Home Handyman to Farmer Millar

In November 2018, Andrew Millar and his family packed up their Edinburgh city centre lives and moved to a 46 acre organic farm in Berwickshire. Having never farmed before they expect many stumbles and problems but also hope for a satisfying lifestyle and some successes. In this first diary entry they

Andrew, his family and their Massey Fergusson 135

In the 1970s a chap call John Seymour published a book called self sufficiency. My father had a copy and while growing up on the Isle of Arran, I used to love reading it. It was full of line drawings and packed with information showing people manually working the land, gathering their own food and how to set up a five acre smallholding. As a ten year old, the best and most intriguing parts were of course the pictures of how to slaughter, skin and butcher the animals. But it was also the methods of self-sufficiency, permaculture, low waste and recycling and producing your own for quality that fascinated me.

The escapee sheep safely back on our land

I am certainly no ‘Swampy’, or any other type of Eco-warrior for that matter, but 35 years later I am now getting my chance to put some of John Seymour’s teachings into practice. With my wife Alexa and children, Oscar and Harriet we have bought a small farm a mile outside Duns in Berwickshire. We really enjoyed our lives in Edinburgh but with young kids felt now was the time take a chance. I have been ‘Home Handyman’ for almost ten years and while I still thoroughly enjoy the work and am very grateful to have had so many excellent customers, I am also hanging up my toolbag and we plan to farm the land at West Bastlebog House to the best of our ability.

In the weeks leading up to our move I mentioned our plans to some customers and the common question was, "have you ever farmed before?". No. Never. Some seemed very enthusiastic with comments like, "my husband would love to do that" or "that's my dream". Others looked at me as if I was insane while smiling nicely and nodding encouragingly. I try and comfort myself with reminders that in 2009 when I set up Home Handyman I had never been a handyman nor a tradesman before. However this time the scale of the task ahead of us is quite different. I just hope that we don't get assailed by too many strong winds along the way, to draw from a Seneca quote.

No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley.
Seneca the Younger

We are now into our second week on the farm and have already found a large mouse family in our walls and roofspace, had to batten down the hatches of a polytunnel that the recent winds were ripping to shreds, have found lots of broken gates, have drainage problems in one of the bottom fields and have much sorting out old and decaying plant, equipment and materials.

Emergency fencing repairs

On Saturday we had a knock at the door and an older gentleman, who was sporting a piece of rope to hold up his breeks, announced that a number of sheep had escaped from our land onto his freshly planted field of winter oats. He also introduced himself as our neighbour, albeit a slightly disgruntled one. Our stock fence had collapsed in the winds so Oscar amd i ventured out to do a temporary repair. So that's another job, and expense, to add to the growing list.

It hasn't only been problems and worries so far. We have been left speechless at times with amazing 200 degree panoramic sunrises and sunsets and uninterrupted views to the Cheviots . The surplus of apples in the ochard has already provided us with a crop of fruit for juicing and drying. And most importantly, to me anyway, we have a slightly rusty but working Massey Fergusson 135 tractor. If nothing else, that at least makes me feel like a farmer!

Lady Elizabeth apples still on the trees on 4th December and tasting great

Over the coming months I hope to provide updates on our progress and stumbles. If you'd like to hear about them then please do subscribe below. We're hoping the hens and the geese will arrive shortly. Although i think we'll have to read a bit about what John Seymour has to say before the geese are let loose. For now I leave a wee gallery of the views that we are finding so captivating while we just hope the honeymoon period lasts a bit longer.

Until next time.


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