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. Happy New Year everyone! happy growing, harvesting,cooking, preserving and enjoying!
    Last year I added jellies and membrillo to my repetoire of jams chutneys and gins.(sloe jelly is divine!) Just about to start on marmalade which will fill those gaps on the shelf left after giving my home made presents. your recipes never disappoint

  2. Ladydeedy

    i love this site too – stumbled across it when looking for recipe for chicken thighs and red onions! thank you so much – have spent all afternoon browsing around – I love it!

  3. Love the site, am going to make cranberry sauce tomorrow if the snow will let me out to buy a bottle of port! Also enjoyed reading of the experiences of others. Keep up the good work

  4. Hi there humans and min pins! I also found you website by a lucky accident and have spent the happiest of mornings lost in cottage smallholder land! A true treasure trove of anecdotes and wisdom, it struck a chord with me as someone who is also approaching retirement and wanting to live better and more simply – odddly enough I am mid way through John Harrison’s excellent “low cost living” which I see you have written about very recently. Love how you have charted your life and adventures (and misadventures!) here and look forward to hearing much much more about you all XX

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Sue

      Thank you for such a heartening comment. Every teeny step seems to make a huge difference as our values have gradually changed too. Delighted that you are enjoying the site.

  5. Hi Juliette and everyone, I have a large old Strawberry Tree,it is absolutely beautiful and the fruit on my tree are edible and delicious, they have a subtle strawberry fragrance and flavour when ripe. Small birds and possums seem to like them. Will post a pic later today.

  6. Found you as I was searching for advice on plucking ducks, just been given my first one and only have experience of pheasant & partridge, I guess the principle is the same?! We grown veg & herbs, make jellies jams & Sloe gin and are longing to move back into village life if only the property market would pick up. I think we will visiting this site for ideas in the future, keep up the good work!

  7. I think this may be arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree.Not edible as far as I know, bue lovely in arrangements and the birds like them

  8. Juliette

    I found your amazing site after looking for a recipe for hedgerow jelly a few weeks ago. I’ve made this, quince jelly plus apple jelly from your site. Unfortunately my attempt at apple & chili jelly turned into toffee when I answered the telephone in the midst of jelly making. Quite delicious though. I will be attempting your recipe for membrillo in the next few days. I hadn’t made jams or jellies for years, but got back into it for fundraising for a local animal charity and it is amazing how much satisfying it is to see the filled jars glistening like jewels.

    Everywhere I go now, I am looking for fruits to forage. Does anyone know what this is It’s about the same size as a large marble, has a soft yellow centre and no stone.

  9. I’m another one who found you by looking for a recipe, this time for Rose Hip Syrup, thank you for Katey’s which I will be trying over the next few days.
    We also live on a small holding but until a year ago it was used solely for keeping the ponies. Like you we’re trying out retirement for size, semi retired but still running my business, finances not really being wonderful enough to be retired completely. So, the first to retire fully were the ponies, bless them, which left us with the space to experiment at little.
    This year we’ve been concentrating on what there is already here, gleening all and everything that we can use. The rose hips being the latest.
    The one problem I always have is that I spend so much time making something from what we have – Apple Jelly for instance, I forget that I still have to run the business – albeit as semi retired – and I find I’m working a full day making stuff!

  10. Hi, accidentally found this site when searching for recipes for Apple Chutney. I love it. Am a disabled almost 80 year old, who has a small Garden, I grow everything in Pots, make all my own Jam Chutney and Wine. Not to mention Soap and Cosmetics. I have always loved making things. I make cards to raise funds to feed feral Cats. Will be back! love Tina x

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