The seed was sown sometime in 2005. I, Helen, left my job on what is now commonly referred to as a “career break”, consequently the company car went too, and me and my husband Simon, went on our last holiday abroad. Oh, and we decided to go vegetarian at the same time. At the time we lived in a first floor flat in Surbiton (just a coincidence that this was where the Good Life was situated), and had a small garden, where I tried to grow a few vegetables, and Simon started beekeeping at the local apiary. We were basically trying our best to live a simpler and greener life in suburbia.

This developed into us wanting to do things on a bigger scale – me driven by my love of gardening and the outdoors, and both our interests in climate change, peak oil and the environment. With this aim in mind we began looking for a place where this could be achieved.

Many would be downsizers and smallholders end up in Wales, and we were no exception. We found our new home on a wet March day in 2008, and eventually moved in on the 31st October of that year (it being Halloween was rather apt giving the nightmare that was to follow that winter). The house was habitable, but hadn’t been updated in some time, so we spent a very cold and miserable first winter wondering what we had gone and done.  We’re now slowly getting the house improved – double-glazing, wood-fired heating systems and solar-heating all went in 2009. And with the winter of 2009/2010 being one of the coldest for a long time, we were glad for all these improvements. It’s still cold (in comparison to living in a modern flat), but we’ve acclimatised to it.

The house came with a large garden and a couple of fields (used for grazing cows) either side. There was a productive vegetable garden already, including a few fruit bushes and old apple trees, and this suited us well for our first year of ‘proper’ gardening.  What we didn’t have though, which I think is a necessity in west Wales is a greenhouse or polytunnel. We tried growing tomatoes outside but the rain and winds we get in west Wales meant that we could barely manage a handful of ripe tomatoes.

Polytunnel in April 2010

So 2010 began with the erection of a polytunnel. Courtesy of one of our many friendly neighbours, we acquired the frame of polytunnel, and put this up in the new vegetable area we had created in one of the fields. We managed to recruit a few of our neighbours for an Amish-style polytunnel raising in April, and after a bit of hard digging it was ready for action.

Chickens and run

2010 has also been the year of the chickens. Again, thanks to our kind neighbours we got given a chicken house, which spurred us on to get our first animals. With the constant worry about foxes we decided we couldn’t risk them being completely free range so built a large run instead, which we have split into two. This means that one side can recover while they scratch at the other. Our chickens arrived in February – 2 Warrens (Whiskey and Ginger), and 2 Black Rocks (Rum and Coke) – spot the theme! We’ve become very attached to them in a short space of time, and are a constant source of amusement (and frustration) – a perfect antidote for any stresses and strains in life.

Swarm entering hive

We also managed to get some bees into our bee hive this year. In May, a passing swarm took up home in the hive we left at the top of garden (hoping for this eventuality), and so far have stayed – although there was minor blip as we watched them re-swarm and head across the field to our neighbours house. They are not the friendliest of bees, but nonetheless it is a lovely sight to see them going about their business in the garden, and pollinating our growing array of vegetables.

The garden is now flourishing, and we are managing to have something from the garden almost every day. It has been hard work, and continues to be hard work, but is very rewarding when we literally see the fruits of our labour. There is still plenty to do on the house and the land, but there is no point rushing these things – it would be worse to try to do everything at once and it to become too much. We are both still working, luckily from home, so this has to fit in to our day-to-day lives.

I hope this blog will not only be a good reference and diary for us over the years, but will give helpful advice and tips for people trying to do the same thing, or dreaming of doing the same thing.