Autumn Scenes from an Urban Smallholding

I love the idea of a “smallholding.”  It’s a term still used in England, one I re-discovered while leafing through a favorite book the other day, The Freedom Manifesto by Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson (also love The Idler…).  A smallholding is a modest parcel of land, usually just one-family’s-worth, that supports some farming and other self-sufficiency practices, perhaps a cottage industry, and–ideally–joyful, creative family life.  “Smallholding” could easily be applied to a nicely-tended urban parcel. Here’s a bit of what’s going on at our smallholding this autumn.

This year’s cold summer didn’t deter the columnar apples.  We’re having our best harvest ever from these funny little trees, and Claire has fun going out to pick the fruit for her lunch each morning:

Remember the Bicycle Pea Trellis?  It is now surrounded by broccoli, and a few sugar pie pumpkins.  I should pick the pumpkins and cook them up, but they are so pretty and look so autumnal out there, I just can’t quite bring myself to do it yet.

In another trellising experiment, this one feeding our souls rather than our stomachs, the passion vines we planted from seed took over the corkscrew willow branches (see link above), just as I hoped they would.

A late-but-plentiful blackberry season brought plenty of foraging, jam-making, and pie:
Among our new batch of young “spring chickens,” Ethel the barred rock was the first to start laying.  They start with little tiny “beginner eggs,” very cute:

All the sunflower seeds are intended for sharing with the wild co-inhabitants of our neighborhood.  Goldfinches come through in intermittent flocks, and lots of chickadees and squirrels:

We continue our habit of sleeping outside through the summer and as far as we can into the fall before getting cold and miserable.  The last couple of stormy nights have been a bit eventful, and we’ve had to put the rainfly on (so can’t see the trees and stars), but we love it out there:

There seems to have been a bread-baking hiatus over the summer, but we’re back to our good old Deep PB&J with walnut cider bread for school lunch:

And in the “merry olde England” spirit of a smallholding, we’ve been busy making our own fun.  This summer Claire crafted a rather fancy hoop of PVC pipe decorated with colored tape, and all of us have been working on our hoopster moves:

I am writing with a light heart, but am feeling keenly that it’s no coincidence–is it?–that the call in our lives and communities to simple living coincides with a crisis in the industrial-economic-corporate complex.  We join so many who are seeking to create and re-create ways of living that make common sense, and draw out our innate enthusiasm, vitality, and delight.

Anyway–that’s a bit of what’s going on around our place.  We’d love to hear what’s happening at yours.  What are your autumn pleasures?




  1. Autumn pleasures…as if stepping crunchingly through the first fallen leaves on a windy blue-sky day isn’t enough? 🙂 …Well, we’ve just put the p-patch garden to bed for the winter with a cover crop of vetch seeds, while planting the backyard garden with some Brussels sprouts and chard…and we pulled out the frozen hambone from Easter dinner and used it to flavor the season’s first Crockpot-full of split-pea soup. Blackberry pie and blackberry coffee cake have also been on our menu. None of the flowers in the garden, however, seem to be persuaded by the change of season–many of them are still going strong!

  2. Mary Schmidt

    I really enjoyed looking at your blog today on my lunch hour at work (in an interior office with NO connection to the outside world except for two thriving terrariums). After a long, hot, dry summer in my area, I’m so happy to be in a plein air watercolor painting class on Saturdays. It’s lovely to sit for a couple hours in different locations in my city, just observing and making pictures. So nice to be able to experience the season this way. Happy Fall to you and your family!

  3. Maurie

    Loved this post! And man o man did that blackberry pie picture set me to drooling!
    We are so limited by our ability to do some proper smallholding due to being renters, but the last of the tomatoes are ripening in pots on the front steps and a couple bellpeppers decided to make a go for it in pots as well. The raised bed we put in the back (act then ask for forgiveness later method) has given us some wonderful carrots and greens, beans, hot peppers and I keep encouraging the shallots to set. Your mention of the need for this simple living and our own situation with reluctant landlords when it comes to growing things other than grass has re-hashing the need for more landlords to be open to gardening and other smallholding like activities – so many people can’t afford to buy or have lost homes and there is a limited number of p-patches with limited space available even when you do have one. I hope our society shifts its thinking so that even non-home owners can have their own little form of small holding, even be encouraged to do so!

    1. lyanda

      Maurie, I so agree with you. I saw a book out from Sasquatch about gardening in an apartment…will try to find the title. But it is a bigger issue, and how wonderful it would be if land “lords” were more open-minded. Some are–I recently visited a West Seattle rental home, where the renters have a wild garden, a salvaged chicken coop, and other fun things–including an enlightened home-owner to rent from.

  4. Pingback: The Freedom Manifesto: A Tiny Review

Comments are closed.