The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The secret challenge


Photo: October Harvest

Photo: October Harvest

We’ve had a secret challenge at the cottage this past year.

In the old days when oil was cheap we were wanton with our central heating. Our 900 litre tank was filled up four times a year. In October last year we worked out that four fill ups might cost as much as £1600. It was quite a shock when we did the maths.

For the first time ever I decided to shop around for the best price. In the end we saved £60 on filling the tank. Up until then I’d used the same supplier for 25 years – but he just couldn’t offer a similar discount.

Then we set ourselves a challenge. Could we survive on just 900 litres for a whole year?

It meant wearing outdoor jackets and hats in the house. Hotties and Min Pins in the beds. Foraging for fuel in the woods for the wood burning stove. Putting up homemade secondary double glazing. Keeping doors closed to conserve the heat. The heating and hot water were on just for the minimum time in the morning and evening. It was uncomfortable but not impossible to do.

Today the tank is going to be filled just over a year later. So we’ve completed the challenge. Hurray.

The summer was easy to do but I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to another chilly winter and was delighted when Danny suggested that we set the new challenge to two tanks this year. Sitting at his desk wearing an outdoor fleece and woolly hat he announced.
“The pain wasn’t worth the gain.”

We are lucky – we can afford to buy more oil. The challenge made me realise how tough it must be for the elderly and infirm who have to heat their houses on a very limited budget.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lydia

    We have a compost heap – mainly grass clippings and a kitchen waste composter (everything except meat/fish/dog poo). The sawdust from the chicken house is added to this every few weeks. This year I’m making leaf mould. We have 12 sacks that will be spread next autumn.

    We supplement these with sulphate of potash, sulphate of ammonia, blood fish and bone and bone meal. If I find organic fertilisers on offer I invest. A layer of chicken pellets in our kitchen garden pots gave us giant squash and a courgette harvest to die for.

    I’m also experimenting with Rockdust(tm) Much cheaper than commercially produced organic fertilisers and some say it has good results. I have spread 60 kilos on our relatively large patch. You need a minimum of 500g per square metre. The soil is already looking and feeling better.

    Old tea leaves have revitalised the border that houses one wonderful rose and a (now) fructulent clematis. Just toss on the left over tea leaves straight from the pot!

    If you have some cash to spare Vitax4 is a wonderful fertiliser (I don’t think that it’s organic). Vitax also produces a great organic fertiliser that sometimes is on a 2 for 1 offer – then I invest. I want to get to the stage where we don’t have to spend ££££ on fertilisers. A homemade Bokashi system might be the answer in the end. I must admit I was horrified by the amount we spent on fertilisers this year.

    Re the summer watering. We were given two 1500 litre containers bought from the Jaffa factory. We also have six biggish water butts (collecting water from shed, greenhouse and neighbouring roofs that back onto the garden) and these can all be attached to a drip feed water butt system This gets the maximum yield out of every drop of water and encourages strong deep roots to develop. This is a system that is used extensively in third world countries where water is scarce. It costs a bit to set up but you are reaping the benefits relatively quickly (within a year). If we run out of water we refill the big containers rather than spray with a hose it works out so much cheaper to water with this effective way. We pay for each litre of water here so are loathe to waste it.

    Thinking around the box (rather than just outside) has saved us pounds. Would love to hear your money saving tips!

  2. Hi, Fiona,

    Can you please share about how to save your fertilizer cost since you have a year round garden.

    In addition, how do you keep your garden alive once drought days happened?

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