Tag Archives: Food forest

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.


Saturday May 10th: Edible Perennial Plants at Eco-Sense featuring The Autumn Olive

Our 3rd open house of the season on Saturday from 10am-2pm:
3295 Compton Road, Highlands, BC

Last Saturday we had another successful farm gate open house at Eco-Sense. Enthusiasm for perennial plants and local living is growing…almost faster than our food forest. People come to Eco-Sense to buy perennial food plants, eggs and seeds but ALSO to talk, walk, and learn.

We love that we are not just a nursery. We are a place to share stories, learn, connect, and feel inspired to put some permanent roots in the soil.

Also on Saturday is this very special workshop hosted by our good friends at Hatchet & Seed:  An awesome opportunity to learn about specific perennial plants.

Also on Saturday is this very special workshop hosted by our good friends at Hatchet & Seed: An awesome opportunity to learn about specific perennial plants.

People are coming and bringing their friends and family to stroll through our various gardens, peek at the cob house, the Eco-Hut, chicken coops, root cellar, and to socialize, hang out with chickens and ducklings, and to get ideas and share ideas.

For further details click here:  OPEN FARM DETAILS:

What fun! Thanks everyone!

Autumn Olive – Elaeagnus umbellata

Why Autumn Olive?

If you have never read about permaculture then you would never know why we consider this to be one of, if not the most, important plant we grow. This plant has many uses as a food source as well as a support plant for the fruit and nut trees and ground covers which means that we include many of these small trees.1326053669-eleagnus1_web

First off, lets just say the autumn olive is not a olive at all, but a fruit that looks like an olive, except yellow, orange and red. The fruits are delicious!   But not getting all anthropogenic and thinking about our taste buds (and health) this shrub is a nitrogen fixer for the soil.   Classified as a pioneering species, its role is to collect nitrogen from the air, suck it down to the roots where mycorhizzae (fungi) develop a transport system that takes that nitrogen and then feeds it to surrounding plants.   This means we do not need to bring in fertilizers to feed the other plants! We ultimately wish to have one plant for each of our various fruit and nut trees (this means upwards of 50).


This deciduous shrub grows 12 ft tall, hardy to -30C, and handles dappled shade to full sun.   We grow ours in the understory of our arbutus grove and in two areas that get full sun. We have found those in the dappled shade have grown quicker.


The berries!   Delicious and high in lycopenes, an intermediary in the creation of carotenoids, which integrate into the lymphatic system and both aid in reduced cancer (especially prostate) as well as increasing the resistance to skin damage by UV radiation .autumn olive berry closeup

Other uses

Nitrogen fixation for use by the other plants surrounding the autumn olive is one of the most important for us.   The flowers are a key insectiary attractant.  It was introduced to North America 100 years ago as a soil stabilizer for heavily impacted and damaged landscapes, and as it is a pioneering plant, it performed this job very well… some may say too well, but we can’t blame a plant for our own human invasiveness and land impacts – here we keep it in check by eating it… and the deer do too, (too bad scotch broom is not edible). It is also a key source for mulch during the growing season as its prunings are chopped and dropped and become mulch, as with the leaf drop in fall.

We have Garnet and Ruby cultivars, and by the end of next week will have Amber too!