The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Cutting back on oil and growing vegetables

Photo: Chopped vegetables

Photo: Chopped vegetables

We used to have an oil refill in October (900 litres) for our hot water and central heating. And another just before Christmas plus a final one in February that would generally see us through to the Autumn.

This year it was different. We used the wood burning stove in the kitchen after dark. So the hub of the house was always warm in the evening. The oil fired heating and hot water used to run for nine hours a day in the past and was blissful. This year we cut it back to just one hour in the morning and one in the evening. This two hours a day added up to a massive saving. We are still on the October fill and have a third left of oil in our tank.  If we’re canny and plan ahead, we shower in a heated bathroom in the morning. And still have enough time for hot water to reheat for the rest of the day.

As Danny loves open windows upstairs, even during a deep freeze, we‘ve  discovered the joy of several hot water bottles in the bed along with the Min Pins that are attached to them. Living covers that conserve the heat till almost dawn.

Our wood burning stove has saved the day. By letting the ash build up, we can be warm for a whole evening on just three logs smouldering in the hearth.

I’m snug this evening. I didn’t have time to light the stove but I’m warm in my windproof jacket. I’ve only just twigged that I’m still wearing it. In the end you get used to the extra layers without feeling like a trainee Victorian Artic explorer.

Last week I was searching Jalopy’s boot for my sun hat. These past three days I’ve been wearing my scarf, gloves and elfin hat – working in a biting outside wind that was so strong that it made the paint hard to control. It dried quickly and a brush full was scattered far beyond the place that I was painting.

We are ahead, garden wise, this year. The new vegetable border. The twin to Danny’s new potato border was celebrated by planting 36 summer cauliflower plants gratis from John Coe. The rest of the space will be planted by winter cauli’s and Brussels sprouts – raised in the greenhouse. These will be interplanted with Mizuna, Little Gem lettuces and salad leaves. We now finally seem to have enough space to grow and eat our own veg all year round. I suspect that we need just a bit more space to be totally self sufficient. I’m already eying the borders in the pond garden. Growing vegetables can be hugely addictive. Especially when you’ve tasted the bounty.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Della

    No we don’t yet have restrictions re wood for wood burning stoves. My mum who lives in Cambridge (UK)is not allowed to burn coal and has to burn derivatives but she is allowed to burn wood in the form of logs.

    Out in the country we can burn anything ATM.

    Hello Joanna

    It’s dry here in the UK too. So the automatic watering is going great guns on most of our kitchen garden and the rest is watered by hand.

    But everyday ther’s a change – very heartening. 23 out of 50 potato plants are now showing in D’s spud border.

    Hello GTM

    Well done. I’m so impressed and heartened. Often I think that everyone else are sitting in T-shits by a vast open fire.

    Like you I’m welcoming the warm late spring and early summer with open arms – having cut back I want to bask in sunshine now!

    Hello Heidi

    I found the same when I was living in London. There’s a country price and a townie price.

    Hi Domestic Executive

    Your new house sounds perfect. I remember being on holiday in NZ in the seventies and always being cold too (my big brother lives in NZ).

    A wood burner placed in the centre of a house is perfect and it can heat the entire house with a bit of patience.

    Hello Terrier

    I checked out your link and this sounds really interesting. Love the way it can accommodate seasoned logs too. Thanks for your suggestion – very useful indeed.

  2. Terrier

    Have you considered an alternative fuel to oil? I have a wood pellet boiler, it supplies all the heating and hot water, last year when the oil price was high pellets where half the price of oil ! and you will also be doing your bit for the environment, as wood pellets are carbon neutral. take a look at

  3. Domestic Executive

    One of the biggest shocks to the system when we moved to New Zealand is the lack of insulation and heating in houses here. For the first 18 months I froze most of the time but learned that layering is the way to go. Whilst there were days I looked like a michelin man it has made me more tolerant of cold. Now we’re in our new house built with high spec insulation, double glazing and energy efficient heat pump I feel much better about staying warm. The log burner is the best thing though as if you light it early enough on these winter nights it gets the house toasty warm. And, it heats out hot water through the wet back system.

  4. Heidi

    Wow Fiona you are doing so well!
    Unfortunately we do not have a wood burner or open fire.We did have an open fire around 8 years ago but living in London we found it really hard to find wood that did not cost a fortune.

  5. Smal Pines

    We’re going to be going the propane route, but once we get a house built, I’d like to go completely with wood heat. Hope the good weather reaches you soon and stays for a long time!

  6. rachel

    We don’t use oil but I was thrilled to bits to get our gas payment review and discover they are cutting our payment buy half!! We’ve installed a condensing boiler, really cut down on CH usage, made thermal lined curtains and I’m an avid collector of windfall wood or the open fire! my next project is a patchwork quilt – it will keep my legs warm in the evenings whilst I make it then go on our bed!

  7. Thats great news on the oil usage :o) we made a 1000litres last here over 19months I was SO delighted!The supplier thought we had gone elsewhere to buy it,nooo I laughed!It runs the hot water & CH but that only goes on when its really chilly & to warm the bathroom when the smalls have a bath.
    We have a clearview woodburner that runs 24/7 in the winter & it heats the whole cottage,our attic room is always on the parky side but like your OH we like a cooler room,lots of quilts,eiderdowns & hotwater bottles make it perfect :o)

    Theres the odd evening now where I think ahh I will light the fire lol,its so companianble I adore it :o)As you say you only need a couple of logs for it to be quite warm enough :o)

    Am looking forward to some balmy summer evenings spent outside though,they are overdue!
    GTM x x x

  8. Joanna

    I know exactly what you mean. Can’t wait for our stuff to get going, not long now as we had some rain a couple of days ago – it had got rather dry here in Latvia.

  9. Della

    Do you have any restrictions on wood burning in your stove? I’d love to cut down on the use of our furnace but here in California the air pollution police have put restrictions on when you can use a fireplace or wood burning stove. There are numerous days (and nights) in the winter when homeowners may not burn wood. The fines are a couple hundred dollars if they catch you using your wood stove on a non burn day. If you don’t have a furnace you end up having to use electric space heaters.

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