The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

About us


Photo: Fiona in a bee suit with smoker

Photo: Fiona in a bee suit with smoker

My name is Fiona Nevile. I want to share our journey towards our goal of partial self sufficiency. It is such a satisfying, old fashioned endeavour, that provides moments of glowing pride alongside the occasional smelly disaster.

I started this blog after we decided to invest in our future. Retirement looms in a few years time. Before I fell ill I often worked in houses where people had recently retired. Usually they were testing the water. They had plans that they had dreamt about and tweaked for years:

  • Raising a few chickens
  • A small vegetable patch
  • Bees
  • Homemade wine and liqueurs
  • And the individual extras which could include stock car racing, dabbling on the Stock Exchange, breeding terrapins, planning the trip of a lifetime and dreaming about a lottery win that would finance the lot.

Watching from the sidelines, I realised that often the first four of these interests can take years to get up and running. So I decided to start early. These activities are so satisfying that within months I was peering over the parapet. Why not cure and smoke our own bacon and make salami? How about making sausages and homemade butter? And where could we find food for free?

Six years later we are investing in now as well as our future retirement.

Why just plan for the future? Investing in now can be a bumpy ride but generally we’ve found that it’s fun and our quality of life is so much better than before. Each week our horizons expand.

We live in a pretty 17th century cottage (pictured above on the header) in the heart of an English village on the Cambridgeshire/Suffolk border. Our East Anglian cottage cast includes three Miniature Pinscher dogs, one Maran hen, five lady bantams, a small Golden Seebright cockerel + three Leghorn cockerels, two hives of bees (140,000 at the height of summer) and a 28′ pond that used to house a lot of fish before the heron visited for the gourmet feast of a lifetime.

This website charts our journey towards deluxe self sufficiency and beyond. Our aim is to live like kings on the lowest possible budget. Visit our new forum for inspiration and ideas from our readers.

My articles have appeared online in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Chicago Sun Times and many other publications. Use the ‘contact us’ tab to speak to me. Writing commissions are always welcome.

Some people like to visit us here at the Cottage Smallholder.

Because I have been ill and unable to work since July 09 we decided to host advertising on the Cottage Smallholder site from December 09. Click here for more details.

a brief potted history of Fiona’s career, which has ended up in our attempt at partial self-sufficiency.

  Leave a reply


  1. I found your site while searching for tips on rural gardening. I’m not sure about bee keeping but bee attraction is high on my list of gardening priorities. As is chickens, and a veg plot and all the rest.

    It’s a lovely site full of interesting and fun articles and one I’m sure I’ll keep returning to.

  2. Nellie

    Hi! Just found the site and it’s great!
    Just thought I’d say hello and tell you that after I found your secret-garden blog post I visited the little stall in Fordham and got myself a few little plants 🙂
    You’re living how I aspire to… one day! For now it’s just veggie growing but I can’t wait to have some chickens. Or some ducks, I can never decide! And I’m determined that this year will be the year i get around to making some home made wine! 😀
    Nellie x

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Ann

    Sorry I’m a bit late in making a response. I find that zucchini do best for me in large pots. If I plant them in the ground they don’t do well. They also like nasturtiums so why not try planting them in pots with nasturtiums next year.

    Hello Rocky

    Your set up sounds great. Love the idea of white homing pigeons – what an unusual career!

    Thanks for your good wishes, much appreciated.

    Hello Hollie

    The raspberry gin is excellent but a bit moreish so watch out.

    Love the idea of growing veg for the nursing home – the residents will really appreciate the taste of ultra fresh veg.

    I wish I’d started trying to be self sufficient at your age – well done.

    Hi Kirsty

    I love Devon. I was born there and spent quite a lot of my childhood there too.

    Yes gamekeepers have to work such long hours these days.

    Isn’t it great keeping chickens and growing veg! so therapeutic and satisfying. Do try raspberry gin this year as it’s out of this world (even if you have to buy the raspberries).

    Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Kirsty

    About a year ago we moved to a lovely cottage with an enormous garden in the Devon countryside. My hubby is a gamekeeper and works ridiculous hours so i finally have the time to live my dream of veggies and chickens and home cooking all smothered in lashings of sloe gin! In fact it was Sloe gin that first brought me to this site, now it seems whatever im searching for the first result is always this site, recipes and tips and tricks. Today i was looking for help with my broody Maran and again i ended up here! So i just wanted to say thanks, its a wonderful site full of great advice and good humour, its as if you’ve been the experienced friend on my shoulder in everything ive tried! Keep up the good work!

  5. hollie

    Definitely going to give your raspberry gin a go! Currently undergoing a transformation at my place of work (a nursing home) to provide a vegetable garden for us to grow our own food, really inspired by your website! I would love to be self sufficient and being 24 think that I have plenty of time to prepare for the future, thank you!

  6. Hi Fi
    I’m an early retired smallholder nr Sevenoaks in Kent. A few chickens that are going off the boil, raised beds (defended this year against a new population of rabbits. I love rabbit stew!) three apple trees, one new plum, one new cherry, a dove coop (white homing pigeons used at funerals – guess what my other half does for ‘a living’)and two Jack Russell pups.
    I love your site. Full of interesting things and directions to help all over. Keep it up.

  7. Hi Fiona, Almost into Autumn here near Bendigo and one of my vegie patches has been a great disappointment. It was super prolific in September but end of Oct when I returned from six weeks in Europe it was 3-4 feet high with overgrown vegies and weeds, cleared it heaped on the compost planted some tomatoes and noticed a heap of self seeded zucchini leaves coming up. Left them, turned into total ground cover eventually got flowers, lots of them all male and thats it, not a single zucchini. Toms are doing fine other people locally have had super crops of zucchini but not me. Garden is in full sun, gets plenty of tank water and we have had some good rain. Any ideas?

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Rosie

    Love your slow cooker site! Thanks for dropping by.

    Hi Stella

    Thank you for leaving a comment.

    Quite a few of our flowers will be grown in amongst the vegetables! The herbacious borders are in desperate need of an overhaul so growing flowers is the perfect excuse for doing this!

    Good luck with your retirement!

  9. Hi Fiona & Danny
    I’ve visited your website a few times before but I’ve only just read the story behind it. There’s great inspiration here for me. I will be 58 in April and am hoping to be able to retire soon. I have all that I want here in my home and garden, but just need to be able to spend more time and energy on living as self sufficiently as is possible.
    I’m fascinated by your garden gate stand. I wish I lived near you and could buy the flowers you are planning to sell. As vegetable growing gets more important to me, the garden space allocated to flowers get smaller.
    Good luck with the venture!

  10. Rosie Peters

    Aha! When I read your game pie recipe I thought you were somewhere in Northern America, but now I know. You have an awesome site and you are living the dream so many people pine for but you have the courage to do, warts and all. I hope your health has improved and all is going well for you both.

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