Working full time and running a smallholding

A lot of the YouTube videos we watch, the books and blogs we read or the people we have spoken to think of smallholders and homesteaders as having an ‘off grid’ mentality.  That they want to disentangle themselves from the rat race, utility companies and live a completely self reliant life, on a hill in the middle of nowhere maybe.  While that’s all fine and dandy, Steven and I have to have a realistic approach that works for us.  Would we like to be off grid, totally self reliant and mortgage free.  Yes, we’d probably like to give it a shot before we leave this planet, but we have always been realistic in that we’re a little bit different!

When we bought the smallholding in January 2016, we did so using a mortgage.  If you follow our blog, you will know this and it won’t be a surprise.  Now mortgages these days can take you up to retirement age which you will also know we don’t want to have our mortgage around our necks for that long and that we are actively working on maximising our income and minimising our outgoings which will allow us to pay it off sooner.  In order to pay this mortgage, we need to work.

Why am I telling you this?  Because we are priding ourselves on showing people that you can have a mortgage which means you need to work full time and run a smallholding effectively.  We are not joining in the chants to become off grid and to escape the rat race.  We have nothing against that but we know we are accepting of having council tax to pay, a mortgage to clear, utility bills to take care of and so on, for as long as we live in some cases.

What we do do ( 🙂 ) is budget, see where we can reduce bills and save, look to where we can be as self reliant as we can with accepting of these decisions.  For example one of our most expensive outgoings is oil.  We could convert the Aga to solid fuel and live off our trees, but we aren’t here often enough to feed it.  We could collect rain water and convert the house non drinking water to use it and buy bottled to drink but realistically, we aren’t going to do that any time soon.  There has to be a balance.  So our budget each month takes our incomings, minus the absolute essential outgoings and leaves us with a balance.  How we spend that remaining balance is key.  A fair bit of it goes on insurances, for the cars, house and animals.  If we were off grid, we wouldn’t have a vehicle to insure nor insure the animals is my guess, so those expenses wouldn’t be there, but then nor would our incomes each month as that isn’t self reliant isn it?  

So where are we self reliant, even partially?  We grow as much of our own food as we can and each year we learn and build on the previous year.  We make decisions for things we don’t or can’t grow ourselves.  For example, we have bananas for breakfast on the meat from we eat beef which we don’t raise ourselves.  We are self reliant in chicken and lamb, pork later in the year but not beef or fish.  Again we could choose not to have both, but we don’t, we pay for it as we like it and we can right now.

We pretty much run our smallholding before and after work and weekends, so if you are thinking about doing it then don’t be put off if you work full time.  I can’t comment on other lifestyles being able to manage a smallholding or not as we haven’t lived anyhing else ourselves, but we know this one and we know it works.

Before work, we check the livestock and feed them all so they’re set for the day.  Depending on what you have this can be anywhere from 10 minutes upwards.  I like to spend a little time watching the animals come out of the pens or coops for the day, seeing them go about their business, have a stretch or for the ducks, get a bath!  On a night is the same, check everything is ok, feed and water them, collect eggs, clean out, whatever needs to be done and before bed lock everything away.  It can take as much or as little time as you like, but it has to be done every day.  There’s no days off in smallholding.

We plan as much as we can, plan for the best and the worst, be adaptable and also realistic.  Don’t try and take on too much but absolutely do take on as much as you can.  You may find that you can take on more than you think but it depends what character you’re like.  I would take on too much and Ste probably less than we could, so between us we balance perfectly most of the time!  

In the coming weeks I will do some posts on what organising looks like here and share our ideas and thoughts with a hope that people may find them helpful.

Summer holidays and exciting news!

We are in the midst of our summer break here. I’ve taken 2 weeks off work to catch up on the smallholding and start to prep for winter 2018.  I also have some exciting news to share with you.

The veg plot and friends:
Taking the 2 weeks off work, before the August bank holiday every year, is proving to be a really good time to have off from a smallholding point of view.  There’s so many things to harvest and preserve.  I spent the first few days weeding.  After the prolonged dry weather, then the burst of rain, the weeds have been forcing their way through and bringing their friends.  I managed to weed the potato bed, the squash bed, peas and beans, outdoor tomatoes and the roots beds.  My daughter also helped put some hay (it was too dusty for the horses, perfect for the veg patch so didn’t go to waste) under the squash to protect them from the wet soil.  

This year the plum are non existent but last year was a super year and the branches were snapping from the trees, so we aren’t surprised but it’s a shame.  The damsons are doing ok though and are almost ready.  I’ve spotted a few wild plums along the lane so we will pick them this week and use them.

