Solar panels for an energy efficient home

Cantiaci’s DIY-er in Chief Frank explains the hows, whats and whys of installing solar panels on his Folkestone home: 

When did you decide on solar panels?

I bought my home in 2012, which was just an end of terrace house in Folkestone. I looked at ways of reducing my energy costs and, as this was supposed to be the sunny south east, I thought about solar panels. The government were gradually reducing the tariff year on year so I took the plunge in October 2014, before it went too low.

How much did your solar panels cost?

My solar panels were about £6000, which I got a loan for and paid some of it off. The KWh (Kilo Watt an hour) rate then was 14.5p and the feed in tariff (the amount the national grid pays back in unused electricity) was about 4.5p a unit. The figures for 2015, 16, and 17 will be progressively lower.

As a comparison, my cousin invested in 16 solar panels a few years before me, and gets (to this day) approx. 22p per KWh but the downside was he paid a lot more for his panels than I did.


How many panels did you install? 

Even though my roof could only take 10 panels on a south east facing direction, I was able to have 6 extra panels on my rear flat roof, westerly facing. These are all individually controlled by micro-invertors, which change the DC current to AC and fed to meters in my electricity cupboard.


How do your solar panels work?

When it is daylight, the panels automatically prioritise over the mains supplied
current until dusk. Suns-Energy in East Anglia installed all the equipment in one day and they monitor it by wi-fi and send me monthly email reports.


How much money have your solar panels saved?

See below. This is over a 7 day period. To give a good example of my electricity in the last 6 months, Aug. 2016-Jan. 2017, using the actual billed amounts from my electricity company, I actually gained £12.50 per month!


Obviously I have gas, broadband and telephone costs. The savings at this stage, at least 6-7 years later, will go towards the cost of the panels. These are part of the house and are mine. Not leased or owned by anybody else.

To help, I use, say washing machine and tumble drier, during the day. Even if cloudy, though not so effective, they are still working, remember, they work on ambient daylight.

What other ways have you found to save energy?

Early in 2016 I invested in air source heaters which extract heat from the air, even on freezing nights, so when these are used in the daytime; they are running off the solar panels, so therefore saving on my gas bill. The cost effect is not as dramatic as I am more likely to use them in the evening, but it does impact on my gas bill.

I still need hot water and the gas cooker, but heating, the biggest user, is considerably reduced.

The other new technology that helps heat gain is that I had installed new double glazing, in which the glass has a gap of 20mm (as good as triple glazing, but considerably less cost) and the glass is treated to enable a 3% solar gain into the property. It is argon filled, eliminating air which is prone to condensation.

I consider my energy use and ways to save and reduce my dependency on the national grid, completely in line with the aims of Folkestone Cantiaci. If I could afford approx £2000, I could invest in long-life storage batteries, and be totally off-grid! This would be ideal in a completely rural area. It shows that new technology can enable one to live a more ‘green’ lifestyle.

Recipe: vegan apple crumble with an oaty nutty topping

When we planned on doing a communal meal we wanted to make it as inclusive as possible so being vegan-friendly was a must. Most members of Cantiaci are vegetarian anyway, but we also wanted to cater for people with food intolerances and allergies so it made sense to make the meal vegan (as well as using gluten free flour).

For the dessert we had a whole lot of apples from various places so something apple-based and seasonal was really the only sensible option, and who doesn’t love an apple crumble? I’d never had a vegan apple crumble so I decided to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised. Using olive oil and ground almonds gives you just the right fatty taste without any animal products so it’s win-win for people, animals and the environment.

You can use any nuts for this but pecans work particularly well. At the meal we had some foraged sweet chestnuts that I had roasted for about 25 minutes then shelled, crushed and sprinkled on top, but I don’t think I really had enough to be able to taste them. Oh well! I liked the idea of a foraged element but I’m yet to be convinced that sweet chestnuts are worth getting repeatedly stabbed for…

Vegan apple crumble recipe

Serves 6


For the apple filling:

  • 8 dessert apples
  • ¼ cup (60ml) apple juice
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp gluten free flour

For the oaty nutty crumble topping:

  • 1 cup (90g) oats
  • ½ cup (55g) ground almonds
  • ½ cup (43g) gluten free flour
  • ½ cup (100g) muscovado sugar (or other brown sugar)
  • ½ cup (50g) chopped nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, almonds)
  • ½ cup (120ml) olive oil
  • Handful flaked almonds


Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.

First peel and core the apples, then chop into thin slices.

Put into a bowl and pour on the apple and lemon juice. Sprinkle on the dry ingredients (flour, mixed spice and sugar) and stir well until all the ingredients are mixed together.

Put the apple mixture into into an ovenproof dish.

Mix all of your dry topping ingredients together EXCEPT the flaked almonds. If your nuts aren’t pre-chopped just put them into a jug and use the flat end of a rolling pin and bash them until you have fairly small but uneven chunks.

