Tag Archives: Eco-Sense

Nothing but dribble! (and plants)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

DSC01768 DSC01785

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

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

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

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

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

Ann and Gord

Chestnuts – feature plant for Sat May 17 open house

Our weekly farm gate open house this saturday (May 17th from 10am-2pm) features Chestnuts.  (open house details)  We believe that chestnuts will be an essential perennial food plant in the decades to come.


With climate change causing global disruption to food production, perennial foods just make sense.  Perennial plants like chestnuts, hold the soil together year round, and are more drought and heat tolerant.  PLUS, chestnuts can be ground into flours to make all kinds of nutritious foods without gluten and they even feed livestock.  Large food producing trees also sequester large amounts of carbon in the tree and the soil.  So whether you are concerned about local food, a healthier diet with less grains, mitigation of climate change, or adaptation to a changing climate, perennial plants are for you.

Tour group in front of Eco-Hut (office for farm business)

Tour group in front of Eco-Hut (office for farm business)

Come on out to Eco-Sense this saturday and have a visit, talk, walk, learn and even share your favourite rants.
We have chickens and ducks so please leave your pets at home.

Ann and Gord


Chestnuts – Castanea spp
– Chinese Chestnut – Castanea mollissima
– Japanese Chestnut – Castanea crenata
– American Chestnut X – Castanea dentata
– European Chestnut X – Castanea sativa

Why Chestnuts?

Chestnuts are the replacement for grain crops, are perennial, heavy producers of nutrient dense food for humans, wildlife, and farm animals alike.  Considered the most important tree in temperate climates, and the topic of many books including Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J.R. Smith which was one of the pivotal  books that spawned Bill Mollison’s permaculture revolution.

American Chestnut - WOW!

American Chestnut – WOW!

In North America the giant American Chestnut (Castanea dentata), (100 ft tall, 10 ft diameter trunks), was the most valuable crop due to the shear quantities of reliable food it produced, and the exceptionally rot resistant wood it produced. In the early 1900s chestnut blight was introduced and heavily impacted the orchards – the die off was massive. In true human fashion, rather than protect the surviving chestnuts which may have been the genetically resistant version of the American chestnut trees, there was a huge push to chop them all down and harvest the wood before they went extinct, as is done in good human fashion.   This virtually eliminated any chance of bringing the American Chestnut back.

Chinese Chestnut 40 feet


Japanese Chestnut – 20 feet tall

The Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) had evolved with the blight and had natural tolerances, and has since become the most widely planted chestnut in North America. The Chinese Chestnut has been used to cross with C. dentata to breed a cross that is blight resistant.   The Chinese chestnut is about half the size of the American chestnut growing to 40 ft tall, multi stemmed, has larger nuts, is suited for drier rockier soils than the Japanese chestnut.

The Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata), also with resistance to blight is being is also being used as a breeding stock to build immune resistance into the American chestnut. The Japanese chestnut is the smallest, reaching heights of 30 feet, with a multi stemmed growth habit, and has been known to have the largest of the nuts (up to 40 g).

European chestnut - 60 ft

European chestnut – 60 ft

The European Chestnut (Castanea sativa) is large like the American chestnut, and highly edible. It shares all the similar benefits as the others. We believe our crosses from Gabriola Island and Fernwood are C. sativa crossed with Chinese… but we will observe growth habits and leaves.


Hardy from zones 5-8, all will need a start in moist well drained loamy soils, though once established the Japanese and Chinese will handle dry conditions well, and the Chinese can handle rockier soils. Nut production should begin in 5-7 years, with heavy crops in 10-12 years.  LeafComparisons If planted in the sun, the tree will form more nuts, but if partially shaded, there will still be nuts, so we just planted more trees.   We are transforming areas over the next 10 years where as the chestnuts grow taller, we’ll harvest some of the surrounding taller trees to allow for the chestnut to become the dominant center piece.


Yes!   Nuts are a major food source for animals (including us silly humans). In comparison to other nuts they are low in calories, due to less fat, high in carbohydrates making them a good substuitute for grains for breads. They are high in folates (folic acid), 100 g has 72% of DRI of vitamin C, rich sources of oleic and palmitoleic acids (mono-unsaturated fatty acids). Further, they are also rich in many important B-complex groups of vitamins. 100 g of nuts provide 11% of niacin, 29% of pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), 100% of thiamin, and 12% of riboflavin.
Boiled, roasted, raw, as a flour, these are versatile.

Other uses

Wood of all cultivars is strong and long lasting. The leaves , bark and seed husks are high in tannin and can be used in tanning hides.