Apples on the other hand are doing AMAZINGLY well this year!  This variety is Discovery, which we got from Kev over on An English Homestead and they are the nicest eaters ever, I was pleasantly surprised.  Look at the size of them!
More apples on the back trellace as cordons from Kev, doing very well too but later varieties.
 Outdoor tomatoes are loving the long, hot summer weather so far, though the muggy weather we have now is ripe for blight, so we are on blight watch daily.  I can’t recommend this variety highly enough, it’s called “Outdoor Girl”.
This is the second harvest we have had from these and there’s another couple of the same again to come.
 Every year we grow a pumpkin or large squash of some variety and this isn’t huge yet, but we’re pleased with it.  There’s a local county show we go to, for some fun competition where we will show this.  We won first place last year!
 This variety is called Sibley squash and I got the seeds from real seed.  They are supposed to keep very well through winter, becoming noticeably sweeter after New Year apparently.  The plants have been prolific this year.
 The indoor tomatoes are doing beautifully.  After a rubbish crop last year, where I didn’t even get to bottle any, I’m pleased they are coming along nicely.  I’ve never seen so many tomatoes on one vine as this variety.  The variety if Ildi.
Next year we must do more against the cabbage white butterfly.  This year seems to have been horrendous for them!  To be double sure, I intend to grow the young plants undercover and then when I plant out, put them straight under enviromesh.  It’s not cheap but apparently is worth it.
Two of my favourite summer veg, broad beans and courgettes.  Just as well as there’s loads!  Only 1 variety of courgette this year, I prefer the yellow and will stick with that each year now.   
 The kids have been brilliant during our time off and very helpful.  I’ll explain more in a moment, but here they are in my potting (or plotting as Jack calls it) shed enjoying some treats after a morning of hard graft.
 The damsons I mentioned.
 Old apple trees in the orchard, doing well this year.
On the smallholding:

We’re getting the outside jobs done.  Some nice and some not so nice.  There’s not only weeding to be done in the veg plot, but there’s plenty around the smallholding too.  Nettles are everywhere and boy are they stingers.  The car park looks more like a field, so we’ve hand weeded part of it, with the rest to be done.  We have trees to fell to give us Winter 2019 heat as they will need to season for a year or so.  We’re picking up 20 Ross Cobb day old chicks from our supplier tomorrow.  They will be slow raised to a decent weight when they will go in the freezer for 2019 chicken.  They are to be housed for the first few weeks in the poultry shed which is (hopefully) fox proof as we still have a fox issue.  
Additionally we’re picking up some Rhode Island Red day old chicks too, which will start off 2019 laying hens.  Cockerels will go to the freezer too, bar 1.
With all this in mind, we needed a processing area for when the time comes.  Ste has built this small shelter at the back of the smallholding for that purpose.  It’s great isn’t it and will last for years at a small cost to us financially.
Ryan, our female goose as some of you may remember, has decided she wants to sit on her eggs again.  The previous lot that were sat on this year didn’t hatch, so I don’t know if Neville, our gander, is performing or not.  

 Below is the small paddock.  The fenced, nettled area is where we ran the pigs on in 2017.  There is a small wooded area at the back and the rest of the paddock is currently laid to grass.  At the moment we need the grass for the sheep as the horses have the big field, but we just can’t decide what to do for the best with this area in the long run.  The pig area will be brilliant for growing in once it is clear, given the muck they produced.


In the kitchen:
The rhubarb vodka is ready, so I have decanted it into bottles and oh my it is nice.

We decided to sell our kitchen table even though I love it, as I wanted a bigger one.  We were all set until we realised we already have the perfect size table in the dining room which we never use except at Christmas. 

 With a lovely farmhouse tablecloth over it, it really suits the kitchen and is the perfect size for us.

So now we’re reevaluating what to do with the other table and the space we’ve created in the dining room (which was a snug).
The kids have been baking, but I forgot to take photos as I was playing negotiator.  Brownies, scones and millionaire shortbread!  No diets in this house for now!  The kids and Annie had plenty of cuddle time too!  

She simply is the kindest natured dog with them.  She is the perfect guard dog too, you won’t get in the house without being barked at followed by a warm welcome if we tell her it’s ok.  Can’t wish for a better dog.
I also made a tomato soup which turned out to be very bland.  Unsure what to do, the next day I made “half the garden soup” from Hugh’s River Cottage book and when it called for a kilo of toms and stock I decided to just use the tomato soup instead, plus a bit of my ‘souper mix’ from Pam Corbin’s book and goodness me, it worked out well.  
I’ve also been making slow cooker stews, pulled ham, pork and roasting chickens.  A lot will be returned to the freezer once made ready to reheat as evening meals once we are back to work.

