The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The mouse farmer

Photo: Potato border July 2009

Photo: Potato border July 2009

As a child I loved the idea of farming and on my ninth birthday received a deluxe farm set. This had two fields, six stables, a barn with a loft and a farmhouse. The roof of each building lifted off. My favourites were the barn and the farmhouse.

A family of felt mice lived in the latter. The hard farm work was carried out by the small group of Britain’s human farm workers that came with the set. The mouse family spent most of their time riding around in the gig – pulled by a white carthorse, as the boundaries of the farm went way beyond the confines of the wooden board. The carpet in my bedroom was a patterned Wilton type with lots of sections. These became country lanes and five acre fields. Way over in the distance was the market where the mice sold their milk and eggs and did their weekly shop. Towered over by a huge Victorian wardrobe which the mice referred to as The Old Town Hall.

The mice ran the sort of fantasy farm that had no bearing on real farming. A crop could be planted and harvested within few days on the hills of my bedroom floor. The mouse farmer was kept busy with his stock whilst the horse drawn plough and rakes toiled endlessly in a constant round of ploughing, planting and harvesting. There was a large dairy herd, sheep, goats, a few pigs who permanently had piglets, chickens, geese, turkeys and even ducks that swam on an imaginary pond. At dusk he would gaze out beyond the boundary of the board and survey the hundreds of acres of wheat, barley, carrots, spuds for human consumption. Hay and Mangelwurzels were grown to feed the livestock. I had seen these left in great piles in fields beside the Devon country lanes.

I find our kitchen garden as absorbing as my childhood farm. Having expanded the planting area by 50% we are now seeing the benefit of being able to produce a much larger range of crops. We are now planning to dig up the remains of the rose walk and lay the entire end section of the garden over to chickens, soft fruit and vegetables. This will give us the equivalent of nine large beds (12’x12′ 4mx4m) and the space to expand our range and extend the seasons with cloches and fleece.

Although I don’t have a gig and the band of Britain’s human helpers I am as happy and absorbed as the mouse farmer. Inspecting our vegetables, fretting over caterpillars and blight, enjoying the freshest tasty fruit and vegetables and optimistically planting seed for future harvests.


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15 Comments

  1. kate (uk)

    I still have my Britain’s farm, now merged with my husband’s Britain’s farm and added bits from my daughter ( who loved tractors and farm machinery).My bedroom had a dark green carpet- perfect.Combined with the Britain’s zoo, scalextric and Britain’s garden a whole country was at my fingertips- even before I’d got the lego out…

  2. My latest period building restoration has victorian Gardens and greenhouses that need bringing back to life…your blog has plenty to help.

  3. I also loved my Britain’s farm set, as did my sister’s children. It now lives in our spare room waiting for their children.

  4. I’m always jealous of people whose interests — either vocational or avocational — are so much a part of their make-up that they date back to childhood. Me, I’ve got a new thing every year.

    Since this year it’s growing things, do you suppose there’s a market for a Gritty Reality Farm set, that comes with slugs and raccoons and inhospitable weather patterns?

  5. Toffeeapple

    What a wonderful story, your dream life has almost come true.

  6. Michelle in NZ

    And such happy times thinking packets of (and home harvested) seeds you are going to have.

    Danny – no, you cannot have it all for spuds!

    Fiona – WOW.

    Min Pins – no, these are not great big doggie loos.

    care and huggles to all, Michelle and Zebbycat, xxxxx

  7. Absorbing and charming story. x

  8. My childhood fantasies were very urban-doll dressing and dreaming of the day my my then glamorous mother would hand down a particular black velvet gown. I thought that when I grew up I would be a James Bond lady, complete with cocktail musak flowing through the air:) What am I now? A budding farmer, working in near complete silence and wearing muck boots. I think its glamorous to grow your own food and I love my muck boots!

  9. Joanna

    Better than my imaginary games. My toys were subjected to many a operation with me dressed in my dressing gown put on backwards for the job. A budding doctor? Not quite, I wanted to be a vet but it wasn’t to be. At least it came in useful for later years repairing my own children’s toys

  10. Pamela

    Ain’t fantasy life great? No-one complaining about financial meltdown, or being ill, or bad weather. No-one going hungry and no need to worry about seasons! I can’t imagine a 9 year old these days being delighted to receive a farm set – unless of course it was in the form of a game for the Wii or the Nintendo DS! How times change. I’m off to check out my position on the allotment list as I have heard that a few people have just been allocated allotments recently. Or I would be if it wasn’t raining – again. At least it seems to be a gentle shower and not the stair rods of recent days.

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