Is it SPRING yet?

Well, it’s March 9.  Ann’s 50th birthday and it’s trying to snow…again.  We’ve had snow off and on all week and needless to say it is becoming frustrating on so many levels.  Ann has always had daffodils on her birthday, and in the last decade or so daffodils have been blooming much earlier.  But not this year…not a single daffodil is anywhere to be seen.  No peas.  No plums in bloom.  No rhubarb.  No spring greens…not even radishes.  Even the sweet potatoes slips are clinging to life in the earth sheltered greenhouse.  Thank goodness we put so much dried and fermented food away last year.

The nursery is almost ready for our first “spring/winter” open house for sales of perennial edible plants.  Plant list Here (All prices INCLUDE GST)

  • SATURDAY March 11th from 10am-2pm
  • If you are coming to buy plants please drive up to the top of the hill.

It is so odd to start the nursery season when virtually all the plants are still dormant.  Thank goodness for the Cornelian cherries, Black currants, and the fuki.

Lower Garden is getting a make over:  We have been landscaping the lower garden area and have plans for a small pond against the cliff and a simple hoop house greenhouse.  We are propagating more plants rather than bringing them in and need MORE space.  The lower garden has been levelled out and a parking area made on the east side right before the driveway starts going up the hill.  Just yesterday Tayler and Solara along with their three interns also gave the area a great start to a permaculture makeover.  Wow, does it ever look great down there.  (Please note that plants in the lower garden area are NOT FOR SALE).

YAM Magazine:  New article on our home is just out this week in Victoria’s YAM magazine. read online here:

Highlands Community Garden:  The community organized a group to spearhead  the development of a community garden, a garden much different than the one’s you’ll find in the rest of the region.  Why is it different… well they are applying permaculture principles without really knowing it, because it just makes logical sense.  It is also mingled in and amongst some of Highlands finest rocks… so working with an undulating landscape and varying soils depths means biodiversity.  A huge thanks to the team.

Just a quick update to let everyone know, yes, we are open this Saturday (March 11th).   Feel free to come walk in the soggy food forest, in the soggy garden, and look at the wonders of what the Canadian Border Services can do to a perfectly healthy plant order as we nurse $1000 of plants to life.    And come see water in the pond!  Plant list Here

PS.  Bring gumboots!  Bathing suit not required.   Just your birthday suit… right Ann?



Welcome to spring…sort of.

Well, it’s now March 2nd and we are usually into full spring here at Eco-Sense with native bulbs poking up and daffodils almost open, and usually the first round of plum tree grafting completed.  However, this winter has been unusually harsh, cold, and snowy.  Today, as we write this, we are in a snowy winter wonderland…again.


Making the best of a snow day (early Feb)

Three Events at Eco-Sense:

Saturday March 11th from 10am – 2pm.  FIRST plant sales of the spring season.  Due to the weather, we will be delaying our first open house for sales of perennial edible plants until the second Saturday of March (March 11th).  Following this date, we will be open every Saturday this spring from 10am – 2pm.

Thursday March 30th from 1-4 pm:  $55 – Grafting workshop at Eco-Sense.  Gord will lead the instruction to graft 2 of your own apple trees of choice to take home (choose from a variety of scion wood).  Tour of food forest and perennial food systems included.  Bring your own THIN BLADED SHARP knife… no longer than 5 cm… everything else is supplied… hopefully no band-aids required.  Only 12 spots.  Suitable for kids 12+ and adults.  Registration via Eventbrite

Sunday May 28th from 1-5 pm:  $40 for a very special PUBLIC TOUR.  We are hosting the first public tour in many years to launch our partnership with Tayler and Solara of Hatchet and Seed.  If you don’t know Tayler and Solara be sure to visit their website.  They specialize in transforming under utilized landscapes (farms and yards) to abundant and beautiful site appropriate food systems.  This special Eco-Sense tour will last about 3 hours and then we will have a social and snack time inside the cob home.  Space is very limited and already half sold out.  Full details and booking is via Eventbrite link here.


Photo by Solara

AND…Maybe…Just Maybe, Gord will do a workshop on grey water systems.  We have two systems to install for first rate hands on learning.  Tentative date: Thursday, April 27th from 10am-3pm.  Bring lunch.  $60.  Only 8 spots.   Registration via Eventbrite:

AND…Maybe…Just Maybe, Gord will do a short workshop on Humanure composting toilets.  Learn the 3 P’s of composting toilets:  Pee, Poo, and Policy.  Sat, July 22 from 10am-noon.  10 spots.  $30  Tour of our bathroom here at Eco-Sense in the main house, the very slick Eco-Hut system, the outside bathroom setups, and watch an actual bucket dump.  Good opportunity to confront your fears…and leave fecalphobia behind (oooh could have fun with that).  Registration via Eventbrite:

In other news:

dsc02802Despite the harsh and unpredictable weather this winter, it has been an abundant, tasty, and nutritious winter of food.  Ann put away lots of dried foods (fruits and veggies), and fermented foods.  We have lots of fresh apples, garlic, leeks, parsnips  and carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash.  Here’s a photo of one of our pre-packaged soups…pre assembly.  Venison bone broth, fava beans, carrots, garlic, sweet potatoes, bayleaves, parsnips, squash water, dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, dried kale, and dried zucchini.  It was an AWESOME soup.  Also on the counter in this photo are ginger beer on the go, kefir, sourdough spelt starter, fermenting Jerusalem artichokes, and the cheese curds and whey.

AND…Maybe…Just Maybe, Ann will write a radical homesteading cook book… one without any recipes.

AND…Maybe…Just Maybe, Ann will do  fermented foods workshop.  AND… just Maybe…

Ann has been making lots of cheese too.  Brie, waxed cheddar, washed rind natural cheeses, and feta.


