Category Archives: Eco-Sense Updates


Quick notices and then on to our blog post


  1. Composting Toilet workshop on Saturday July 22nd from 10am -noon.  Only 4 spots left.  Registration and details online here:
  2. Special 1 day Nursery Opening:  Saturday July 29th from 10am – 2pm.  The gardens and nursery are beautiful in their summer glory.  Our nursery is only open in the spring and fall and sadly this is not the most beautiful time.  Come and see and buy your perennial edible plants in all their summer glory…but don’t plant out until fall.

What’s Overwhelmingly Wonderful?  Worthy Of Writing? Wreaks Of Wildness? In short… WOW!

Starting the North Coast Trail

it is just over 14kms to get to the start of the North Coast Trail.

Our first vacation in 4 years was WOW.  Thanks to Tayler and Solara and Jocelyn and Jarvis for looking after the homestead for 15 days while Ann and I set off to be one with the North Coast Trail in Cape Scott Park at the northern tip of Vancouver Island.   And I should says thanks to Ann for prepping 14 days of food… I so enjoyed carrying it.  (Note: Ann’s comments will be in parenthesis).   (Gord’s new nickname is the Sexy Sherpa Dude…it’s amazing what a man will carry with regular flirting).

In our typical naive fashion we decided not to follow the conventional wisdom for this gruelling hike, which is to hike the trail one way, usually from east to west.  No, rather than fart around with water taxis and shuttles we decided to just park at the Cape Scott Parking lot and hike it in… then out.  Needless to say we are not seasoned hikers so we were a little concerned about our 50ish year old knees, hips, ankles, backs and legs…not to mention our feet.

Ann spent two weeks prior working on food, drying venison jerky, further drying raisons and prunes, dried apple leather, and putting together all the very lightweight meals.  She packaged up one of her 6 month old wash rind hard cheeses (think homemade parmesan), prepackaged dinners with our dried leeks/kale/tomatoes/nettles, even dried a batch of our leftover morning fermented mush (that turned out fabulous according to Gord’s tastebuds).  All in all we started with approximately 46lbs of food.

Once in the Cape Scott parking lot we spent the next five days hiking to Skinner creek, 49 kms from the parking lot.  As we had planned to hike back, we did stash some of our food along the way.  We decided not to hike to Shushwartie Bay, the last leg, and instead use the two days that would have been used to go there and back to Skinner creek, and instead use that time to do another trek in Cape Scott Park.  (more on that below).  So at Skinner creek, we turned back and retraced our footsteps.   The terrain was technical, there were a lot of blow downs that had not been trimmed by parks yet, so we found that we had to saw through some roots and branches to get past.

On our trek in, we encountered hikers coming from the east.  All were shocked to hear we were doing it both ways, and by the time we had made our return, park rangers had heard of us.    With 98 kms complete, our packs lighter and our bodies stronger (10 days) we took a day off to hike around Cape Scott, then headed to San Joseph Bay for the final trek.  The final leg was from San Joseph Bay, up over Mt. St. Patrick and then down past Sea Otter Cove to Lowrie Bay.  (We had been to Lowrie Bay before… by kayak on our honeymoon 12 years earlier).

Gord and Ann - paddle honeymoon 141

Paddle Honeymoon (May 2005)

The Trail from Mt. St. Patrick to Lowrie is not on the park maps, and park staff only hike it once per season.   Needless to say it is off the beaten path… if you could find the path.   The distance one way is somewheres between 6-8 kms… not really known for sure.   This was the most challenging epic hike ever.

We had multiple encounters with bears and wolves, both employing our skills to be loud and obnoxious.  (the recommended approach when encountering a wolf is to stand together, make yourself look big, and stand your ground… which I what I did.  Gord on the other hand grabbed the camera)Version 2   Who needs bear spray when you have Ann who hasn’t washed her hair in 14 days?  (It had amazing body and I washed my head a couple times in the salt water).  No comment on Gord who wore the same merino shirt and johns day and night… except to say there are some pretty fine vinegar bacteria that we should have harvested before they, (Gord included),  were washed.    We even had a surprise encounter where we scared a bear who jumped up a tree… a massive Sitka Spruce… and we jumped to the left.  All three of us had our hearts racing.

What was so wow?

  • Cape Sutil food forest.  We won’t give many details other than to say we came across the most amazing First Nations’ 2000 yr old food forest complete with multiple varieties of crab apples, two species of salmon berry, thimble berry, salal, twin berry, black gooseberry, fireweed, giant vetch, silver weed, wild strawberry, huckleberry and evergreen huckleberry… and the list goes on.  The layers were amazing.  (Fascinating that white settlers had failed repeatedly at agriculture at Cape Scott while First Nations thrived at horticulture).   fullsizeoutput_cb3
  • Ann’s cooking!  (We think part of the reason our bodies thrived with the gruelling physical demands was the nutrient dense high quality foods we ate)
  • The real world.  (Spending 2 weeks in the REAL WORLD was very good for us)
  • The immense gratification and awe we had about how well our bodies were equipped to handle the tough terrain.   We even decided to test ourselves one day. (actually this was Gord’s idea and Ann got dragged along…I should have said no).   On a section of trail from Cape Sutil – Irony Creek – Laura Creek, which is a two day hike on what is classified as difficult terrain, we hiked two sections (19.5 kms) in a single day.   We won’t do that again.  After that hike we needed water, so we attempted to limp to the creek only to encounter a bear that couldn’t hear us due to the pounding waves.   The bear in the way, it took us 5 minutes of us yelling and banging pots to get him to notice us (100-150 ft away).   He finally lumbered peacefully into the forest.
  • Losing the track of days.  Yup, somewhere’s on the trip we lost track of the days, and thought we had an extra day to get back home.  (I never put my glasses on so I could not look at the device/camera to read the date… hence I had to rely on Gord).  We realized that the food was not adding up (we seemed to be a day short of food and were starting to ration it… and let me just say that Gord was going to have to be supervised around the remaining food).  Then looking at the date on the device (I insisted that Gord look at it and check the date), we realized our trek back to our truck from Lowrie Bay was no longer a two day process, but had to be a one day event – an 8 hour hike, then an 8 hour truck ride home…(the first two hours on a hot, dusty, busy logging road with a truck door that seemed ready to fall off…Gord assured me that it would not).  Epic day.
  • From Ann:  Thoroughly enjoyed my 2 weeks in the “Real World” completely immersed in the biological intensity of nature…however, it’s been tough coming back and adjusting to the human created industrial “civilized world”.A couple thoughts:

