Category Archives: Eco-Sense Updates

I’m Nuts over Hazelnuts, Puppy, Vaccines, Cats, Solar, Goats, Garden, and Gord

I finally got my garlic planted, 350 Hazelnut trees have arrived in the nursery, the puppy is sleeping, municipal elections are over, goats are milked, it’s raining finally, and Gord is on a job site today…so I can sit down and write a quick blog post.

Nina Died

Our amazingly special Nina dog has died. It was a gut wrenching shock for us both to have to make the final decision of her life with virtually no warning. She basically collapsed one evening after a council meeting and in the middle of the night, after an emergency scan, we learned that fluid had built up around her heart…ironically just like our last dog Boo. Apparently there was also a mass on her heart likely causing the fluid build up. We brought her home and buried her right out front and had our own special ceremony. We are becoming more acquainted with death and felt gratitude for sharing 7 years with this special being.

Municipal Campaign

Nina’s death occurred right at the beginning of a very busy election time. Our campaign was filled with learning, listening, reflection, collaboration, excitement, and the ever-present uncertainty of what the results will be. The good news is that both of us were easily re-elected…the bad news is that Gord received 8 more votes that me.


The campaign took a lot of time and energy, so we really have not spent much time in the garden or nursery, and also got behind in some fall food processing and harvesting. However, because of the incredibly long fall and seemingly never ending summer, we got some extra time to catch up.

I just got the last of my 320 garlic planted in four different garden beds. Still have to harvest fuzzy kiwi, and persimmons.

Last years garden plan

This past garden year was different…very different. Very poor pollination of apples, pears, and plums due to the wet cold spring, still no walnuts, and only one chestnut. But for every crop that fails, we have crops that thrive. Perennial veggies thrived, as did olives, broccoli and cauliflower. Our root veggies kicked butt this year. Hazelnuts are proving to be rock solid for us.

Thanks to our cats, the rats didn’t eat all our olives this year.


Our tiny cats Stormy and Sparky are thriving and bring us a rodent most days. They are truly amazing little hunters that fill us with such joy and gratitude for their gifts, cuddles, and cat antics. Our gardens are safe from excessive rodent predation but yes we still do some sharing…especially with the abundant bird population thriving on this land. Since we embarked on the re-wilding of this land with human created food systems, we have actually put the system out of balance. More intense food availability means more creatures eating it…which means denser populations of birds and rodents can be supported. Adding two cats who mostly hunt rodents, yet still kill a few birds does not negatively harm the ecosystem overall…in fact adding predators into the system can help bring a system like ours back into balance.


Our goats, Dabha and Gemma are thriving with all the goat food growing here in the food forest and the annual gardens. Too much zucchini is impossible. Sometimes we take them to the food on a leash, and sometimes we bring the food to them. Our goats eat about half the amount of hay that they would otherwise eat without the food inputs from this land. We no longer have to bring in outside inputs (manure or mulch).

Dabha’s milk production has slowed whey down, so it was time for a trip to my neighbours for servicing by her buck Giordie. Dabha was clearly in heat with lots of tail wagging, calling, and frisky behaviour and Giordie did not disappoint. It was love at first sight with lots of kissing, nibbling, nuzzling, and frisky fore play. Success…we think. Due date is March 5th if all goes well.

Hazelnuts have arrived in the Nursery

Woohoo, it’s time to go nuts. Hazelnuts have become a food security tree for us on so many levels. The trees grow fast and produce lots of nuts in a very short number of years. The leaves are a goat favourite and the trees are very generous producers. Hazelnuts are also used successfully in grey water systems. Roots of hazelnuts produce thick carbon sequestering mats. Yes, squirrels do eat the nuts, but they also plant more trees everywhere. The invasive grey squirrel is also good eating if you are so inclined. The little native brown squirrel gets to eat all the nuts they desire. We are grateful to the generous hazelnut tree and Nina, Stormy, and Sparky for alerting us to squirrels.