Our back deck has also become much more useful with a small roof extension and installation of an outside kitchen.  This is where Gord, Tayler and Ann processed Beaker.  Yes, all five of us (Tayler, Solara, 2 year old Flora, Gord and I) ate our much loved rooster.

dsc02806Here’s the story:  After 1 year of living well together and sharing hens peacefully, our two roosters went at it. The young one being the stronger, and our lovely gentle cuddly Beaker getting quite messed up (bloody head and missing an eye). In the morning we had to make a choice. If we let them back together Beaker would surely lose his life in a bloody battle. Beaker also had longer spurs which were damaging his favourite 3 hens. We also suspect Beaker was not very fertile as last year we had a zero hatch rate. So…to make a long story short, guess who we are eating for dinner? We looked after beaker well for 2.5 years and now he is looking after all of us. He was not frightened to die and went quickly without a struggle. RIP Beaker.  (Our freezer has become an interesting place with interesting labels on glass containers…”Beaker Soup” and “Beaker with Pesto”).

dsc02812We gave our Earth Sheltered Greenhouse a work over as the mice and rats were having a field day in there.  Spent the afternoon cleaning out the mouse/rat infested greenhouse while Gord spent the afternoon digging up two sides of the earth sheltered insulated greenhouse to bury metal lath to stop the persistent rodents. Apparently the rodents like to chew through the recycled dock foam insulation buried in the earth to gain access to summer tomatoes, peppers and newly planted seeds. What a mess. Then it started to rain. Found numerous mummified things…ack.  So happy to have the greenhouse all cleaned up and rodent free…for now.

And a pond update.  We are retaining a lot of fluids… at the moment, every 1 inch (2.5 cm for you young folks under 46), is 4000 gallons (that’s a lot of litres for the young folks).  The overflow corrugated culvert was leaking preventing the pond from filling up the last foot of height.  All it took was a large elbow, small elbow, 2 of Gord’s elbows, 4 inner tube tires, water potable sealant, hose clamps, large and small rubber couplers, a heckling duck named Dug playing with Gord’s tools, frozen fingers and THREE persistant configurations of the above list of items.  Fingers crossed that this does the job.

Lots of Council initiatives going on right now, but we’ll save that for our next update.

Ann and Gord




We’ve Failed – Now What?

The environmental movement, despite Herculean efforts has failed and continues to fail.  The evidence for failure is:

  • Populations of vertebrate animals—such as mammals, birds, and fish—have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. More details at this link  2016 Living Planet Report
  • We are on the business as usual scenario for climate change…this means we are headed for the IPCC scenario of a rise in global average temperature of up to 4.5 deg C by 2100.  This is not survivable on many levels and may even be overly optimistic as it does not take into account many of the self reinforcing feedbacks we are starting see in the melting arctic.   Read more here:
  • Every mothers breast milk is contaminated with toxic chemicals from industrial civilization.

Honey bee pollinating our lemons

Why are we failing?
First off
, we define environmentalists as a separate class of people, separate from the average person,  which emboldens the myth that the environment is separate from “us” the human species.  These so called environmentalists fight to preserve habitat, protect species, and reduce harm from being inflicted upon our human habitat, our fellow species and our planet.  One would have to be insane to not see that our human habitat is the same shared habitat as for the rest of the species on earth.  Most people in the “environmental movement” get this basic concept of inter-connection…    It’s called ecology – the earth is a complex living system of relationships; relationships that work together to provide the necessities of life.  So every time you hear about “environmentalists” doing this or standing up for that, simply change the word to “the people”.  This makes a very powerful statement about WE and not THEY.

The danger in the continuation of environmentalists as being “they” or “them” is that “they” become targets.  When you have people speaking out against Site C, “they” are moms, dads, farmers, First Nations, community members, students, scientists, economists, etc. More appropriately, “they”, should be called “the people”.   The term environmentalist is actually a denigration and distraction to the issue at hand.

5040623-binSecondly, our human civilization, culture and global economic system are profoundly broken.  Even those of us wanting to live in a way to drastically reduce harm can only go so far…we are trapped.  As an example, here at Eco-Sense we literally live in a MUD house and shit in a bucket.  Our award winning home has been called the “world’s greenest modern house” as it achieved petal recognition with the Living Building Challenge.  The home features living roofs, rain water harvesting, solar PV, solar thermal, earthen floors, earthen counters, recycled wood, recycled features, LED lighting, very high energy performance for the full lifecycle of the building, and a low carbon footprint, etc.  However, the biggest thing that makes our home green is our lifestyle.  Our lifestyle directly challenges the paradigm that cradles the economic system. Our lifestyle is not good for the economy.

11216225_10153277514545309_413888765205766848_oOur Positives

  • We use 90% less energy and water in the home than the average person in BC. We have less STUFF to plug in and and use energy carefully. (Conservation First)
  • We grow and process the majority of our food here on site (or source locally) year round.  We eat local ecologically raised meat and wild meat.  (Local Food)
  • We choose to earn less money.   Earning less money means that we buy less stuff.  The whole Less Life STUFF…More Life STYLE saying is one we came up with over a decade ago. (We don’t maximize our earning potential – we have better things to do with our life)
  • Over this last decade, we have created sufficient diversified employment for ourselves that fits with our values.  (Perennial food systems plant nursery, education, tours, consulting, presentations, rain water harvesting, writing, municipal politics, and more.)  (No specialization… we specialize at being generalists…more fun)
  • We don’t fly (Local Living)
  • When my parents moved out we paid back their investment not through a bank or credit union, but through an arrangement with friends.  This large chunk of cash coming from friends did not create more debt in the system and therefor did not help to fuel the growth economy.  Our friends were able to then remove their funds that were invested in planet destroying activities and invest in us and our regenerative design initiatives.  (Local Finance)
  • We consider natural capital, social capital, human capital, financial capital, and manufactured capital in all our decision making.  We make sure to factor in all forms of currency.  Life is complex and beautiful.
  • We have homemade wooden wedding rings (no gold or blood diamonds) as a symbol to each other and to the earth.

350 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2 is long gone…We are well over 400ppm now and not going back.

