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Cider-man (returns?)

Our second year of cider making took on a more professional micro-brewery feel with the purchase of a Scratter (or fruit crusher). This helps to break the apples up so that they are easier to press! And it certainly worked.

We also learned that using wind fall apples is fine, but that you get a lot more juice from apples that are freshly picked. We used a combination of cooking and eating apples, along with the first crop of ‘all doers’. The only problem was that someone also liked the apple trug.

The press went ahead, with lots of cutting, turning, crushing and grating.

Two batches of apples yielded around 20 litres of juice. The fermentation process takes about a week, and then it is time for bottling. Alex had already put in two great shifts with the apple processing and he continued with naming the brew, and creating a set of individually hand drawn labels. He was particularly pleased with his Avengers-inspired Cider-man name and logo (a super hero with bottles for arms and legs).

So, Cider-man cider was born! Let’s hope its got the power of Spider-man rather than the Hulk!

P.S. – Early sampling suggests that this could be a vintage batch!

Open House Winery: Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Following our successful inaugural foray into cider brewing last year, we thought that it was time to broaden our repertoire. With two young grape vines starting to bear fruit in the polytunnel, it was time to try our hand at making some wine!

After some initial research we realised that wine making is a lot more of a protracted and nuanced process than cider. However, unperturbed, we bought the relevant bits and bobs and got cracking! Our expectations were pretty low and therefore more than 1 bottle of drinkable end product would be a definite success!

Picking the grapes was pretty simple, and we had around 8kgs to work with.

Pressing the grapes has to be done by hand (or foot if you prefer), rather than using a fruit press. We learnt that this is because crushing the pips brings a bitter taste to the wine. Despite being a bit messy it was quite a pleasant job. The resultant Must was then left for a couple of days.

We used a Campden tablet to remove any wild yeast, and left the Must with the skin in as we wanted to make red wine. I think the Campden tablet contains sulphites, which some people believe gives you the headache after drinking!?

After a few days, we then strained the juice, which again was quite satisfying, although it took a bit of effort to squeeze it all out.

Miraculously we had over 3.5 litres of juice, which may even make 7 bottles of wine, if all goes to plan. Unexpectedly, the main aroma of the grape juice was something like pink bubble gum! I am pretty sure that this is not what a Somelier would want the bouquet to be, so perhaps we will end up with a few bottles of something undrinkable! But it is worth a go. We added the yeast and nutrient, and then found a warm place for it to ferment for 8 weeks.

We are nearly at the point of being able to bottle the wine (if we can call it that) and then in 6 months time we will see whether we have something that is vaguely quaffable! So it will be sometime yet before we will know for sure whether the juice is really worth the squeeze!

Renewable Heat Incentive Accreditation

After a complicated and long-running application process we have now officially registered for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This is a government subsidy to support the use of renewable forms of energy in heating buildings and homes. The RHI scheme is now closed to new applicants, but we were able to enter the scheme as we have 4 buildings (3 homes and 1 communal space) making use of our open loop ground source heating system.

The RHI will pay back a fixed tariff for each unit of heat energy that is produced and used by our system for the next 20 years! This helps to off-set the costs of setting-up and running our heating system.

Soleco heat pumps in the OHP plantroom

As electricity and gas prices are increasing and the winter weather is arriving, it is reassuring to know that our sustainable heating system is reducing our communal carbon footprint.

The UK government has recently set out plans to support the installation of heat pumps in new build housing schemes as well as retrofitting to existing homes. We are proud of what we have achieved in being one of the early adopters of this technology for a housing project.

As the UK’s electricity supply decarbonises further in the future, the system will have an even smaller environmental impact.

