Thursday, 13 January 2011

Time to Start Planning Your Microholding

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
  • Groceries
  • Cleaning products and toiletries
  • Self-employment costs - National Insurance contributions etc
  • Family pets
  • Garden poultry
  • Transport
  • Gifts for family and friends
  • Extras - club memberships, savings policies, charitable donations etc
Every household has its own version of the household budget. We now want to build in a plan of action that will both contribute to the income and reduce the expenditure in a way that balances out into a cost-effective, cash-neutral, work in progress. There is absolutely no point in spending £200 on vegetable seedlings and compost when you would normally only spend half of that when buying potatoes, carrots and onions from the supermarket. It is false economy. Instead, think about what you spend your money on and then plan accordingly. Microholding is about holding as few risky investments as possible - they need to break even, at the very least.

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.

Quick recap
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
Start now!
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
  Source free seeds now - keep an eye on the Frugaldom forums, as we post about them here. Some folks have already started germinating their first pepper and tomato seeds in pots on windowsills. I've restrained myself. I know there's no point in my attempting anything this early, but that's not to say I don't have salad leaves growing. These are already in plastic tubs under glass and they've survived the sub-zero winter temperatures so far. With luck, the weather will be a little kinder this weekend and allow me out into the mini-makeshift greenhouse to assess any winter damage. Hopefully, it won't be too serious, but the high winds haven't really arrived here, yet.

Plants keep growing, squares keep filling
The pergola we built over the raised patio is looking exceedingly lop-sided but it has, to be fair, succeeded in holding the plastic roof of the greenhouse in place. This corner of Frugaldom will be one of only two growing areas this coming year, the other being the raised beds constructed from four railway sleepers. That area is my favourite, as it's all about square foot gardening, which I love! So much produce from so little space, absolutely amazing! And better still, it just keeps on growing. I still have a square filled with leeks, a few brassicas that are clinging on to dear life after the near-arctic confitions, and a row of early carrots that were sown as seeds in October. Incredibly, these seem to be surviving the winter. On the other hand, the winter cabbages look more like over-cooked spinach spread on the ground than anything resembling green, leafy vegetables that will ever be worth eating! I suspect they'll be getting dug into the soil as soon as the ground thaws enough to turn it.

Here's hoping that the coming days brings us some drier weather, but it's not looking too promising. At worst, I'll get the seeds looked out and plan my square foot garden. What are you doing this weekend?

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1 comment:

  1. hi there have joined you on your frugaldom site..its great..i love they way you do the costings of makes you wonder..i have a book for keeping an eye on the pennies..another for extras and one for the far its not been to bad but i have had to do a big shop and restock my pantry with tinned goods and flour..have loads of frozen fruits and veg so i could do the 5 a day but might get sick of it after a while...i like my meat..and at the moment there is none in the to go to the butchers and flash a big smile at him and see if he will knock a few quid off for me lol...i haven't bought any eggs since we got our chickens in august so no cost there..the straw is only £2.50 a bale and the feed is not too bad either..not sure on price as my mum bought it as a treat for me..not that i have eaten it lol...we are doing our own challenge this year"make do and mend"..if we can make it or get it for free yay..if not then we will have to wait...i have got a few friends who want the homemade jams and chutneys but dont actually want to do it i will sell them some of my excess and put the money towards the garden or chickens...i have had a few folks ask me to make them lavender pouches too so that will be a bit extra for us..its not much but its a start..with an unemployed husband,teenage son who is an absolute treasure and 2 little girls its very hard to survive on the unemployment benefit we get..however i have done all my sums and have a damn good system for my no worries for the seed situation my lovely FIL gave me a big box of seeds..and omg there were at least 5 packs of that all helps..have gone through them and if we keep them cool and in a box they should last a good few for the weekend well i am baking and will no doubt have 2 little helpers..hubby is having to replaster part of our bedroom wall and then we have got to decorate it...more expense but it has to be done..i might be poor but i will not live in a hovel lol....


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