By way of introduction, we have about four acres of land in West Suffolk on which we carry out our smallholding activities. Gardening has always been a central interest outside of professional life. Alongside the main focus on ‘ornamental gardening’, vegetable and fruit growing has also featured strongly, either within the garden or, for periods of time, in a nearby allotment. Also for many years, we have kept hens for eggs too.
Moving to a bigger space in a very agricultural area (almost exclusively arable crops) there was the opportunity for extending our interests into keeping livestock. I was experienced at growing our own vegetables and we have been self-sufficient in eggs for many years; why not also produce our own meat? So this is what we have been doing too.
The motivations for being a smallholder are varied and potentially quite deep-seated, so more on this subject at a later date. Smallholding is often characterised (sometimes with a slight sneer it has to be said) as ‘doing a little bit of everything’. There is actually a good rationale for such an approach, which to some extent at least, we ascribe to.
Here, then, is a brief overview of what we are currently involved in.
There are two vegetable plots measuring 80’ x 20’ each.
Plus a large greenhouse for more tender crops. There is also a separate large raised bed nearer the house for salad crops. I always regard the vegetable and fruit growing, above everything else, as our core activity.
We keep a small flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep for lamb or, more likely, hogget and mutton. They are a self-shedding, primitive breed. You can see the tufts of wool that have come away in the photograph. Not much use for wool related crafts but good meat eating.
After growing on a couple of weaners for the freezer for a few years, we are now breeding our own registered pedigree British Saddleback pigs. The three weaners in the photograph are from a litter of twelve and are now fourteen weeks old.
Hens for eggs of course. There are a few fancy Cream Legbars and some Ixworths but they are otherwise mostly rescued commercial hybrids which can be a bit on the tatty side but eventually feather up quite well. When it comes to meat we mostly eat poultry. We have tried breeding our own traditional breeds but we now buy in day old commercial meat chicks, 20 at a time, and grow them on. Each year at the end of May or early June we also get a batch of Norfolk Black day old turkey poults and grow them on for Christmas.
We have bees for honey and maybe in the future wax products. They are immensely fascinating creatures with such seemingly complex life cycles and behaviour. Its great to see them up close and even better if you know what you are doing.
Herbs are important. I prefer to grow them in pots and containers rather than in a herb bed. It is much easier to manage them and of course locate them right near the kitchen door.
Some ornamental gardening still gets a look in.
Of course, underpinning all of this is the wide range of horticultural, animal husbandry and processing tasks that have to be undertaken day in and day out, but which might change with the seasons, around which life is organised. It is these that I will be largely writing about and reflecting upon.