BUT sadly, even given everything that we do here, we still consume more than the planet can support.  If everyone lived like us we would still need more than 2 or 3 earths.  We acknowledge that there is only so much individuals can do…the system needs to change.  In order to get to the next stage of living in a fully regenerative way, we need community…we all need to be in this together.  It’s delusional to try and go it alone.  Prepping is not going to cut it.

Our Negatives:

  • We still have a car (used smart car), and a farm truck (filthy and old).  (CO2 and mining).  In 2016 we drove less than in all our prior years at Eco-Sense.
  • We still buy a few new items like clothes, tools, and some garden items.  We have fleece (micro plastic clothing) and plastic rain gear.  Can’t buy used due to all the toxic fragrances people use.
  • Buy coffee (organic and fair trade).  (CO2, habitat losses)
  • We each have a laptop computer  (no green fully recyclable computers available)
  • We purchased a pond liner (after trying for 5 years to seal the pond with clay).
  • We buy pumps, tools, metal products, etc for the farm. (CO2 and mining)
  • We use some concrete (BIG CO2 footprint)
  • People drive here to buy plants (lots of CO2 and mining)
  • We buy some mined products like aluminum, copper, coltan, etc which are in our electronics, solar panels, wiring, solar panel frames, orchard ladders, etc.  (mining is toxic and destroys habitat)
  • We produce some plastic garbage. (Toxics, and CO2)
  • We buy some misc household stuff…but really try and look after it so it lasts a long time.
Gord contemplating his carbon footprint after building raised concrete garden beds

And the third reason why the environmental movement has failed is that many “environmentalists”, oops, I mean “people” standing up (safely from their desks) to work on environmental and human rights issues are not actually doing much to reduce their own impact.  Many of the activist people out there are not walking their talk.  They are flying the “flag”… and flying (the single biggest impact item we can do as individuals), and consuming, and spending,  and wasting precious resources and carbon budgets all while preaching what we need to do.  By not taking reasonable steps to curb ones personal contribution as much as possible many have compromised their moral authority.

Imagine a parent teaching their children to do as I say, not as I do – modelling action is immensely more useful.  Action is the BIGGEST tool we have to effect cultural change.  Walk your talk as best you can and begin starving the beast.  By not standing up to the broken culture, to the consumption economy, many activists give power to the system as they are part of the system.

Now What?  First and foremost, we need to start acting like we really want to see the changes we are working so hard for.  

  1. Stop fuelling the system we desire to change by reducing our personal consumption.  Live simpler lives.  Walk our talk as best we can.  When we are unable to walk our talk, we acknowledge this gap between our values and our actions and carry on.  We don’t beat ourself up.  Talking about our consumption/over consumption will go along ways to help change the story.  Change the story : Change the system
  2. Work to change the system…pick something that you’re passionate about and go for it:  economic systems, political systems, community building, health and wellbeing,  equality, oil tankers, pipelines, dams, LNG, water, farming methods, old growth forests, invasive species, polar bears, carbon taxes, electric cars, transit, greener buildings, endangered species, butterflies, bees, small homes (tiny too), energy efficiency, local food, fragrance free personal care products, GMO’s, glyphosate and pesticides, oceans, the arctic, palm oil, rain forests, etc. 
  3. Create a better system:  The fun part – permaculture principles can be applied to everything from food, to shelter, to community, to governance.  
  4. Stop calling people that care “environmentalists”…call them people.  
  5. Give up on hope or attachment to outcome.  If you pay attention to the full science, complexity and magnitude of our global predicament it will seem hopeless.  Grieve it,  cry, get over it, and then get busy.  Find others to grieve and get busy with.

So what has inspired our latest rant?  Many things, but primarily the documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio called Before The Flood.  It’s excellent, However Leonardo is one of this earth’s single biggest consumers alive today contributing to climate change and mass extinction. It’s the ultimate in absurd to be an activist and not walk your own talk and this approach will only lead to more failure of the environmental movement.  All activists need to live like they believe in what they are fighting for.   (This is where Ann spews profanities, but Gord edits them out) We are literally toast if we don’t change our way of life – NOW.  It was a stunning moment in the documentary where Leonardo is discussing with Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, where he basically says that the American way of life is not negotiable.  Seriously watch this documentary and then read the analysis by Rob Hopkins.  Both are here on this link.

So there it is…if we don’t change our way of life now, we are literally changing Life on earth to Hell on earth.  In order to change the system, we need to change ourselves and the external system we live within.  We need to change EVERYTHING.

And for those now depressed, we’re sorry.  Please know that there is still abundant joy out there by living simply.  Here’s what we do to help cope:

  1. Spend time with friends
  2. Spend time in nature (gardens, hikes, etc)
  3. Limit our time online or listening to the news.
  4. watch permaculture videos…seriously, they really help
  5. Cook and enjoy local whole foods
  6. Drink home brew/wine

Thanks for Reading,

Ann and Gord


The Learning Curve

When you specialize in being a generalist, you set yourself up for a whole lot of learning.

How I describe Ann’s skills:  high level bookeeping; biologist; cheese maker; fermenter; dishwasher; goat teet squeezer; grower, harvester, and cooker of  food; councillor; nursery person; farm manager; Gord manager; assumption checker/elephant observer (also known as an elephant pointer outer or general s**t disturber); critical thinker; chainsaw owner; lifestyle consulting, and soon to be book author.

How do I describe myself… I don’t dare.   I’ll leave that up to Ann if she so wishes.

When asked what I do for a living I really don’t have a clue what to say.  When I do try and respond it always starts with… “I follow my own interests and do whatever I want”.  I often say that I clean the public washroom, collect the compost toilet materials, and distribute the s**t… and I am a councillor where I (like Ann) disturb it a little too.

One thing is certain, I feel uncomfortable stating my skills.  I would rather speak to my interests.  My interests are plants, rain water harvesting, grey water, provincial policy, electronics, sustainable building and designing and building integrated systems (heating/cooling), composting toilets, water filtration,  carpentry/cabinetry, public speaking, teaching, and beer and wine making, digging holes.