    * The things our culture focuses on just don’t seem very relevant…
    * The news of world issues, political instability and games/power struggles seem downright insane.
    * I fell even more deeply in love with nature and feel an even deeper sense of loss seeing the clear cuts of forest ALL THE WAY UP Vancouver Island. Angry!
    * 2 weeks with very limited material things showed me how little we actually need. Simplicity is beautiful and liberating!
    * Immense gratitude for simple things (like Gord).
    * Seeing how attempts at agriculture repeatedly failed in Cape Scott Park…yet First Nations practised forest gardening and lived regeneratively for many thousand years in this same area.
    * Death in nature creates MORE life. Mining, logging, and resource extraction creates actual DEATH.  



Photo taken by Park Rangers near Cape Scott Lighthouse.  Our first contact with the outside world and they gave us an update on BC politics.



Short Notice – Water Presentation

On very short notice   –  for those wanting to attend Gord’s Presentation on Responsible Water Alternatives – in the Greater Victoria Area… open to the public and local.



Beautiful and Stinky

The title “Beautiful and Stinky”, sums up our homestead right now.  The wet spring has lead to amazing growth and greenery with lots of fruit setting on our trees and shrubs.  The home made fish compost (like sea soil), has been distributed on our perennials adding to their health and nasty fragrance.  However, we much prefer stinky fish compost to toxic laundry smells or chemically scented shampoos, creams and lotions.


The nursery at the end of a cold wet spring. Looking very green.

Last Day Of The Spring Season:  This Saturday, June 3rd from 10-3pm is the last day of the spring season to come on out to see and enjoy our beautiful and stinky homestead.  We are staying open an extra hour this Saturday.  3295 Compton Road, East Highlands, Victoria.

PLANT LIST: Check out our list of plants in stock and our prices.  Note that our prices include the GST.  Plant list.   BIG SALE:  Many items have been discounted AND everything is 10% off our list price.  

TOONIE TABLE – These items are priced to move:  Sweet potatoes slips, Oca starts, skirret plants, tomatillo starts (4 for $2), Heritage tomatoes.  Please give them a home.  $2 each.

In other news, we are getting REALLY excited about our upcoming backpacking adventure. It’s been 4 years since we’ve left the homestead.  We can’t deny that we do have anxiety about leaving our gardens, Nina, the ducks and chickens, and all the beauty and food here on this land.  However, we have two families living here while we embark on our backpacking trip of the North Coast Trail in Cape Scott Park.  This trip is keeping with our values of low carbon footprint nature immersion local holidays.  No flying for us!  We are also keeping our backpacking garbage to a minimum by making our own meals up with as much of our own local food as possible.  I have dried some veggies, fruit, and meat, made some low moisture hard cheese, and we are putting together our dried food meals.  We are planning a slower paced trip where we hike the trail both ways (rather than take a water taxi), and can stay a couple days in different locations when we are tired or just fall in love with the special places we will see.

Here’s some photo’s from our last trip together where we went kayaking to Brooks Peninsula:


Inappropriate Technology:  Dumping Telus moving to a different way of getting internet and phone – Gord is learning all about cable modems, ATAs, Routers, Switches, VOIP, and how to use a cell phone.  The system is up, the cellphone is set up with a voice mail to just email us… and our land line on a corded phone is now running over the internet.


Connectedness reaching new levels

Appropriate Technology:  The solar dehydrator has reached new heights… now mounted upon a swivel pipe system for easy access and swiveling, better solar exposure, and less in the way.


The dehydrator reaching new heights – now swivels: Today in the dryer we have 2 sheets of leeks, 1 dried hot cereal mixture, 3 kale chips, 1 raisons, 1 prunes.  We purchased raisons and prunes but are drying them further to reduce the weight for backpacking.

Natural tech reaches new heights:  Lushness is beginning and by late June it will be unbelievable.



Calamity meets Closing Time

What’s the definition of whirlwind?  When life picks up, spins, spits crap out, and leaves things looking like “Gord’s been there” –  looking like a yard sale.  That has been the past two weeks.  What causes a whirlwind at Eco-Sense?

When Calamity meets technology:

We’ve always been strong supporters of “appropriate” technology, that which fully meets the purposes it is intended for, with no unforeseen consequences, is repairable, and has limited ecological impacts.