We bulk ordered 350 EFB resistant hazelnuts so that we can offer a really good price in the nursery. Most trees are $35 with only “Dorris” being offered at $40. Includes GST. All in 1 gallon pots. We prefer to sell these in groups of three or four for the best pollination.

Option 1: Dorris, Yamhill, Theta for $110

Option 2: Jefferson, Yamhill, Theta (or Gamma or Eta) for $105

Option 3 (four trees): Dorris, Jefferson, Yamhill, Theta (or Gamma or Eta) for $145

Please enquire with us for options for 5 or more trees.

All sales are by private appointment. Full Inventory list is here:

Please email at

Stormy the cat is in the back of the box.

Pumpkin, our new puppy.

So with Nina now pushing up daisies in our front yard, we open our hearts again to a new love. Pumpkin Pie Baird is our new rescue mutt. She came into our hearts on Halloween at the age of 8 weeks. She will likely be a mid sized dog just like her mom Joni. They both look like Huskies. She’s smart, affectionate, busy, and full of love and cuddles. She is being partly raised by cats and has already learned how to hunt rats with the cats, hide in boxes, and vocalize and swat like a cat. Part of the team! Pumpkin Storms are common around here with hours of play…the best being when Stormy hides in the paper bag and pumpkin pulls her around and then sits on her.


Humans are in OVERSHOOT. I don’t think there would be a population biologist in the world that would disagree with this statement. If you disagree with this statement I would suggest you hit the textbooks or skip this section.

When any population, (whether it be rats, monocultures, bacteria in a petri dish, or humans), exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment, nature will re-balance the population with built in systems like disease and pests.

In our current human situation we long ago reached this OVERSHOOT point but we put our smart brains to work and figured out how to expand into new more hostile environments with less easy resources. But humanity still didn’t take the hint with scarce resources and further utilized our amazing technologies to grow more food and extract even more energy from the earth…with great costs to the atmosphere, the soil, the air, and the oceans.

Humanity has now reached EIGHT BILLION PEOPLE and there is not enough habitat or resources left on planet earth for all the other living beings to exist. It’s not simply about “fixing” climate change or sharing resources more equally amongst the 8,000,000,000 people, it’s about how much of the earth is covered in our bodies and absorbing our wastes. We are large mammals…there’s only so much space on planet earth for large mammals…PERIOD. This is precisely why in the last 50 years the earth has LOST 50% of the wildlife.

Here’s a puppy and cat video to change the subject.

Which brings me to vaccines…and Covid, and viruses, and any disease really. This is what nature does when a population is in OVERSHOOT. But yet the human brain kicks in again and creates vaccines to protect people from disease. Vaccines work. Do I want a disease? NO! Do I want my family and friends or community to get sick? NO! Do I want anyone to suffer? NO!

So yes, Gord and I are fully vaccinated and we urge others to get vaccinated too. But isn’t this a contradiction that will allow humanity to go even further into OVERSHOOT by using vaccine technology? YUP! The basic ecological rule in OVERSHOOT is that the further a population or system goes into OVERSHOOT the harder it will be to rebalance the system…but the system WILL rebalance.

No time to get depressed however, there is much we can do to help nature rebalance HUMAN OVERSHOOT in a more ethical controlled way. De-growth will occur, but humanity can still have a say as to how that will happen. Will it happen with war, scarcity, and disease, or will it happen with love, sharing, global family planning, education, equity, compassion, and re-wilding the earth? Here’s an essay to read or listen to by Robin Wall Kimmerer on “An Economy of Abundance”.

Gord is currently experiencing his own personal OVERSHOOT and he knows that he must slow down before his health suffers. We all know it’s much better to be proactive in these situations. Gord will be taking the next few months to catch up on some of his work commitments while saying no to some interesting opportunities that come his way. He loves his work…but there’s only one Gord. Personal de-growth in productivity balanced with growth in Well-Being.

Solar PV

No, we don’t think solar is going to save the world from OVERSHOOT…only de-growth in a cooperative nature-based relocalized economy can perhaps help. But electrifying our energy grid is a small piece. For us our solar and other food, water, and waste systems certainly bring more resilience.

