Can you cut energy costs and carbon emissions at the same time?

Many people feel disengaged from climate change: it’s large and scary but the effects are also, so far at least, distant and unspecific. It’s rare to be able to identify and understand a direct cause and effect. Many of the steps required to address the issue also run contrary to much of our prevailing culture and the prevailing messages within our society, which has the effect of strengthening a sense of dissonance.
To make matters worse, the mechanisms used in the UK to shift capacity away from carbon-intensive generation towards low-carbon renewables have often alienated people who feel that their local environment and andscape is being changed by people and organisations that are distant and that they have no connection with (not even a retail connection because in the UK it has not been possible to sell electricity produced in an area to the people in that area).
It would be stretching things to claim that community energy can solve these issues but it has the potential to be a key ingredient in how we address them. Unlike commercial developments, community-owned renewable energy can strengthen local resilience far more than enhanced profit/dividend levels.


Together with environmental concerns, earning  money or saving money is the most obvious reason  why community energy projects get started. For almost all projects this will be in there somewhere as one of the aims. It can be:

  • People in the community saving money through reduced heating bills as a result of an insulation project.
  • People within a community investing in a local energy generation project like a hydro scheme or a wind turbine.
  • The costs for maintaining a village hall being reduced as a result of a new heating system being installed or solar panels being installed on the roof.
  • A community energy initiative erecting a wind turbine or taking a share in a commercial wind farm to generate an income, which is then ploughed back into other community projects.

Saving money, whether by individuals or community organisations, as a result of improving insulation is easy to understand – more heat is retained in the building so less is needed to maintain a comfortable ambient temperature. However earning money though renewable installations is less straightforward.
Heating or electricity costs can be offset by a reduced cost for fuel or by generating your own electricity via solar photovoltaic panels. So a building that was previously heated by an oil boiler will save money when this is replaced with a woodchip boiler because the cost of generating heat from woodchip is currently cheaper than oil. (The other option for a poorly heated building of course is to spend the same amount but heat it better.) Similarly, a building that uses a lot of electricity, whether for heating or other reasons, can save money by solar photovoltaic panels being installed that offset the amount of electricity used…


A fragment from Gordon’s Cowtan Community Energy: A Guide to Community-Based Energy Projects

20170309=community-energy=ep-1-1=cover=front=rgbFeatured image credit:


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Take control of your food

Given all the recent food scandals – fipronil present in chicken eggs, pesticides present in school children’s foods – wouldn’t it be tempting to learn how to grow your own food?

If you shiver at the thought of the additives that keep vegetables and fruit artificially fresh for so long, think how much healthier you will be if you eat the most local of food that you’ve grown yourself.

Sally Nex’s Growing Self-Sufficiency will inspire you to make the change and shrug off the type of salad crisis we had last winter when shop shelves were bare.


Sally’s unique three pot method will guarantee you a supply of tasty, inexpensive home-grown food throughout the year. Not just helping to save the planet, it will help to save money too – Sally has plenty of tips on how you can feed your family at only a fraction of the cost. You’ll be amazed to see how much your food spending adds up and how much you will save by:

  • starting a vegetable plot on your balcony
  • creating a herb garden on your windowsill
  • growing a mini orchard in pots

Even if you only spend a fiver a week on salads and greens, this makes it trebly satisfying:

  • enjoying the delicious taste of home-grown food
  • knowing exactly where it comes from
  • shaving pounds off your food bill.

Sally discovered how to keep her family well provided for from her garden some years ago and has been an evangelist for the grow-your-own movement ever since. Once started, and realising how easy it was, she wants everyone to know about it and, in between growing, she now writes and lectures on self-sufficent growing all over Europe. Here’s how you can make a start:

  • Plant a chili pepper indoors and you’ll have chilis all year, fresh in summer and dried in winter.
  • Grow a mix of salad leaves in containers. They’re healthier, tastier, cheaper- and you can choose which leaves you’d like to include.
  • Get your dose of greens in winter by growing the superfoods, kale and chard
  • Easy to grow herbs such as rosemary and mint can be harvested all winter and fit nicely on a windowsill.
  • Honey bees don’t need much space, a balcony in the middle of the city will do.

Taking control of your own food is one of the easiest ways to tread lighter on the earth: as easy, in fact, as planting a seed.


Find out more about Sally Nex’s Growing Self-Sufficiency


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Baby-soft skin : soap recipe

Have you ever thought about making your own soap, free from all harmful additives? This recipe for baby-soft skin soap is taken from Holly Daffurn and Samantha Quinn’s book The Natural Baby – but it will also be very useful for grown-ups with sensitive skin.


