A Day at The Sustainable Smallholding

This post has been a little while in the making, and is a result of a telephone conversation with a friend of mine. She had been worried that despite working long hours, she never seemed to get everything done, or even achieve very much. Initially I was going to list all of the things that I didn’t get done this year, but the list was so long that I would never have finished the post. Instead, I’m going to go through some of the stuff that I did around the smallholding today, and then the stuff that didn’t get done.

One of the reasons why nothing much seems to get done on a smallholding is that much of the work is routine, or maintenance. If you get it right, things don’t get any worse, but sometimes it seems like you haven’t achieved anything. My first batch of chores, and my last, are like that. So…

Task One. Animal Care.   I let the chickens out, gave them their food and water, walked the dogs, and fed them, had a cup of tea. About 2 hours, ish.

Task two. Watering.   With the current hot weather, I’m back to watering all of the plants in pots, in the greenhouses, and establishing seedlings. Also let the ducks out, and fed them, collected the eggs. Followed by tea and breakfast/brunch. perhaps 2 hours again.

Task three. Shopping. I had to go and pick up chicken and dog food, bought a mineral lick, to see if it would be beneficial for my bees, and bought some timber, to extend the wood store. Followed by more tea. Another two hours. Note that the buying of the timber is the first bit of work today that is not for routine chores, and will create something.

Task Four. Planted six bamboo plants out into the vegetable beds, for over wintering. watched my bees foraging on: Garlic Chives, radish, borage, musk mallow, wild rocket, purple sprouting broccoli, squash, persian clover, and crimson clover. Took a few pictures of my polyculture for another blog article. Put away tools. Separated some of the sunflower seeds from the flower heads.About two hours. Drank two ‘cold ones’ and read a bit more of my current book.

Task five. Animal care. My wife fed the chickens, I walked and fed the dogs, collected seed from leeks, lettuce, and Rocky Mountain bee plant. Fed and put away the ducks. locked the chickens away, and removed their food. Grabbed another beer, and came up to write this post. About two hours again.

So, all in all, about a ten hour day, only a little of what I did left me with something to show for it, but on the face of it, not too bad………… Well read on for the reality.

Here are the  failures for the day, although some are ‘long term’.

Task One. One of my old dogs limps. She has corns on her back feet. None of the vets here can do anything about it. We had boots for the dogs to wear, but they have all worn out, and we have not been able to find suitable replacements. Must make a concerted effort to sort that out.

Task two. Watering. My watering takes so long because I have too many plants in pots. They should have been reduced, but I don’t like to kill plants, and I cannot even give them away. Because I have so many pots, some plants do not get potted on frequently enough, which leads to less growth, and some of the pots are so overgrown with weeds, that I cannot even see if the original plant is still there. Last year, when I finally got the time to go through them all, I found that I had been watering at least 12 pots of weds all Summer. How professional is that? Each year I say that I’ll grow less, but I’m easily tempted by an interesting plant, and you never only get one from a packet of seed.

Task three. The timber should have been bought months ago, as I am constantly walking past piles of wood, overgrown with nettles, that should be drying now.

Task Four. On first reading this looks like I’m pretty organised but I lost three expensive bamboo plants last Winter. So whilst I’m trying to avoid that this year, it’s only as a result of an expensive mistake last year. The bees foraging also sounds idyllic, except that the borage, and musk mallow has overun about a sixth of my vegetable growing space, saved from death by my desire to look after my bees.   The radish is only flowering because it was never harvested, and is currently dropping seed all over the place. Same for the broccoli. The semi wild look is truly beautiful, and the local rats agree. They have harvested all of the ripe tomatoes, eaten into the beetroot, and carrots, and are currently even stripping the seed from the musk mallow. So whilst it has been great to not spend much time in the vegetable garden, the lack of disturbance has given the ‘green light’ to the local rat population. They are now living in my raised beds, a sort of ‘live in’ larder. The sunflower heads have been sat on a window sill for weeks, waiting for me to finish the job.