Our first goal was to reduce our use of burning firewood and propane (GHGs). So we looked into a heat pump. But with our current heating infrastructure it seemed very inefficient…not to mention the use of more climate damaging refrigerants. There is heat pump technology that uses CO2 as the refrigerant and heats hot water. This would tie in beautifully to our existing high temperature in floor heating system that ties in with our solar hot water. This would be a sweet system indeed…but sadly is not yet doable unless we purchase a new separate industrial system rather than tie into our existing solar boiler. To make a long story short, we are going to supplement our heating requirements with our electric element in our solar boiler. Simple and with the least amount of new infrastructure.

By swapping out our sixteen 170W solar PV panels with twelve newer 480W panels we more than double our PV output and can heat our home, charge our ebikes, and use electricity for cooking rather than propane. With the costs of all forms of combustion based energy rising this makes the most ecological and economical sense for us. Firewood this year was $500 a cord!

We will be selling our sixteen 170W panels along with two Outback MX60 charge controllers sometime in Feb. Please contact us with enquiries.


Ann and Gord

Election Brochures, Links, Donations

Re-Elect Gord Baird for Highlands Council

Gord’s Facebook Page:

Gord’s Brochure in colour (can print double sided and fold in 3) – black and white will be mailed soon:

Re-Elect Ann Baird for Highlands Council

Ann’s Facebook Page:

Ann’s Brochure in Colour (can print double sided and fold in 3)- black and white will be mailed soon:


Donations to Gord’s campaign can be sent by Etransfer or cheque.

  • eTransfer to
  • Make cheque payable to Gord Baird Campaign and drop off or mail to 3295 Compton Road, Victoria BC V9E 1C9
  • Must be Canadian Citizen and BC resident. NO Corporate donations allowed or tax receipts issued
  • Donations over $100 will be public record

Authorized by Ann Baird, financial agent for Gord Baird 250-812-5481

Donations to Ann’s campaign can be sent by Etransfer or cheque.

  • eTransfer to
  • Make cheque payable to Ann Baird Campaign and drop off or mail to 3295 Compton Road, Victoria BC V9E 1C9
  • Must be Canadian Citizen and BC resident. NO Corporate donations allowed or tax receipts issued
  • Donations over $100 will be public record

Authorized by Ann Baird, financial agent 250-812-5481

Lessons From My Ancestors – by Ann Baird

The long Winter, By Laura Ingalls Wilder

My ancestors are the Wilders. I am a 5th generation ancestor of James and Angeline Wilder. Laura’s book, “Farmer Boy”, is one year in the life of my (Uncle) Almanzo Wilder as a young boy, and it provides insights and lessons that impact my home, the Highlands. The homestead in “Farmer Boy”, described in detail, was created by my Grandma’s, Great Grandparents.

Aside from this being super cool for me to learn about, there are similarities in my ancestors lives to my own life here in the Highlands with my husband Gord and our own Eco-Sense homestead. But that’s not what this post is about today. Maybe in a future post I will write about that.

Back to the book, “The Long Winter”. It is about how Almanzo Wilder saved the town from the incredibly cold and long winter. He just about froze to death making the trip by horse drawn cart to find some grain for the town. It’s quite the book describing how the town came together and shared what little food there was while burning straw in their uninsulated wood framed houses to keep from freezing.

My Little House books, and my Grandmas jewelry box

The main lesson in this book, a true story, was about modern progress and how the people became dependant on the brand new railroad to bring weekly necessities. These town people had all recently moved off the farm and into the new town. They had skills and could have weathered the long cold winter in their farm houses. They knew how to live. But in one or two years had given up that life to live in the town and become fully dependant on the train. They gave up being resilient. It didn’t take much to wipe out the tracks in those days, and so all of a sudden, there was no grain and no coal…and no one except my great uncles Almanzo and older brother Royal, had prepared for winter by stocking wood and grain. Yet Almanzo risked his life to save the town (and his future wife, young Laura Ingalls).

