The government has stipulated that energy providers must subsidise cavity wall and loft insulation in our homes. Fantastic idea! Well, almost. This has caused massive demand and there don’t appear to be enough contractors to provide the service. So, there is a huge backlog. In winter…
If your house was built in the 1940s or younger, you may well be eligible to take advantage of this energy saving subsidy. To find out if you are, contact your energy company and they will write to the local insulation contractor who will come to your house to provide a free quote.
Ros contacted our provider, E.On, about 6-weeks ago. They were extremely helpful but warned of the backlog. When a vacancy becomes available they will send a contractor. According to E.On, they are spending millions on this activity but it has been poorly thought through by the government who failed to set up sufficient contractors to handle demand. I’m not sure if that is passing the buck, but it sounds entirely plausible.
So someone had a great idea and almost got it to happen. However, there are BIG upsides. Big demand means people understand the benefits and are ACTING. And it will be worth the wait, E.On estimated that our 4 bedroom house will cost us about £220 for cavity and loft insulation. The payback period could be under 2 years. Our neighbours have had their home insulated and it has made a huge difference to their energy bills – and reduced their carbon emissions.
The thing with great ideas is that they have to be thought through and delivered to qualify as GREAT. So, right now this is a good idea that is starting to happen. Come on E.On, once you have someone hooked you really must deliver. It’s frustrating to find that we can’t access this solution to energy and emissions saving within months
Will be looking for an EPC soon too - an Energy Performance Certificate - to see how the house rates and how we can make it more energy efficient. I haven’t researched this much yet so would appreciate any help.
In the meantime, let’s get E.On with it!
The Soil Association has launched a campaign to mobilise our 11 million (!) UK gardeners to become part of the organic, low carbon food chain. Ros has joined us and we are starting this weekend.
Their campaign is A SUSTAINABLE FOOD PLAN FOR BRITAIN and is headed by TV presenter Monty Don. The website is worth a visit and is sure to encourage you into action, from demanding more sustainablly sourced food to growing your own. Here is a snapshot from the Soil Association website:
“The first review Gordon Brown commissioned on becoming Prime Minister was an analysis of food issues. The resulting report published in July 2008 concluded that: ‘existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future’, and ‘existing patterns of food consumption will result in our society being loaded with a heavy burden of obesity and diet-related ill health.”
“This stark analysis chimes with the Soil Association’s concern that our current UK food and farming system is not ‘fit’ to meet the challenges of climate change, long-term costlier oil, or for providing a foundation for people’s health. Unfortunately, the Strategy Unit paper appears to be a ‘minority report’ and not the major influence over Government policy on food and farming.”
The Soil Association are very concerned about the UK’s precarious food supply and firmly believe that our 11 million gardeners will have a central role to play. They will be able to grow food for their family and for the community and also help spread greater understanding about our food, quality and supply.
The campaign is headed by TV gardening personality Monty Don. As well as mobilising the nation’s gardeners, the Soil Association and Monty are also lobbying central and local government to create more allotments. Apparently in some areas there is an 80 year waiting list.
So, while the politicians debate and pontificate, the rest of us will get stuck in and get on with it. The local farmer delivered 2-3 tonnes of manure on a trailer to start our vegetable garden. We’ve had loads of rain and the field is so wet that it got stuck - I mean his tractor and trailer! So, a 4 wheel drive tractor turned up and pulled the tractor out. Which left the trailer full of dung. We have made some raised vegetable beds to grow our own vegetables. We’ll rotavate the soil within the beds, lay in some compost and churn in some manure. Apparently, pure manure is too rich (apologies to experts out there, I’m a green virgin0. The forecast today is fine, but it is supposed to be lashing down on Sunday. This sustainable living could be pretty knackering!
Coffee at Cafe Nero? A morning at the Gym? Or ‘Help me take my pigs to the slaughter house’!
Most mums might expect to hit the gym on a Monday morning or have a revitalising coffee with friends. When she heard that I had double booked and had to be in London instead of taking the pigs to the slaughter house, Ros had to enrol the moral and physical help of two friends.
Frankie (an expert on reversing a trailer thanks to a recent caravan driving course) and Sophie (a good knowledge of animal and country things) were happy to help Ros while I went to work!
One of the things that is apparent from trying planet positive, sustainable living (and we are mere beginners) is that people are only too willing to help. Where in the past I might have notionally talked about community, now I really feel it (and part of it).