Inevitably interests lend to energizing my learning, an appetite not easily satiated.  The most recent two learning opportunities are the step towards earning my EOCP in Small Water Systems, and presenting on the topics of small scale agricultural pond pumping design and grey water re-use and other responsible water alternatives.

Small Water Systems Operation and Management – EOCP certification

SWS Operation and Management is a course that will enhance my abilities to effect change on the topic and issues surrounding water, a passion of mine.  Hopefully in the next several months after exams are over I will have earned the qualifications to install, operate and maintain water systems for populations under 1000 people.    The materials cover a wonderful broad range of skills from how to work a community through the process of creating an aquifer protection permit area, to pumps, wells, filtration and laboratory testing, and setting water rates.    A nice addition to my work surounding Rainwater harvesting, grey water and composting toilets.

Farm Water Management Seminar – free

Thanks to Tayler Krawczyk of Hatchet & Seed for inflicting the second learning opportunity.  A seminar on Small scale farm water management.  Tayler will be presenting two sessions covering his research work on keyline water  management  and the installation of irrigation ponds.   His ask of me… cover the topic on how to choose a pump for the small scale farm pond.  Small scale means in this case 60-70 gpm pumping, much different than the 27gpm rainwater systems.  I am happy to say the learning curve is looking much better than a pump curve.

The seminar is 4 sessions (noted below), is free and open to anyone.  All costs are covered by the BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative and the CRD.

Registration Link

9:00am – 11:00am – Keyline Water Management

Tayler Krawczyk, Hatchet & Seed and Sara Duncan, p.Ag.
About “Keyline Water Management Project”
Introduction to ‘Keyline Geometry’
Using contour maps for farm water planning (CRD WebMap Demo)
Keyline plowing to reduce compaction & manage water
Monitoring results to date – Sara Duncan, p. Ag.
Alternative drainage techniques for bottom-lands
Q & A

11:15am – 12:30pm – Irrigation Pond Design

Tayler Krawczyk, Hatchet & Seed
Review of regulations: water licensing (Water Sustainable Act) & Dam Safety Board regulations; municipal soil movement
Sizing the pond (irrigation, evaporation %, seepage, environmental reserves)
Using topographic maps
Siting (usage & catchment analysis)
Spillways and other design features
What to do with excess fill material?
Construction & earthmoving
Q & A

1:30pm – 2:45pm – Pumping from Your Farm Pond

Gord Baird – Eco-Sense, Highlands Councillor, CRD Water Commission Board Member
Tools for assessing your needs and sizing your pump; Basic components of a pond pump system; Advantages and limitations of solar pumping
Case studies: pump systems for drip and micro-spray; Q & A

3:00pm – 4:30pm – Greywater Re-Use & Other Methods of Conservation for Small-Scale Agriculture

Gord Baird, Eco-Sense, CRD Water Commission Board Member
Regulation; Design considerations; In practice; Q & A

Nursery Update:

Sales are by appointment only through the winter.  Special orders for the spring can be arranged.  Specialty grafting can be pre booked.  We’ll keep some of our postings up on Used Victoria as there are usually good gifts for that season coming up

Take care till next week… when Ann will have her rant on what gone wrong with the Environmental movement and the activists.

Gord   (and Ann if she sneaks in and edits after the fact).

A quick post

YES, we are open this Sunday (Oct 30th) from 10am- 2pm for sales of Perennial Edible plants.  3295 Compton road in the East Highlands.

Here’s our up to date plant list with most of our most popular plants IN STOCK.

Here’s some photos from yesterday.


Finally, The Nursery is Open

Last Sunday we closed our nursery in anticipation of the big storm…which never happened.  It was however a good practice run to think about how we would prepare for, and try to mitigate for, extreme rain and wind.  Very grateful that nothing much materialized.

We are all ready for this weeks open house for sales of perennial edible plants.

WHEN: Sunday Oct 23 from 10am-2pm
Sunday Oct 30 from 10am-2pm

WHERE: 3295 Compton road in the East Highlands

We are well stocked with all the hard to find food forestry edible perennial plants.  The whole idea of creating edible forest gardens or food forests is REALLY catching on.  People are doing it small scale in their yards, farms are creating larger landscapes of food forests, and municipalities are landscaping with edible perennials for beauty and function.

Check out this recent project with the City of Colwood that Eco-Sense has had the privilege of participating in.

Here’s the up to date list of plants available at Eco-Sense:  Plant List


Council initiative of the week:
The entire council of Highlands is not supporting the CRD Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) update as it currently stands.  All municipalities in the region need to give it support in order for the document to come into legal effect.  The whole idea is for the region to collectively decide how and where to grow.  The fact is that people are moving to this region, and we need to plan responsibly for this.

The one final sticking point in the RGS is about using water servicing as a growth management tool.  Historically the RGS did have this tool, and the revised RGS is proposing to remove this tool to limit growth.  Initially there were many municipalities that were opposed to removing water servicing as a growth management tool as it would make it more difficult to control sprawl into forested areas a long ways out of town.  But now, only Highlands is saying no.  So Highlands may have to go this alone meaning forced mediation…and if that doesn’t work, then forced arbitration.  For all of this, Highlands would have to pay half of the legal cost.  This potential legal cost… this is a really BIG deal for such a tiny community to feel so strongly that we would hold up the entire region by not supporting the RGS.  The specifics as to the impacts seems to be lost on all the other municipalities sadly.

Gord and Ann have coined a new term for the RGS:  the Rapid Growth Strategy.

mary-lake-trail-2800_origMary Lake Park:  A group in the Highlands is working their butts off to try and buy a piece of land to turn into a park here in the Highlands.  This project is led by Bob McMinn, who at 92 seems unstoppable.  He has assembled a team of dedicated volunteers working to make this a reality.  This park land is simply amazing and would complete a 25km trail loop through the Highlands.  Check out their website and follow their progress.