What does this have to do with Highlands?

In 1880, when Laura Ingalls was 14 and living through the worst South Dakota winter ever, Highlands was just starting to be populated by homesteading settlers. Of course, First Nations were a very resilient people with their rich relationship with the land we now call Highlands. It’s a sad colonization history with First Nations and one that I am still learning about. The book, Beautiful Rocks, (written by Highlanders Daphne Allen, Allen Dobb, Bob and Nancy McMinn, and Pattie Whitehouse) is a fantastic read to learn about the History of the Highlands both pre and post settlers.

Today in the Highlands we are not dependant on one train for coal and grain and we do not face the harsh South Dakota winters. Technology has changed our world so much in the last 140 years.

Supply chains are long and complex and most of us no longer have the basic life skills of our ancestors. These days we can fly and drive cars, communicate instantaneously on our pocket devices, and have pretty much anything delivered at the touch of a finger. But we are even more vulnerable now. Most of us get our food from the store and electricity from the wall which pumps our water and heats our homes. This seems normal…this is what we have done most or all of our lives. Why would we think this could ever change?

Unfortunately, our reality is changing…one climate event after another. Highlanders for the most part have been spared really abrupt climate impacts so far. But as we just saw this week in Canada’s Maritimes with Hurricane Fiona, our turn will be coming. We are very vulnerable. Reality REALLY sucks.

Highlands’ direct risks include fire, flooding, drought, wind, heat domes, and of course Earthquakes. But if we play these events out globally and think it through locally…especially living on an island, we know that our food supply, all material supply chains, energy (for pumping water, heating, cooling, and transportation), and communications could be knocked out for long periods of time.

Will we learn from our ancestors? Will we hope that one person, our Almanzo will save us?

There is so much that we can do as a community both at the municipal level and at the neighbourhood/family level.

For my part I will continue to volunteer my time in teaching members of the community about growing and preserving food, re-wilding, sharing excess garden plants and produce, and about becoming more resilient just as I have since we arrived in Highlands 17 years ago.
At the council table I will continue to:

  • ensure the community is financially sustainable, by NOT growing.
  • Fund our asset management plans (which includes natural assets),
  • support and fund our excellent volunteer fire Department,
  • continue work on our community emergency plan and implementation
  • Make all council decisions through the Climate Emergency lens of Adaptation, Mitigation, and Resilience to enhance community well being and protect the Highlands from needless growth.

The more we grow, the more we will need to grow…and I’m not talking about vegetables.

If we look after Highlands, Highlands will look after us.

Let’s be prepared and work together.

On Oct 15th, Please vote for me.
I also recommend voting for Gord Baird, Karel Roessingh, Marcie McLean, Rose Stanton, and Leslie Anderson.

Ann Baird, BSc Biology, homesteader and two term councillor, District of Highlands


What Does Literacy Have to do With Municipal Elections?

It turns out that literacy has a great deal to do with municipal elections…especially in the Highlands. This is why we have BOTH decided, at the last moment, to put our names forward for re-election as municipal councillors. Yes, we are running again.

Integrated Decision Making – FIVE Capitals – Systems Thinking

In addition to being literate in the basic sense of reading, riting, and rithmetic, there are 5 other ways that are critical for elected officials to be literate. Literacy with the FIVE capitals, each with their own currency, is easy when you live it like we do with our Eco-Sense lifestyle, but full literacy is lacking with most politicians at all levels of government.

Story-Telling and the FIVE Capitals

Repurposed signs. Gord on one side, Ann on the other.

Five years ago we had a nursery customer who turned out to be a City of Colwood staff member – he was an engineer. We gave him a quick tour of the homestead after he picked out his fruit trees. He was amazed at the integrated systems including our lifestyle, food, energy, water, carbon/natural capital and finances. He was so inspired that that he asked to bring the rest of Colwood’s engineering department for a tour. They came for a tour and we spoke about integrated municipal infrastructure.