In-appropraite technology:  Dead computer and first cell phone (in over a decade):  Computers and cell phones, and really any other electronic gadget that uses rare earth resources like coltan, are products that wreak injustices on the areas of the planet where they are mined and leave in their path unspeakable atrocities and most often to women.    (more on that below…sorry this update is so scattered…kind of like our life right now…kind of like the trip to emergency last night to get some microscopic bit removed from Gord’s eye – all is good now)

Thankful:  We are thankful that the weather has FINALLY turned from frickin cold to fricken hot, not thankful for the Melnor irrigation timers that virtually all have had to be replaced under warranty.   Thankful for computerized accounting that allows us to run a set of books that has different aspects of our Eco-Sense business life like tours, farm/nursery, construction, consulting, each with different taxation implications… unthankful for Ann’s computer’s death.   (Can you say Law of Diminishing Returns?) Thankful for living a life that does not require such requirements of constant need for a cell phone, unthankful for our camera that died that we were going to be taking on our first holiday (backpacking) in 4 years… meaning it was cheaper to get a cellphone with a good camera than another  camera… meaning that we are redesigning all of our communications and adding a cell phone and at the same time reducing our overall monthly fees.    Now when our old farm truck dies on the Malahat, we can call for help rather than stand on the side of the road waving… and potentially meeting interesting people and having a memorable experience.  Now we can be more efficiently unsustainable.

Technology wastes human capital.  Every new rendition of a device or operating system brings with it a task to discard all that was learned and learn something new.  Added to this was the collapse of our backed up files in the cloud, and the learning process of retrieval, and deciding to dump Telus and learn about such foreign things as dry loops, wet loops, VOIP, SIMs.   Learning and knowledge is a precious resource and to waste it so frivolously mirrors our disposable culture.   We invest a great deal to learn something new… and boom, tomorrow all that knowledge is now useless.  Perhaps this is why we like plants… and homesteading… and political systems – nothing much changes.     Sure we can speak to the benefits of always learning and engaging our brains, but evolutionarily speaking, knowledge was learned, passed on, and provided a cultural construct for valuing those “in the know”.  Now, like a cellphone, computer or irrigation timer, we can just dispose of the old.  Its called progress.  (Sorry Dad).


Cob/concrete oven… and Gord trying to escape technology.

What else has the past two weeks included?  Well plant sales have died off dramatically so with the flexibility of our lifestyle, we’ll be shutting the nursery sales down in two more weeks.  LAST TWO SATURDAYS to come and check out the plant nursery and walk the beautiful gardens will be May 27th & June 3rd.  10am-2pm 3295 Compton Road.

Mixed within all of this is the fun stuff, from wiring up a solar system for a chicken coop, to making a cob oven at the neighbours, presenting to the Mill Bay Garden Club, council and CRD duties, researching and designing a clients farm plan, installing a living roof, planting out the season’s seeds and starts (and hoping they don’t fry), cleaning up the dead and dying Chicken Dinners (read more on this below), and hosting a 4 hour public tour… complete with homesteading snacks.    Oh… the Chicken Dinners dying, that is not the fun part (wrong paragraph).  I should clarify that we DID not serve chicken dinners to our tour guests.


The spread for the Eco-Sense/Hatchet & Seed Tour

Chicken Dinners:  The meat birds we collectively (and lovingly) call (not cull) the Chicken Dinners.  We had began wondering if these, like the other new technology, was pre-programmed to fail.  Perhaps a terminator gene in these Cornish Giants?  Perhaps the design is all about efficiency where they die on their own and thus saves you the step, so all that is required is a good clean and power wash.    Solara is researching a plant in the run to see if it may be poisoning them… a plant that has seemingly been avoided by the “real” chickens.

BIG SALE in The Nursery:  So, back to the plants…what a scattered update this is.  Ha.  Anyways we are going to offer 10% off EVERYTHING in stock for the final two Saturdays.  The more we sell the less we have to look after all summer.  So now that it has FINALY warmed up it is time to plant your sweet potatoes.  We also have some other plants to sell:

  • Skirret:  FREE (we were way too successful starting them).  They are a perennial root veggie…very good
  • Sweet potato:  $3 Grow under a hoop cover.  very productive.
  • Stevia:  grow your own natural sweetener.  2 gal pot $8.  (only 2)
  • Cinnamon yam:  grow in a big pot to climb up a trellis.  very yummy tuber great for hormone issues. $8 (only 2)
  • OCA: our favourite tuber.  beautiful. $3
  • Globe artichokes ($5).  only 3
  • Heritage tomato plants:  $3
  • Small Desert King Figs ($5)
  • Small Grapes (Himrod, Stuben, Fredonia, Sovereign Coronation) ($5)

There you have it,  it’s Friday evening and we have lots to do.

Gord and Ann


A Post for Foodies and Budding Botanists

We promise…no ranting or edgy political commentary this week…but wow, what an election here in BC.  We can’t wait to see how this one turns out…so many potential great things could come from this shake up.  Congratulations to the three Greens elected here on Souther Vancouver Island.

Now on to the yummy food and plants with lots of photos.  We hope to inspire people to come on out to Eco-Sense on Saturday May 13th to wander around the lush gardens, take a selfie with Dug (the duck), and watch Nina race around the pond.

The Eco-Sense perennial edible plant nursery will be open from 10am-2pm.  We are well stocked with lots of food producing perennials.  Plant list here:    All plant prices INCLUDE the GST.  3295 Compton Road in the East Highlands.

Hosta greens – our new favourite perennial vegetable.  They grow in the shade AND they taste very similar to asparagus.  Easy to grow!!!

Autumn Olive is an attractive shrub that produces lots of yummy nutritious berries.  This plant feed us, feeds the soil, AND the humming birds love it.  Copious quantities of beautiful flowers.

Concrete curvy beds make excellent microclimates helping us to be more resilient with unpredictable weather.  This was a hard winter, but the lemons, rosemarie, kale, chards, and even some asian greens came through the extreme freeze thaw cycles.  The solar dryer is FULL of nettles for tea and winter soups.

Two new arrivals at the nursery:  Russian Almond (it was stunning when it was in bloom a couple weeks ago – hoping for our first almonds this year).  Yellowhorn – very beautiful foliage on this draught tolerant seed producing small tree.  Seeds are very high in oils.

