The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Saving money in 2008. October review. Battling with the cold.

washing drying y the stove

drying by the stove

“Have you got fingerless gloves too?”

I’d unearthed Danny’s thermal vests, inherited by proxy from my uncle. Also I’d located his beanie hat (stored on a shelf beside his computer when the weather warmed up in the Spring). Delving deep in his cupboards, I’d found a good cashmere scarf that he had enjoyed opening one Christmas and would now finally appreciate. It’s tough working in an unheated house, when the ground is frozen outside. Especially if you are a fresh air freak and sit below an open Velux window.

Consequently, the door to The Rat Room is sealed. Closed 24/7. It would make a great ‘suck it and see’ test for anyone who is considering holidaying in the Antarctic. The rest of the cottage is chilly but closeted in the kitchen with the wood burner, it’s fine when I return after dark. As long as I stay in the kitchen – a clever device that guarantees that I will volunteer to cook every supper.

We have had the oil fired central heating switched on for an hour a day for the last three days. After half an hour is the moment to take a shower. We waited until the first frosts before our fingers searched the back of the airing cupboard for the switch. It was a painful challenge. Suddenly I remembered the ten years sitting out in the cold in Covent Garden market winters. We used to wear ski suits but even the most deluxe garments allowed the cold to seep through eventually. The only remedy was a long hot bath at the end of the day. I didn’t wear fingerless gloves so had none stashed away for Danny’s chilled fingers.

For the past two days we have lit the wood burner at breakfast time. This is not one of those state of the art A rated £2,000 gizmo stoves that burn three logs in 24 hours and heat an entire six bedroom house. This is a rather eccentric stove with loads of gaps around the doors. So we sealed these with aluminium foil and, hey presto, we had a stove that ticked over so slowly that it was hard to discern that it was alight until we opened the door to the rest of the house.

Suddenly we realised that our stove can be efficient with a few Heath Robinson tweaks. The foil looks unusual but the effect is superb. D has a warm room to retire to, every now and then, and it runs on a small log or less and hour.

Back in my Covent Garden Market days there was a wood burning stove in the large toy making workshop. I’d spotted this stove discarded in my local wood yard. I bought it from them for 20 quid, took it to a guy who repaired iron (10 quid) and installed it in the chimney place. We used to light it using the off cuts from the dental plate repairers that worked out of a neighbouring workshop. The pink off cuts from the plates burned for ages and were perfect for getting the stove going. A half centimetre piece will burn for far longer than a conventional firelighter. Last night I remembered that the workshop stove ran efficiently on wooden toy off cuts covered with a thick layer of sawdust. It worked like a dream.

We have half a bale of woodchips that have got damp. I threw two large shovels of this onto a lively fire this evening and it damped the fire down but not as well as the sawdust. A trip to our local builder’s merchants might produce a bag of proper sawdust which would do the job much more efficiently.

We’re waiting for the oil price to drop before our tank is topped up and then we’ll treat it like gold. Our pal Tessa advises that the drop would take six weeks to filter through to the domestic oil suppliers. Only two more weeks to go!

Meanwhile our washing is usually dried on our radiators during the winter. So I slung a piece of old washing line under the mantle piece and we have clothes that dry far more quickly and have the extra bonus of the smell of wood smoke.

Our weekly shopping bill is now on average at least 50% lower than last year. We look for offers, base our weekly meals around these and we are eating better than we have for years.

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  1. Mmm, wood burning stoves. I long for one of these, and ponder the idea in a pipe-dream fashion. Living in a 1970’s chimney-free house, I have discovered that it is possible to have an insulated flue installed, along with the stove!

  2. PAM, not sure what you mean by knitted vertically – not a term I’ve come across in 40 years of knitting! Google the magic loop technique and you will have no fear of knitting in the round – there are some good videos of this on you tube.



  4. PAM, have you tried googling free knitting patterns fingerless gloves? I have found all sorts of free knitting patterns on the internet many of which I have now printed off and placed in a larage file. Alternatively you could just use an ordinary glove pattern and stop the fingers at the length you require. You could even just cut the fingers off a pair of existing gloves but you would have to do something to stop the knitting running and the ultimate self-destruction of the gloves.

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