Alistair and Gabi Lockwood have created a smallholding on rented land in Hampshire with minimal investment. They describes their experience.

Alistair and Gabi Lockwood have created a smallholding on rented land in Hampshire with minimal investment. They describes their experience.Many people love the idea of setting up a smallholding and long to live ‘the good life’. A number of factors can deter folk from pursuing their dream of running a smallholding. Setting out as complete novices is daunting, and the learning curve is a very steep climb. Purchasing a smallholding property is a significant initial barrier.

Setting-up costs then start to mount up (buying livestock, seeds, tools, putting up fencing, creating housing for poultry and animals, etc)

We tried to challenge these preconceptions two years ago, when we moved region with work and rented a cottage on a working arable farm. We are both doctors in training jobs, and have an 18 month old daughter. Neither of us come from ‘farming stock’, and we had no experience of smallholding.

As part of the tenancy, we were allocated some disused farmyard land that had previously been used as a dump. This land had no useful purpose and was in a terrible state. Although it was on a farm, it could have been attached to a property in any location. Indeed, the local farmers spent more time laughing at us for our eccentric ideas than being constructive with advice or encouragement.

We aimed to become self-sufficient and to experience as much as possible of the country lifestyle and smallholding, despite the fact that we were renting. Our ethos was to recycle and adapt anything nearby, keeping costs minimal. Everything was designed to be transportable for when we moved house in the future, using ideas that werespace efficient, and solving problems in a simple, low-maintenance way.

A lot of our inspiration came from some supportive and fantastic friends next door, who had always lived in the country. As a couple, they could put their hand to anything and were constantly generous and patient with time and advice. They shared in our creative ideas, and the combination of our efforts has inspired us to try things we didn’t think possible. It also helps having some manpower and someone versed in the arts of chainsawing and mole-catching!

The internal fencing was completed usingrecycled fence posts and off-cuts of fencing that were found in a local tip. We then set about the joyous task of extracting the waste from the ground – approximately 50 wheelbarrows full of rocks, old bottles, toilet seats and chinaware. With a little help from a small, old, borrowed rotavator and a tonne of local cow manure, the main planting area was established. Raised beds were formed from old tractor tyres, reclaimed railway sleepers and used breeze blocks (all found in hedgerows and local dumps). The shed was rescued from a neighbour’s skip (with permission) and refurbished. A salad cart, the ultimate raised bed, was created from an old pig trailer which was filled with topsoil and manure – the chicken wire on top stopped it becoming a de luxe cat toilet. The greenhouse was second-hand, dismantled and re-assembled, and the compost heap was constructed out of an old wardrobe. The initial set-up was undoubtedly hard work, but minimal cost. The end effect is unique, full of charm and has a really individual feel to it.

We began with vegetables, and produced our first year’s crop from seed. Planting has expanded each year with an increasing range of crops, and we are almost self-sustaining through the seasons after two years. As we go into 2011, with the ever-increasing demands of a baby, we shall adapt to produce crops and we rescued five ducks and a drake from a local duck farm for a total of £5. From these we placed the fertile eggs in an incubator and expanded the flock to 18, although a process of roasting and natural selection via a fox has helped restrict the numbers.  To house these, we built a bespoke duck house from locally sourced wood at minimal cost, and enjoyed the process of building their home.

The chickens were originally housed in a chicken house reclaimed from a local farmer, and this was repaired and re-roofed. It has since been upgraded in an effort to solve the problem of where to house chicks in their first few weeks of life: they originally lived in the conservatory! The inspiration came from recycling an old set of windows and some reclaimed roof slates; the top half of the house was adapted for the chicks, with a warming red light, and the bottom half for the mature birds. Building this cost the same in materials as a manufactured house, yet was so much more fun, and taught me skills of roofing with slate and lead, and woodwork. We had no idea if chicks could live above mature chickens, but they don’t seem to mind, and we are able to look in so easily and share in their lives.

Pigs are the final addition. A reclaimed pig ark from the farmers for no charge simply required a large hammer to return it to its original shape and fit the wood panel back on. The pigs were purchased from a local farm and have opened up a new adventure of aiming to be self-sufficient in meat as well as eggs and vegetables. A solar-powered electric fence makes the upkeep of the pigs costeffective.

They were slaughtered at a local abattoir, and we then butchered the pig with the help of a butcher. We ended up with a range of meats including joints, gammons, smoked dry cured bacon and sausages.

We want to inspire others that you can become self-sufficient with minimal investment yet consistent, regular effort. Anything is possible, even in a rented house using bits of recycled waste from the surrounding area, and some novel ways of looking at daily objects. Lean on the experience of those around you, and enjoy watching them see you breathe life back into the land, especially when they didn’t think you could do it.

Go on, give it a go! We continue to absolutely love it!

The Lockwoods live near Romsey in Hampshire. You can contact them at

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