These are very attractive climbing kiwis producing small no fuzz fruits that taste very similar to fuzzy kiwi’s.  Need male and female and these plants grow well in shady spots.

We also have Hops, OCA (Andean potatoes), Dwarf Cherries (ours is flowering), Sea Berries, blight resistant hazelnuts, pawpaws, plums, pears, etc for sale.  Lots of sweet potato starts are IN STOCK.  $4 each.

Finally eating some salad after a long winter.  Looking forward to peas.

Spectacular year for wild flowers.  Camas, shooting stars, sea blush, and white faun lilies have been abundant.  We are also raising 12 little chicken dinners this year.  They are having a very good short life.  Sweet little beings.  A peak into my cheese cave shows some washed rind cheese, various waxed cheeses, and brie (in the bottom).  I also make feta.


View from the upper living roof looking down the solar panels to the lower living roof with all the sea blush, sedums, and mosses and then looking onto some of the Eco-Sense gardens.

That’s it for now.  Hope you enjoyed all the photos.

Ann and Gord

(Ann) Stirring the Pot

After last week’s post we seemed to have stirred the pot.  Do we dare have some fun and do it again?  We are still recovering from a host of comments so we best just keep it to the fun stuff… new plants… and then we’ll finish by giving that big old pot another stir to end a very brief update.

(Late Addition… AAAck… upcoming events has a hiccup – we are open every Saturday 10am – 2pm for plant sales)

New Additions

Our Yellowhorns have arrived (aka, Chinese macadamia or Chinese flowering chestnut).  Neither a chestnut nor a macadamia, but beautiful showy edible small seed tree great for places that are dry and can accept a tree that matures to 12-20 feet tall.   Deciduous, leafy bush or small in habit,  bearing reddish-brown branches.  It grows well on rocky slopes on hillsides, and is drought tolerant.   It prefers acidic dry soil and does not do well in wet locations.

Also the Russian almonds (Prunus tenella) are back.  A small shrub, very showy with bitter almonds, though supposedly this stock has been bred to be less so.   We can only confirm the claims of edibility as this year our own plants will be fruiting for the first time.   We’ll let you know.   Soaking and roasted will neutralize the cyanic acid content.

The Buartnuts and Heartnuts have arrived… 2-3 feet tall and a couple years old.   These are walnuts that are blight resistant, have good oil content and are easier to shell than black walnuts.

One last Veteran Peach and Mission Almond and only a couple Apricots left.     Surprisingly once again the plum trees have been vanishing, despite having stock that was meant to cover a couple years of inventory… yikes.

Paw paws are doing great, showing their leaf buds.

Greening Up

Oh so late for everything but so exciting to see things green up.   Perhaps even our provincial Legislative Assembly will green up too.

Despite the greening of the season, we are getting really tired of so many people supporting a political party as if it was some religion.  It’s not.  A political party is at it’s core a collection of policies guided by principles to address different problems of civilization (local and global).  These policies make up the party platform.
Ann sure wishes everyone would discuss policies rather than political parties.  As individuals we can agree with some policies and disagree with other policies from the same party.  (See a great response to this at the end by KM)

What issues are important to you and what are the party platforms on those issues? Then we could all have an intelligent discussion on the pros and cons of different policies.   Ann finds this NDP vs Green vs Liberal thing very superficial and actually quite disturbing… it just leads to fighting and no rational debate on some really important topics.

And the fear thing… strategic voting is fear based, it is about voting against something rather than for something, and it is usually spawned by polls.  Those same polls that have failed to predict what occurred in Alberta, or the last BC election or even that fiasco across the border.  People are taking actions, called “strategic” using hugely invalid data to guide their choices.   We scratch our head.  Emotional rather than rational.

So for those in BC, do something different for a change… see which party has principles that align with yours… whose policies you agree with… and vote for them… or vote for the representative that works hard for your area.   To vote strategically (with poor info) is to be a follower – to vote for what you want is to be a leader.

So that just about stirs the pot… we end with a comment by KM who posted on Ann’s FB page… an intelligent and thoughtful response.

Do not look at policy, it is flimsy and follows the whim of the leader and changes to garner support and power. Most parties are quick to change their policy once elected to suit their needs and to follow the money of corporations. I have recently become a passionate Green supporter based on Principles. The Green Party principles are based on Ecological Wisdom, Sustainability, Non-violence, Social Justice, Participatory Democracy and Respect of Diversity. These are not just the principles of the BC Greens or the even the Federal Greens, these are the principles of every Green party in over 90 countries around the world. The Green party in Chile is fighting to gain a foothold to bring Participatory Democracy to their country. The Rwandan green party is striving to bring Non-violence to their country. The Austrian an Dutch Greens are striving for Sustainability. It is the Principles that set all policy for any party to create and follow. Their policy will never stray outside of those bounds. That is why they were created, that is what they are trying to promote. It is an honourable and just way to conduct your party in politics. The Green party in BC and Federally have demonstrated time and again, that they are trying to improve the very nature of politics. Whether it be Elizabeth May with her immediate transparency on all her spending or Andrew Weaver turning down two large corporate donations from big energy companies and then declaring there will be no donations either corporate or union.  I see the Greens as trying to make politics better, not popular policy. No other party is based on Principles, they will all just make popular policy to get the votes. Until we vote for a better system, we will keep going around on this policy merry go round. Respectfully, yours (KM)

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Gord and Ann

Reality Check: Life on a Permaculture Homestead

We have never taken a course in permaculture, in electronics or electricity, engineering, construction, cabinetry, waste water, horticulture, cheese making, etc… the list goes on.  One of the main beefs we have with the whole concept of “permaculture” is the assumption that the teaching and learning leads one to a place of competence.  It doesn’t.   In  reality the principles learned are just the start and gives folks coming out the other end the basic tools, ideas, and incentives to change their life and the world.  There is no doubt that completing a permaculture design class is a great first step and it can be life changing for many, but it is only the beginning of the learning…life long learning.

