Rabbit Pie

20130129_182909First trip into the office today sees the debris of unfinished work taunting me from various locations of the desk and floor. By and large, matters are under control. Rather than file nearly completed tasks I take pleasure in waiting until they really are finished before stashing them away.

My heart rate therefore calms as I realise that there are no real panics to deal with. I have some business events and weddings to organise which sees me tapping away at the computer in between calling various suppliers and customers. Orderliness is shortlived. Over the top of my computer screen I spot a furry creature emerging from the shrubbery just outside the office window.

Ever since planting the wildflower garden, which borders the shrubbery, I have been on rabbit watch. The seed company identified rabbit attacks as the main threat to the flowers reaching maturity. To counter this I bought an air rifle.

Throughout last season the rifle was regularly used. The rabbit population was not diminished. However, the pellets discharging did succeed in sending the hungry monsters sprinting off away from the flowers and across the fields.

For the last couple of months I have not seen any rabbits in the wildflower garden but today a very confident adult is staring contemptuously at me while munching on some seed heads.

Picking up my air rifle and the tin of pellets I head off to the utility room from where I can get a clear view of the wildflower meadow. Slowly I open the door. Unbelievably this is the precise moment that the breadmaker, sat on the counterside in the utility room, breaks into its next kneading cycle.

The rabbit hears the noise and turns towards the sound but does not bolt. Waiting a little longer for it to get accustomed to the machine noises I then slowly raise the rifle and ease it around until I have the rabbit in the sight.

At first I suspect the usual outcome after squeezing the trigger but then I realise that the rabbit has not completely disappeared. It has moved but not far. The next second it collapses and dies.

I am in shock. I am used to taking pigs to the abbatoir and preparing them afterwards but the act of killing changes the dynamic and I am confused about how I feel about what I have done.

My heart thumping I walk to the rabbit and bring it into the kitchen. Once I gutted and skinned a hare that someone else had shot but this will be the first time that I have prepared a kill of my own.

After consulting Seymour and Fearnley-Whittingstall I set about my task. Although very nervous at first I become more relaxed as the rabbit is tranformed from creature into meat. I am slow but in about 20 minutes I have a skinned and cleaned rabbit on the counter with its heart, liver and kidneys in a bowl nearby.

Looking forward to dinner.


What can we do to tackle food availability issues?

In my parents’ lifetime – they are still alive aged 83 – the world population has risen from about 2 billion to 7 billion and it continues to rise. Malnutrition existed in 1928, tackling it is therefore an even greater challenge now.

Although instinctively anti GM, I am even more anti starvation and therefore think that projects to assess the potential of GM should be supported.

I feel most strongly that the dislocation of a high proportion of people from their food supply in ‘developed’ countries is a key problem.

It results in:

  • A lack of respect for the sources and value of food
  • Waste
  • Obesity

In my view, if more people produced some food for themselves many of these issues would be addressed and we would also increase food supplies considerably.

Silage, Haylage or Hay?

Our larger scale events such as weddings take place in our ‘hay’ field. Typically our hay is harvested between mid June and the end of July. This year we planned to cut it in June because we have a number of events in July but, of course, the weather has not been kind.

Hay making needs a run of several sunny days. First the grass has to be mown. Then it is turned several times until it becomes very dry. Only then can it be baled and moved into the barn in preparation to feed our horses and ponies during the winter. It also has to be stored for a few months to cure. Freshly cut hay is not easily digested.

Without a run of several sunny days to make hay my thoughts turned to making haylage. This is very similar to hay but slightly damper. It is made into large round bales and wrapped in polythene to keep out oxygen. The combination of the slightly damper material and oxygen causes the haylage to degrade and rot. Even though it is damper when baled, present conditions are too damp.

So, the answer this year is to make silage out of the grass from the area that we need for our events. Today one neighbour (Clive Quamby) mowed the area and tomorrow another neighbour (Alan Russell) is going to bale and wrap as silage. Silage is freshly cut grass that is immediately or almost immediately baled and wrapped (or stored in a large clamp). The moisture content is high and it makes a very rich feed that is ideal for cattle but no good for horses. Alan will therefore be taking this part of our crop for his cattle.

