Rails farm strives towards sustainable living
Who are we at the smallholding Rails Farm in rural Dorset near Sherborne?
The logo on the left summarises what we believe in, i.e. sustainable living. The world will be a better place for us, our children and all the next generations when we live in harmony with our planet.
We have only one planet needing our protection from exploitation, and would like our farm to play a supporting role.
Ground source Heat Pump Nov 2018 – pushing towards carbon neutral sustainable living
This year 2018 we have made a major step towards sustainability and carbon neutral living. We have invested heavily to replace our oil heating system with a ground source heat pump generating renewable energy.
Hurray we are now fossil fuel free. We have taken out our oil burner and Amber Heating has installed a brand-new ground source heat pump. This means no more exhaust fumes or heating oil. No more fossil fuel is transported to us thus building up a significant carbon footprint. No more extraction via sea or land drilling exposing nature to pollution in many respects.
This is a significant step towards sustainable living.
We are already harvesting our rainwater to water our fruit and vegetables. It supplies bath and drinking water to our geese, ducks, Shetland sheep, alpacas and hens. Our laundry is also washed with beautiful soft rain water saving a significant amount of washing liquid. The heat pump was quite an eye watering financial expense but we are expecting to be reimbursed. At least some of it will be paid back over the next seven years via the RHI (renewable heat incentive) by the government.
The principle of a heat pump
The schematic above shows the principle of a ground source heat pump (GSHP). On the left hand side is the harvesting of the earth’s heat energy, the centre part is the heat pump (you can see as a photo above) and the right hand side are the heating elements, either underfloor or using radiators (which we have) to heat our cottage.
The essential outside work to harvest the earth’s heat energy
The next photos show you the outside work, i.e. the left hand side of the schematics. There are the 500 metre long trenches to place plastic tubing containing water with anti-freeze liquid to harvest the earth’s heat energy.
This trench digger scrapped out the soil up to 1.2 metre depth. This is a very slow process about one metre length in 10 min. With a total length of 500 metre the digger spent quite some time on the field munching its way through the clay. The soil and brown clay was completely dry after this year’s extremely hot summer. I would have not expected that in September.
This picture shows the return of one of the two 250 metre long plastic pipes, (please see the black pipe next to my foot), to the house and therefore to the heat pump. You can see the second loop on the left hand side. Quite a bit of destruction those trenches. One can also see how thin our top soil is on that field.
Lots of water flows through the 500 metre loops in the field
There are the two loops returning from the field. Four pipes are connected to the manifold where the two water loops allowing 2000 litre per hour. This is more than half a litre per second and almost one pint per second, flowing to and from the heat pump.
The four pipes are linked to two much bigger pipes with double the diameter. They are insulated and linked to the heat pump in our porch.
Richard, our middle son and myself, are laying the big pipes into the trench. Those connecting the manifold with the heat pump in our porch.
Here there are put in place.
Finally the two big pipes arrived at the porch. The three blue crossing pipes are from our rain water harvesting system. The smaller blue pipe is the rain water feeding pipe to our washing machine. You can also see the old white oil pipe for our old boiler which has been removed by now.
Outside plumbing of the ground source heat pump
The final arrangement outside looks shows an expansion vessel, ball valves and a pressure gauge. This is to monitor the pressure inside the outside pipes. The system works currently at one bar very similar to the average atmospheric pressure.
The heat pump is environmentally friendly and sustainable. Additionally it provides a lovely warm house with warm water always available. A heat pump works in principle like a fridge. You use the heat released at the back, emitted by your food and drinks in the fridge. It uses the heat energy of the earth. This is provided by the sun heating the soil and rainwater carrying warmth down.
My first academic research project
Funny enough, I wrote my first Bachelor thesis in Engineering in 1988 investigating a heat pump. Focus was the heat-exchange performance of an air-heated heat pump. Life is like a boomerang, important things are returning to you eventually, in this case after thirty years. Why is a heat pump sustainable? This is because for each kWh of electric energy put in, the heat pump generates up to 3.6 kWh of heat energy. So we are generating renewable energy similar to wind turbines or solar cells.
What is our next move towards sustainable living?
Next step towards even more sustainability is producing our own electric energy. Photo voltaic (solar) cells can provide the electric energy for our heat pump and the rest of the house hold. The ultimate goal is to replace our diesel cars with electric ones, fuelled by our own electric energy generated by solar cells.
Financing such an expensive project
Everything has a price. Hence, having spent all our savings we have to find some money to pay for all the bills landing everyday on the table. Meaning we need to sell more eggs and honey. I am also sure there are more learners who need private tuition in Physics, Science, Maths and German. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the light bulb effect in my tutees. So come on people the GCSE exams are lurking at the horizon. There is only one shot at those.
If you are interested in the concept of a heat pump please come and see us.
My wife and I started working in small local environmental groups thirty years ago back in Germany. We planted trees, built bat boxes and helped toads, salamanders and newts to safely cross roads to their breeding ponds and back. Back then we were already very conscious about the environment and tried to live in the most sustainable way possible. Both of us went through many years of academic life at Universities in Germany and in this country searching for the meaning of life.