I (we) don’t classify ourselves as “permaculturalists”, nor specialists or experts.  We hold the view that any action we take has to increase the value of the 5 capitals (natural, social, human, manufactured, and financial).   We also apply the rationale that we as human animals are not that different than our ancestors 100,000 years ago, nor are we any more or less special than any other organism.    We also don’t see permaculture as a “new” way of living in the world, but as the way of living that all organisms  “must exist” whether by integrated conscious design or unconsciously as designed through evolution.

First Nations:  We recently attended a local function where Dr. Nancy Turner spoke of the First Nations in and around BC.  Her specialty is Ethnoecology, which is the study of multiple integrated disciplines and how they interconnect to support a community and culture.  This includes archaeology, botany, physics, anthropology, economics, psychology… you get the picture.  This was a beautiful presentation in that stories were used to explain the interconnected systems the First Nations employed to survive and flourish sustainably.

DSC02264These systems were explained through stories such as of the clam beds, made and tended over generations, how the beds were tilled to enhance aeration, re-seeding was done, and engineering to retain and enhance beds.  First nations improved personal food yields and the ecological integrity of diverse ecosystems. The same was done with camas, rice root, soap berry, etc.  Select plants were interplanted with others to enhance production, like the soapberry, which is a nitrogen fixing Elaeagnus species related to goumi and autumn olive.  Fish guts and clam shells were transported over great distance to feed prime berry bushes.  The understanding that certain seaweeds were to be harvested when nettles were a certain height was only known because observations that these two grew at the same rate.  All this knowledge was passed down for generations through story telling.  Cultural evolution.   Ultimately what was so apparent, was that the First Nations had been practicing what we call now “permaculture” because it was the only way to sustainably exist in the natural world.  (As opposed to our unnatural dying unsustainable human created fossil fuel word).  Through the entire talk, the word “Permaculture” was never mentioned, but it was clear to us that first nations were practicing permaculture as we now define it.

Our past four blog posts were a demonstration, through story, of just some of the twelve  “permaculture” principles :

It struck us after Dr. Turner’s presentation, that survival of current and future generations depended on close observation, causing marginal mid level disturbance, self regulating harvest, learning from one’s actions, and always responding to change.  When First Nations harvested huckleberry, they observed how bears always left some on the ground, so they did too.  When streams dried up and showed distress or had to be repopulated with salmon, they knew how to transplant salmon eggs from another place.

It strikes me time and again that because we do not have to live directly connected to the natural ecosystem, that no amount of “permaculture” teaching and training is going actually teach one how to be one with the natural world…to re-integrate into our place in nature.  The only way to learn these skills (and ways of being), is to be fully immersed with the land and with a culture of similar people.  We are just starting to learn this ourselves.  Sadly, the information is easily lost within a single generation, and for the First Nations, residential schools is where that disconnection was created…what an enormous loss.  With Western Culture, that disconnect has been multiplied over generations spurred by technological advances for 100’s of year.  What a global mess we now have.

The style of learning within First Nations was critical in actually teaching this most important skill.   To learn, you had to watch and observe and not ask questions until you had fully thought about something.  Only after observing could you ask questions.   This style in and of itself taught people how to closely observe and pay attention to the subtleties of their environment, and to be in the moment… a tool/skill that we see as rare in our busy culture.

This brings us to the next “Permaculture” principle.  Integrate not separate.

What stories can we pull from our experience with modern day permaculture that can demonstrate this?  The first may be the story of the living roof which integrates multiple functions other than just beauty or habitat replacement, but also pre-filtration for rain water harvesting, reducing the heat island effect, sound insulating, slowing storm water flows thus reducing infrastructure to address storm flows, cooler temperatures resulting in increased efficiency of our solar panels, food growing opportunity away from voles and rabbits, and aided fire resistance.  Did we know all these integrated benefits before we started, NO, but we have observed them over the years.

Another story would be that of Angela Evans, who we spoke of in our last blog.  Angela was a planner with the municipality of Saanich.  She introduced us to the concept of toxic building materials, and the Living Building Challenge program.  Angela spent some time here at Eco-Sense leading the very first tours on our home while it was under construction and also conducting workshops on composting toilets here.  Sadly , Angela passed away a few years back… cancer.  We are so grateful for all that Angela shared with us especially her knowledge of toxic materials and chemicals.  On one of Angela’s visits 10 years ago, she also created beautiful images on our cob home.


Displaying our Living Building Challenge Award

That same blog post (A Blast from the Past ) lead to introductions with John Horgan (an NDP MLA), who is now the leader of the provincial NDP.  John read about our event called the “Celebrity Flush” 10 years ago and simply had to come and meet us.  After that, John went on to speak about us in the Legislature, and to advocate for us with regards to BC Hydro, and he even organized a couple tours here with other MLA’s (from other parties).  John’s a good guy and we really like him, but we do have very different political leanings.  Our values are much more Green leaning, but we sure do hope that John will be the next premier of BC…with a minority government and with the Greens holding the balance of power.

John Horgan (MLA and leader of the BC NDP), Gord, Ann, Liberal Minister Naomi Yamamoto (Building Code Renewal and Reform)

For us, the Green party represents policy based on science and facts and not on ideologies.  However this is not so popular these days in global and local politics as science and facts are in a direct conflict with our cultural ideology.  Especially around the climate and the economy while sticking band-aids on all the social suffering and inequality rather than getting to the core of the underlying problem.  Drastic changes are happening with regards to human civilization and ultimately facts matter regardless of what we want or what political party we align with.
Here’s a couple of links:  FACTS on CO2:     FACTS on Achieving Paris Agreement Targets to maintain a livable planet.   These are not political links; these are links to facts.

