The hop press

Upstairs in the oast is some built-in machinery which we have reliably identified as a hop-press – used to compress the hops into sacks, known as “pockets” .

I assume that one would have turned the hand-wheel; a ratchet can be seen immediately behind it which would have stopped it being forced backwards.  And I assume that the large cog drove the rack and pinion mechanism that can also be seen, which would turn the circular force into downwards force to act on the board which would have done the pressing.  But then the force from the handwheel would have needed to go through a right-angle to drive the large cog, and I can’t see anything which would do this.  Possibly missing.  It would be nice one day to get all this working again.  At the moment it is rusty and immobile.

Hop press


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The snake

I found this snake at the bottom of a stone wall near the back pond. In the first photo you can see its head quite clearly and its body elsewhere in the picture. In the second one you can see its tongue. I could see the fork at the end of its tongue too, but it quivers too fast to be captured by the camera.

Double-click on a picture to see it full size.

All taken on my trusty HTC Desire.

I believe it to be a grass snake.  I took the photos from about a foot away, and it hissed at me as I did so.



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Immersion heaters

Background story. This thread of the story starts when we bought a woodburning stove from Mr Roger Kirk of Individual Fires and Stoves, back in late 2009.  It was one of the very first things we did, and it was just as well we did so, because we were then hit by the worst winter in 25 years, in a house with no other heating, apart from a very elderly coal-fired range in the kitchen.  As recorded at the time in this blog entry “Cold“.

Mr Kirk must have been a good salesman, because he also persuaded us to buy a Wamsler 1100 cooking stove with boiler, and an Akvaterm 1400EK accumulator tank.

The general concept of the accumulator tank is explained reasonably well here (accumulation tank basics).  In a normal hot water cylinder, the bulk of the water in the cylinder is the water that comes out of the taps.  Heat from the boiler is transferred to the water in the tank via a coil inside the boiler.  Water heated by the boiler flows through the coil and thus transfers its heat to the main water in the cylinder.  The accumulator tank works the opposite way round.  The boiler heats the bulk of the water in the cylinder, and when you want some hot water, it is created from the normal cold supply by passing the water through a heat exchanger in the tank.  The advantage is that all the water – both hot and cold – throughout the house is driven directly from the mains supply, so that (a) you get good pressure delivery of hot water, and (b) no  cold water tank is required, only an expansion tank about the size of a lavatory cistern.

At the moment neither the Wamsler nor the accumulator are actually working.  The Wamsler can’t be lit until it has water flowing through it, and this means that we have to have the accumulator tank in and working.  But the accumulator tank can only be inserted into the house via a window – it’s too big too go up the stairs.  And the convenient time to stuff it through the window is when we have the windows replaced – an event that is scheduled to take place around the end of July.

The final stage in this story is the immersion heaters.  These were something of an afterthought, but if they work as planned they will kill two birds with one stone and solve an issue with the photovoltaics.

The basic “problem” with being off-grid (for electricity) is that we cannot export our surplus to the grid.  Of course we can put it into our batteries, until they become full, at which point we have to just throw it away.  The way this works is that if the batteries cannot accept the surplus power from the photovoltaics, then this information is communicated to the PV system (I will do a separate blog page at some point explaining how this works) and the PV system turns itself off completely.  It then waits for about 3.5 minutes and tries again.   During the time that the PV is off we are not earning the feed-in tariffs (FITs), so we are “losing” money (compared to people who are on the grid and therefore don’t have this problem).

In fact the problem is a bit more subtle than I have described above.  The amount of charge that the batteries can accept goes down as the batteries get nearer to being full.  For example if the batteries are 80% charged then they can accept power at the rate of 3kW, whereas when they are 90% charged they can only accept power at the rate of 1kW (these are not precise figures, but they illustrate the principles involved).  The only way you could get more than 1kW into my system when it is 90% charged would be by raising the charging voltage above the safe level.  Therefore, if at some point the batteries are at 90% and the supply (from the PV) exceeds the demand (from the house) by more than 1kW, the system has to disconnect the PV completely, notwithstanding the fact that the batteries are not entirely full.  So not only do we have to throw away PV input, we have to do so even though our batteries are not full.  And paradoxically, we can charge the batteries more fully on a cloudy day than on a sunny one.

The solution to this problem is something called the Load Controller, a piece of equipment which is being built by Energy Solutions, who also supplied the PV system.  The Load Controller will switch in extra load when the above situation is detected.  In fact it switches in extra load in six steps.  If this works as planned, then the power being pushed into the batteries should always be a little less than what they can accept.

Where all this fits together is that the surplus loads will in fact be the electric immersion heaters in the accumulator tank.  So basically we will be using the surplus electricity to make lots of lovely hot water, but only when (and to the extent that) we have a surplus after the normal loads and after giving the batteries what they want.