Sunflower oil
450g (16oz) water
225g (8oz) vegetable soap (grated and unscented)
30g (1oz) beeswax
30g (1oz) cocoa butter
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp oatmeal (finely ground)
1 tbsp honey (gently warmed)


  1. Grease a soap mould with a little sunflower oil.
  2. Heat the water until just before it boils and add the grated soap while stirring. Stir occasionally until melted and use a blender (with a little extra water) until it has a smooth texture. Then pour back into the saucepan.
  3. When the soap is melted, add the beeswax, cocoa butter and coconut oil, and stir over a low heat until everything is combined.
  4. Remove from the heat and add the oatmeal, ensuring that you mix it thoroughly. Add the honey and mix well.
  5. Pour the mixture into the mould and cover with greaseproof paper. Leave for around 24 hours to set.
  6. Take it out of the mould and leave for another 24 hours wrapped in the greaseproof paper.


Samantha Quinn and Holly Daffurn The Natural Baby



Available in the US from 1 September 2017

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August- the perfect time to forage for giant puffballs

August is a lovely month for foraging. It’s fruit and nut time, with blackberries and hazelnuts ripening in the hedgerows. Hazelnuts are ripe when the leaf surrounding them is starting to turn yellowish, but move fast, as it will always be a case of you versus the squirrels in the race to the nut.

The puffball is a white globe that can grow as big as your head. This sounds like something from a Roald Dahl book. In fact, the puffball has a tasty, earthy flavour and an unusual texture that when cooked is like a mix between a savoury marshmallow and firm tofu. Due to its size, it can actually be used as a football if you don’t fancy eating it (or if it is a bit old to eat – the young ones are best).

This magnificent and entertaining fungus is also the safest way to introduce some wild mushroom into your diet because it is usually easy to identify. Do make sure it is still pure white throughout. As they age, they become yellow and taste bitter.

The puffball is very versatile and can be used like any mushroom; stir-fried, cooked in garlic butter, in soups, baked or grilled. The flesh of the Giant Puffballs has been compared to cheese or tofu. My favourite way is as a very healthy pizza base, making this a low-carb, wheat-free way to enjoy pizza.

Puffball safety
The giant puffball is usually an easy mushroom to identify but double-check that:
• cut from bottom to top, it is pure white throughout;
• it is bigger than a grapefruit; (they’re typically up to 70 cm in diamater)
• you have looked at pictures of common earthball mushrooms and young fly agaric (when they first grow, they form an egg-sized ‘puff’) and ruled
them out. These poisonous fungi look similar to the puffball when young, but if your puffball meets the top two criteria, then you can be quite confident it is a genuine puffball.


Check your mushrooms online: has useful images and descriptions to help you. Geoff Dann’s book Edible Mushrooms is full of tips on how to correctly and safely identify British mushrooms species.


An excerpt from both Kate Blincoe’s No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting 

Featured Image -- 545

and Geoff Dann’s Edible Mushrooms



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What sort of salad should you plant in July?

Hestitating what to plant next ? Let Charles Dowding help you

The character of leaf harvests can swing back and forth throughout the summer as growth is so rapid, some sowings lasting less long than at other times of year, and there is an increasing choice of salad plants to grow. A typical early July salad is as much spring as summer, and a September one can be quite autumnal, depending on what you sowed. The following is an outline of salad essence as it unfolds through summer.

The leaves of early July
Most leaf lettuce sown in late winter or early spring should crop until mid- July or so, at which point a late May sowing will be a good replacement and should crop through July and most of August. If you want hearted lettuce, sow a few seeds every fortnight until mid-July. Endives become more prominent from now on, and leaf endives sown
from early June can offer leaves throughout summer. Leaf chicories are another somewhat bitter option, or Palla Rossa varieties can be sown in June for hearting from late August; their heart leaves are crunchier and less bitter.
Spring sowings of sorrel, dill, coriander and even parsley will tend to start flowering through July so more sowings are needed by early summer. In hot weather, or in an indoor growing space (greenhouse, conservatory etc), the summer’s top and most consistent flavour is basil. When regularly picked and with all flowering shoots removed, most basil will grow steadily until night temperatures drop in September or October. It really does not like cool, damp weather so a typical British summer is not ideal for growing it outdoors, unless you have a really sheltered and sunny spot. For extra red colour, orache is now replaced by Garnet Red amaranth, whose dark, ruby leaves also look attractive in the garden.


The leaves of late July and early August
Through this peak of summer, leaves are tending to gain in flavour as the first rocket and a few mizuna leaves become available. With the leaves that are already growing this is a time of great and increasing salad variety and quantity, as leaves grow fast in warmth and long days.
One leaf to avoid at this time is spinach which tends to flower rather quickly if at all short of moisture. A delicious alternative, in dry summers especially, is purslane (not the winter purslane which should really be called claytonia). It thrives in hot sun and has fleshy, rounded, and succu-lent leaves which add a welcome bite to the salad bowl in hot summers but less so in wet ones when its growth is stunted.


To learn more about growing  your own salads, reach for Charles Dowding’s Salad leaves for all seasons


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Should you think about using hempcrete when building your home?

