Smallholders Insurance from Greenlands

Author Topic: New member checking in...  (Read 1058 times)


  • Joined Jun 2019
New member checking in...
« on: June 20, 2019, 12:52:14 pm »
Hi All,

New member intro time ;)

So...the short (and brutally honest) version...My wife & I are London based and complete smallholding noobs/wanna-be's, with designs on retiring to build a smallholding in Scotland...

And now, in a little more detail...

We have fallen in love with the Scottish islands, principally Orkney & Skye, and we both harbour a desire to retire there, to start an 'Eco' smallholding, where 'Eco' stands for both 'Economical', as well as 'Ecological' (I suspect that the 2 go hand-in-hand).

In reality, this is a fairly long-term plan. We would not move north while we still have family ties in the South (ie elderly parents), so this is potentially up to a 10yr plan...

I think this timescale works to our advantage. We plan to use the time to learn the secrets of a productive & efficient Kitchen Garden, so that when we do finally commit to the move north, that element of the learning curve will already have been covered - allowing us to concentrate on mysteries of livestock, etc...   

So, where are we now...? We're based in south Hertfordshire and are lucky enough to have a large garden. For the last few years we've maintained a small veg-patch (12m2 of raised beds), a tiny herb garden (1m2), a single apple tree & a boundary fence covered with mature & prolific blackberry bushes, all of which have proved to be satisfyingly productive. We plan (probably this winter - ready for next spring) to expand this, adding a green house and turning an additional 50+m2 of lawn/flowerbeds to veg/fruit production.

Using this expanded space we plan to learn the art of the Kitchen Garden, specifically...
  • to be able to harvest across as much of the year as possible - don't want to be food-less in the winter!! No doubt the best ways to store/preserve our produce too...
  • techniques to minimise/eliminate the need to use (bought in) pest control
  • techniques to maximise yield per m2

We are in this for the long-term & looking forward to the journey!

I'd be particularly interested in reading about the experiences of anyone operating a smallholding in Orkney - apart from the obvious (weather, shorter growing season) are there any significant differences, compared to operating a small holding in the SE...?



Mad Goatwoman of Madeley

  • Joined Sep 2011
  • Telford
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2019, 11:38:42 pm »
 :wave: Paul and welcome. We do have members in Orkney (or is it Shetland?) who will no doubt appear at some point. I thought about moving to Orkney myself as I love it there and the soils seems to be very good, but went to Arran instead.

Now I'm in a town in Shropshire and have turned my large garden into a micro-holding - not quite big enough to call a small-holding.  ;D  I grow veg and fruit and one of the first jobs I did when we moved here 11.5 years ago was to turn the lawn into raised beds. I also kept goats for 15 years but my physical health deteriorated until I knew I couldn't manage them any more.

Good luck with your plans.


  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • Wester Gladstone Hebridean Sheep
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2019, 01:56:32 am »
Hello and welcome Paul and Mrs Paul

It's an admirable aim to have a smallholding in Scotland - we have one and it's a great life  :farmer:

It's also a wonderful and very sensible idea to hone your gardening skills before you make the move. Although you mention the weather as being obviously different to the deep south (and a city at that, which will be slightly warmer and less windy than even outside in the wider countryside), maybe you haven't realised quite how very different it is.  I have grown vegetables, fruit etc in various places around Britain - East Anglia, Yorkshire, Anglesey, Edinburgh, Fife and now South Lanarkshire.  With every move I have had to almost relearn my gardening skills, to take into account things such as area soil type and local soil differences; climatic as well as weather differences; prevailing winds locally and even within the garden itself; yes day length as you mention, although the long summers, especially further north (written at the end of the longest day - even here it won't get fully dark tonight), make up for a lot of the other shortcomings; short growing season which varies with proximity to the coast and the Gulf Stream.  All the islands are very windy, sometimes with salt spray on the wind, although the 'painful' winds come from different directions in different locations.
In Anglesey I tried growing good old failsafe runner beans, but they were blitzed by the salty winds and grew gnarled and scarred.  Runner beans here in our South Lanarkshire hilltop location have to be grown inside a polytunnel as I simply don't get a crop outside.  A couple of miles down the hill they have no problem with runners, and in Edinburgh I used to grow amazing crops of the things and could even grow tomatoes outdoors.
So expect to have to relearn your gardening skills when you move. Gardening programmes and advice for Scotland are a bit limited, although we do have The Beechgrove garden on TV, which is worth watching if you can access it from London.  There is also a Gaelic gardening programme which is somehow easy to understand even though I don't speak any Gaelic beyond 'agus'. I think it has 'Maggie in the title, and shows the specific problems of growing on the coast (not least was encroaching sand dunes in one programme I watched  :o )

For learning about livestock, you can still get a feel for the skills before you move. You can attend local agricultural shows, great and small, to see which breeds of which species are available, although which ones would thrive in the North might be something to learn once you get here. You could also do WOOFS where you work on organic farms, gardens, smallholdings, for a few days to a week or longer, living with the owners and doing about 5 hours' work a day, while learning what you can. That way, you can see both good and bad animal husbandry ways and have some experience to judge for yourself how you want to manage your livestock.  It might also help you to choose your holding when the time comes.
Of course, you must avidly read endless posts on TAS - lots of different viewpoints, opinions and knowledge to share.

Do something today that your future self will thank you for - plant a tree

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus - let sleeping dragons lie


  • Joined Jun 2019
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2019, 09:54:21 am »
Thank you for your replies!!