Permaculture is NOT new:  So it may sound like we are separating ourselves from “Permies” and thus not integrating them.  The take away point is that folks who learn permaculture need to not treat it like the holy grail, not treat it as an epiphany, but rather be humble that it is about moving back to ecological and social principals that first Nations have been practising for countless generations.  And with moving back to critical thinking and an integrated way of being, we think it is imperative to slow down, learn to deeply observe, then learn from what nature is teaching us, and realize that if we are lucky, perhaps the next generation or two will learn the tools grounded in natures reality to have a new culture and knowledge base that begins to emulate the amazing skills and values of the First Nations.  Ironically we’d argue the only person/culture that deserves and has earned the title of permaculturalist is the one that is accomplished (proven over time), and humble, and thus has no need for EGO, or for use of the term permaculture in the first place.  Permaculture needs to be a fully integrated concept in absolutely everything to the point that it is an intuitive way of being.

Taking Responsibility.

Permaculture in essence is the skills, values and ways of thinking required to take responsibility for your food, water, energy, health, waste, shelter and lifestyle.  Our society is an outsourced society, where we don’t take responsibility for those things – we hire out electricians, plumbers, doctors, farmers etc.  This does not mean we do not need these folks, but we shouldn’t immediately default to the assumption “I Can’t Do This”.  When it comes to homesteading it is not a question of “I Can’t” but instead “Oh Shit… I Have Too” or even sometimes, “I shouldn’t”.  Modern day homesteaders are generalists on a limited budget.

This means that we have to invest the energy to learn not just about plants and soils, but   basic electricity, water systems, heating systems, nutrition and food preservation, construction, ecology, psychology, and so on, (all those things that make up the study of ethnoecology).  If a homestead has solar power, one of the most basic skills for example is to learn to use a multi-meter.    Everyone on the homestead needs to have the some basic skills, to more or lesser degree to enable and trouble shoot basic problems…stuff breaks…we have to deal with it.

Example:  The day Gord was on the Gulf Islands and Ann was at home alone and friends were staying in the Eco-Hut, we had a water issue – water supply to the Eco-Hut shut down.  Ann’s response, isolate and diagnose problem, use the multi-meter to check power, find instruction booklet for the pressure switch, and fix it…in the dark with a headlamp.  Did Ann have anxiety… of course… did Ann think logically about where water comes from and what makes it go… absolutely.


Thanks to Peter Ronald for this photo from last week

Standard (outsourced) Systems vs A Permaculture Homestead

Water Systems – Rely on city water or a well pump OR take responsibility and build in resiliency and redundancy, use cistern/pond, collect rain water, and use water consciously.  Skills needed – conservation methods, learn about pumps, irrigation systems, flow rates, pressure switches, valves, etc.

Energy Systems – Rely on the grid OR take responsibility and build in resilience and redundancy, collect and store energy.  Skills needed – conservation methods, understanding of your energy budget, basic electrical knowledge (AC/DC), understanding of batteries and inverters and how to program them.

Food Systems – Buy food from the industrial food system OR Want to dabble in food seasonally, interested in wild meat or livestock, dairy, or take on food provisioning year round?  Skills needed – understanding of your personal time limits, effective cheap and healthy processing methods, meal planning with available food, nutrition, crop planning, annual foods, perennial foods, soil building, wild foods, animal husbandry, food safe skills, etc.


Seasonal lunch

Health – Choose to rely on the proffessional health care system (sickness treatment system) OR take responsibility for more of your day to day health needs.  Skills Needed – basic first aid, natural remedies, understanding of nutrition and the gut micro-biome, the importance mental health,  taking responsibility for maintaining your body and knowing your physical and mental limits.

Waste – Send it to the dump OR take responsibility for it and decrease the waste stream where possible and divert everything that can be a resource.  Skills Needed – reduce waste generation, Is relying on recycling sustainable, awareness of what is waste and what is a resource, basic knowledge of toxins and pathogens and their biological and chemical degradation pathways, learn resource recovery methods, and learn to simplify your life.

Lifestyle – Go with the flow of our culture OR take control of the direction of your life.  Skills needed – Honesty and time to create a life plan to know what your values and passions are and how to take the steps to create what you truly want and need (holistic life management).  What do you enjoy, what don’t you enjoy, recognize when your life is more in alignment with your values, skills and aptitudes … and know hard work is OK and not drudgery.

Trying to live a simpler and more resilient lifestyle,

Ann and Gord

A very quick newsy update

Hi, we are working on a blog post but it’s not quite ready.  It will just have to wait until next week.  In the meantime, here’s a couple quick items:


Yes, we have a dog (Nina) who gives us the toothy grin when she’s happy or when she knows she’s done something wrong.  hehe

Perennial Edible Plants Sales on Saturday from 10am – 2pm. Come on out and walk the gardens, say HI to Dug the duck, Nina the dog, and Gord and Ann the crazy people.  Come to buy plants or just to talk about crazy stuff…no shortage of crazy topics out there.  Some weeks the nursery is super busy, some it’s very slow, but overall this has been by far our busiest spring season yet.  It seems that people are waking up to the benefits of local perennial food systems for fun, beauty and food security.   3295 Compton Road. Lots of new stuff to see and the leaves are FINALY coming out.

  • We have sweet potato slips, Oca, Eggs, cover crop (soup peas) and lots of the regular hard to find perennial food plants.  See photos below for how we get sweet potato slips started.

