You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve been swotting up on the good life this month, dear Reader. As most of you will know, when we first moved here in summer 2013, it marked the beginning of a new life for the four of us – turning our back on the urban sprawl and learning the ways of the countryside. In fact it was the view above of one of the cottage’s neighbouring fields which convinced us to move. For a couple of beginners like Jerry and I, the prospect of living the good life was more than a little daunting. Yet here we are, nearly three years down the line and we’ve raised orphan lambs, adopted a Large Black called Cumberland and an elderly pony named Willow, taken on hens and now have a share in three little piglets, Huff, Puff and Snuff. We never intended to grow such a menagerie – it just sort of happened. I often wonder if our friends ever thought that we would turn out to be this animal mad when we left the Big Smoke.
I suppose you could say that it was all Country Living’s fault. Almost as soon as we had moved in, I stumbled on a series the magazine had commissioned on Walnuts Farm and its owners Nick and Bella Ivins. Charting life as a family run smallholding, it gave an insight into how the bucolic pastoral idyll we had always dreamed of could be achieved. I say we, dear Reader. Anyone who knows us well will certainly agree that Jerry never pictured washing down a sheep’s backside in his idyllic rural scene. Country Living’s series on Walnuts Farm shared Nick and Bella’s growing your own tips, how-tos for those brave enough to give livestock a go and many a delicious recipe using hedgerow fodder. Nick and Bella painted a wonderful portrait of smallholder life and made it seem somehow achievable on a small scale for a pair of Londoners seriously lacking in green fingers.
Imagine my joy, dear Reader, when Nick and Bella announced that there was to be a book to follow the series. The New Homesteader was an eagerly awaited parcel – thank you to Nick and Bella for the fabulous gift and for the invaluable tweets and replies on caring for lambs, pigs etc when we got a bit stuck. I very nearly bit the postman’s hand off to rip open the jiffy bag and devour the contents!
The book doesn’t disappoint. It is a wonderfully put together tome of self-sufficiency and learning to live the good life. Leaving the city behind and relocating to Walnuts Farm ten years ago, Nick and Bella have embraced becoming smallholders with their daughters Flora and Peggy, making it work for them and fit in with family life, rather than being slaves to the land.
Their book offers practical advice on a plethora of ‘good lifer’ topics (accompanied by Nick’s beautiful photography) from yoghurt and butter making… to the benefits of planting wild flower meadows…
keeping pigs and hens, planning an orchard and getting started in the kitchen garden. Nick and Bella’s aim with The New Homesteader is to inspire others to give modern homesteading a go whether it’s in the countryside, city or suburbs. You might not be able to keep pigs in a courtyard garden in South West London but you can grow fruit and veg in pots or try your hand at making your own butter (not as difficult as you may think). Honestly, dear Reader, even if you have no desire to up sticks for a rural living, I challenge you not to fall in love with the wonderful pictures and story which Nick and Bell tell in The New Homesteader. It’s a rare treat and the perfect read for those who yearn for a slice of the good life. The pictures of their delightful home will have you on Pinterest seeking to recreate their country chic in a jiffy!
Taking yet another leaf out of Nick and Bella’s book, Jerry and I have turned all land girl on our little plot (I’ve been channelling victory rolls and khaki cropped dungarees) this spring. Jerry looks wonderful in a head scarf and pinny….. He’ll kill me for telling such fibs. With our veg patch sowings underway, we’ve planted our own wildflower meadow in a patch of long grass bordering the driveway and taken to some guerrilla sowing on our verges too. We used seeds from a fab little company called Seedball – thank you so much chaps for sending us a selection of your marvellous seed tins. We’ve already ordered a few more tins! The Seedball seeds couldn’t be easier to sow. Each Seedball tin comes with seeds, compost and a little chilli to put off the birds all rolled in together so that the seeds have the best chance of growing.
Growing your own wildflower patch is as simple as throwing the seedballs onto the area which you’d like the wildflowers to grow, watering a little and then waiting for them to pop up. Perfect for the more erratic gardener like me….. I can’t wait to try the Herb and Tea seed mixes. Not blessed with acres of kitchen garden, I shall be popping those in a container near the kitchen window. Now’s the perfect time to sow and you don’t need a huge garden to scatter a few seeds. The bees will love you forever and you never know, it could be the start of your very own smallholding, dear Reader.