People usually choose natural materials because they want a building that is sustain­able or ‘low impact’ in terms of eliminating or minim­izing any lasting negative effect on the world in which we live. In practice this means reducing as far as possible the ‘embodied energy’ associated with the materials and methods used in the construc­tion of the building; minimizing the amount of fossil fuels needed by the occupants to power, heat and cool the building through its lifetime; and minimizing toxic emiss­ions and any other harm to human society or the natural world.

People also choose natural materials because they are increasingly aware of how such materials can not only maintain the structural fabric of the building well but also help to keep humans in good health. In contrast to many synthetic materials, natural materials contain no harmful chemicals. They are also vapour permeable (they allow moisture to pass through), which has significant implications for the health of both the building and its occupants.

There are many natural materials available for use in construction: timber, stone, earth, animal hair, straw, hemp, lime, reed and fired clay, to name just some. Many of these materials can be used in more than one way. They have a long pedigree of use over centuries, or even millennia, by humans (and other animals!) to provide warmth and shelter. Today, with our growing awareness of the threats associated with over-dependence on fossil fuels, and our increasing understanding of the negative side-effects of synthetic building materials mass-produced by highly industrialized processes, has come a resurgence of interest in older and more natural materials and methods for construction.
Hempcrete (a hemp–lime composite construction material) is one such new material. Comprising the chopped stalk of the industrial hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder, hempcrete provides a natural, healthy, sustainable, local, low-embodied-energy building material that can truly claim to be better than zero carbon. Carbon dioxide taken up by the plant when it was growing is locked up in its woody fibres, and at the end of the building’s life the hempcrete can be left to compost and be used as a soil additive rather than going into landfill. As a highly insulating material with significant thermal mass, hempcrete has excellent thermal performance within the structure of a building, and there is increasing evidence that it actually performs much better in real-life situations than is suggested by steady-state modelling.

Hempcrete is especially attractive to self-builders and community groups, because of the relatively low-tech nature of the construction method. Also, owing to the fact that it’s a relatively labour-intensive construction method, big savings can be made by providing your own labour. However, as our company and others have proved over recent years, hempcrete is also commercially viable as a construction material in a wide range of applications. Its cost is comparable to that of conventional construction methods, but if you factor in the true cost of the embodied carbon of conventional building materials, in terms of environ­mental damage, and consider the financial benefits of the energy savings that hempcrete delivers through the lifetime of the building, you could argue that it’s actually a lot cheaper!

There is a great pleasure to be found in building with hempcrete, which comes not only from the extraordinary thermal performance achieved but also from the simplicity: both of the material itself and of the elements within a typical hempcrete construction. Hempcrete’s low-tech nature means that, with relative ease, highly energy-efficient buildings can be constructed that contain virtually no synthetic, highly processed or high-embodied-carbon materials. With a good understanding of the material, and a little practice, hempcrete is a hugely rewarding material to work with, and can produce beautiful, healthy, ‘future-proof’ buildings.

Excerpt from William Stanwix’s and Alex Sparrow’s The Hempcrete Book




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Finding an orchard in the heart of the city

Our landscapes contain an enormous number of fruit trees. In towns, cities and in the wider countryside, solitary specimens and small clusters abound. Sometimes, these can form a productive continuum – sprawls of diverse and productive trees, around and within areas of human habitation – which represent, to all intents and purposes, an informal and invisible orchard…


Take a look at trees that, although perhaps not originally part of a commercial or domestic orchard, are nevertheless fruiting, supporting wildlife and contributing to the local scene. Consider the role of the orchard in the community and landscape as it now exists and as we now inhabit it, taking a look at the places where orchards used to grow and where relict orchards or orchard fragments remain. While urban orchards are increasingly celebrated, there are also places where tree fruit grows unplanned and unnoticed…


It is important to recognize that the contemporary urban landscape has grown up from, and over, what went before. The familiar streets and the houses we live in cut across an earlier version. Our concept of permanence is in fact just the vision of a modernist of 150 years ago, profiting from the fashionable suburbs and workmen’s cottages of the day. Or, indeed, the modernist of 5 years ago, striving to cram more housing units into less space. But the critical thing is that the houses around us have been built on something: farmland, garden or, sometimes, orchard. And these places once had trees – some of which are still here.


Where the sites of larger traditional orchards have been repurposed, the scattering of remaining trees can cross new boundaries of ownership and use. There might be a few in the grounds of a modern hospital, several in nearby gardens, and an old specimen tree in the park beyond the houses.

Winter Roofs

A patchwork city orchard

The moment you start looking for tree fruit, miraculously it becomes visible. Suddenly there is an old, contorted tree; another is perhaps growing robustly, lushly productive and hidden in plain view. It is quite common to find clusters of trees on allotments, along the hedge of the parking area or next to the central track. These don’t ‘officially’ belong to anyone and may find themselves ignored: an irony of rotting and crushed fruit amongst an otherwise cherished harvest… As the trees become familiar, a conscious connection emerges – a delightful personal secret between you and the landscape. Wayside edibles peep through the familiar undergrowth, sharp, aromatic and fresh….


An excerpt from Naomi Slade’s An Orchard Odyssey




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