A solar passive house is for sale here at Hockerton Housing Project. It is one of the five private homes on this sustainable co-housing development. It comes with shared access and use of renewable energy systems, rainwater harvesting and 6 acres of land, with a further 8.5 acres on an agricultural lease.
Kitchen of house for sale at Hockerton Housing Project
Residents benefit from very low bills, onsite renewable energy systems and rainwater harvesting, and access and use of 14.5 acres. The homes and their gardens are private, with all households sharing in the management of the surrounding land and facilities, and the onsite business that delivers a range of services relating to sustainability.
The development is in the Nottinghamshire village of Hockerton, 1.5 miles from the market town of Southwell and 7 miles from Newark, with its 75 minute train link to London. The village has a pub and an active community spirit. Schools include the Lowes Wong Infant and Junior School and the excellent Minster School. Southwell is a bustling historic town with a useful range of shops, two weekly markets, and regular festivals throughout the year.
We have now been running our aquaponics system for a year. It was installed as part of a PhD project emerging from Sheffield Hallam University, exploring how a lay-person would take to soil-free gardening, and capturing lessons that may prove of use if the approach is to be taken up more widely.
Last September we posted our lessons from the initial design and cycling of the aquaponics system, and here is the experience gained from using it in earnest.
Temperature: we are still waiting for the live temperature monitoring system planned by the University, but temperatures in the tank got down to 5C in this uncharacteristically long, cold winter. We keep carp in our system in part due to their ability to cope in a range of temperatures, and whilst their activity seemed to slow, there was no significant problem.
Temperature time-lag: the salads planted in the spring were a lot faster growing in the soil than aquaponics. Without monitoring data it is hard to specify the cause but it is likely that problems with the auto-siphon (see 8) slower supply of feed and oxygen, and we suspect that the temperature of the water was slower to rise than that of the soil.
Over-winter plants: our main problem over winter was vermin rather than temperatures. The kohlrabi were eaten in one night. But other plants thrived, and we had a supply of green leaves from Mizuna, chard and spinach plants through til Spring.
Thermal mass: Another success were the tomatoes which survived 6 weeks longer than those a meter away that were planted in soil. This may be due to their later planting, but their close proximity to heat-storing thermal mass may also play a part. The mass is in the clay balls in which they are planted, the water, and the dense concrete blocks that support our growing beds – against which the tomatoes were trailed.
Minerals: We share the produce grown between our five households, and concern was raised about whether they were as healthy as soil-grown plants due to a lack of minerals. This prompted some further reading but we were on the right track:
Maxicrop to add micronutrients in our initial cycling
Rocks from our carp pond helped introduce naturally-occuring bacteria
To this we added, after three months, composting worms which seem to be surviving well, and there is no sign of mineral deficiency in the leaves or crops.
Sowing medium: some seeds have self-sown (tomatoes), and some peas and beans have successfully grown from seed scattered in the beds, but vermin were a significant problem – perhaps due to the long winter. To get round this we started seedlings off in an Ikea hydroponics kit in a conservatory, made more sustainable by using our own sheeps’ wool to form the sowing medium, instead of mineral wool.
Evaporation: again, we are yet to receive the monitoring equipment but it seems more water is evaporating than we would expect, with the system requiring approximately 300 litres top-up every 2-3 weeks in growing season.
Cleaning: it took a long time to select fish food and it’s not clear we made the right choice. A lot of it is either not properly digested or dissolved and so occasionally blocks the pipes or is spewed out in to the last growing bed in the system. This bed is now protected to some degree by a sieve under the inlet pipe, but we would advise others to experiment with different feeds before buying a 25kg bag! The outcome of this was that the inlet water slowed to the point it was insufficient to trigger the auto-siphons, the growing beds did not drain once flooded (unless triggered manually) and so plants were starved of oxygen for much of the day.
The plants we are now testing for the first time (for us, at least) are French beans, squash, kale and spring onions. The French beans are densely planted, and are producing many more although much smaller, finer beans than those planted in neighbouring soil; the squash and courgette are slower to take off than those planted in soil, as is the kale, so it is still early days; but it is a delight to finally grow some spring onions which have never taken off in our soil beds.
You can follow more of our food-growing ventures on Instagram.
Planning permission has been granted for 9 houses designed by Hockerton Housing Project.
The earth-sheltered homes will be built on a greenfield site on the edge of a rural village. It is (rightly) not easy to get permission to build on such sites, and the owner had to take the case through to Appeal after the local Council refused permission.
One way to get planning permission on greenfield sites is to demonstrate outstanding architectural merit through an innovative design. This is notoriously difficult as the bar is constantly being raised, and features such as new technologies, complex shapes, height, and overall size add to land, design, build and running costs.
