – all early cool hardy  heritage (indeterminate) varieties.
DSC01810 Chickens won the lottery…the kale lottery. We cleaned out the solar roof top garden and planted watermelons and squash…needed the space.  We have two broody chickens and one is due to hatch…so come Sunday, if all goes well there may be some little chicks saying hi to the world.

DSC01757Love these trees…very beautiful foliage.  We have two Cornelian Cherries planted near the Eco-Hut (need two for pollination).  The fruit can be eaten when fully ripe or turned into an olive like food when the cherry is still green.  I think we may have some fruits this year.

We are well stocked with our collection of unusual edible plants:  Tea, Olives, Autumn Olive, nuts, fruits, currents, berries, trees, herbs, figs, grapes, mulberries, honey berries (Haskaps), stone pine, hops, kiwi (fuzzy and hardy), onions, perennial leeks, Yellowhorn, plums, ziziphus jujuba, chestnuts, and one special lemon that Gord started (sorry just sold).  DSC01755 We will have more turmeric an a couple weeks.  DSC01796

Its all pretty exciting… with things off to an early but thirsty start.   Watering already underway.  Once June hits, it will be full out chaos, but luckily the grey water systems will be helping out, the rainwater harvesting integrated  with well will be busy.  Gord’s long awaited rainwater certification should be not too far behind.

Don’t be a stranger this Sunday as the plants are magically disappearing and before long POOF! plant sales will be closed for the summer.

Ann and Gord

11 responses to “Nothing but dribble! (and plants)

  1. Jamie Wallace

    Excellent update Gord and Ann. Loved the political stories, #2 is quite a common one. I’ve heard the District of Lantzville say the same thing… Great story on the almonds, I’m shifting away from my strategy of cracking then soaking. Will be planting whole…after a soak ofcourse. Thanks and pray for rain.

  2. What’s your experience with Texas mission and Hall’s hardy almond varieties?

    • Jeremy,
      I have not heard much on Texas Mission. I have heard mixed responses on Hall’s hardy Almond, that it is bitter. The Hall’s I just received, and shelled were delicious. Great almond flavour, no bitterness, and fine size. As they are self fertile I am hoping to replicate the same without grafting… maintaining the seed and root systems will be interesting.

  3. Do mulberries grow well here? I live in Port Alberni
    Thank you for your work on water conservation. I am working with the Food Sustainability and Climate Change committee on proposing water conservation education a rain harvesting rebate program here. Peace

    • Port Alberni at 24 C in April… they would love it. Morus Alba, Illinois Everbearing, Italian Black and Pakistan would thrive in Port Alberni… thrive! Guy, do check out the recent District Of Highlands May 4th 2015 agenda, 1st item on rights to water. Great info. Cheers.

      • Do you know where I can get a Morus Alba, Illinois Everbearing, Italian Black or Pakistan mulberry tree.
        I am looking for tress to plant that will survive in the changing climate here on Vancouver Island. We are already seeing trees dying out here. I understand that the Gary oak will do well. The cedar and fir not so well in the near future.

      • Hi Guy,
        We have all the above… though just sold our last of the bigger stock, and the last Morus Alba, but will be propagating more. We have Black Pakistan 12″ tall, 2 year old Morus Nigra, and lots of Illinois overbearing. Cedars are starting to die in some areas of the Highleands here in Victoria, and Richard Hebda of the RBCM supports your comments on the species that are on their way out and the one’s that will survive. We are growing a lot of mulberries, figs, chestnuts, hazelnuts … because of this very issue.

      • Wonderful! I would love to buy a mulberry tree off you. Can it be sent by bus? All the varieties look great. How many years would it take to bear fruit. The Black Pakistani looks very cool. Thanks for offering this service.

  4. Your information on Almonds in this piece is void of all relevant context to water usage in California as a whole.

    Almonds are California’s #1 agricultural export. They provide 82% of the world’s almonds. While it is true that almond production in California consumes 10% of the State’s water, that is far from the whole story.

    The biggest consumer of water in California is Meat & Dairy at a whopping 47% of the state’s water used. With that 47% of water, California produces 1.4% of the world’s dairy, and 0.4% of the world’s beef. This doesn’t even factor in the enormous environmental costs of meat & dairy production.

    Instead of blaming almonds, how about bringing attention to the real culprits instead? People don’t like to hear that their precious burgers and cheese are ruining our world, but it’s the truth no matter how difficult it is to swallow. Pun intended.

    • Great Comment Justin. Yes, meat and dairy are huge consumers with a heavy embodied water footprint. The reference to almonds was twofold, first with regards to the recent stories this week of the tensions and backlash within California itself with residents boycotting almonds… due to the 3 litres of water per almond. The embodied water for meat and dairy is huge, and either way, whether it is almonds or meat and dairy, or exported greens and fruit, California is pumping water into an amazing amount of food that is being trucked and flown out of the state and around the world. Could California meet its own needs to produce goods that stayed in the region? Perhaps. Can it be sustainable in trying to fill the needs around the globe? Not likely. The region provides an interesting picture of the tensions that are just starting to build. Will the meat and dairy business become part of that focus, and will there be backlash? I suspect in the near future we will see that section of the food industry called out.
      The reality is we need food, and whomever can produce it for a population of 7.2 billion people will be fully employed. As resources dwindle from that industry, whether it be soils, water, pollinators etc, it opens the question as to haw can we do things different.
      That is were the second point of the almonds comes in. Here on Vancouver Island, we can begin growing them, in a drought tolerant way, not requiring the vast embodied water footprint. In the same mindset, meat and dairy can be produced (and are) on the island in a much more sustainable manner… though demand in eating meat IMHO should be dramatically reduced. Thanks for your thoughts, they are very important.

  5. sandra leckie

    Appreciate the thoughtful discussions here and the fact that behind all those discussions are people busy implementing thoughtful choices!! Action to fit the words.

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