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. Paul Colam

    I loving reading your site and picking up hints and tips, I live in west london suburbs luckily pretty close to the greenbelt. It is amazing how many edible fruits I have managed to find on business parks (there is a very abundant kiwi vine on the business park where I live) and various other suburban settings, there are tons and tons of good food going to waste every year, so I’ve been on a personal mission to make a dent in that waste by eating, preserving and giving away wild cherries, plums, blackberries, sloes etc etc.

    I also have an allotment where me and my mate grow lots of lovely organic veg, I’m pleased ton say or organic method has been just as fruitful as the old boys that love their fertiliser and chemicals!

  2. Heather Espley

    Hi Fiona, discovered your site recently and am now an avid reader – so many interesting articles and comments to catch up on. Thanks for all the lovely articles/comments on foraging and making jams and pickles. Been foraging round the back of my local supermarket this afternoon (no, not in the bins, though I’m tempted to see what perfectly edible goodies have been dumped) – came back with some rosehips and hoping to have a go at your rosehip and apple jelly recipe. Saw a heron and 3 cygnets whilst hip-picking, and also got caught up amongst what seemed to be an after-school cycling team, all very politely avoiding me as I picked my way along ‘their’ track. Made the usual supermarket visit such a more uplifting experience. Best wishes to you and Danny.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Heather

      One of the great tthings about foraging (apart from the bounty) is that you do seem to step into a different world and see things that you may have normally missed. Very envious of you spotting a heron and cygnets.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Agree totally with all the comments I’ve read, your site is wonderful, delighted that I found you looking for soda bread!……Now I visit almost every day.
    Thankyou for sharing your lifestlye, tips and treats with us you are an inspiration to us all,n I too love growing my own veg, trying out recipies, you do make such an interesting ‘read’, perfect mixture, in fact I feel as If I know you, it’s the personal touch that you add that makes your site so special, Thankyou, to you both, regards, Odelle X

  4. Hi there, i love this site, i’ve just found it after trying to find recipes for pickles and preserves. We’ve started an allotment this year and every week I find another new fruit of some sort and i’m desperately trying to do ‘something’ with it all!!! some great recipes on here, i’m already addicted!!! xxx

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Becky

      Great that you are enjoying the site! How exciting that you’ve got an allotment – so many people would give their eye teeth for one.

  5. Fizzyian

    Hi, just a quick hello as I am new to the site…. GREAT site – am finding so much useful information and friendly people. Keep up the great work x

  6. Caroline Hobbs

    Hi Fiona,
    I wonder if you can help. We have six hens, bought as point of lay earlier in the year, and they keep laying large double yolked eggs. We have already lost and replaced one because she ruptured herself. They are running free in a run aprox 150sq mtres but I wonder if I am feeding them too well. Any thoughts? Thanks.

  7. virginia legg (formerly smales)

    Hello Fiona (aka “Pip?”),
    Found your site through web search for Petronella Lovegrove and practically fell off my chair! You may not remember me, from Stover 5th form. 1969. I am from Bermuda and “hung out” with you and Victoria G.,”Woody”, etc. Anyway, you have a fabulous site and I love your concept of self-sufficiency and all. I am a teacher and getting ready to retire in a few years so look forward to your information and wisdom in providing for your self. Take care and keep up the wonderful work! It is great to see an old acquaintance. Best wishes, Ginny

  8. Emma Lupin

    Funny that I found your site looking for cucumber pickle recipes to use up an abundance of cucumbers, funny as we are so far away in Darwin- Northern Australia. I work for Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, where we teach primary kids to cook what we grow in our garden. Of course our monsoonal tropical climate is very different, but we do have cucumbers!!! Thanks for the great site

  9. Caroline Hobbs

    Hi, just found your site. Very interesting. Have just retired and gone back into chickens and veg on a larger scale having done it all before large scale when the family were at home. Had goats, sheep, rabbits, hens, ferrets,dogs, cats etc over the years. Also kept bees, but they didn’t like hubby and stung him at every oppertunity, and was dorset rep on BBKA for some years. Have already copied recipe and it’s always good to get anothers perspective and new ideas.Oh, have third acre garden and two thirds paddock. Very wild/wildlife friendly and an oasis in middle of mono culture grass farmland Keep up the good work. Caroline

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Nellie

    Thanks for dropping by. I haven’t been to the Secret Garden stand for weeks now but everything that I have bought from their always thrives!

    Ducks are sweet natured but very smelly and messy – I’d go for chickens every time.

    Good luck with the wine!

    Hi Debra

    There are so many ways of attracting bees to your garden without having to keep them yourself.

    I’m combining flowers and vegetables this year and this has been successful so far and the kitchen garden is full of pollinating insects.

    Great that you enjoyed your visit to the site!

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