The next plan….
So now for the exciting part.  The next plan.  It’s been forming for a year or so, but we’ve taken the time to formalise it whilst we have been off work.  Starting now and until end of May 2019, we are stockpiling a years worth of long life or non perishable goods. 
Come June 1st, we’re embarking on living off one wage and saving the other.  This will allow us to have a years worth of savings in the bank, which leads on to phase 2 of the plan, for another day.
From June 1st we will have an annual grocery budget that equates to £25 a week.  This is only for the likes of milk, butter, flour, cheese, kids lunch items.  Everything else, literally, will come from our ‘stores’ as we refer to it, the years worth of supplies we have stockpiled prior to June.
That means we also need to find an additional £1300 cash to have to hand from June 01st, which is the annual budget.  Any income after June 01st is being saved.  As we’re stockpiling, our outgoings are already going to increase so we need to have this cash as additional to what we have now.  Time to sell what we don’t need and make money where we can.
It’s all part of the lifestyle shift that we have bought in to and I can’t wait to get started.

Preparing for winter.

When we moved in, we set up a housekeeping account which we use for any house related income and outgoings.  One of the unknowns that I try to budget for is heating oil.  Each month we put away £125, ready to fill the tank when we need to.  It also pays for our coal.  The amount we have left in the tank, we’re hoping, will last us until the end of August and then the money we’ve saved will buy us 1000 litres of oil and also another car full of coal.  This is the start of our preparing for winter. 

We have log burners which we use as a heating source for the main house, but they aren’t linked to the central heating system so they only warm the room they’re in, plus a bit of escape heat into the corridors.  Our heating in the new house isn’t great, it merely takes the chill off and given that our house is 100’s of years old, it’s glacial inside during Winter, so taking the chill off simply brings it up to a zero temperature opposed to a positive temperature (or so it feels like).  Therefore I begrudge putting the heating on as I don’t think we’re benefitting enough from the amount of oil we’re using.  We do however have the Aga which is on constantly and heats the kitchen so it is lovely and toasty.  We’ve taken the decision not to turn it off for the summer.  We use the two plates on the top to dry a multitude of clothes, boil the kettle and keep it warm, toast our bread, cook our eggs, plus use the main ovens for all of our meals.  At present, with oil prices being so low when we last bought oil in January, this wasn’t a difficult decision to make, however if oil prices go back up to their sky high 50p+ a litre then we would switch it off over the summer.  Maybe.

Another expense of the Aga is to get it serviced twice a year.  Now I don’t know if this is overkill, but that’s what we were advised.  It’s an old solid fuel conversion which now runs on the oil and it’s circa 45 years old so I want to take good care of it.  The service is £80 a time *gulp*.

In other planning ahead news, we’re having a housewarming party now the main jobs are done and the weather is being kinder to us.  We’re combining this with my son’s 6thbirthday which has resulted in catering for around 100 guests!  I am really looking forward to it but by the same token must plan, plan, plan.  I’ve been good and accepted all help where it’s been offered, from bringing food & drink, to coming to help set up the night before and also an offer of a gazeebo to be prepared for the weather, umbrellas, tables for food and so on.  We have some lovely, helpful friends which we would struggle without, so thumbs up for them!

Throwing a party means that this month’s grocery budget will be stretched out to cater for everything, however I think we can do it and I love a good challenge (plus it’s ‘Bring your own boose’ so that expense is gone straight away!).

Finally for today, dare I say this, once we’ve had the party, I shall be planning for Christmas.  Now don’t shoot me, I love Christmas.  However this year is obviously hugely important as it’s our first Christmas in the new home.  We’re inviting all of our family over who want to come and I’ll do a traditional Christmas lunch for everyone, play games, have family time, drink mulled wine and generally enjoy how blessed we are.  I would like December to be full of Christmas cheer and that does not include stressing over cards, gifts and food.  I would like to do a get together/open house for the neighbours and some close friends but I need to think about how I’d manage that to keep numbers down, where do you draw the line!? 

Oil

We are oil fueled here for the main part. Here is a picture of how much oil we had on 9th March versus today. Now this is a big tank, over 2000 litres so I am hoping it doesn’t go down quickly!
The Aga, central heating and water are fueled on oil and the heating has been on for a fair few days whilst we all had the lurgy so it seems to have dropped more that I would have liked. You can’t put a price in health though.
So this post is to allow me to start and monitor the oil use over the year. The heating won’t be going back on now thay we are heading in to April so the only use will be the Aga which I plan to leave on during the summer (north facing big kitchen and may change my mind yet) and a couple of hours for the water each day.
I may regret saying this buy I hope that oil amount will last us until August which is when our next order is budgeted for on the spreadsheet!