See some of you on Sunday,

Ann and Gord

BC Storm – Nursery closed Sun Oct 16

A notice to all that we will be closed Sunday October 16th

Why?  Potentially the biggest storm to hit this part of the world, at least since 1962, with potentially 150kmh winds and lots of rain…enough rain to fill the pond for the first time EVER.  We will be open the following Sunday Oct 23rd from 10am-2pm.  People can also make private appointments to buy plants.  email



This is a quick note with some useful links to get info & share info for the storms for the next couple days.
PLEASE share with other Highlanders.

Ryan Hobbs the Highlands Emergency Co-ordinator has a twitter feed noted below, and has updated information on the Highlands District Website (also below).
Ann and Gord’s Twitter Feed Ann & Gord‏ @BairdEcoSense
Highlands Emergency Preparedness Twitter feed
Highlands Fire Department Twitter feed
Highlands Fire Rescue Facebook Page
Highlands Sustainability Group Facebook page

Things to think about:

  • Steep driveway:  Park a car at the bottom in case the rains wash the driveway out
  • Sand bags might be needed … Brock White in Langford has stock of thousands of polypropylene sand bags (unfilled)
  • Water purification…
    – boil 1 minute, or
    – Water Tabs, or
    – 3 drops of Lugol’s strong iodine per litre shake and let stand 30 minutes, or
    – 2 drops of Lugol’s strong iodine per litre and stand over night
  • Top up propane
  • Chainsaw:  ensure you have your oil/gas mix all ready, sharpen the saw, top up chain oil, and test the saw.
  • Check in with your neighbours

More detailed information found here at the DOH Emergency Response section ( )

Wish you all well

Ann and Gord

Too many Positives

dsc02639Yup, you read the title correctly… and that’s NOT just Ann ranting about positive feedback loops.  It has been a whirlwind of positive ripples over the past few months.

The one negative impact of all the positives is we only have 3 Open House Plant Sale days at Eco-Sense scheduled this fall…

  • Sunday October 9th   10am-2pm (Thanksgiving weekend)
  • Sunday October 16th 10am-2pm
  • Sunday October 23rd 10am-2pm

Hardy Kiwi – Ann’s new favourite fruit

Farm Gate Sales of Perennial Edible Plants:  Same deal as last year.  If you are planning to buy plants, please drive up to the top and find a parking spot.  If you are not buying plants you are still most welcome to come and walk around our permaculture homestead but we ask that you park at the lower gate and walk up.  We also ask that you do not bring dogs as we have free ranging ducks.  Formal tours do not occur during our open house days as we stay close to the nursery, however we do enjoy conversations on anything from composting toilets to political rants and everything in-between as time permits.  Our annual gardens are still producing incredible abundance in their very chaotic fashion…we’ve been a wee bit busy lately, so hopefully we don’t lose anyone in the overgrown gardens.


Attending our friends Tayler and Solara’s amazing  zero waste, local food potluck wedding set in spectacular gardens with their amazing friends and family.

Where to start… hmm maybe with point form:

  • BC Manual for Composting Toilets & Grey Water is live on the Province’s Septic and Sewage Regulation website.  Know what that means?  Yup you don’t have to have a septic system if you have a properly designed alternative.    The actual manual is here.  It is now legal to S**T in a bucket.
  • Ann’s push to have Deborah Harford of SFU ACT give a presentation to the CRD has been accepted and the CRD and the elected officials in the region will have an amazing opportunity.  Deborah will present to the CRD Forum of Councils – sharing critical information to bring our region up to speed on the science, the tools for mitigation and adaptation, and the deep shit we are in (Ann’s addition).    Ann was instrumental in this and I am proud of her. (Ann’s addition:  There were a few others (Councillor Vic Derman from Saanich and some CRD staff) pushing with me for this event.)  Way to go collaboration!
  • Painter Trail Food Forest Park.  Colwood has started planting their 1 acre Painter Trail food forest park.  We are very excited for the beauty and the food that this will create for Colwood for generations to come.  Way to go Colwood for leading the way. Photos just released from Colwood:


    Squash and Grapes in a food forest – Summer abundance

  • House Performance.  The house is performing exceptionally well.   We have gone 8 months without added heat inputs from a fire.  The sun provides for our needs. Last fire we had was the 1st week of February 2016.  All of this accomplished in a hand built MUD house made without toxic building materials.  Way to go MUD! (Modern Utopian Dwelling)
  • UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) is an annual event where all elected officials in communities across BC gather to vote on policy resolutions we collectively want to endorse as united local governments.  We also have the opportunity to meet provincial ministers and discuss issues.  Unfortunately we are also subjected to political propaganda.  Ann and Gord’s council reports will be available and linked below when they are live on the District of Highlands website.
    • Rainwater Harvesting was discussed in a meeting with District of Highlands and  Minister of Environment Mary Polak in regard to MOE pushing the policy forward – Minister Polak is on it.


      Guess what this is?