Whilst looking around the patch, I spotted masses of unharvested vegetables, which even though we will probably not eat them, I will still have to harvest them, rather than leave them for the rats. My chickens are enjoying the surplus.

Task Five. The seed saving sounds organised, but I cannot find the label for the lettuce, and am not sure which of two red varieties it is. I’ll have to grow them out next year, just to identify them.

Not listed are the jobs which I should have done today, but didn’t even get close to, like renewing the wasp traps, topping up the bee feeders, and checking that the hive entrance blocks are not creating an overheating problem for my bees.

So, having spent two years demonstrating some sort of competence through this blog,  the illusion is stripped away in a single post, about a single day on a smallholding. The reality is that there are always more jobs than there is time. If not, you are either extremely efficient, or you are working so far within your comfort zone, that you cannot even see the boundaries of what you are capable of. Apologies to any efficient people reading this whom this might offend, but I’ve not met anybody that good yet. The best that you can hope for is to ‘shoot the shark closest to the boat’, and hope that you sometimes get some clear water to enjoy. In many ways, living is about what you do today, now, not where you hope to be in the future, or some target to aim for, whilst sacrificing today, and all of the other todays of your life. Be kinder to yourself, and stop setting yourself targets that you may never achieve. I now give myself two jobs to achieve each day, and normally manage a third. That makes me feel better than last year, when I was giving myself four jobs to do, but only getting three done. Same result, different attitude.

I guess that tomorrow I’ll check the bees first.

All of the best



6 thoughts on “A Day at The Sustainable Smallholding

  1. jerome

    I had a good laf, that’s so true ! Just like what we say to our children:”look and be happy of what you have and not what you could have” Thanks a lot for this post Deano, and thank you for sharing your experiences – Jerome

    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Jerome. Glad that you liked it. I’m curious to see if people stop reading the blog when they see how many things go wrong. Hope that all is well with you. Best Wishes Deano

  2. Louise

    thanks for sharinbg this, sounds just like my place. I hadn’t thought of rats eating things. Most of my potatoes were eaten in the ground and I decided it was mice. I come across tunnels in the beds at time which are too big to be mice so I expect they’re rats. Rats used to eat the chicken food, but don’t now so I think we thought they’d gone away. Any ideas for stopping them eating the potatoes?

    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Louise. Wish that I could help, but not sure of the best approach. I’ve read that rats avoid human activity, so I suspect that spending more time there might help. I’m not a cat lover, but it had crossed my mind that one might be useful. We have a kestrel hunting over the place again, and a barn owl, but I’m not sure if they eat anything as big as a rat. I’m guessing that my best bet is to have a good tidy around the vegetable areas, but that sort of goes against what I’m trying to achieve. If i want to invite other creatures in, perhaps I should be less choosy about which creatures turn up. All of the best


  3. Dave B

    Great post, it’s definately easy to kill time on a smallholding. I know I spend far too much time observing chickens and looking at stuff on the internet. I learn a lot from both activities but still can’t quite justify my lack of achievement most days. Today I learnt that light sussex have their faults as broodys as they eat so much. I have a LS pullet who hatched chicks over the last 2 days. I put food out for them mixed with organic yogurt to get their stomachs off to a good start with good bacteria and she scoffed virtually all of it, only calling them to food when she was full. Still, she could probably cover 15 large eggs due to her size in warmer temperatures so you get what you pay for. She just hatched 6 chicks from 11 eggs that I put under her in the coldest part of winter so can’t complain too much. I think we spend a lot of time observing and thinking about things during our days, sure beats driving around in a tractor plowing up or poisoning the ground. Now better get to that compost assignment I should have finished days ago.

    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Dave
      I just wanted to show that this type of life is full time. All day, every day. I’m happy with that, but not everyone would be.
      It was also designed to show that it’s almost impossible to get everything done, unless you severely limit what you’re attempting.
      All of the best


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