Energy Solutions have delivered and connected up the Load Controller system, but they haven’t yet made it work.  I’m confident that they will, although I think that they may have under-estimated the difficulties a bit (they did say that they planned to visit this week with modifications to a couple of parts of the Load Controller system; it is now Friday, so this obviously isn’t going to happen).

My main residual doubt is the reaction time of the system.  The PV output can vary fast if the sun comes out from behind a cloud, and the load from the house can go up or down suddenly and substantially (if a kettle comes to the boil, for example).  If the surplus power is too much for the batteries, the Inverter/Charger will switch the PV off in 3 seconds.  So (it seems to me) the Load Controller will have to have a reaction time of less than 3 seconds (the 3 second parameter is configurable so I suppose one could increase it, but this might not be very good for the batteries).

Another thing I have been a bit worried about is whether the relays in the Load Controller are big enough.  However, I’ve looked at them closely and I see that they are Omron model number G7L-2A-T and the data sheet here confirms that they can handle 25A at 250VDC, which would be over 6kW.  I don’t think the immersion heaters will be bigger than this.  I also see that they can handle 1800 switches per hour, which would be one every two seconds.  I just hope they aren’t noisy.  The spec web page has lots of data but is (ironically) silent on the subject of noise.

Nevertheless, I would like to know more about the immersion heaters in the Akvaterm Akvantti.  When we ordered it from Mr Kirk of Individual Fires and Stoves we ordered it, rather vaguely, “with immersion heaters”.  The Akvantti page on the Akvaterm web site says that it can be ordered with 3 “resistor units” so I assume that this is what we’ve got but I’m not quite sure what this means.  Is it one physical heater with three connections for different power levels?  Is it three different heaters one going 1/3 of the way down the tank, one going 2/3 down and one going the whole height?  What is their power rating?  I phoned Mr Kirk two weeks ago (while Energy Solutions were here installing the Load Controller) asking for this info; he said he would get back to me and he hasn’t.

So I chased Mr Kirk with another phone call this morning.  So far no reply.

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Making our own electricity

The mounting frames are the Schüco MSE 210 ground mounting system.  I have got three sets of this; each set will take 8 of my panels, which makes the decision to have 17 panels look wildly eccentric – but there is a reason.

Each frame is held up by a single row of 3 vertical posts.  The picture below gives a good idea how this works.

One mounting frame

One mounting frame - seen from behind


The instructions say that the posts should be rammed into the ground, using a hydraulic rammer.  Well our local first-class erector of fencing, Russel Norman, has suitable equipment – I happen to know because he’s had it here putting up fences.  But when we tried it we hit a problem; in fact we hit bedrock before the posts had gone far enough in.  Sandstone, frequently found underneath the local clay, and near the top of hill it will be quite shallowly buried, as Russell, who has learned all this through years of fence erection, pointed out.  So he had to come back again, with plan B – boring machinery.  A giant powered auger.  The posts then went in with spirit level accuracy and dead in line.

The next picture shows how the panes are daisy-chained together electrically.  Each one is plugged into the next in a single “string”.  So the 30 – 36 volts that each panel produces add together to give a total system voltage of 500 – 600 volts.

Daisy-chaining the panels' electrical connections

Daisy-chaining the panels' electrical connections

The final output comes from the first and last panels in the chain and it disappears underground down a conduit for which Russell Norman dug the trench.

Taking the power out

Taking the power out

The underground cable is 3-core 10mm SWA (steel wire armoured) copper cable.  The supplier had given us something which I didn’t think was suitable at all – not armoured and with a steel conductor and quite flimsy.  Probably intended for a roof-mounted system but not in my opinion safe for undergrounding – a spade or plough would have gone straight through it.  Fortunately we had the SWA cable surplus from an earlier project.

The DC is (will be) converted to AC by the Fronius solar inverter. The back-plate for the inverter can be seen at the right of the photo below.

PV and battery control equipment

PV and battery control equipment

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Wedmore’s wood

As mentioned before, the excellent people at Woodland Trust subsidised the planting of 900 trees here under their MoreWoods scheme. I promised that I would upload a photo of the planted trees and at last I have got round to it.

Trees shortly after planting in March 2011

Trees in March 2011, a couple of months after planting

The trees are a mixture of oak, ash, alder, hornbeam, silver birch, and downy birch and a few crab apple. Plus some which I would call bushes rather than trees: blackthorn, hazel, guelder rose and dog rose.

There was a suggestion that I could have hired a petrol-driven auger to dig the holes, but in the end I just used a spade (and a sledge-hammer to put the posts in). I would think that lugging a powered auger around would have made it harder, not easier. The plants were mostly tiny.

The ostensible objective is to be self-sufficient in firewood, but I can’t see us getting a crop for 10 years or so. But I also just like the idea of planting, and owning, my own wood.

The next thing is to see them through to the point where they are well-established. The two threats, I think, are grazing by deer (which the tubes should prevent) and summer drought in the first year or two. There’s not much I can do about the latter – watering them would not be practical.