Hopefully we will be able to make some hay or haylage with the grass from the rest of the field later in the summer. How many of you wedding planners have the silage/haylage/hay question on your checklists?

Hay making in the sunshine – June 2011


June Evening

A hard day’s work in meetings and at the computer has to end as the pigs are squealing for their food and the ponies need taking off the rich spring grass.

Head down I set about my tasks. Pig feed is measured out into a bucket while collected rainwater is transfered to a large black bin ready to be barrowed round to the pig’s field where I keep a large water container for topping up their water supply. The pigs are pleased to see me. I like to think that they really are pleased to see me but of course really, they are really pleased to see the food bucket.

After giving them some more bedding and checking the fencing, I bid the pigs goodnight and set off to find the horses. I pass the orchard and see that the last of the apple blossom has gone. It has been abundant this year, which hopefully means that there will be a crop that reflects this in the autumn.

At the entrance to the orchard is a gate leaning on a dry stone wall with a gate post, independently, also propped up against the wall. I bought the gate post over a year ago ready to set and attach the gate to it. Unset, the gate has to be lifted into a position to provide a barrier.

Despite calling the ponies they remain munching the rich grass that, un-moderated, will draw them to their maker. In due course they are caught and returned to sparse pasture overnight. Another of threat to their welfare, ragwort, has re-appeared in a couple of places and so I do a tour of the fields with a barrow to stop its progress.

Last task is to transplant 4 pumpkin plants to their final destinations underneath the fruit trees in front of the barn.

I started the evening stressing about jobs.


Ideas for connecting children with their environment

Small-holding, big ideas! Green Directions top tips for getting children out and about and helping them connect with the environment?

Squeals come from the pig enclosure most days. Sometimes they are from the pigs trying to escape past the electric fence but most of the time they are from Arthur, our six year old, crying out with delight as he runs around the enclosure with the pigs in hot pursuit.

We are lucky to live and work on a small-holding in Stannington and all our four children enjoy time outside with the animals, helping with other tasks like harrowing the fields, and just generally taking advantage of where we live.

When we moved in, inspired by television progammes like Grand Designs, we decided to renovate the buildings using green technologies. The children were really keen for us to do things that would help to tackle climate change. Two wind turbines, the second of which has only just gone up, plus solar panels mean that we now produce as much electricity as we need. We also recycle rainwater and have two ground source heat pumps. Our eldest George (18) is studying geography at university, and takes a close interest in our efforts to tackle climate change.

Out of all this work has emerged our new family business, Green Directions, which offers conference, training, meeting and hospitality facilities for businesses; courses on climate change and green technologies for school children and adults; and green weddings.

When school children come to visit us, we spend a lot of time doing experiments like measuring the speed of the wind (it is usually high up here on the ridge above the Rivelin and Loxley valleys!) and discovering how to produce food at home. The children really enjoy being out in the landscape, seeing how turbines and solar panels produce electricity from the wind and the sun and meeting the pigs.

Based on the kind of things that we like to do, here are some ideas for families to have fun outside:

1.Grow and make your own food

Growing your own food is so rewarding. It puts you in touch with the seasons, the land and the weather and after much healthy exercise, you get to enjoy fantastic, fresh, tasty food. We grow most of our vegetables and fruit; potatoes, onions, chard, parsnips, broad beans, gooseberries, apples and blackcurrants  for example. Our children help out by picking the fruit crops. We then enjoy time together making jams and chutneys or preparing bags of produce for the freezer. For a special adult treat, we sometimes make fruit-flavour vodka and gin. Bottles of these make lovely Christmas and birthday presents.

2.Spend some time with animals

We have 5 horses and 3 pigs and they all bring us much happiness. Time spent with animals is always time well spent to us. If you don’t have an animal of your own, why not go with the children to walk a neighbour’s dog – what a ‘win’ ‘win’ ‘win’ match up! You feel great, the neighbour feels great (particularly if they have difficulty in getting out themselves) and the dog feels really great! Or, for those in our region, check out the animals at Heeley City Farm, Whirlow Farm and Graves Park  – all three venues are free to enter.