Our approach is the opposite. Our designs are simple and have exceptionally low running costs. However, we argue that we remain innovative so long as measures such as SAP and Passivhaus do not recognise our use of super-insulated thermal mass as a heat store.
The Appeals Inspector for this application recognised the many benefits of the form of our design but felt it was too simple in its aesthetic to get planning permission on the basis of architectural merit, and there was insufficient innovation in his view. That raises questions as to whether planning policy deters affordable housing in rural areas, but there is a positive in that the affordability of our design and the wider scheme remained pertinent to the final judgement.
Permission was granted on the basis that the greenfield site is not isolated and as such the homes would support the economic and social vitality of the village due to their energy saving credentials, size, appeal and affordability to young people and downsizers. Both the Council and the Appeal also recognised that the homes, with their earth-sheltering, related landscaping and reed beds will improve the biodiversity of the site.
MARCH WORKSHOP CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER: we will contact ticket holders about alternative dates in May.
Hockerton Housing Project is going to hold a second peg loom workshop in May 2018 following the success of its first in the Autumn.
Here at Hockerton Housing Project we were fed up with our fleeces from our sheep having no use or value apart from being made into compost! We wanted to put them to a creative use. As part of this we ran our first peg and loom workshop in the Autumn of 2017. Agnes Kiemel who is the shepherdess for Notts Wildlife Trust came to lead the workshop and her husband Mark made us our own peg looms.
During the day we started to make our rugs – 60 cm in diameter using the fleeces from our sheep! We have Herdwick crosses so ideal for rug making and Herdwick wool is used primarily for carpet making. At the end of the day we had all completed our rugs to different lengths and they all looked different. So we packed up our looms and fleeces and took them home to finish off.
The pleasure in making one of these is that you can pick it up in a quiet moment during the day, a couple of rows a day and it is soon completed. The advantage of having a 60 cm loom is that you can actually use it to make any size item!
We still have more fleeces that we can share with another group so we are running another workshop on Sunday 4th March, 2018. The day starts at 10am with coffee and biscuits. Agi then shows us how to get started and off we go. Lunch is provided and the day concludes at about 3.30pm. You get to take everything home with you, loom and pegs, fleeces to finish and a very warm and happy feeling.
The course is limited to 8 people per session and is £100 per person to include everything. If you don’t want to keep the pegs and loom you can return them to the project within 3 months and you receive a £40 refund!
You can book your place on our next workshop here.
Never have you seen a more satisfied group of people than our cohousing residents yesterday after a day of working together to regroup after the summer and prepare for winter.
Last week we walked around our 8.5 acre site together and prepared a list of jobs. Some are urgent, some not so, and some will continue to bounce along in and out of the long grass. With this list in mind, yesterday people put their different skills into action…
Barley straw added in to treat non-potable water reservoir
Chicken shed moved
Angle grinding of an old axle to prepare for recycling
Hotbox composter emptied and refilled
Pallets in place ready to construct into new compost bins
Donkey manure ready to mulch
Digging of beds (couch grass means no-dig methods are no go so far)
Sheep sorted into different paddocks, ready for the ram later in the year
Hay moved to winter storage
Shared space means shared responsibility
The definition of cohousing is that there is an element of shared space. At Hockerton Housing Project each household owns its own house and garden, but with that comes the benefit of shared access to 8.5 acres land, income from the onsite business and the use of facilities including renewable energy systems and various ponds and lakes. Not forgetting the zip wire, treehouse and pizza oven! To manage all this, each house has a commitment, set out in the original planning permission and bound in a 999 year lease, to undertake a certain amount of hours work on the Project. Visitors on our tours are often taken aback by the idea of such a formal commitment but, as the work is flexible in terms of content and timing, it quickly becomes a way of life.
Some of the work is paid, where undertaken for our trading business, and the rest is compensated by a supply of fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat and access to the land. All of it is tracked so we all do our fair share. Those working full-time elsewhere may take on the weekend jobs of public tours or evening jobs of managing the website and tour administration. Others may have ideas that they can develop as part of the business: our current projects include R&D for a new form of renewable energy generation with a local university, building performance monitoring on behalf of a housing association, asset management of wind turbines for community energy groups and farmers, and our ongoing range of tours and workshops to develop sustainability knowledge and skills.
Such flexibility, and a decent pay rate, means it can work well for people of all ages, including those who want to cut back on full-time work. The activities suit a range of interests and personalities, and stages of life such as those in the early days of retirement or people who want to continue working whilst also caring for young children, and for those looking to develop new skills, or apply existing ones, in the field of sustainability.
Where there is a will…
The need to cooperate underpins this cohousing approach to managing shared land and a shared business. Plans need to reflect shared needs and values, whilst also taking into account individuals’ skills, time and interests. If people had neither the time nor the inclination to act, the business or use of the land would not develop as intended. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And there’s definitely a Hockerton will, and way, to develop… sustainably of course.