Pour in the olive oil. When properly combined the mixture should go a bit darker in colour – you might need to add a little more olive oil if you still have a lot of of dry bits.

Spread the mixture evenly over the top of your apples, then sprinkle on the flaked almonds.

Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes – 55 minutes. Check it halfway through – you should see a little bit of juice bubbling up at the side. If you don’t you might need to add a dash more apple juice to stop it drying out – that’s fine, just carefully pour it into one corner and tilt the pan so it can spread. The top should go a golden colour and the apples should go nice and soft.

Serve warm, and if you have leftovers just reheat them in the oven until warmed through.

Rebecca Elliott

Foraging: hawthorn health benefits

Hawthorn berries (Crateagus Oxycanthus) are abundant in the UK in early autumn, with the small red berries common in hedgerows, slopes and the edge of wooded areas from early August onwards. At the Cantiaci allotment we have a HUGE hawthorn bush that we have raided for berries to make tea and tincture with, and even as we plunder the hedge more keep appearing, bigger and brighter than ever, more than we could ever use so hopefully the local bird populations are eating their fill.

Packed with health-giving properties, these colourful little berries (or ‘haws’) are unpleasant to eat but have been used to help treat a wide range of conditions for hundreds of years, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and angina. According to the University of Maryland, it is thought their high amount of antioxidant flavonoids are to thank for the heart-health properties of hawthorn.

The haws are unpleasant to eat thanks to their large stone and bitter taste but capsules and liquid extracts are available. You can also easily make your own hawthorn tea or tincture, and hawthorn is often used in conjunction with modern medicine, however if you have health concerns or are taking any other medication you should always speak to a doctor before following any health recommendations you read online.

How to make hawthorn tea

Hawthorn tea can be made from dried leaves, flowers or berries, and you can buy hawthorn teabags from health food shops if you struggle to find hawthorn or it is the wrong time of year.

To make tea from the haws simply take a teaspoon of berries per mug and pour on some boiling water.

Leave to steep for 10 minutes, or longer if you want a strong tea.

Spoon out or strain the haws (or just drink around them if you’re really lazy) and enjoy.

How to make hawthorn tincture

Tincture is a great way to preserve the health properties of hawthorn berries all year round and it’s probably the best way to take hawthorn medicinally. It can be made with alcohol or, for a non-alcoholic version, cider vinegar.

To make hawthorn tincture, simply take your haws and remove the stems. Crush them a little to break the surface.

Put into a clean jar, leaving some space at the top, and pour cider vinegar or alcohol into the jar until the haws are completely submerged by the liquid.

Put the lid on tightly and leave to steep for 4-6 weeks. When ready, strain your mixture and compost the berries.

Store the remaining liquid in a clean airtight bottle, ideally with a pipette lid. You will only need to use a few drops at a time.

Apple Day 2016 On The Harbour Arm; Get Involved!

A post by Maggie Boyle;

I’m helping organise Apple Day on the Harbour Arm. It will take place on 1st October 1-4pm.

We have a couple of apple presses and are hoping that people will bring some clean apples and clean plastic bottles so they can take away some freshly made juice!

If you can volunteer on the day to help with chopping, crushing and pressing apples to make lovely juice please comment on here, message myself or Cantiaci.

I also want to collect apples for the apple day that would otherwise go to waste. If you know of anyone who has a reasonable quantity of apples that could easily be gathered (at least a couple of boxes) please message me.

If you are able to help gather apples could you let me know. I’ll try to organise some scrumping in the week running up to the 1st of October.




Allotment cooking: mint and broad bean dip

This mint and broad bean dip is very easy – absolutely no cooking whatsoever! (Well, you can if you want it hot but it makes a lovely zingy and refreshing summer dip so there’s no need to, really.)

This is very loosely based on a canape I once had at a wedding and recreated at home and it works really well as a vegetarian canape or as a dip with toasted pitta bread strips, or inside a pitta with salad and falafel.

All measurements are extremely rough – it’s a very versatile recipe. You can do it with 100% broad beans or 100% peas, or change the ratio depending on what you have available. Don’t worry if you don’t quite have enough. It’s a great recipe for those early harvest days when your vegetables start trickling through – a few peas here and there, a few broad beans.

You can use frozen broad beans and peas or fresh. If you are using frozen ingredients just put them in a bowl, pour some boiling water over them and leave them for about 5 minutes, then drain.

The feta is optional – it is perfectly lovely as a vegan dip, but if you want some creaminess or you just happen to have a bit of leftover feta in the fridge you can throw it in at the end.

Mint and broad bean dip recipe


Makes: about a cup of dip

  • 75g broad beans, shelled
  • 75g peas, shelled
  • Glug of olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Handful fresh mint leaves
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Optional: 50g feta


This is a very easy dip – just pop the deshelled peas and broad beans in a jug and blitz with a hand blender.

Add the olive oil and lemon juice a bit at a time, watching the consistency as you blend.

If you are using the feta shred it roughly and add to the jug, then blitz.