3.Discover wildlife

We are trying to make our small-holding wildlife friendly. We are members of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and learn a lot from attending events and visiting their nature reserves. They organise many activities for children including a monthly Wildlife Watch Group that meets at Weston Park on Saturdays. For more information have a look at their website. www.wildsheffield.com  Close to us is the Rivelin Valley where the Rivelin Valley Conservation Group has worked hard to create a magical area for people to enjoy nature.

4. Get on your bike

Arthur, our youngest, has just learned to ride a bike. We are now having lots of fun riding around the roads and tracks. Arthur’s school, Bradfield Dungworth, encourages cycling by organising days with the Sheffield  ‘Bike It’ and ‘Pedal Ready’ teams when special breakfasts are served for those who ride to school.  http://www.sustrans.org.uk/what-we-do/bike-it/wheres-bike-it/bike-it-in-sheffield   http://www.pedalready.co.uk/

Arthur also likes to ride his bike to see his classmate Cora who lives at Our Cow Molly – I wonder why?

5. Get a trampoline

We got a trampoline for the children several years ago and it is one of the best things we have ever bought. Two of the children, Frankee (14) and Arthur have trampoline lessons at Ponds Forge while another, Fred (16) is in charge of harrowing the horse muck on the farm, and when he’s not doing his farm chores, spends a lot of time working on the trampolines at Ponds Forge as a member of the GB junior international diving squad. Trampolines are expensive to buy but there is good second hand market or why not try Freegle – a great source of all sorts of things – for free.



0114 230 4722

Green Directions – the beginning

So what happens next when you have just bought a farmhouse, circa 1800, with attached barns two other collections of outbuildings and 10 acres of land? This was the wonderful opportunity and challenge facing me and my partner Sarah Brown in November 2003. We had both renovated properties before including another barn conversion, a terraced house and a detached house but this was on a completely different scale.

I started to research ways of tackling the project and was soon spending hours at exhibitions, reading magazines, watching programmes such as Grand Designs and searching on the internet. It didn’t take long for me to realise that we would have to take a radical approach to the renovation if the family were to live in such a large property sustainably.

Walking into the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show at the NEC in 2004 I was completely overwhelmed by a vast range of unfamiliar technologies such as heat pumps, under-floor heating, electricity generators, mechanical ventilation and insulation systems. Piles of leaflets returned to Sheffield, followed by more research and meetings with potential suppliers until an outline plan started to emerge.

A core part of the plan was to put in under-floor heating driven by ground source heat pumps which I installed with the help of a friend, Clive Quarmby. We spent many weeks digging trenches, laying pipes, soldering, fitting valves etc., using 8 different diameters of pipe in the process.

Sarah was pregnant with Arthur (now 6 – birthday in February), while all this was going on. By the time she returned from hospital with the new baby most of the heating was working and some of the floorboards in the bedroom had been restored. She was not happy.

Heat pumps need electricity to work and so we decided that we would have to make our own electricity to meet our objective of becoming energy neutral. I researched solar and wind power during 2004. Solar panels were about 3 times more expensive than they are now and were much more expensive than wind turbines compared with the amount of electricity they were likely to make. So, we bought a 6 kilowatt Proven wind turbine expecting it to make about 10,000 kilowatt hours per year. It didn’t. It made 14,000 kilowatt hours per year – fantastic.

The only trouble was we were using a lot more electricity than I had anticipated despite investing thousands of pounds on insulation and high-tec glazing. More investment was needed – more insulation and more energy generating technology.

We now have a 4 kilowatt solar power system which generates about 4000 kilowatt hours a year and have just installed a 10 kilowatt Xzeres wind turbine which hopefully will take us to our energy-neutral goal.

Every week I write down statistics from our systems. This is hopelessly inefficient and so I am now trying to find a data-logging system that will record everything automatically.