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Becoming a 21st-Century Smallholder

The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives. – Gertrude Jekyll

About four years ago I came across a book in the library called “21st-Centenary Smallholder:  From Window Boxes to Allotments: How To Go Back To The Land Without Leaving Home”.  It was written by Paul Waddington.

The title alone had my interest piqued so I checked the book out and took a gander at it.

It didn’t take me long to realise this book was rather inspirational.  For years I’d believed the only way I’d be able to become more self-sufficient and grow my own fruit and veg was by moving to the country and buying a place with loads of land, something that in all honesty I couldn’t ever afford.  I’d felt disheartened that I wouldn’t get the lifestyle I so craved for but after reading Paul’s book it wasn’t the lack of funds that was the problem with my dream, it was my perception that needed altering.

Fast forward four years and the book has turned into a reality.  I can now say I am living that self-sufficient dream, and while not a smallholder by exact standards (because I don’t farm any animals), I have definitely gone back to the land without leaving my home.

Today I am officially ticking it off from my Life Ticket as complete!

You see it was never about having loads of land.  It was about utilizing the land you’d got to make it work in the most productive way.  It was also about showing that by growing anything –  salad, a fruit tree in a pot – even cress, you’re learning not only about the plant and how it connects with both the soil and the food chain but about how you connect to it as well.  It was about growing food, and making an impact to your own food chain while at the same time enjoying your garden space with your family and pets.

Living in the country is fantastic but if, like me, it’s not possible to do, or indeed if you don’t want to move to the country, it doesn’t mean giving up on the idea, it means you can do everything you would in the countryside – without any buts.  (I thought about the buts, but as yet I have yet to find any).

My original plan, after reading the book, was to make both the front garden and the back garden fully functioning self-sufficiency gardens.  As time went on I realised it was also important to include wildlife into that equation as well.

Our back garden is smaller than the average UK garden (163 sqm), and comes in at about 120 sq m .  While the back is due south facing it means the front garden is due north.  Space was always going to be a challenge but in the end I learnt that space is relative, it’s what you do with it that really counts!

In the end everything I had set out to achieve has been accomplished (with grateful support from various family and friends) in the following way:

  • 6 raised beds which makes a total area of 13.5 m sq of growing space for growing fruit and veggies all yr round. – DONE
  • A full sized greenhouse – IN PROGRESS (although we do have a walk-in grow-house)
  • A tomato house for growing chilli plants 8 months of the year. – DONE
  • Pots on the patio for soft fruit – DONE
  • Three fruit trees, which include two espaliers (Apple, plum and cherry) – DONE
  • A nut hedge (cob) – DONE
  • A native hedge for wildlife (various species) – DONE
  • An area for feeding birds – DONE
  • Climbing and native shrubs in back for cover (inc. solarium, pyracantha and ivy) – DONE
  • Two lawns – DONE
  • 150 planted bulbs (crocus, daffodil, anemones) – DONE
  • Water butt – DONE
  • Composter – DONE
  • Summer perennials with wildlife qualities (nectar etc) (Poppy, wild flowers, iris, alliums, bleeding hearts) – DONE
  • Maintained privet hedge for cover and bird nests – DONE
  • An area for growing raspberries – DONE
  • Bird nesting boxes – IN PROGRESS
  • Small shallow wet area/pond – IN PROGRESS
  • Area for ferns and old bark (wild area) etc – DONE
  • A container area for herbs (chives, coriander, parsley) – DONE
  • Hops to grow over a structure – DONE
  • Two trees, one native in the front garden, and one in back garden to encourage birds – DONE
  • Seating area with pots for growing nectar flowers – DONE

Areas for:
Playing/Pets – DONE
Growing fruit – DONE
Growing veg all year round – DONE
Relaxing – DONE
Entertaining – DONE
Wildlife – DONE
Storage for tools – DONE

Four years it took but the journey has very much been worth it.

I look at the garden every day with a sense of pride and much satisfaction because I’m now able to do two things in our garden – grow our own food 12 months of the year and watch the wildlife who appreciate the garden as much as me and work in harmony with the all my cultivation.

You can do this too

If you’ve ever thought about growing your own food go for it.  Give it a go.  Even growing just one crop can make a huge difference to your life.  It sounds cliche but it’s true – growing crops and tending to the soil is by far the nicest thing to ever be doing, all year round.  My inspiration for doing this came from a just a simple idea from a book and it made me look at my garden space in a whole new light.

Of course my journey is in no way unique.  There are thousands of people all over the world all doing the same.  Taking what ever space they have to grow the most delicious, nutritious food because like so many others we don’t want to be beholden to supermarkets, nor do we want our diets full of fungicides and pesticides (regardless of how many times you wash the fruit).  It’s great to be part of a positive and very supportive group.

I’ve been documenting the journey of self-sufficiency in a garden photo journal.  It can be found over here.   You’ll also find monthly updates on this very blog.

Got any questions or stories on your journey into cultivation then please get in touch

Doing Something Good Every Day

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