Egg-sighting times

Rather a lot has happened here at OHP over winter and an egg-cellent place to start this update is with the arrival of the hens! There’s been much discussion over the years about when livestock may become part of the cohousing group development (guinea pigs don’t count) and now that there are several families living on site we considered the time was right. Not only have the Hackworthy’s moved in but so have some chickens courtesy of our builder Dean. Everyone has settled into their new homes well but so far only the chickens have laid some eggs. Photo below right shows ones of our eggs with a bought large egg on the right for scale. The 13 chickens of various breeds have taken up residence in the courtyard and so far no one has even heard the cockerel. So far some of the chickens have been named Jasmine, Coral, Delilah, Queenie and Duke. Let’s hope the egg production increases from 2 a day to just a few more but we’re perhaps not quite up to the heights of 72 a week just yet.

Sheila and I began this growing year as we usually do with a walk around the garden writing a list as we go of everything that needs pruning (fruit trees, roses, herbs), digging out because it’s finished or died in the recent cold spell (lavender, rosemary, old sweet peas, annuals from last summer) and eating (spinach, sprouts, kalettes and parsnips). This years list is 4 pages long and has kept us both busy all day for a week so far and we’ve barely made a dent in it.

Sheila and I usually pick a border and attempt to tackle everything in it at once. I’m working on a drawing of our site so when I talk about the garden its easier to understand – Sheila still has issues with the veg bed numbering, I maintain no 1 being at the top of the hill and no 7 being at the bottom makes perfect sense! So far all the shrubs along the border below the car park have had a firm prune, usually we’re too cautious with the forsythia and the fuchsia but they were starting to get in the way of the path (below left). The autumn fruiting raspberries have all been cut off at the ground (below right) as they fruit on stems they regrow every year whereas only the oldest growth has been removed from the tayberries and Japanese wineberries as they fruit on last years growth.

This year we were not so heavy handed with the orchard, only removing branches that crossed and shortening the longest spurs that appear too thin to support apple growth. Most of our trees fruit more heavily on the polytunnel side of the orchard and therefore several trees lean that way and are currently propped to try to encourage them to straighten. We lost the Braeburn and Conference pear to disease and storms so their spaces in the orchard will be filled by another cherry called Kordia and an apple called Summer Red, now I just need to dig some big holes!

Here’s my favourite bit of garden planning, drawing the plans and colouring (though my colour coding went a bit astray) where there will be pumpkins growing beneath the sweetcorn as they did so well last year. Above right are the beds behind the plant room (which actually contains the ground source heat pump and not plants) showing where the new summer raspberry canes will go.

Above left are the gooseberries after a very prickly and severe pruning (aiming for an ‘open goblet’ shape as per Monty D), in the centre photo are the currants. I don’t think I’ve ever pruned the redcurrant before which probably explains the excess we usually have. I advertised the overwhelming redcurrant crop a few years ago through my work Facebook page usually used for A&E shift swaps and a colleague I barely knew answered and we spent a happy afternoon in the sun picking them together. I hope there are many such friendships among people who grow their own fruit and veg because we are always wanting to trade surplus. If only we could have visitors currently as I usually ply them with blackcurrant jam. Above right are irises under the silver birch grove and the snowdrops I found in a huge swathe years ago under our blackberry and redistributed around the whole site. There are daffodils, crocuses, grape hyacinths and the usual million tulips just popping up – sure signs spring is coming!

Look out for a blog about the big move from caravan to The West Barn coming soon!

Season of lists and mellow fruitfulness

Firstly apologies to Keats for borrowing and altering his first line of ‘To Autumn’ but it rather fits the current state of the garden and gardeners. Mostly we try to write the To Do lists when its raining and pick the fruit in the sunshine but yesterday Sheila and I picked raspberries in a downpour.

The blackberries are coming along slowly and as usual some of the biggest ones are out of reach so I’ve been thinking of these as the Angel’s Share (as in whiskey making). The blackcurrants were the best they’ve ever been and I made lots of cordial and jam and froze lots too so we can make a fresh batch of cordial for a taste of summer in the depths of a Yorkshire winter. The yellow plums from Oullin’s Gage have been eaten and now the Victoria plum has produced a vast harvest. We are reveling in the delights of picking a plum ripe from the tree that is juicy, sweet and comes clean off the stone as opposed to those bought in supermarkets that never really ripen. I have not yet resorted to making plum jam (in the style of the WI) but instead offer them to the builders. We’re watching the apples ripen by the day, Emily’s tree Early Windsor will be first as usual.