My wife was doing research work in Botany, Biochemistry and Immunology. I worked in aeronautical research, blood flow modelling and cloud physics before I trained to become a teacher in Science and Maths.
This is our lovely 18th century farm cottage. Among many other skills Gaby can paint really well as you can see below. I wish I could do that.
Many, many years later, in August 2013, in a different country, we were lucky enough to buy our current smallholding between Dorset’s county town Dorchester and Sherborne on the border to Somerset. Now we can finally put all our ideas of sustainable living into practice. Which means living according to organic principles and to return our land back to nature without pesticides or herbicides or any artificial fertilisers. Only the good stuff will touch our soil.
Rails Farm Ethos – LebensZiel – Sustainable living
What is most important in life? To be happy and healthy, coming back to the logo on top of the page. Hence our, i.e. Rails Farm Ethos or in German ‘LebensZiel’ is to pursue this principle. However, happiness mustn’t be selfish, it should rather be a positive and sustainable contribution to our society. As a small scale farmer, I mean respecting the land and the livestock on our smallholding. We want our sheep to have a good quality of life where they can grow slowly without being pushed by hormones or other drugs. That does not mean we wouldn’t give them medical help if necessary but only to ensure they are healthy and happy. Every year, like on this photo from 2017 and this year 2018, we are awaiting with joy and of course with a bit of fear the lambing season. This is a celebration of new life on the farm.
Gaby and two of our children waiting on the field for one of last year’s lambs to be born. Jade my favourite ewe, waited with us.
We are breeding Shetlands mainly for the wool and because they are so lovely and tame.
However, some of the rams went into eternal hibernation thus becoming Sunday roasts. They had a happy and healthy life and we take them to a very close and small abattoir thus we try to minimise the stress level and our carbon footprint. This does not mean it is easy to end a happy life. However as long as the sheep are treated respectfully particularly in their final hours, we believe this meat consumption is responsible and supports sustainable living.
Some time later and little Lawrence jumps on his mum ‘Bonnie’ practising his balancing skills.
Why is a flowery garden so important for sustainable living?
To be happy and healthy we need to use and stimulate all our senses. We see the beautiful colours of flowers, listen to buzzing bees pollinating them, and smell the scent. All of this influences our mind to become open to new ideas, constantly growing to start new projects to improve our environment and live sustainably. We are interdependent to nature. If we use our energy to help nature we will get in return a garden of joy good for our soul and body.What a pretty delphinium.
Beautiful roses with a lovely scent. The very tall flowers of our Yucca.
Why all about Science and Maths in sustainable living?
Both of us worked as Research Scientists. Gaby the Botanist, Biochemist and Immunologist and myself a Physicists, Engineer and Mathematician. Everything on this world is governed by Science and Maths. If you look at rivers meandering through the land, the number Pi comes to the surface; working out the materials and design for the hay barn or installing a rain water harvesting system STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is calling. An excellent place to find even more ideas about intelligent and environmentally sustainable technology is the Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales.
Hay barn building 2016 2015 we installed 10000 litre water tank and ICB tank to collect rain water from the roof
Gaby’s skills are essential for growing vegetables and fruit, managing the grass land and meadow and the livestock. Whether it is vaccinating sheep, giving vitamin D boosters to the alpacas or ensuring that the hens are mite free Gaby always knows the answer.
Maths and Science are the bread and butter for us as smallholders but of course for me as a Physicist
As mentioned above I worked in research. I tutored and lectured first year undergraduates at City University in London during my PhD research work in Mechanical Engineering between 1995 and 2000. For the next three years I worked as a post doc research fellow at Reading University in Cloud Physics. 2003 was the year for planning family and future and a full time permanent position was in need.
Retrained to a Maths and Science teacher
Hence, I trained as a Science/Maths teacher at Henrietta Barnett Girls School in Hampstead Garden Suburb London. Since then I worked as a Maths/Science teacher and a Head of Physics for fifteen years at several schools. I am currently teaching Maths at a local school in Dorchester. I love Maths and Science and enjoy teaching and tutoring at all levels, primary school to A-levels and degree level, as a Maths Tutor / Science Tutor and Physics Tutor.
What are we planning to do next at Rails Farm pushing sustainable living?
Photo Voltaic (PV) cells or a Wind Turbine
will be the next step to generate our own electric energy. We need to do a bit more research and get some quotes before we decide.
WET – Wetland Ecosystem Treatment
We also thinking to increase our biodiversity by installing a WET (wetland ecosystem treatment) system producing a grass crop with a large pond offering a wetland habitat for all sorts of organisms and wildlife. We visited Monkton Wyld Court and they showed us kindly their WET system installed by Biologic Design Ltd in Herefordshire. Absolutely brilliant, one is using its own sewage to produce a crop and feeding a pond which altogether creates a natural wetland habitat.