    • Rainwater for Potable Use.  After the results of a resolution on rain harvesting as potable water source was passed, discussions and connections between Gord and Manager of Watershed Stewardship (MoFLNRO), and Island Health ensued and it is looking like a draft policy may soon get started and offered to the Province as starting guidelines.
    • Municipal Natural Assets – Ann engaged the panel group that presented on Municipal Natural Asset Initiative (The town of Gibsons is leading the way), and they have requested the Highlands sustainability appraisal form to see if it fits in their search for finding a tool to encorporate multiple forms of capital.  Also it looks as though they may be in interested in Highlands becoming one of the pilot projects to included natural assets as municipal infrastructure.  Natural assets include: ground water aquifers; streams and wetlands for storm water management; forests and soils for cleaning the air and sequestering carbon; etc.  Highlands Appraisal form here (2 pages):    Way to go Highlands!
    • Safe Soil resolution passed.  Gord co-presented at the Provincial Policy Session on Soil Movement alongside some pretty amazing provincial staff including MoCSCD’s Manager of Policy and Legislation, MOE’s Sr. Contaminated Sites Officer, the MOE’s Wildlife Conservation Specialist, MOTI’s Environmental Roadside Manager, and Saanich’s Environmental Education Officer.  An honour.  Way to go Gord!
    • UBCM Resolutions.  There were close to 200 and many were very exciting…for us nerdy policy types.  Here’s a few:  Professional Reliance Model, Protection of Old Growth on Vancouver Island, Rainwater for Potable Use, Take Site C to the Utilities Commission, Safe Soils (to control invasive species), Affordable student housing, First Nations invited to participate at UBCM, Higher fees for bylaw enforcement, Local Improvement charges to finance green energy, Watershed protection, Mines Act permit notification, etc.  Way to go BC Communities!
    • Ann’s council report detailing her rants and personal experience at UBCM…it’s a bit edgy.  Here    Gord can attest to Ann’s rants.  They normally occur at regular intervals  for extended periods of time… but for the first time Gord actually measured the length of one of her rants – the length was 22.5 kms – the distance from the the Victoria Conference Centre to home.  Needless to say, Gord couldn’t drive quick enough!
    • Gord’s council report detailing his week at UBCM.  Here


      Sweet potatoes growing on the roof between the Solar PV and Solar Thermal.

  • Essential Composting Toilet Systems.  Ann and I have been asked to write the “Essential Composting Toilet Systems” a how-to book by New Society Publishers.
  • The Pond is now holding water… lots of water.  Ducks are happy.  Thanks to our friends Ingo, Tayler and Shawn for helping put the membrane in.  Way to go Friends!
  • Fall plant shipments will be arriving Friday October 7th, re-supplying the goumis, mulberries, autumn olives, aronia, hazelnuts and more that we ran out of.
    • Blight Resistant Hazelnuts… after waiting on the list for two years, our order has come through – kinda wish we had ordered more than 100 though.
    • Pond Plants.  We now have a pond and therefore we can now supply and sell pond plants.  dsc02546
  • FOOD.  We mostly did our own food while at the convention and either took our own lunch or ate at Nourish where they prepare simple but very yummy real food with many local and organic ingredients. First time in 2 years for Ann eating out.   Way to go Nourish!
  • SPECIAL THANKS to our 6 week house mates, who fed the dog, put the chickens away, collected eggs and most of all helped dispose of zucchini.  This helped make our week at UBCM a little easier.   Our house mates needed a short term place to stay as they wait to move into their home after moving to Victoria from Vancouver.  Lindsay works for the David Suzuki Foundation…she’s the Queen of Green…so this is a good fit for us here at Eco-Sense.  Check out her blog:

Gord helping out in the kitchen, complete with drill for making kebobs – in his stylish manpron (man apron). And yes that is a mink pelt hand towel hanging at his waist.

Ok, that’s it for this week.  Hope to see some of you on Sunday from 10am-2pm.

Gord and Ann

Concrete Curvy beds – Are these Green?

STAYING HOME.  We have decided to go on holiday, and like the majority of people in our culture, we decided to have a carbon footprint to add to our holiday joy.    We thought about a plane trip somewhere wonderful… but there was no place to go that was as beautiful as our own home.  We thought of a tent camping trip through the Rockies, but the last time we did that we saw slopes of climate ravaged dead pine and way too many luxury RVs.  So we figured out a way to play the carbon footprint game right here at home.  A way we could do our part to feel like one of the gang.


View to zone 1 from front door.

Bring on the CONCRETE (and sarcasm).  We decided to make raised garden beds at the front of the house, and we chose to use the highest carbon footprint construction material we could get our hands on.  Woohoo!  After all, if you are going to pump greenhouse gases into the air, you might as well do it right the first time.    So we thought we would skip the cedar  and move right into the concrete.   The carbon emitted from the concrete industry is like putting the atmosphere on crack(ed) and fracked greenhouse gas.

Cedar as option 1.  Our first option was wooden beds.  Not fancy, but O’NATURAL.  It seems more eco… (and usually is).  Based on our experience, we would have to replace the beds every 6 years or so, and there was concern over disturbing the perennials we had planned on planting – olive, persimmon, tumeric, lemon, and ginger.  We also thought about getting older and having to rebuild it too many times over our short lives.  We thought cedar would be a lower carbon footprint… but dammit, we wanted permanence and concrete.


Ann contemplating the carbon footprint.

This is what we found when Gord put his nerdy hat on.  Basing our calculations on 240 board feet of red cedar, that pre-milled comes in at a weight (based on 12% moisture) of approx 453 kg, with a carbon footprint of 0.119 kg/kg,  means the beds would account for 54.74 kg of ghg equivalents (GHGe).   This does not include nails, metal brackets, or anchors that would be required to assemble and anchor it to the ground – add in 5 kg of metal at a multiplier of 4.0 kg and you can add another 20 kg of GHGe for a one time total of 74.74 kg GHGe.    Now, based on replacing them every 6 years (from experience with our other beds), we would expect to go through 6 replacement cycles over our life span  (Gord being 83).    This equates to 448 kg of GHGe attached with the front beds over time.     This does not account for the time and effort it takes to remove the plants that have been established, rebuild the beds, and replant – consuming probably 4 – 5 days of labour each time.  (and the extra beer consumed).  There is one additional caveat to this calculation as most embodied GHGe equations addressing wood carbon footprint do not include the carbon sequestered in the wood – for every m3 of cedar there is 632 kg of carbon stored… that is released upon decay.  In our above scenario we are dealing with 0.566 m3 (357 kg of carbon) which could be assumed to release 20% of its store every 6 years  (357 X 20% X 6 = 428 kg of carbon over its life span).  The real number of the GHGe over its lifespan could be closer to 876 kg.  CEDAR OPTION = 0.876 tonnes of GHG’s


Homemade lime “el fresco” paint made with earth pigments

Concrete.  Ann and I are not fond of concrete strictly due to its impact on the environment.   With our evil Dr. Evil hats on our head, it would seem logical that concrete may be the easiest for us yet the worst environmental solution.

