It's almost mid-January, the ground is still frozen, part of mine is waterlogged and yet more of it is undermined, nae, completely riddled, by moles. Looks like I've lost an apple tree to the little blinders, too!
Time marches on regardless, so I'm dragging out the box of seeds and starting to plan this year's garden for that part of my 2011 frugal challenge. This self-sufficiency lark isn't as easy as many might think, so I guess I'm lucky that I equate earning my money to growing a cash crop. The better the harvest in one area, the less importance or reliance there needs to be on another. So let's start at the beginning, by analysing what it is we NEED from our gardens, or microholdings.
The main Frugaldom lifestyle revolves around a semblance of self-sufficiency in all things, including cash. So, first and foremost, I need to be fully aware of how much cash is needed to keep the household running comfortably, throughout the year.
- Household bills - electricity, insurance, telephone, Internet, TV
- Fuel - coal, logs, firelighters, matches
- Cleaning products and toiletries
- Self-employment costs - National Insurance contributions etc
- Family pets
- Garden poultry
- Gifts for family and friends
- Extras - club memberships, savings policies, charitable donations etc
This household uses around 4 dozen eggs each week, which amounts to almost £250 per year had we chosen to opt for the very cheapest, supermarket-bought ones. But I want to help support ethical farming and promote cruelty-free egg production. I'd also like to see changes in current legislation governing the definition of the term 'freerange'. All these factors mean that I would probably need to pay up to 34p per egg for truly freerange eggs (~ £850 per year). That is one ENORMOUS difference in price! I value my own garden hen, duck and quail eggs highly. If I average the cost out at 20p per egg, then my annual bill would be around £500. It costs me less than this to keep the hens and I always have extras for selling during summer months, so it is viable. The poultry will pay for themselves on the condition that I sell all the surplus eggs and/or any resulting chicks. If I've shown a profit by the end of the year, I'll be delighted!
We should eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day, according to health specialist, so that's 5,475 portions for this household of three over the year. Let's call it 5,500, because I don't like messy numbers.
Has anyone, anywhere, actually calculated the average cost of those 5-a-day? There's no way I could grow all of that in my garden, especially when you take into account that potatoes don't count as one of your 5-a-day. I reckon I can only allocate 10p per portion for this and use that as a starting point. Does that sound about right?
Just as well we don't eat much meat here because that's half the grocery budget accounted for already, unless I'm able to grow plenty in the garden. On a budget of £1 per person per day, 50p per person per day goes on the 5-a-day, leavin 50p per day for everything else? It's not much when you think about it that way, is it? But for every portion of fresh produce that can be grown in the garden, it's 10p saved on the budget. (I have a sneaking suspicion that 10p is nowhere near the amount needed, but if we need account for all those beans and pulses, which DO count, then the averafe price has to come down.
Our microholding needs to produce at least 208 dozen eggs and 5,500 portions of fruit and vegetables. It also needs to generate enough income from surplus egg and poultry sales to cover the cost of feeding and bedding for the livestock. The other alternative is to generate a cash income of £1050 just to buy eggs, fruit and veg.
What I'm aiming for is a happy medium, whereby the cash generated plus the eggs, fruit and veg, all balances out and allows a little left over to show a profit, even if it is by way of trading lemon curd via the LETS group.
Where and when to start
We already know that we need £4,000 to keep this household ticking over for a year, so the main aim is to keep within this budget and make adjustments to cover changes. When global markets affect local prices, we need to be prepared to meet any sudden increases or to invest in bulk buying to help reduce costs wherever possible.
Taking part in a frugal challenge is a bit like balancing a plank on a barrel see-saw fashion: the barrel can roll either way but it's up to you to keep things balanced by moving with it. Counteract the shifts. If carrots hate growing in your garden but leeks do really well, concentrate on the leeks and trade the surplus with a friend who grows carrots. You could even sell the extra leeks and go buy carrots. If electricity prices increase, see what can be done to get useage down. (I recommend the 'imeasure' site for this.) If wheat prices increase, check to make sure you aren't cheaper feeding your hens mash or pellets. It's all just one big balancing act - tending your garden is the exact same.
|Square foot garden from railway sleepers|
|Plants keep growing, squares keep filling|