Life in the slow lane
Pre-pandemic, we were working most of the time in London which left us only the weekends to manage our little set up. Now we are grateful for every day we can avoid the rush to the station, the stress of finding a seat only to stand for the next 1.5 hours. Instead we wake up at the same time and work through the list of tasks we have set ourselves for the week. All before we hit our laptops to start the working day.
We're really not sure where our path will lead us but we feel passionate about heading down it all the same. That is until it starts raining, leaving it grim and miserable outside. Then the passion is harder to find.
Everything I'd read about other people's advice on starting a smallholding points to having a realistic plan and a positive attitude. That's what we did 4 years ago and we're still learning to get better at it. It is hard work. Physically, mentally and emotionally.
Plants may not grow or get devastated by pest or spores, livestock may die but you must just put it down to experience, learn from it and move on. Here are some things we have learned:
We've been tempted to juggle lots of different projects that require time, energy and money. Now we try and focus on one or two projects at a time, such as creating a vegetable garden or building beehive equipment. The satisfaction of finishing it and seeing the tangible benefit helps motivate starting the next project and we've identified things to avoid in the process to make the next project better.
It takes at least a season of growing to get to know the soil and which fruits and vegetables grow well in your area. Even then, the weather can change dramatically the next year and your harvest might not be what you expect. This is part of the learning - use your experience to improve small things to help you adapt for next time. Get a rotation plan in place for what you might grow and where you might grow it. It took some iterations but we finally have one that works for us. Investing in a polytunnel helped with managing pests and diseases as well as extending the growing period. This is costly so it's good to think about the long term additional value it can bring such as storage space or winter growing.
You can only work with what you’ve got so plan in the changes. For example, you'll also want to start making your own compost, so think about how you might connect with friends and neighbours to collect compostable food waste. How will you water your plants in the summer….or protect the plants in a sudden unexpected frost? Your experience will inform your planning so don't worry if you haven't got it all on the first day. Remember step 1!
Make good notes
It might not seem obvious, but you'll be surprised how useful it is to look back on what you have done before and when. You won't be able to remember everything you did so notes/photos help enormously. You can record costs, which plants grow well, which don't, when to plan your seed sowing and how you dealt with various conditions in terms of livestock healthcare. (We discovered that none of the our local vets know anything about chicken health so it's all been down to community forums and reading up!)
This way of life requires you to spend a lot of time outside. When it’s raining, muddy, cold and on top of everything, it's not working to plan. Remind yourself of the end goal and why you decided to do this in the first place. And may be grab some chocolate.