Grey Water Workshop on April 27th:  FULL

Special public tour on May 28th: FULL

Introduction to Composting Toilets on July 22:  Still have spots.  Here’s the link:

Here’s a bunch of new photos this year.



Special Notice: Meet a damn great guy!

Join Andy MacKinnon and a couple other fine folks for a tea party

Not a fundraiser, not a rally, not a volunteer recruitment drive; just a casual opportunity to gather with some of your neighbours and get to know our riding’s Green Party candidate, Andy MacKinnon.

Think of it as a job interview for Andy: an opportunity to learn about the principles that drive him, to ask him about issues that matter to you, to get your questions about the B.C. Green Party platform answered and to share your concerns and your hopes for our province.

Tea (with and without caffeine), coffee, Pattie’s own apple juice and goodies (with and without gluten) will be provided.

Note that Andy is not in our (Ann and I) riding, but has become someone we admire and respect through local politics.   If anyone is asking who is Andy MacKinnon, just go to your bookshelf and pull out that field guide called Plants of Coastal BC. Andy is one of the authors.
Andy is also a professional biologist AND a councillor with Metchosin.

Meet Andy MacKinnon, Green Party Candidate foandy-mackinnon-green-partyr Esquimalt-Metchosin

When: Friday, April 21, 7:00–9:00 p.m.
Where: 5311 Rocky Point Rd., Metchosin (at northeast corner of Montreul Heights)
RSVP: By responding to or calling 250-478-3319

Hope to see you there!

Gord, Ann and Pattie

p.s. For those who like doing homework, you can find more information here:

A blast from the past

After finally stopping for a moment to look back at our history in this wacky Eco-Sense adventure, we’d thought it would be fun to share the odd old post… here is one from just over 10 years ago.   No pretty pictures back then… we didn’t know how to do that (that stuff is complicated you know!).   Don’t despair this time around we have added pictures.

As I read through this update from many years ago, I smile and then I tear up… Angela Evans, mentioned in this update, a friend, has since passed away – but her favourite sweet peas grace the front of our home, our khaki campbell duck flock are collectively named the sweet peas, and we have Angie duck.    We miss you Angela

November 2007 Update

Filed under: Eco-Sense Updates @ 7:58 pm

We left you last month with a cliff hanger. Although the car died we still have the van. Our remaining vehicle has 450,000 kms on it, and is meant strictly as the work thing to tow the trailer up the driveway. It looks like a work thing; it is bruised, battered and filthy just like Gord, and they are both starting to complain. The difference is that Gord is reliable but the van is not. Ann is complaining too because it’s too filthy to transport groceries in.

The vehicle vs. values saga

What do you do when hard work and luck places you where you want to be, but society and cultural pressures tell you to ignore your values and get back in the box?

As many of you are aware we have shared custody of the kids with alternating weeks. What were to happen if we refused to buy a vehicle because of conflict with our values? What if we argued that there were no good alternatives available yet to transport kids? What if we had no bus service? For two years we have tried to change the kids’ school as was agreed to when we moved here. Currently, we have a two and a half hour daily drive to and from school twice per day which accounts for most of our driving. What if we biked to the closest bus route and sent the kids off to school for an hour long bus ride each way? Lots of questions…No answers!

The only answer is… Too bad… you have to uphold your responsibility to transport the kids to school. The courts are not even close to being able to make a decision based on the triple bottom line. Interestingly we have spent the last two years attempting to discuss climate issues, equal family involvement, kids’ school friends, reduction of greenhouse gases, environmental education, kids’ schedules, and commuting costs. We are saddened and left wondering what is worth fighting for. Do we allow our culture to determine that we go out and purchase a greenhouse gas spewing dinosaur? Can we wait for the government to allow electric vehicles? Could we even afford one?

Interestingly the Federal government has told one of the Canadian based electric vehicle makers, that despite them meeting the federal guidelines, they still can’t sell in Canada, as the federal government has plans to review their guidelines. Something is a little stinky here!

The Electrical Code

Our lucky day…we just got a new electrical inspector assigned to our building. He is only into the job two weeks and he gets our house. Our thoughts were “poor bugger”. Our electrician gently peppered him with questions, and he went for his notebook. The inspector spent half of his two hours getting a tour of the systems, an introduction to sustainability, and learning how deficient the electrical code really is when it comes to energy conservation.

The inspector has had to learn a lot really quick. We learned that the electrical code is kind of like the Bible…open to interpretation.

We had expected that our living (circle) room would have to have AC outlets built into the back of the cob all the way around the seating areas. When we asked what he would like to see he said “well it looks like this really is a cozy spot to read. Why would you want to put plug outlets into built in furniture?” That was supposed to be our line! Common sense prevailed.

Things were stalled here while we waited for the feedback from the electrical inspector on all the items that make our home different from the norm. What will he say about the DC outlets, the 24 volt LED lights (that are not CSA approved), the 24 VDC pumps that are not CSA approved, screw in AC Edison base light fixtures to be used for DC bulbs?

Two weeks later. All is ok… just don’t put in regular AC switches for the DC lighting. There is a good reason for this, as AC voltage cycles at 60HZ, meaning there is little to no arc when a switch is flipped, unlike DC. We need to use a switch with a stronger spring to ensure that the connection of the circuit is broken, rather than an arc causing it to fuse and stay connected.


We had Ted Hill, the editor from the Goldstream Gazette, here the beginning of the month. It was interesting to watch this fellow show up to do a story that he felt slightly responsible to do, but not too sure about what the story should be. Over a two hour period, we saw Ted’s eyes open wider, and the laughs and amazement increase, with the final point of interest being that our insurance will be based on buildings that exist in the UK that are several hundred years old (older than Canada)!