An hour after the tour the phone rang, and a request was made to bring the Public Works and Parks departments for a tour. In this tour, we discussed integrated asset management planning and management of built and natural infrastructure.

Eco-Sense home and gardens

A day later another request, this time for the Planning department, many whom we knew already, and evolved into integrated land use planning, net-zero zoning, and how to think of multiple capitals from a planning perspective.

The last call was for a tour with Colwood’s council, the CAO, and finance – discussions focused on integrated governance.

The story continued. Colwood Public Works then asked for a workshop to teach them how to construct Ferro Cement concrete curvy beds. Video on building concrete curvy beds.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is painter-trail-j-dodd-1-1.jpg
Painter Trail Artwork

Then Engineering hired us to consult and design a food forest for a new park. This new park integrated stormwater catchment system into a hugelkulture (saving many $100,000’s in built infrastructure). The engineering team employed the concept of watching and observing local high school students make their own pathways through the park, then engaged the trade students to build out the trails for the student’s chosen routes. The culinary students were invited to look after a culinary section of the food plants. First Nations were invited to have a native and healing plant section.

Colwood Staff helped build some of the Ferro Cement Curvy Beds.

And Finally, we were invited as special guests at the ribbon cutting – the developer for Royal Bay was also in attendance and whether they knew it or not the intention was to show what the City would like emulated in the commercial development section of Royal Bay.

It was a rainy day for the grand opening of the food forest trail. Can you see us?

Despite not sitting on the Colwood Council – we influenced the whole of the council and staff and empowered them to employ integrated systems thinking that incorporated the 5 capitals in the decision making process.

Have you guessed what the five capitals are?

Social (relationships, governance, trust and hugs)

Financial (cash)

Natural (life, food, water, nature, habitat, carbon, soil, etc)

Manufactured (roads, buildings, trails, etc)

Human (skills, education)

How are you going to vote in this municipal election?

Please vote for literacy…especially in the Highlands.

Ann’s facebook page

Gord’s facebook page

Compost Toilet Course – Registration Open

Enrol here – Early Bird pricing

For more than a century, mainstream society has been treating water and waste from human systems as necessary evils rather than a resource. Practices that were initiated in the Victorian Era continue to have wasteful and damaging consequences, and deny the opportunity to close the loop in our nutrient cycle, while attempts to address this through implementing compost toilets have often been stymied by rules and regulations.

However, this is starting to change. Compost toilets are making their way into regulations and standards in North America, being used in diverse settings from award winning commercial buildings to remote cabins.

But as we return to regenerative practices in how we manage our human ‘waste’, it’s important that we know how to do this effectively.

A well-designed and slickly-run compost toilet system is a tremendous asset, saving inhabitants huge amounts of water and creating an abundance of fertility. A poorly-designed or neglected compost toilet system can be a serious liability.

So what determines the type of toilet that will be the best fit for your context?

How can you get the necessary approval to install one?

And what’s involved in maintaining it once it’s up and running?

Join me (Gord) as your instructor this October to find out answers to these questions and many more. I am the co-author of ‘Essential Composting Toilets: From waste-stream to mainstream’, and my expertise on the subject sprung from experience of building our Eco-Sense homestead, a Petal Recognized Living Building Challenge project that includes net zero water and waste systems, located in the District of Highlands on Vancouver Island. I served as a technical editor to the Province of BC’s regulations on compost toilets and grey water, and have gone on to design and instal more than 30 residential systems.

Link for purchasing books:

In this 8-session course, you can develop a comprehensive understanding of the application of composting toilets within the multiple contexts of health and safety, regulations, and navigating the sustainability goals within the constraints that exist in our culture.

By the end of the course you’ll have a solid foundation and great references to build your own system, work with a designer to create a system, or better understand the critical aspects from a health and safety perspective if you are a regulator. More subtly you will learn the benefits and potential pitfalls, tricks and tips in design and maintaining systems. I suspect your appetite will be wetted to participate in the next two workshop series on Grey Water and Rain Water Harvesting.

Enrol here – Early Bird pricing