Community works and it is rewarding - whether you are giving or receiving. Early this week, on Britain’s most depressing Monday (according to the press, this was statistically the most depressing day of the year), Ros found cheer and support from friends and strangers.
With the porkers (not weaners as Steve described in the previous blog – they are weaners when you collect them. He told a bit of a porker…) loaded into the trailer, we set off to the local slaughter house. We became aware that we were following a queue of cars pulling trailers of animals. We had found the slaughter house.
I have always considered myself a practical person but my hands were shaking like a leaf. I jumped from the car and ran to the one in front. “It’s my first time,” I blurted out. The kind couple in the car guided me through the process. You reverse your trailer into a holding pen where Pork and Crackling were guided out of the trailer and along a corridor. With a heavy heart I gave them a final pat and they were gone…
I kept repeating to myself that that was their purpose and we would not have had the enjoyment of keeping pigs if we weren’t going to use them for meat. As a meat eater all my life, I have taken this for granted. Completing the circle has given me respect for the animal and the process. The support of my friends was wonderful and much needed when I was feeling so sad. I recommend that, if this is your first time, don’t do it alone.
After a cup of tea, I went to the local butcher to run through the different cuts of meat. I had researched these using the River Cottage Meat book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (www.rivercottage.net and Perfect Pigs by Clare and Robin Wilson (www.oaklandspigs.co.uk
The decisions on the cuts are based around using the using the legs for hams or joints, the loins for chops or bacon, how many sausages, ribs, shoulder joints and so on. We will try cure and hang one back leg for Parma ham, cure one of the loins for bacon and one of the bellies for streaky bacon. These will need to be cured before being sliced.
The pigs will come from the slaughter house over the next few days so they can be hung by the butcher. He will make the cuts and we’ll collect on Jan 30. The butcher mentioned that ‘first-timers’ can overfeed pigs which can result in the outer fat being too thick (an inch or more where it should be ½ - 3/4” thick. He’ll let us know so we can make sure we get it right next time.
We are now researching where to get the next weaners. We’ve ordered 2 Oxford Sandy/Gloucester Old Spots (ginger with black spots!) but are also interested in Berkshires but there don’t seem to be many around.
So the cycle continues.
Sunday 18th Jan - Pork and Crackling are our two Berkshire pigs, and tomorrow morning they are off to the abattoir, the slaughter house as it is supposed to be called.
It has been fun bringing up these two weaners. It has been our first experience of pig keeping and I am sure it won’t be our last. They have been a valuable addition to Field End. The boys have loved feeding them, except when they get a bit boisterous and chew on their wellies, sitting watching them, giving them a scratch and just having them.
And people beyond the family have become involved. We have been getting apples from a neighbour, local pig breeders have been offering help and advice and our friends have been grilling us on whether we want to send them to slaughter and eat them…
As a family of animal lovers (if that is not a contradiction in terms), we have felt strong feelings about the pigs going. Tonight we’re all a bit fed up. They are only 6-months old and it seems such a desperately short life.
I think, perhaps, we are all a bit naive about food and this process is opening our eyes. I am pleased about that. We talk about the food on our family table a lot now – the taste, where it has come from, if we like it. However, we all knew (all except Charlie who’s 5) that they would be leaving us one day and return another as chops, sausages and bacon.
And the day has come. To transport them to the slaughter house in Heathfield we had to get a trailer. We had been buying meat from a local farmer and he has let us borrow a small livestock trailer. It was now a matter of getting the pigs into the trailer. Using a bucket of food and apples, we coaxed them out of their pen and into a holding pen by the open door of the trailer. Once there they refused to move. Ros got in the trailer and Will and Tom shuffled and edged them forwards with the fence panels making the shrinking pen. I was pushing and shoving but they are pretty heavy and wouldn’t budge.
As light was fading, Ros told me of the tip she had from a local farmer: “Cover the head with a bucket and reverse him in. Anything was worth a try, so with a bucket over Pork’s head, I heaved him up the ramp and into the trailer.
We now have to complete some paperwork, such as the Food Chain Information form from BPEX (www.bpex-fci.org.uk) and animal movement forms from Defra (www.defra.gov.uk/animalhealth). You can also find out more about pig keeping from The British Pig Association www.britishpigs.org
Ros also has to let the butcher know what cuts we want. We haven’t done this before, so it appears to be a compromise on the type and quantity of meat you want. We are going to take advice from the butcher as this is our first go.We do want one ham, even though you have to hang it for a year.