We used 341 kg of portland cement at a carbon footprint of 272 kg of GHGe.  Add 40 kg of metal lath and steel rod (combined) with a GHGe of 160kg, and the sand 2267 kg which has a GHGe of approx 5 kg, and the total GHGe would be 436 kg.  CONCRETE OPTION = 0.436 tonnes of GHG’s


Beauty and function to last a LONG time…just like the cob house.

And the WINNER IS CONCRETE.  So over a period of 36 years, between the two options, the option with a lower initial carbon footprint and the one with the larger, get flipped on their head.  Where they differ is that the beds of concrete will continue to produce food past our life time, and hence will have been a better carbon investment.  The concrete also adds to the thermal mass to create a micro climate on the south wall of the cob house – thus we can grow turmeric, ginger, olives, lemons, and MORE WINTER VEGGIES.


Gord contemplating his carbon footprint.

We are not justifying the use of concrete in no way, as concrete used to an excess without care, and without a long term vision is a frivilous waste of carbon.  This is so clearly prevalent when we look to its use in the various bridges and buildings built with life spans of 30-40 years (BC Place Stadium; bridges crumbling in Quebec), monster homes, and much of the indulgent infrastructure in our civilzation.  Excess use is not the point I am driving home, but instead conscientious use… appropriate technology for the job.

DSC02524OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT.  We have had many discussions over the years of what it would take for us to further reduce our personal carbon footprint (which is between 3-4 tonnes each.  Canadian average is about 20 tonnes).  We would have to give up technology (like computers, pumps, solar panels, etc); household appliances (like washing machine, propane stove, etc); workshop tools like table saw, drills, mitre saws, planer, sander, grinder, etc), and of course our farm truck and diesel smart car and COFFEE.  OMG…not the coffee.   All of this would mean we would no longer be able to be a farm selling perennial edible permaculture plants, we could not be on muncipal council without a car or computer and especially the  coffee, and we could not even clean the public composting toilet (as we bring the humanure here in the truck to compost).    So in summary, we are just as trapped in this civilization as as everyone else (which is why the SYSTEM needs to change).  So, we continue on growing most of our food, helping others grow food, give our tours, teach, consult about better ecological design, and bring many new conversations to the council table as we help to set local and greener policies to impact as much as we possibly can.

DSC02517So maybe we failed; maybe we impacted the climate; maybe we created awareness?  We don’t know.  Maybe next time we’ll choose the option thatpromotes the clear cut of old growth cedar to achieve our mischievous deeds.  Or maybe grow some black locust which lasts much longer than cedar and grows faster AND it feeds the soil with nitrogen…but alas, black locust is invasive.  Always pros and cons.

Resources Gord used to make these calculations:

PS:   We did consider stone, and did not include this in the update.  The use of it would actually involve about similar concrete usage in the creation of the foundation and the mortar.     YOUTUBE videos of the process   Part 1   and Part 2.


We co-created an abundant, biologically diverse, and beautiful home that is a “being in place”.

Regenerative Design: Food, Water, Energy, and Lifestyle

Free Time?

It has been a couple weeks since we closed the nursery for the season and some may wonder “what will Ann and Gord do with all that free time”?    Well, it allows us to focus on another aspect of what we love to do.  These past three weeks our time has been focused on some really wonderful projects within the region that draw upon our knowledge and passion around water systems, policy, food systems, and teaching.  Hmmm… where to begin?

Food Systems as Parkland

We are working with a local municipality to assist them in the creation of a park; a 1 acre fully planted food forest with integrated systems.   This public park addresses public accessibility, food producing perennial plants, water systems, education, beauty, carbon sequestration, habitat creation, and food security, to establish what we consider to be the first regional park that FULLY incorporates permaculture at a large scale.

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Artist Rendition – Conceptual Food Forest Park

Potentially  systems will incorporate storm water runnoff from roads  into large scale hugelkulture beds, dry planting zones, deer control methods from fencing to planting, living fences, high school student and community involvement, and education – just some of the areas covered in this project.  Diverting cars off roads by having a park and trail systems that are a more direct route to commercial areas, and thus drawing pedestrians and cyclists through the food forest and off the roads, as well as providing a park space for a new potential small scale community focused commercial development, all the while sequestering carbon in the landscape.   What am I missing… oh yes, about 1/3 of the municipal staff from planning, engineering, parks, public works, have dropped in here at Eco-Sense, and are seeing the concept  of INTERCONNECTED SYSTEMS as applied to food, water, energy, lifestyle… and some of our poor humour… and everything  else.    What an inspiring project to be asked to participate in.

High points of the municipal tours:

  • Engineers on each tour looking at Gord’s outside tables, checking the stability and then getting down to see how it is anchored to the ground
  • watching heads shake in disbelief while discussing the top-up of water cisterns using the cold well water diverting first through the house hydronic system, then to the cisterns to achieve air conditioning as part of irrigating crops.
  • watching the same heads shake in disbelief learning about the solar hot water heat dump used in food dehydration.
  • seeing staff that had already been through the day before, coming by again the second day, and enjoying plums off the trees at the end of June.
  • being asked if we would be willing to have some of their staff participate in creating the raised concrete curvy beds…  when we do our next batch in the next few weeks.DSC00515
  • finishing the last of two tours, on a day before the long weekend and getting another email at 3:59 pm to schedule one more tour for Mayor, some Council and more staff.
  • It is a pleasure to see an integrated  and cohesive group, and I keep meaning to compare their efforts of making a municipality run to how soil organisms make the plants grow.

Rainwater as Emergency Potable Water

Another local government has also engaged the services of Eco-Sense  in an effort to complete their existing but poorly functioning rainwater harvesting system and make it potable.  This would seem to be a fairly strait forward task ensuring that you store the water clean and then properly treat it to a potable water standard.    However, the initial design followed the  “silo effect” wherein it had been nicely done by an engineer, but without the understanding  of the bigger picture usage patterns and needs.

