There’s always an awkward moment that follows the introduction of the word ‘microholding’ into a conversation – even more so if I refer to myself as a ‘microholder’. So, before we get too deep into this blog, I thought I’d take a moment to explain what I mean by ‘microholding’.
Here’s the short version:
A microholding is a downsized version of a smallholding
And here’s a slightly more drawn out version:
In almost all smallholding books (e.g. John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency and Katie Thear’s The Smallholder’s Manual) and magazines (such as Country Smallholding and Smallholder), there seems to be an assumption that their readers have acres and acres of land on which breed cattle, herd sheep, grow crops of wheat and burn around on a quad bike. And while that might be true of some of their readers, I cannot believe that it’s the case for the vast majority.
As a child, I was fascinated with the natural world and got through a vast array of plants and pets, but, while I had a stab at growing my own vegetables and kept chickens, I didn’t get into self-sufficiency until I was in my twenties. It began with brewing my own wine and beer, which was a somewhat hit and miss (and sometimes explosive) affair. In 2005, I got my first beehive and started baking my own bread. Then in 2007, having read many of those books and magazines (and watched copious amounts of the fantastic River Cottage) and decided I needed land, I borrowed a couple of acres from a friend of mine, affectionately known as: the field.
Obviously, I didn’t just plough up the field and grow potatoes on it. Rather, the space allowed me to experiment with keeping more ‘farmy’ livestock, including geese, goats, pigs and even a Shetland pony: Stumpy the Wonder Horse. However, the cost of travelling to the field twice a day turned out to be counter-productive and made the cost of keeping these animals unviable.
And so began the shrinking of the smallholding…
The first things to ‘come home’, in 2008, were the geese, though they weren’t here for long as we, and a number of our friends, ate them for Christmas. They were delicious, but they did ruin my lawn!
Then in 2009, I built a paddock for goats in the gap down the side of my house, where they lived until my favourite nanny (goat) died giving birth.
In spring 2010, I culled my entire flock of chickens and hatched out a new batch at home, where I built them a run over a flower bed (i.e. weed patch – I’m not good with flowers), and at the same time, I brought the two beehives back home and installed them on the flat roof of my workshop. I sold Stumpy and had one more batch of pigs, before moving out of the field at the end of the year, passing it on to someone else, who lived much closer.
The biggest risk I took was in winter 2011, when I decided to try out keeping a couple of pigs on the vegetable patch that takes up the left hand side of my drive (see photo at the top of this post). Most of my neighbours thought I had lost the plot, but that didn’t stop them bringing their children to look at them on the way to school or walking their dogs past to have a sneaky peek. All in all, it was a successful venture and I had no trouble with them whatsoever.
So – and I realise this has become far longer than ‘a slightly more drawn out version’ – I keep pigs, chickens and bees, brew wine & beer, bake bread, grow vegetables & fruit, make preserves and generally do as much as I can to be self-sufficient, ALL at my home. I do not live on a farm or a smallholding. I do not have acres of land, in fact I have less than one tenth of an acre. It’s just a normal semi-detached house in a residential estate on the edge of Alton in Hampshire. And it is this that makes it a microholding.
I believe that anyone can be self-sufficient, at least in part. It doesn’t matter if you live in a town house or a second-floor flat – if you are engaged in producing anything for your table, from herbs growing in jam jars to rearing cattle on the roof, or even making your own soap, candles or beer, you are transforming your living space into a microholding.