Living off the land, starting a smallholding, being at one with the rhythms of nature… it all feels like a bit of a dream for most. An aspiration that allows you to escape from the day job, something that you feel is ‘for the future’.
While there is nothing wrong in blissful daydreams, the trouble is, we are only ever in the here and now. If you want to achieve something, like starting a smallholding, you just have to make a start.
Learning how to keep livestock, growing your own veg and incorporating sustainability is not something reserved for countryside dwellers, or landowners. It is surprising just how much you can do in an average sized back garden. Heck, even a balcony can be productive if you know how to use the space!
Here are some of the top reasons why people put ‘the good life’ on hold.
1. Don’t have time
You get up at dawn, commute to work and get back at dusk. There’s no time during the week, and at weekend you have so many other jobs to do, appointments to keep, you can’t possibly fit in working in the garden tending a vegetable patch, or caring for livestock.
The Answer: You‘d be surprised where you can find the odd half an hour. If you really want to do it, you make the time. OK, you can’t commit to things that require a lot of care an attention, but there are other ways to begin an adventure in smallholding.
Plant some easy to grow crops, such as herbs. Chives or mint, for example. They come back year after year, need no attention and you can just pick them when you want to use them.
Don’t have time for keeping livestock? How about a beehive at the bottom of the garden? During winter, there is little to do, and during the summer months it will just take a few minutes each week to check on the hive. Learn the basics, look after your hive and a few jars of delicious golden honey from your own bees is a fine reward!
While you might not have the time for some aspects of smallholding, there is always time to do something positive to put home reared food on your table.
2. You live in an urban environment
The Answer: There’s is plenty of home farming that can be done in an urban setting. Small gardens can provide a host of food if you use the space creatively, even concrete yards can be productive if you grow food in containers and hanging baskets.
Make use of rooftop space. Ever heard of Hackney Honey? What started off as a hobby for one family has now developed into a thriving business, all from keeping bee hives on the flat root of their home. (yes I’m talking about bees again, but they really are great livestock for busy people).
If you want to expand, or want to get involved with larger livestock, how about searching for local community farms? They are always on the look-out for volunteers, and you get to hone your farming skills and benefit from the produce, and it’s a way to meet other like-minded people.
Know someone with an unkempt garden? Knock on doors, make phone calls, write letters, ask people to share their land in return for a share of the produce. You can also write to your local council about any derelict land in the area that could be used for growing food.
Get an allotment and see what you enjoy growing. If it feels like too much work, see if there is someone who wants to share it with you. Some allotments allow chickens to be kept too, and their manure can be rotted down to make a good fertiliser.
3. Don’t have the space
The Answer: Starting a smallholding doesn’t mean you need acres of land, so you don’t need to move house to work the land you have. A smallholding is usually thought of as being an area of less than 50 acres, that is used to produce food for the table with possibly enough to sell to make a profit.
No matter what size you have to work with, there is always something you can do. OK, so you can’t keep cows in your garden, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep livestock. If you want larger livestock, how about renting some land nearby? Most average sized back gardens will support a few chickens, so you could be enjoying fresh eggs for breakfast every day.
Small gardens can be very productive. Fruit trees can be trained to grow to almost any shape, fitting neatly against a wall or fence. If you have a balcony, consider using the wall space to grow herbs, fruit and vegetables.
Decide what you would like to produce from your space, then look at creative ways to make it happen. When you are starting a smallholding, it is fine to start small!
Of course, we can all wish for those few acres in the countryside, and yes, you would be able to do a lot more. But you don’t have to wait. See what you can achieve in the space you do have, and do it now!
4. You don’t have the expertise
Answer: No, you probably don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn. The chances are if you are interested in smallholding, growing food, keeping livestock or sustainable living, then you do have some knowledge, even if you don’t have the experience.
Read books, research on the internet, ask questions to those that do know. There are courses available for a variety of practical smallholding jobs, like basic animal care. Start small and learn the basics.
Keeping livestock will mean vet visits, and most vets will be happy to show you how to correctly do things, like administering medicines when needed.
So what next? It’s up to you. If you are thinking of starting a smallholding, the way to begin living The Good Life is just to make a start, and see what happens. The more you do, it becomes a way of life, and more you will achieve.
Are you a smallholder, home farmer, urban grower, or volunteer at a community project? How has it benefited your life?
Want to know more about starting a smallholding for beginners? Want to know how to live off the land, no matter what size space you have? Smallholding: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Livestock and Growing Garden Produce shows you how. From a few acres to a back garden, you can bring the joys of smallholding into your life. Learn how to make your own compost, livestock essentials, saving seed and much more!