Rainwater Collection

Designing systems that are appropriate effective and resilient… as in  natural systems

This project was designed as post disaster assembly centre to serve many people where a UV system was installed to meet the potential demand of water flow for this rare situation.  The reality is that the office’s daily use is so vastly less that they can not create enough water flow to keep the UV sterilizers cool, causing the UV system to overheat and dump the water.   Consequently, the water is lost, water that is presently trucked in.    Not an efficient or resilient system.   In addition the system at 10,000  gallons (1/2 potable & 1/2 non-potable) is used to flush toilets and urinals – so in event of an emergency assembly during a disaster, the water would run out in a couple days as it would be consumed by flushing.  The foresight in planning has been exceptionally good by these folks, and again I am very pleased to even have the chance to watch how they continue to care for the community they serve.

The goal for this system:  Create a system where rainwater can be harvested, robustly pre-filtered and stored clean, reducing the need for trucked water, and during an emergency, water usage is diverted away from non-potable uses (flushing toilets) and treated for more pressing needs.  Perhaps composting toilets will be utilized as part of the emergency plan?

BC Ministry of Health (MOH) Manual of Composting Toilet and Grey Water Systems

Back in April the draft document was posted for public review.  Thank you to all that read the 135 pages of policy.  Ian Ralston took that information, updated the manual and presented the final draft to MOH.   Two weeks ago the MOH signed off on the document and we are just awaiting the legislation.    I am pleased to say that some of the requirements have been softened and are more in line with the science.

Aquifer Protection Development Permit Areas (DPA)

As a council here in the District of Highlands, we have been very concerned about protection of ground water quality and quantity.  Most Highlands residents use ground water from individual water wells.  Prior councils engaged a consultant several years ago to study our aquifers and report on their health and the impacts of climate change; the current council engaged the UVic Environmental Law Centre (ELC) to review the ground water reports, our municipal policies, and the new BC Water Sustainability Act; then we had our amazing Highlands Select Committees look at everything and make recommendations.

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Learning the Local Government Act

Now the next stage is to summarize the input and *hopefully* create a Development Permit Area that ensures that any land use must safegaurd the ground water, that contaminants do not flow into aquifers, and that all neighbouring properties to new developments have no negative impacts on their quality and quantity of ground water.  Gord is writing up a draft for Highlands council to consider and hopefully Highlands sets an Aquifer Protection DPA policy to fit community values. Potential failure?  Always a potential…especially as climate change is moving so much faster.

How fast is the Climate Changing?    Vic Derman, a long time Saanich Councillor and the Chair of the CRD Environmental Services Committee, wrote a report on climate change    that he presented 2 weeks ago.  Watch the video section starting at 5.4.  CRD Video

Rationale: In January 2016, CRD Board Chair Barb Desjardins asked the Environment Committee to provide a report detailing how the region should respond to climate change. The Board Chair’s request is opportune. Recent evidence suggests that climate change is accelerating and poses an ever growing, potentially critical, threat to human society and all species on our planet. Only three years ago, generally accepted estimates indicated a maximum sea level rise by 2100 of about 33 centimetres or 1/3 of a metre. By 2015, these estimates had been revised to indicate a rise of about 1 metre. Recently, study of the West Antarctic ice sheet revealed deterioration at a much more rapid pace than expected causing researchers to suggest sea level rise of 2 metres by century’s end. A subsequent review of this data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a U.S. governmental agency in the Department of Commerce, concluded that a near 3 metre rise could be expected, quite possibly by 2050 – 2060 as described in the following quote:
“. . . In a presentation at the Risk Management Society’s RIMS 2016 conference in San Diego April 12, a top scientific official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that recent, as-yet-unpublished data from Antarctica suggests that sea levels could rise three meters — almost ten feet — by the middle of the century. Margaret Davidson, NOAA’s senior advisor for coastal inundation and resilience science and services, told conference attendees that “the latest field data out of West Antarctic is kind of an OMG thing.” Davidson said that data shows sea level rise could reach three meters by 2050 or 2060, a much steeper rise happening far sooner than even the most catastrophic scenarios currently available in peer-reviewed journals and the far more conservative estimates published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That steep a rise in sea level would put significant parts of many California cities underwater in just two or three decades. . . .”
These projections have yet to be fully reviewed and accepted by the broader scientific community. Nevertheless, if correct, they suggest a catastrophic outcome if serious mitigation does not occur very quickly. Severe environmental damage would almost certainly result. Equally alarming are the potential fiscal and social impacts. A three metre rise would eliminate, or put at severe risk, hundreds of trillion dollars of assets. Protecting them would be extremely expensive if it were possible at all. Meanwhile, society would likely face hundreds of millions of “sea rise refugees” as low lying coastal areas were inundated or became otherwise unlivable. Another metric is equally alarming. Delegates at the recent Paris conference on climate change agreed that society cannot exceed an absolute maximum of 2 degrees Celsius (C) warming without risking run away climate change. However, the conference also agreed that keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C would better limit damage and provide a much greater margin of safety. Subsequently, a researcher at Concordia University created a “climate change clock” to indicate when these targets might be reached. His answer: Without a substantial increase in efforts to mitigate, 1.5 C will be reached in about 15 years (2031) with 2.0 degrees being reached in about 26 years (2042). These dates suggest very short time lines to accomplish the paradigm shift that all communities, including our own, may well face. To date, our responses to global warming could best be characterized as incremental and slow. Given the likelihood we are facing an increasingly urgent crisis, we must consider the need for an immediate and much more massive response.”
Here is a link worth checking out…it includes a short email between Margaret Davidson and Eric Rignot.

So as nursery season closes, and Ann and I become bored with all our extra time (HaHa), desiccated by drought and loneliness from the closed nursery, we put on our other hats and dive into activities that wet our whistles and fill our vessels.