Pattie Whitehouse, who used to write all our stories for the Goldstream Gazette, was let go when Black Press took over. It’s amazing how hard it is to get news coverage in our own community. We are still waiting for the story in the Gazette to come out.

Toilet Training

It wouldn’t be complete for a month to go by with out talking about the toilet, so here it goes. We put out a call for a good used toilet to temporarily install in our bathroom to comply with code. After receiving offers for six such old toilets it became clear that in order to comply with the building code we had to install a LOW flush toilet. Now don’t get us wrong…this is a great law…but for us, who plan on using a NO flush toilet it just doesn’t make any Eco-Sense.

So instead of this being a problem, we are going to have some fun with this…we can either cry over stuff like this or laugh. So here is the tentative plan for next February.

Neville, a friend here in the Highlands, has a company in Victoria called Heritage Office Furnishing, which will donate a new low flush toilet to the Highlands Heritage Park Society (Pike House). Bob McMinn from this society (and the first mayor of the Highlands) will loan this toilet to us to install and fulfill code requirements.

We are then holding the first ever ‘Celebrity Flush’ event targeted at celebrities, politicians, and anyone who supports what we are doing. The goal is to support sustainability and show opposition to the crazy rules that stand in the way of sustainable development. Participants pay $50 to pee into this new low flush toilet. No, this is not a pissing contest!

Proceeds will be donated to the Highlands Stewardship Foundation to continue their good work with monitoring ground water and educating us in its use. The slightly used low flush toilet will then be installed in its final resting place on the Pike house grounds complete with a story board of how it came to be.

Sustainability is FUN! Thanks to Pattie, Neville, and Bob for their insight, humour, and help. Looking forward to even more community input (pun intended).

And the Heating … AGAIN!

Yet one more time we look at heating. From purely solar, to generator back-up, then wood gasification, then to electrical, on to air-to-water heat pumps, then toying with bio-diesel, then back to more solar, and finally wood gasification. Who said ignorance was bliss!

Here is our brief summary of our rational, and believe me it is brief to summarize nine months of research into a few sentences.

Purely solar would mean 240 evacuated tubes for December and January demand, while only 60 tubes seven months of the year. This translates into an extra $18,000. Yikes!

Generator: A diesel genset has efficiency losses from transferring fuel into both power and excess heat. We did not want to rely heavily on a fuel (biodiesel or diesel) nor be inefficient. Ann can’t stand exhaust fumes either.

Air to water heat pump: We found an amazing heat pump made in Germany by Dimplex with a CoP (coefficient of performance) of 3.9; this means for every 1 Kw of energy fed into the system 3.9 Kw of heat are extracted. We almost went this route but would need to add more PV panels as its rated capacity was for 1.9 Kw.

Biodiesel direct hot water system from ITR. ITR did the testing, and their smaller Hurricane II was a good fit, but their larger Oasis was CSA certified. We again second guessed ourselves as to relying on fuel availability. Ann still didn’t want to breathe any exhaust.

Grid fed electric element. NOT!

Wood gasification. We finally purchased the wood gasification boiler. We had a choice of Greenwood, HS Tarm, Eko, and Wood Gun. Each gasification burner has different requirements depending on your setup. We decided on Alternate Heating Systems’ Wood Gun.

Wood Gun

The Wood Gun has been made for 27 years, same design, simple, repairable, doesn’t require a large water tank to operate efficiently. It basically heats wood allowing the gases to be released and be burned in a secondary chamber reaching between 1800-2000 degrees F. The boiler is immersed in 60 gallons of water, where in which it transfers heat through a coil to our 120 gallon hot water tank. These units are pretty much smokeless scoring big points with Ann.

We “learn” then we “do”

We are often asked how we learned what we are doing. What is it that makes us different? Not much! We just learn, and then we do. We’re not scared of failure which frees us up to be creative. We are also not as attached to a particular outcome and will work with and accept how things evolve. Life is not about the best decision or perfection.

Accomplishments for the month!

Ben and Ann have completed most of the exterior brown coat plastering. Tough work with cold hands.

Gord and Ben also finished putting in the hydronic heating tubes upstairs and the earthen floor on top.

Angela Evans (who did some tours here this past summer) came by to spend the day drawing some beautiful creatures on our exterior cob walls. We hope to incorporate these into some relief work on our home.

BC Hydro, after a tour of course, hooked up and connected the grid intertie. We are number 16 in the province.

Our plumber and electrician (Byron and Mike) have worked hard to give us temporary heat running though the floors. There is lots of moisture to push out to dry everything and start to warm up the place.

We cleaned up a bit, (Ann let her hair out of the ever present ponytail), and swept the house in preparation for the Knowledge Network. They will be back one more time in January to do the final shoot. Almost an entire day for a few minutes of footage.

Creativity Strikes

We have experimented with packing crates, plywood, old 24’s and some of our own wood. This rearrangement of old and new wood from forests past and present has created a kitchen and a composting toilet. Not in the same room of course. The kitchen has counters that are made of many types of wood including; gorgeous black walnut (old packing pallet); a lowered bread making counter of old growth Doug Fir ripped from 24’s from an old school with some spalded Arbutus from last years early snow storm; some old trestle from Bear (Bare) Mountain for the raised bar above the sink, and some of our own Fir from the land arranged in an alternating pattern of grain. All was finished with a combination of Tung oil and Osmo hardwax oil. A gorgeous and unique work of art! We love to tell people that our kitchen is made out of old packing pallets… they nod their heads and smile… with no clue to the beauty created.

We had hoped to be into the house for Christmas, but have accepted yet another winter in the trailers. This has been tough on all of us but we joke and hope for the weather to be less stormy than last year.

Ann and Gord