Shred the mint leaves and add them, then blitz again. It doesn’t matter if there are a few bits that don’t get blended.

Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

If you want a hot version do as above but leave the mint and feta out. Warm up the mixture on the stove for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and blend in the mint and feta.

Serve as a dip, canape or in a pitta bread with salad and falafel.

Store it in an airtight container in the fridge and it will keep for a few days.

Rebecca Elliot

Cantiaci, Folkestone, Community, Transition Town, Sustainable, Allotment, Grow Your Own, Vegetables, Food

Foraging: Elderflower Cordial Recipe

Foraging doesn’t have to be risky (mushrooms) or unusual (anything you’ve never heard of). Some foraging is very safe, tasty and, frankly, ever so slightly middle class. Step to the front, elderflower cordial.

Elderflower cordial is increasingly popular as a non-alcoholic option for garden parties, weddings and barbecues, and with the amount of teetotallers on the rise (especially among young adults) the drinks industry has seen a boom in soft drink options. Elderflower cordial is one of the most popular, with lots of big brands such as Bottlegreen and Belvoir lining supermarket shelves.

Elderflower cordial is extremely easy to make yourself – it takes very little hands-on time, you just need to allow time for it to steep, so it’s a good thing to make if you want to get started with some very basic foraging.

Harvesting elderflowers

Elderflowers grow on a flowering shrub called Sambucus, and it’s Sambucus nigra that is most commonly used to make elderflower cordial. Look out for their clusters of white flowers on verges, at the edges of fields, but be careful not to take them from areas with a lot of traffic.

Look for the delicate off-white flowers in late May to June. Make sure you use flowers that are still in their prime – they should have a delicate scent (not too strong) and when you shake them gently they should retain their petals. If their smell is strong and/or the petals drop off when you shake them then it’s too late for cordial. Not to worry, just leave them and come back in the autumn and they will have turned into berries so you can make elderberry jelly. You might find one shrub has flowers in various stages, so if all the flowers seem past-it on one side then check behind, where the flowers might be in more shade.

Pull the flower off at the base where the flower stems meet and pop them in a bag or box, keeping them upright if you can. You don’t want them to lose their pollen.

Check carefully for insects who might be hiding in the flowers. If it isn’t too windy you can leave them outside for a few hours to give any hideaways the chance to escape.

Recipe: elderflower cordial

This recipe is made using lemon juice instead of citric acid. If you can get it then use citric acid – on speaking with someone experienced with both methods I was told that citric acid gives it a much sharper taste. It also allows it to keep for longer.

Unfortunately citric acid has been used by drug addicts so you can no longer get it from pharmacies like you used to, but you can order it online (Amazon, for example) and sometimes get it from home brew shops.

Makes: approx 3.5 litres
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Steeping time: 2 days


  • 1 carrier bag of elderflowers (I had about 45 heads of elderflowers in my bag)
  • 1.5kg sugar (granulated or caster is fine)
  • 8 lemons (or 4 lemons and 65g citric acid)
  • 9 cups (about 2.12ltr) boiling water


Mix the sugar with the boiling water until the sugar has completely dissolved. You may need to do this in a pan over heat.

Leave the mixture to cool.

Zest the and slice the lemons and place them in the water. You can juice a few if you want a more lemony taste.

Pop the elderflowers in, flower head facing down, and stir gently to make sure the flowers are covered in water.

Cover the pan or bowl with a clean teatowel and leave to steep for 2 days.

After two days, strain the elderflower cordial into a jug.

Unlike fruit cordials the mixture will be very thin already so you can ladle it into a jug with a piece of muslin or a teatowel covering it and it will drain and fill the jug very quickly.

Once most of it is left you’ll end up with a pan or bowl full of elderflowers and lemon slices. You can scoop this into a teatowel or muslin sheet suspended from a straining stand or hanging from a cupboard door handle and leave it overnight with a jug underneath to catch the last remaining bits of cordial. Put a sieve on the jug as a lid to stop flies going into the cordial.

Bottle in sterilised glass bottles or, if you’re freezing it, plastic bottles. The cordial will keep for a few weeks but if you have a lot or you want to use it in future then it freezes very well.

Warning: your house will smell of elderflowers for days. It’s nice at first but the novelty does wear off!

Using your elderflower cordial

You can mix the elderflower cordial with sparkling water. For garden parties give it the Pimm’s treatment with sliced cucumber, mint leaves and strawberries etc.

You can also use it in baking, for example this Jamie Oliver pistachio, yoghurt and elderflower cake or thicken it with some icing sugar to create an easy elderflower icing to drizzle over a Victoria sandwich.

Drizzle a small amount over some strawberries about 30 minutes before serving.

For a decidedly alcoholic version you could also make some elderflower gin by replacing the water with gin.

Rebecca Elliot

Folkestone, Cantiaci, Folkestone Cantiaci, Community, Transition Town, Allotment, Raspberries, Caterpillars, Cabbage White, Grow Your Own