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Woodland grants

The nice people at Woodland Trust are going to give me 900 trees, planting tubes and stakes, to establish a woodland here.

So before I turn 70 we should be self-sufficient in firewood!

We have to contribute £400 to the cost, and we have to do our own planting, but I think the stuff they are supplying us with would cost around £1600 to buy, so this is a good deal.

It is part of their MoreWoods project.

I’m not looking forward to the work of actually planting the 900 trees, though – I don’t really have a good idea how long it will take.  They did suggest hiring a powered auger to dig the holes.  I’ll have to look into it.

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We now have three skips on site: one for scrap metal, one for tyres, and one for general rubbish.  The metal one is undersized.  2 metre sheets of corrugated iron (of which I have quite a few) won’t lie flat on the bottom.  I can saw them up with the angle grinder, but it’s a laborious business.  We have collected up about 40 tyres, most on wheels, that were lying around the barns and fields, including three tractor rear wheels.  I have to pay to get these taken away.

One confusing thing when you try and ring round and compare prices is that sometimes two apparently separate companies are actually the same.  The rubbish skips come from Hav-a-skip, and the others from Sussex Waste Management.  But when they arrived we had a very confused conversation because I had no idea that actually SWM had acquired Hav-a-Skip some time ago.  Hav-a-Skip’s web site has disappeared, which should have been a clue.

We ordered genuine hand-made clay tiles for the roof repairs, from a local company, Aldershaw.  We placed the order sometime in January, but they said they couldn’t make them until May, because their clay pit was flooded as a result of the bad weather.  I must give them a chase up.

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We moved into Hunters Farm at the end of October.

Currently our only source of electricity is our diesel generator.  We run this all day, turning it off last thing at night.  My first job in the morning is to go out and turn it on.  It would come on automatically by turning the power on in the house, but it has a problem at the moment – there is a slight leak in the radiator.  So I have to tramp through the dark and cold every morning and top up its anti-freeze before I can turn the electricity on.

There is a coal-fired range in the kitchen which heats the hot water (small baths only, please), and we have installed a wood-burning stove in the small sitting room at the other end of the house.  Apart from that the house is COLD.  The worst thing is getting into a freezing cold bed at night.  We have rediscovered hot water bottles.

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Woodland planting grants

One of the things we will most definitely be doing at Hunters Farm is to plant some trees. I envisage enough coppice woodland to provide a yearly crop that will meet all our heating needs. Not sure how big an area that would need to be – something to be researched.

Todays exercise is to look at grants!

All these people work in hectares, not acres. So I need to know that my 25 acres = 10ha. says that areas must normally exceed 0.25ha to be eligible for a grant. That would be 0.6 acres. According to this document, the main grants that look as if they might apply to us are
(a) forestry commission (see;
(b) Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS) – grants are for “income foregone” (see again)
(c) Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS)

(These links are straight out of the document and I see that at least one of them is broken.)

Other useful resources suggested by the same document are

(d) The Tree council (see )
(e) The Woodland Trust – a charity which I am already a member of ( )

This all leads me to$FILE/ewgs7-guide.pdf which is current (applications must be in by 30th September 2009 and covers both Woodland Creation Grants (one-off cash to cover the cost of planting, or some of it) and FWPS (on-going compensation for “income foregone”).

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The Hunters Farm blog

Welcome to the Hunters Farm blog, and my very first post in the blog.

Hunters Farm is a small estate of approximately 25 acres, near Brightling in East Sussex.

It will be lived in by me, my wife Caroline, and four of our six children (the older ones have left home).

Unusually for East Sussex, there is no mains electricity to the house.  We have been quoted a cost of £60,000 to bring electricity to the house, so we are thinking of going off-grid.  In fact we are passionatly commited to the idea of going off-grid, if we possibly can.  We have everything to learn about going off-grid, and one of the objectives of starting this blog is to share with others anything I learn during this process.  And to attract helpful comments, so that we can learn from other peoples’ experience.

What else are we trying to do?  We’d like to figure out if there is a way we can make money out of the place, and I expect to have more to say about this in later entries. Defensively, though, I feel the need to say right now that I am will aware that a “real” farmer would say that 25 acres is not a “real” farm.  Smallholding would be a better term.  Perfectly true but I shall continue to refer to it as a farm.

The other thing that we want to do is to preserve the buildings.  The farmhouse and the buildings are Listed Grade II, and as long-standing member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings I am very keen to conserve them in line with the Society’s principles.  Lime mortar, allowing the buildings to breathe, sympathetic repair and so on.

We’d like to put the farm into better order – it is somewhat run down at the moment.  We’d like to be as “green” as we possibly can and I plan to share our efforts and experiences in this area.

Finally, I’m struggling to get to grips with WordPress’s features. I’m used to blogging on Typepad, and my initial reaction is that WordPress is not as good. But then to be fair I don’t know my way round it. I will persist for a while.

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