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 have only just found this site…it’s positively lovely….

  2. What a great site! I found this while looking for recipes to use the glut of cucumbers that my special school students have grown in our organic garden and can’t wait to try loads of your recipes. I am busy trying to raise funds to set up a supported employment opportunity for young people with severe learning difficulties based around growing and selling good food, raising chickens, serving fabulous tea and cake, and making and selling craft items and I have been really inspired by your site and so many of the ideas would work really well for us.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Owen

    Thank you so much for leaving such an upbeat message!

    Unfortunately terrapin breeding was just an idea that I caught out of the air for possible retirement activities. Along with stock car racing and dabbling on the Stock Exchange! I rather like the idea of stock car racing and terrapin breeding – so you never know 🙂

    Loved the idea of your terrapins living in a pond in the summer.

    Had a peep at your blog – great stuff! Can’t wait until you have the time to update it.

  4. Hello Fiona,
    I love your blog- and have spent a happy afternoon when I should have been working reading through your various posts! Dont tell the boss!
    I used to keep a blog- but sadly havent had a chance to update for ages now.
    I wondered if you could tell us more about your terrapin breeding? It sounds exciting and I dont think you have mentioned it anywhere in your blog.
    I used to keep terrapins myself and loved the little fellas- but boy did they make their water pong! They used to live a pond over the summer and inside over the winter.
    Thanks for taking the time to update your blog- you have a great sense of humour in your writing which is great!
    All the best

  5. Just found your site when loking for a blackberry and apple jelly recipe. i think its going to be a great inspiration for me!

  6. Hi, I can’t believe my luck in finding your website! I hope your self-sufficiency is going very well. I love all the tips, tricks and recipes! I was wondering if you can help me out? I am planning on starting to make me own jams, jellies etc this week. My only stumbling block is how to sterilize the jars and lids, there are so many conflicting ways. If you help?! Many thanks, Claire.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Claire

      The method that I use is to wash the lids and jars in hot soapy water and rinse. Then stand the jars upright on a baking/roasting tray and pop them in the oven (any water will evapourate during heating. Turn the oven to 160c/140c fan and wait until it reaches this temperature. This will sterilise the jars. The lids I boil on the stove top for 5-10 minutes and then dry upside down on a clean tea towel. You can sterilise a tea towel by ironing it.

  7. Hi Fiona, Danny and the animals

    What a great website – its all my hopes and dreams in one place!

    I am sorry to hear that you have been unwell and hope you are on the road to recovery now.

    I have wanted to become self sufficient for a long time now. Do you need any help on the smallholding? The labour would be free and I am happy to do anything, digging, cutting, harvesting, in return for some advice and experience. I have a lab/greatdane cross by the name of Harvey who is the loveliest dog in the world, very friendly and patient who would be with me along with a tent that I am happy to pitch anywhere with my torch and my sleeping bag!

    If this doesnt interest you then maybe you could pass my details onto someone who might be?

    Thank you for reading my message X

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Jayne

      What a wonderful offer of help and a Great Dane too.

      At the moment we are coping – we just have a small third of an acre plot and no spare bedroom 🙁 But I’ll have a think of other bloggers that might be interested in your kind offer. I’ll email you within the next couple of days.

  8. Cluedocat

    Hi Fiona and Danny,

    I’ve found this site by chance and just know I’m going to spend hours searching round it and learning new things to try.

    Cant wait!!! 🙂

  9. Hi Fiona, I tried my uncles sloe gin brew and it intrigued me to make it for my self. Since finding your site, I am an avid reader, I am embarking on brewing several fruit gin and vodka recipes, based mainly on your recipes. I will let you know how I get on, many thanks for you inspiration and keep it all going. All the the best, Peter

  10. Debbie Bonser

    Hello Fiona,

    We have just moved to live in the Auvergne in France, and have a beautiful quince tree in the garden, together with apples, pears and lots of blackberries.
    I started looking for what to do with quinces, and was launched into a whole new world by finding your site – it’s fabulous – well done, and I hope you are feeling better now after your spell of ill-health.

    Many thanks


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