I'm familiar with the 'entertaining' nature of the weather in Orkney and fully expect the varieties of produce I can down here will differ from what I can expect to survive pop north...however, I hope the general theory to be transferable...crop rotation, companion planting...etc.

Regarding livestock, we have a neighbour who keeps ducks, so its eminently feasible in our area.

I definitely plan on doing a number of courses, so your suggestions are welcome ;)

My first challenge is the preparation of the new beds for next Spring, from what is currently lawn. Removing the turf won't be a problem, but the underlying soil is full of took me 30mins to plant 3 small blueberry bushes a while back, just due to the time taken to dig the holes!! I will probably rent a cultivator to break it up a but, the manually sive out the stones, before mixing the remaining should with fresh compost/manure. I plan a combination of (more) raised beds and 'ground level' beds, plus fruit trees planted along the boundary fence.




  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2019, 01:57:58 pm »
Echoing the suggestion to do some WWOOFing.  You really get a feel for what the lifestyle is like, find out what floats your boat and what you don’t enjoy so much, and if you can find some WWOOFs in your prospective location, you will get priceless insight into what life is really like in those places which could stop you making a very costly mistake.

I know lots of people who have found that the animals they thought they loved were not the ones which really excited them once they got a chance to work with them.  In fact I always thought it was pigs pigs and pigs for me, but although I still love pigs, it’s home dairying, and fleece sheep that have become my passions.

I could write at huge length about the impact of the differences in climate as you go north, go seawards, go near to forest or to mountain, etc, but will limit myself to just a few thoughts.

- there are precious few trees on Orkney (or on Shetland come to that), and there’s a reason for that.  The winter months are basically batten yourself and your livestock indoors from the winds; 70mph is pretty much every day winter weather on Orkney, they don’t really get excited unless it’s 100mph.  The winds cause little damage, however, as anything that would be damaged has already been destroyed!  (Now think about that lack of trees again... ;) )

- I moved up to north Cumbria, north of Hadrian’s Wall, from Exmoor.  So I thought I knew a bit about weather, and was of the Mark Twain mindset that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.  Southern arrogance!!  Lol.  The weather, and protecting yourself from it, is something you have to constantly think about and work with up there, laugh it off or brave it out at your peril.  When I was first up there I howled with laughter at an upland farmer lighting his wood burner on a July evening. After a couple of years up there, I was not laughing... 

- and you don’t even have to be moving hundreds of miles and a few degrees North to get this sort of a rude awakening.  We had a farmer moved across the Pennines to take on a farm near us.  He overstocked it, trashed it, had to sell up again at a huge loss within three years.  The climate and ground simply couldn’t be farmed the way he’d farmed all his life in Yorkshire.

So make the time to go to these places, talk to inhabitants, and if you can, stay with them and work the land and livestock.  If you take no other advice, take this bit. 

And... have fun researching!  And good luck following your dreams (even if you find you need to modify them slightly ;) )
« Last Edit: June 22, 2019, 02:00:02 pm by SallyintNorth »
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cow, beef cattle, pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing


  • Joined Mar 2015
  • West Suffolk
    • Notes from a Suffolk Smallholding
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2019, 06:21:13 pm »
Retiring (early?) to relocate to a smallholding:-
1. Be debt free
2. Have a regular income stream in place however modest
3. Children (if you have any) no longer financially reliant on you.
4. Be sure smallholding is how you want to spend your time and you both share this aspiration.


  • Joined Jun 2019
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2019, 07:21:15 am »
1 & 2 we have in hand...3 doesn't apply..and 4 is what we intend to spend the next few years finding out.

Looking forward to the journey...


  • Joined Jul 2012
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2019, 10:52:23 am »
I echo the sentiments above having moved from the beautifully sandy soil of East Yorkshire to the stony, granite sub surface on North East Aberdeenshire with north winds blowing directly off the moray firth/north sea. I no longer class myself as a gardener.... however 15 years later we are still here so it can't be all bad! You might take a look on facebook for Puffin Croft - she moved from the south up to a run down croft on the north coast of Scotland (not orkney or shetland) her move was documented on a tv programme (can't remember now which one) - she now has a visitor attraction and sells produce at local markets.
I wish you well on your journey, you re making a good start!


  • Joined Feb 2012
  • Somerset
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2019, 11:45:23 am »
Hi Paul,

We followed a similar route to yours. Lived for many years in outer London. Took on an overgrown allotment and, once that was fully productive, started WWOOFing to gain hands-on experience of livestock management. We looked at many places in the UK, Ireland and France for a smallholding, but ended up on the Somerset Levels, mainly because it was close to my father who was in failing health.

On the way we read huge numbers of books and smallholder journals. TAS is an invaluable source of information. I would recommend reading the diaries from the beginning. They really bring home the realities for setting up a smallholding. I would echo comments about having some sort of salary coming in to begin with. Tools and equipment can cost a lot of money and then the washing machine can be relied on to break down  at the worst possible moment.

By the way, Beechgrove Garden is shown in the south, BBC2 on a Sunday morning. Times vary but usually between 7am and 9am. Great growing programme.


  • Joined Dec 2009
  • St Boswells, Scottish Borders
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2019, 10:19:36 pm »
wrt your stony ground - have you looked into no-dig gardening? Charles Dowding has a good youtube channel, and  his books are great (our local library has most of them, so no need to buy, though I did get a couple, I find the winter vegetable is really good).


  • Joined Jun 2019
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2019, 03:00:18 pm »
@Anke good call on the no-dig approach :)


  • Joined Feb 2012
  • Somerset
Re: New member checking in...
« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2019, 08:27:46 am »
Beechgrove gardening programme is on now on BBC 2  :)


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