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Paddy Renshaw reveals its all about the details….

On a warm, sunny day, with the birds singing, hens clucking around the yard and sheep bleating to their lambs, I have friends say to me, “Oh you are lucky! I wish I had what you had but I live on an estate and couldn’t possibly afford your life style.”

I have to grit my teeth not to reply sharply that it’s not so much about luck but continuous hard work and a bit of ‘ducking and diving’ as they say in London.

It was luck that I decided to move to a smallholding when property values were low but then property values were low generally so the smallholding still looked expensive. At the time people remarked that they would love to live in this house but it just wasn’t worth the money. At around £60,000 for a period house, range of out buildings and three acres that just sounds amusing now but I wasn’t to know back in the eighties that property values would soar. I just knew it was the most beautiful house with amazing possibilities and I’d sacrifice anything for it. And there have been considerable sacrifices if you call them that but they have enabled me and my partner to live somewhere we love and grow some of our own food, keep animals and live in a beautiful rural position. Worth the odd sacrifice.

I’m in love with my car but….

I am actually. But I doubt anyone else would be and this is ‘sacrifice’ number one. I have a T registered Vauxhall that has done well upward of 100,000 miles and for the smallholding, a very elderly land rover for towing etc. Both are paid for, my car costing £200 as it was thought to be going to fail its mot three years ago and the land rover a mega purchase at £1000. So no car loans. And very few garage bills as the elderly vehicles are quite straightforward in their engineering – not so much to go wrong.

* Top tip – If you are not mechanically minded, then find the garage in your area that everyone goes to with their older cars. My partner is a good mechanic but we also have a fantastic local garage which seems to specialise in keeping older cars on the road and correctly MOT’d for a very economical rate as long as you pay at the time. Of course we shall have to replace the cars but I am going to literally run mine until it dies and there will be other older cars around at a low value that I will be able to afford outright with no car loan. There are other advantages of older cars – dents incurred when it is parked up do not drive you to rage as you don’t still have a car loan of ten grand plus – and muddy cat’s paws, chickens perching on the roof and carrots in the boot don’t become a matter of anxiety. Which is just as well.

As snug as a bug in an extra jumper… Heating the house is an increasing issue. I need hardly repeat to you the mantra that you need insulation (see this month’s property pages), thermostats, double glazing and etc. Unfortunately although our insulation is not bad, our central heating could have been installed better so we struggle with thermostats and the fact that at least two radiators seem to want to be on all the time even when it is turned to no heat. In addition to that our lovely large windows are not double glazed and nor do I want them to be so we have drafts as well. This is where I am slightly smug. Look away now if you can’t face it.

Despite these limitations we have still managed to keep reducing our electricity costs.

Top tip - turning of lights really does work as does doing any washing in the cheaper electricity period.

Although we have oil fired heating, we have managed to keep that well under control too. This is due to the fact that we turn the heating right off whenever it is mild and wear jumpers and the rest of the time we turn it off for the entire day (apart from the persistent two radiators!) and yes, you’ve guessed it, wear jumpers. We do try to keep the thermostat down – I know one of the best way to reduce heating costs is to turn the temperature down on your thermostat even if only slightly – but again due to the interesting way our heating was installed this is a bit of an issue for us as it simply cuts out if we turn it too low. But we still do manage to keep the costs of oil down and this year we have had a concerted effort to get them even lower.

We also use the open fire when it is cold to back up the heating and that saves a lot and one day we’ll sort out getting a wood burner and I am confident that will really make a difference.

Beg, borrow or steal….

Well no, don’t steal. And begging and borrowing can get you into trouble but do learn to share equipment with other smallholders. And barter your skills too in return for their skills. Firstly seek out your local smallholder’s club and join it. They do vary hugely but many clubs actually own some equipment – for example the Norfolk Smallholder Training Group (www.nstg.org.uk) received an Awards for All grant to buy equipment that can be borrowed by members and these include incubators, fruit pressers, post drivers, smokers and honey extractors. If your local Smallholders group doesn’t have equipment you can usually borrow from a fellow smallholder – but get them to check out the Awards for All lottery funding too. I belong to a bee keeping club as should anyone who keeps or is thinking of keeping bees and I use their honey extractor as they cost around £400 (more than my car!).

Top tip - Remember the borrowers code, use it, clean it and give it back in the condition or even better than you found it. Getting seedier…..

Take time to sort out your seeds and although you don’t want to sow too early, also don’t miss the date to sow such seeds as tomatoes and peppers indoors or start sweet peas. They will catch up if you are later but if you can get them off to a good start now it will pay dividends. Last year I completely failed to get myself organised and had to go and buy some tomato plants which was embarrassing as I have plenty of seeds. I also bought some peppers and this year I intend to sow several varieties as they did very well and provided veg that I wouldn’t normally buy (or in some of their cases, couldn’t buy from the usual sources). Keep seeds in a cool place out of light and I find it really helpful to get a plastic lidded box, subdivide it into months with card and then I always know what I have to sow. You don’t have to throw out seed that is out of date but just be aware that the germination might be challenged. Sow a few extra and thin out if they grow well. You can also attend a seed swop such as that which was organised on February 8th by Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group in conjunction with their potato day - check them out to see when they are organising another event. cambs-ssg.co.uk Some final thoughts – we both work full time as well which makes weekends and holidays rather busy to say the least – I’d say never give up at least one of the couples’ day jobs and probably don’t give up either until you are sure you can make a go of it financially. Even if you don’t need to make a profit from something, do a budget. In Smallholder we have two copies of a book that will help to budget available to win and it is an eye opener working out true costs. We think our duck fattening meant we needed to sell them at £20 each to make any sort of profit but in reality we liked them so much we kept and ate them all! If you have livestock invest in hurdles. I’m not sure they will save you money but you will need them so you might as well get them early on. Learn to cook left overs and anything that’s really cheap in the supermarket cheap shelf – don’t stick to a list like they tell you to, stick to what’s in the cheap shelf and make your meals out of that.

Love where you live so much that your efforts are directed towards staying there rather than buying gadgets and clothes you don’t really need!