Tomorrow the deed is done. Ros is taking them with her friends along for moral support. We will give you an update then…
We also had the hedge trimmed today. It’s once a year activity where local ace farm hand Will rocks up with his tractor to cut our hedge down to size. It’s helping thicken it up after a few years of neglect. It would take me a few days by hand and weekends are precious to keep the animals, vegetable plots and other projects going, so we gladly take this helping hand. A word of advice, stand well back because the wood flecks go flying.
Cheers, Steve & Ros Malkin, the boys and all at Field End
Field End Cottage, East Sussex. Home to the Malkin family - me (Steve), Ros, Will, Tom and Charlie, and our animals…
We’ve accumulated 2 pigs, 4 sheep, 20 or 30 bantams, a handful of ducks and a bunch of domestic pets - 2 dogs (and a 3rd boarding with us for the next few weeks), a couple of rescue cats, fish, Zebra Finches, a rabbit and 2 Guinea Pigs.
We’re embarking on a more sustainable, lower carbon lifestyle. I’m not sure we’re the best role models - I love riding my motorbike and can’t imagine ‘hot holidays’ are a thing of the past. But we want to have more control over what we eat, save some money, cut our energy and reduce our family’s emissions. And we want to enjoy the process.
We moved south from Sevenoaks in Kent to try to find a house with some land and moved into Field End Cottage just over a year ago.
We bought Field End while travelling to Norfolk to have a week sailing with the family near Blakeney. When we got into Field End we tried to buy the field alongside. With the help of the estate agent and the land owner, we managed to secure just under 5 acres - 2 fields and a small wood. We could not believe our luck. We had started our dream.
2008 was about getting organised. We got the fields under control - they had been left to go to seed, so we had them flailed and topped (getting rid of the brambles and weeds) and fenced them ready for the sheep. I didn’t know they were coming. Ros woke early one Friday morning (which is pretty unusual) and blurted out “Great they are coming!”. She then divulged that she had bought 4 Manx Laughton sheep, originally from the Isle of Mann.
By the time I was home from work in town (London), we had 4 chocolate coloured ewes. The boys were out feeding them sheep nuts, trying to get them to eat from their hands. It took about 2 days and they were coming straight to us.
I built a sheep shelter this time, with last year’s Christmas present (a chainsaw!) and some scaffold planks and got the bantams and ducks organised in an electric fenced pen after the fox decimated our flock.
So what does 09 hold in store. Well, the resolution is for revolution, and reduction. This is it. We are now going for it.
Sustainable living. Low carbon, planet positive living.
We’re planning growing our food, slaughtering the pigs (that’s something we are going to have to face very soon), lambing in spring, researching a domestic wind turbine, trying to get our cavity walls and the loft insulated at the lowest cost, selling my old Jag.
It’s a year of change and a big transition for us. We’ve alot to learn and I have a feeling this blog might just keep us sane. I remember reading a review by parents taking their teenage kids through the most turbulent years. They wrote a diary and they found humour in the 3rd party detachment of writing so that the whole thing became a fun and rewarding adventure for them all. I hope it will be the same for us! We’ll keep you posted.
Steve Malkin of Field End
As many of you will know Steve Malkin (MD of Planet Positive) is trying to live the life! He and Ros have bought a small holding down in Kent along with a some pigs, sheep, chickens. They are growing their own veg and generally trying to live the life.
But it is not easy and there are many hard decisions along the way
Should they take the pig to slaughter, should they be even eating meat?
Should Steve sell his 15 year old (2nd hand) Jag or just keep on recycling it
Should the kids cycle to school along narrow dangerous roads or must Ros for the sake of their safety continue to drop them
How do they source and install a small diameter turbine and is this the right thing to do
It is not easy living a Planet Positive life, it means changing our habits and changing some of the things that we take for granted. And in this change we will be faced with many dilemmas and even ethical challenges.
Not everyone will be able to create a small farm like Steve and Ros but you will be faced with similar challenges- let’s here about them.
And so to get the ball rolling I have asked Steve and Ros make a guest appearance in my Blog over the weekend, to share some of their challenges and successes. Enjoy!