Daily Life at Chalk House: Winter

Running a smallholding could be a full-time job in itself; that's why here at Chalk House we're lucky to live as an extended family, where everyone takes a share of the work, without it becoming too much of a grind. Of course, there are always times when you're the only one at home, and the hours fill easily with essential tasks, but these days are (thankfully) rare.

Jobs change seasonally, and during winter the focus is less on the vegetable patch, and more on maintenance and organisation. To give you an idea of what it's like to run a smallholding at this time of year, here's what an average day looks like...

  • 6.30am (or just before dawn): Walk the dogs in the muted light of daybreak.
The main duck house and pond first thing in the morning.

The main duck house and pond first thing in the morning.

  • 7.30am (as close to sunrise as possible): Open the houses of the chickens and ducks, and check for eggs. Make sure they all have fresh water and fill up their feed. We have to wait until sunrise for this, otherwise the foxes are still about, and the poultry is at risk. Check that the sheep are ok, and that their water is filled up.
The sheep are either kept in the top field or the orchard, and are moved for fresh grazing.

The sheep are either kept in the top field or the orchard, and are moved for fresh grazing.

  • 7.45am: Breakfast and plans for the day, including what's on the menu and needs eating from the veg plot. Process the eggs and put outside for sale.
  • 8.30am: Dan's usually working on the build, and at the moment can be found constructing windows in the workshop. Tasks such as fencing and hedging are completed by volunteers, if we have any, and the rest of us, if not. Any baking is often completed first thing.
  • 10.30am: A well-earned coffee break.
  • 10.45am: More of the same tasks from earlier.
  • 12.15pm: Lunch! Currently finished off with apples from the store.
Collecting chicken eggs.

Collecting chicken eggs.

  • 1.15pm: Go and check to see if there are any more eggs. Fill up the water butts that supply the water for the poultry, and make sure they all have fresh water too. Feed them some corn. We also give the houses a quick clean, but this is really a much bigger job that takes place at the weekends, and is also when we refresh the straw.
  • 1.30pm: More work. Dan's always in the workshop or on the land (if he's not on a fire shout), but the rest of us have other jobs to complete too, so it depends what day it is as to whether you'll catch us outside or in. If we need logs chopping, this is usually when we do it.
  • 3.30pm: An on-the-go tea-break, if we remember!
  • 4.30pm: During the winter, it gets dark so much earlier, so we're already shutting up the ducks and chickens at this time to ensure they're safe from predators. Any eggs we've missed earlier will be collected, and waters will be emptied to discourage rats from the area. The sheep will be fed with a few nuts, and we'll check that the electric fence is still on and doesn't need its battery changing. If any vegetables need picking for dinner, now's the time we do it to ensure they're as fresh as possible.
Chard and leeks are two of our staple winter vegetables.

Chard and leeks are two of our staple winter vegetables.

  • 5pm: It's dark, so work on the smallholding is usually over by this point. Now we begin to think about preparation for dinner, and spend the meal discussing what we've all been up to, and any plans we have for the next day. Evenings are usually spent working, relaxing, or reading. Projects and ideas for the future often feature, and there's usually a fire in the woodburning stove.

Daily life looks so much different by the time we reach spring, and as the nights pull out, we spend less time planning and more time outside. Look out for another 'daily life' post once we hit that point in the year.

The Chalk House Story

A bit of background information never goes amiss, and if you're interested in what actually goes on here at the smallholding, and how it came to be, this post is for you.

I'm Eleanor, and I'll be doing most of the blogging around here, though you might, from time-to-time, hear from one or two of the others. I've lived in the Lincolnshire Wolds for the past 16 years, except for when I flitted off to university. My parents - Lee and Julie - had a dream to live off the land, to build their own home, and to embrace a simpler lifestyle. In late 1998, they bought a 4.5 acre plot, with the intention of creating the opportunity to do just that, and they spent the next 2-3 years getting to grips with carving out the shape of the fields, and building part of the house.

In 2002, it was time to move in properly. My sister - Jess - was most excited about getting a dog. I enjoyed the space and fresh air that living in the countryside provided. My grandparents moved into a caravan for a while, before moving next door to be a part of it all. It really was (and still is) a family affair!

Fast-forward a few years, and the second and third stages of the house-build are still a fair way from completion. And it's complicated. In essence, there are 3 sections: section 1 is where my parents still live, and where Dan and I will move temporarily next Spring; section 2 is the main body of the house, where my parents will move to in the Spring; section 3 currently consists of just the foundations and a small section of wall, but will eventually be a home for Dan and I. At this point, section 1 will become vacant again, and my sister and her husband - Lewis - will probably move in. Are you still with me?!

Where we have made arguably more visible progress, is on the land. There are two main fields, both with a public footpath running through them. The first field - the one closest to the house - is split into a large vegetable patch, an orchard, an apiary, a chicken house and a section of earth that looks like mini mountains, which is earmarked for future development. The second field is slightly larger, and houses the ducks, and at one time provided a home for pigs (which we currently do not have). It is then split into two sections, which form paddocks for the small flock of sheep we own. On the far side is a collection of coppiced ash trees that grew from nowhere and curve to create a mysterious and magical tunnel.

Closer to the house is a workshop (the old cow shed) that currently houses Dan's pole lathe, and the beginnings of his blacksmith's forge. Two greenhouses start our vegetable season early, and a large garden provides floral colour and fragrance, along with herbs for cooking. The bell tent (where Dan and I currently live) is also located here, with the mini mountains of earth behind providing much-needed shelter from the wind.

We have many plans for the future of the smallholding, and spend many an evening discussing our ideas and dreams. Although at one time we aimed for self-sufficiency, we now realise that this isn't a realistic goal for us. We are, however, self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables throughout most of the summer, and into the autumn months. We rarely buy eggs, and if we've sent a lamb or pig to be slaughtered, we don't need to buy any meat for some time, either. It's about a balance, between hard work and perseverance, and wanting to take time to enjoy the life we've created here. If that means we have to nip to the farm shop, or even the supermarket, then that's ok. The rewards for our efforts are more than worth it, but we don't profess to be farmers, and nor would we want to ever become a working farm.

Smallholding, homestead, call it what you will, this way of life works for us, and despite the toil it brings, it's absolutely worth it. Over the next few posts, I'll be writing about different aspects of Chalk House, and what we do here, so keep an eye out if you'd like to know more.

For now, enjoy the sunshine!