The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Hessian sacks, traditional English sack and three legged racing

Photo: Jute storage sacks for vegetables

Photo: Jute storage sacks for vegetables

I’ve been storing the paper sacks from our chicken feed to house Danny’s spuds (if they sail through). I mentioned this to him last night.
“I’d prefer hessian sacks, ideally.”

A couple of years ago I’d found hessian sacks on the Isle of Wight garlic farm site. This morning I drew a blank. There is no search facility on the site. Perhaps they still sell them, I just don’t know.

I motored over to Cambridge to visit my mum and on the way home I decided to drop into Notcutts, Horningsea. We needed short bamboo stakes to support our Brussels Sprouts and fertilisers for the vegetable borders that are not doing as well as expected.

Suddenly I spotted small hessian sacks in a bijou display, grow your own area. I asked an assistant where I could find these in the shop. I had already searched for quite a while without finding them. Finally we discovered them hanging near the seed packet display. I was thrilled and as I tossed them into my trolley I got the scent of the sacks,

Within seconds, I was transported back forty years.

My parents sent me to a sporty boarding school. I was fine in the classroom but on the games pitch I failed dismally. I had no balance, eye for the ball or any sporting prowess. When the class chose teams for a game, I was always the one that was chosen last.

This was humiliating. I longed to be able to magically rise from the ashes, and against all the odds, toss a netball into the net from a distance of forty yards or suddenly develop a crack serve on the tennis court. Neither happened. Eventually I had to accept that I was bad at games.

This sporty school gave prizes to sportsmen. Little round enamelled badges that were pinned under the lapels of the dark green school summer blazer. Some great sportsmen wore badges under the collars of their blazers and the supremo champs wore blazers with badges that spilled out from under their lapels and collars onto the visible body of the blazer. I longed to be one of these sporting heroes.

Sports prize giving happened on a rather smart columned portico. Prize winners ran up the half moon of shallow steps to collect their enamelled badges and then ran down the steps on the other side. Buoyant, smiling and lithe.

I swapped stuff for a few badges (mainly green – third prize, that I positioned on the edge of my lapels. But quickly I discovered that they just didn’t cut the mustard. I had to find some races that I could actually win.

I focussed on two races that were considered jokes by the school. If I won the sack race and the three legged race I could get the coveted red winning badges.

At the start of the summer term I started training. I discovered that if I put my feet in the corners of the bottom of the sack I could run, with practice and tiny steps to the finishing post. The three legged race was harder as I had to achieve perfect synchronicity with a partner. But with a whole term to practice winning was easy. Eventually little enamel buttons peeped out from under my collar and lapels.

The kick was enormous. I loved running up the portico steps to collect the small round badges. I knew that my efforts went down badly with the school. This made the badges even more precious. I can almost feel the weight of a badge in my hand now.

Just the smell of the sacks made me feel quite jubilant today. Danny was delighted too. Although the majority of his harvest will be stored in underground pits with a decent layer of hay so that they don’t freeze up, these small sacks will be useful.

Useful links:

Most gardening websites offer hessian sacks and as always the prices range considerably.

Thompson & Morgan are competetively priced at £13.99 for 10 sacks.

Dobies offer hessian sacks at £15.99 for ten.

(both considrably cheaper than the Notcutts ones)

  Leave a reply


  1. I love using natural products like hessian/cloth sacks in the garden. Some of the good ones made of fine-ish cloth can even look good as cushions and chair seat covers.

    No sports day at school for me I’m afraid. I was terrible at sports and used to hide somewhere quiet in the school grounds with a stack of library books and a bottle of juice so I wouldn’t have to take part.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Rose

    It was fun winning the races, especially the first year when no one knew that we had been training!

    Hi Casalba

    I love it. A sack makes a perfect mermaid’s tale.

    Hi Linda

    That sounds like an idyllic place. Thanks for sharing.

    Hi Pamela

    That’s a brilliant idea. Thank you.

    Hello Sue

    I must find a shop near us! I’m quite good at sewing 🙂

    Lovely to hear about your vegetable garden.

  3. Our local foam/upholstering supply shop sells hessian by the metre – I suppose it is used for re-uphostering the base of chairs. I have used it for making sacks for the school sack race!! I am not sure of your sewing skills but I am sure that even the most basic seamstress could manage a sack.
    I love your blog Fiona (and Danny) – you have inspired me to create a veggie garden this year and I thought i hated gardening!

  4. Pamela

    Does the colour of the sacks make a difference? I ask because the other day I picked up an empty 45 kilo rice sack from the kitchen to the Indian restaurant next door which hadn’t yet made it to the bin but was clean. I have plans to recycle it into shopping bags as it is very strong however if it is the sort of thing that might be useful for storing your veggies over the winter, it might be worth asking at your local Indian restaurant.

  5. The smell of sacking takes me back, too. I spent many holidays as a child on a small, mixed farm run by my aunt and uncle. Less than 50 rented acres, it would not survive today, but I loved it, and really got to see the inter-connectedness of farming that you rarely get today. A careful child, I was allowed to play anywhere I wanted, and the feed barns were wonderful places on rainy days, with sacking from my uncle’s father’s day still stored carefully. I can still remember the smell, and your post brought it all back.

  6. casalba

    You’re taking me back too. I used to play with the boy across the road as a child. We built roads in the earth and filled Tonka pick-up trucks with soil. Our relationship ended the day I hopped across the road in a hessian sack wanting to play mermaids. (For what it’s worth, I was rubbish at sports too. Apart from swimming – I really should have been a mermaid.)

  7. *laugh* I am so glad you got one up on the sporty snobs at school. I had the same thing and I never got one up….

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