The Pomodoro tomatoes are being used to make passata, and the Sungold are being eaten daily in lunches. As ever we are just about keeping up with them  thanks to Sheila’s dedicated watering regime. The strange Green Zebra and Orange Russian are a rare novelty and the less said about the Faworyt tomatoes the better.

We were recently gifting a few pounds of damsons and as we have so much jam I decided on a new tack and made ketchup – I’m told it goes well with fish and chips.

The runner beans were sown rather late – I realised as we were constructing the tower that I hadn’t actually sown any! However that means they’re  ready now when there’s a lull in the dwarf french beans thankfully. All the beds are full and the garden looks lush today after the heavy rain.

Five new beds were built this year along the track below the courtyard to accommodate all the extra veg we wanted to grow and has a bed of potatoes, a bed of sweetcorn, two beds of mini sweetcorn (which we’re eating now) and a bed of Trombonchini squashes which have chosen to ramble horizontally rather than up the lovely wigwam structure I built from them as the packet said they are climbers! Below the sweetcorn are the pumpkins and when Sheila cut the mildewy leaves back twelve were revealed and are now hopefully going to turn orange in the late summer sun. Note to self – next time I ask the kids to peel the many layers off the mini sweetcorn ask them to do it outside – the hairy bits got everywhere!


The wildflower border along the back track has been so beautiful and sucessful we’ve decided to extend it towards the growing area. With the easy bit of ordering the seed done there’s just lots of hard digging to go. It’s ground we’ve never grown anything on and is full of bramble and giant willowherb roots and big stones. Hopefully next year it will be full of corn chamomile, meadow buttercup, corn flower, self-heal, yarrow, bird’s foot trefoil, goatsbeard, red campion and many more.

Garden update May 2020

So it’s fair to say gardening has become pretty important to me during lockdown. And as garden related minor injuries (fingers cut with secateurs, infected hand from embedded rose thorn etc) seem to be on the increase in my A&E it seems everyone is giving their garden some attention at the moment. With only a basil plant on a windowsill to tend to when I was ill I missed the farm terribly.

Right now everything is taking off for the season with great haste, summer is coming (Kate and I saw TWO swallows today so it’s confirmed) and the polytunnel is lush with broad beans sown before winter and a passionflower that is rampant.

The tomatoes are being potted on as they outgrow their pods, Sungold, Faworyt, and Pomdoro are already on their strings with the strangely coloured varieties Green Zebra, Orange Russian and White Beauty trailing behind currently.

Onions and shallots sown before winter are being ‘religiously watered’ (Sheila’s words) – I think she talks to them. The brassica bed has been planted with kalettes (new this year-a sort of flowering sprout), brussels, red cabbages and a variety of oddly coloured cauliflowers –who knows what they will become!

In previous years this sort of spring update has featured strict crop rotation plans in bright colours, less of that this year. The beds have been merely allocated to legumes, roots or brassicas and as seedlings become ready to plant out they will go where there is space. Rotation only works if you have an even number of beds for each veg group and we have decided to grow more of what we’re good at and what everyone likes to eat – so 4 are dedicated to beans and peas, 1 to roots and 2 to brassicas.

The group has also built new beds along the track behind the plant room to grow potatoes and both baby and large sweet corn; of which there is a forest of seedlings waiting to get planted out.

For the last few years Sheila and I have been trying harder at flowers. With tulips, daffodils and irises planted the first colour comes effortlessly to the fruit bed in front of The Byre. Now there is aquilegia among the blackcurrnats and redcurrants that are already starting to form fruit. The wall alongside the orchard features roses, honeysuckle, a wisteria, Solomon’s seal, lavender, Echinacea and sweet peas when they’re ready to be planted out. My recent attempts at ‘angel’s fishing rod’, ‘eryngiums’ and ‘flying hedgehogs’ (seed bought purely because of the name) have produced nothing – in summary some things are best left to the experts!

We’re currently eating broad beans, asparagus and lettuces and my bet is on the strawberries as the next crop to ripen.

To bee or not to bee….

So the project is buzzing along. There is a hive of activity on the site, mainly around Units 2 and 3 and the Open House and by extension the courtyard.

I’ve been part of the project for 3+ years now and the idea of having a hive has been at the back of my mind and mentioned between us all for a good part of it. I think the driving force for me has been the realisation of how essential bees are to our ecosystem. Explained well in this blog –

It’s only now I’m starting to do a bit of research and got in touch with a local bee keeping association and I was kindly invited to a meeting. The meeting was in fact a talk by Dr Paul Cross of Bangor University and it was a very good turn out, I’d say 50+ people there. It was certainly a nice start and i made some notes (very brief) for some other stuff I’ll look into. I will definitely try and go to more meetings and join up, especially as I’m not much of a reader so being able to meet, talk and listen to experts and experienced bee keepers will bee great.

So hopefully in the not too distant future we will have a hive(s) as part of OHP which can form part of any tours/visits to the project. and there may even be some honey to taste. There’s still a way to go in terms of going on courses and getting all the equipment but now I’ve got the ball rolling and even posted a blog about it, it certainly feels more real rather than just an idea.

So time for me to buzz off now………


5 Rivers and Live Project Visit

Guest post from Bryn Davies:

Tuesday 22nd October – Five Rivers Co-housing and SSOA Live Projects

Five Rivers co-housing, a Sheffield based group who are currently looking to build their own co-housing scheme together, came to visit the Open House Project last week.  For the past month Five Rivers have been taking part in a Live Project in collaboration with students from Sheffield School of Architecture (SSOA).  Last week members of Five Rivers and several students from SSOA were given a guided tour of Open House Project by resident and architect Leo Care.

Visiting the project provided the group with a fascinating insight into the workings and logistics involved in delivering a successful scheme, a great example of how co-housing can be delivered here in Sheffield.  Particular highlights of the scheme included the innovative ground-source heat pump system that services the scheme, and the wonderful growing spaces that have been cultivated by the group.  The Open House Project truly showcases how anybody, even without any prior experience in the field or in project management, can play a pivotal role in delivering progressive and exciting housing.

You can find more information about Five Rivers here:

For more information about live projects you can visit the website here:

Humanitarian Architecture Society Visit

Guest Post from Tom Matthews

On the 16th of October 11 students from the University of Sheffield group, Humanitarian Architecture Society, came to visit the Open House project. Our society aims to educate its members and the wider community about issues in architecture of social consciousness and sustainability. We were therefore very excited when Leo agreed to give us a tour of this project and to find out more about what goes on at Barnes Hall farm!

HAS visit 2019 1

Despite the best efforts of the Sheffield bus system to stop us, we greeted Leo on a glorious Wednesday afternoon to look around the site.

It was fascinating to see the builds in their various states of completion, from Leo’s finished and inhabited house, to the co-house and west barn which are still a work in progress. Seeing the agricultural heritage of the latter in the form of concrete cattle pens, and huge timber columns was a particular highlight.

HAS visit 2019 2

Sketches by Nina Vacic

Leo gave us a great description of the systems at work in the plant room, and how the project is reducing its environmental impact with equipment such as the ground source heat pumps.

HAS visit 2019 4

We finished the tour with a cuppa in Leo’s kitchen and a fascinating discussion about the experience of living and working as the lead architect on a co-housing project.

We are all very grateful to the Open House project for welcoming us, and to Leo for the tour and inviting us into his home, and we look forward to seeing how to project progresses!

A budding Community

The Open House Project was featured in the Ecology Building Society Autumn Newsletter. You can see the whole article here: Open House Project Case Study


It’s great to be associated with an organisation that has such strong environment principles and we hope that we can play our part in addressing the Climate Emergency too through the Open House Project.