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A Smallholding in Bulgaria

Have you wanted to start your own smallholding for a better way of living or even making a livelihood? Buying the property or land in the UK is often out of reach for people but buying the property and land in Bulgaria could be the answer. For those who are enthusiastic about growing your own vegetables, keeping a few chickens for fresh eggs or raising livestock, then before you take the plunge it is worth considering the practicalities.

How are you going to manage the workload and the land; is it just for pleasure or a more serious agricultural undertaking?

A smallholding could be anything from just a few vegetables, to small livestock, through to growing wood to heat your Bulgarian property and even selling your produce. Giving some thought to what you want out of it will allow you build a productive smallholding to provide anything you want.

If you've never had a smallholding before, there are many courses which you can take to help you get to grips with the basics. You could even try out a small allotment first to see if you can cope. This kind of preparation will help you learn how to be creative and practical.

First time smallholders may like to start by having a large vegetable plot and choosing a few animals carefully, so one acre is plenty to begin with. One to four acres will support a couple of pigs, three or four sheep, a dozen chickens, five ducks and two goats.


The House

Get the house comfortable before you even start on the land. You'll want to be able to warm up and dry off comfortably when you come in from a long wet day. If you can't get warm in comfort, life can become a miserable experience.


Before you start, live with it for a few months so you can take your time on organising it. From the outset plan to "zone" your land. Think about where it is suitable to site things. Near to the house, create an area for vegetables, further away, a part could be set aside for woodland. Consider the natural cycles which will exist in the smallholding. Can waste from one zone be used in another and if so, how can this be done with the least amount of work? As an example, you can set up water butts to collect rainwater - if you site these uphill from your vegetable zone, you can simply connect a hose rather than lugging around heavy water buckets. If there is a soggy area on your plot, use it to create a duck pond.


If your smallholding is not to be your main source of income and you have other work which takes you away from the property, then think about whether you'll be able to cope with livestock. Animals need much more attention than vegetables, fruit and herbs.

There is an interesting system in Bulgaria which can help considerably with looking after livestock. Nearly every village has a "shepherd" who will take your livestock from your door every morning and bring them home in the evening after grazing!

With livestock, consideration needs to be given to keeping them in and not letting them escape on the loose. Double fencing is excellent for this and in between the two fences, hedging can be planted.

Cats are an excellent investment as they will not only kill mice and voles but also rats.

If you do decide on livestock, such as pigs, you'll find that when you butcher them, apart from all the good pork you'll get for yourself, a selection of chops and sausages as a Christmas hamper for friends or family is much appreciated. Sheep can be more trouble than they are worth, they always seem to be looking to die on you.

Chickens are the most popular choice - a tip: as you'll be going to the poultry house twice a day every day to collect eggs, make a good path to and around the hen house so that you can get to it easily in winter and on wet days.



Your ordinary garden tools are probably not going to cope with a large area which needs preparation for new cultivation. A practical way to clear new ground is to weight down thick polypropylene for twelve months or longer so that you don't have to dig or weed a large area.

A good quality strimmer is essential to keep uncultivated areas in control - and is also useful to cut back brambles. Locals tend to use a scythe but it does take a fair amount of practice. However, once learned, it is very effective.


The key starting point to many a smallholding.

Avoid a glut at any one time by planting those which will provide you with a year-round supply. It is a good idea to prepare a large portion of your ground for winter crops. You may love beans and courgettes but one can have too much of a good thing. Leeks, red cabbage, pumpkins, carrots are all good for winter.

The best way to store these vegetables is in a cold cellar. Plenty of crops, if stored correctly, will keep for months with no need for freezing, bottling or preserving. These include all kinds of roots, the onion and squash families and hard fruits. The key to success is to store fruit and veg which are in perfect condition only. Allow air to circulate and keep a constant temperature are also important. Outbuildings can often be a suitable place to store produce.

You'll find the hardest time to cover is April and May but you can cover a lot of this with wild greens which make great soups and salads. Dandelion, hawthorn leaves... Early crops can also be brought on in a polytunnel to tide you over those weeks before the arrival of spring, such as an asparagus bed. By the middle of May, you'll be well on your way to the arrival of broad beans and the start of the new season.



Orchards are common in Bulgaria and there is an excellent variety of fruit grown.

You could mix this with vegetables and herbs growing underneath the trees and this also copies the natural ecosystem. This type of orchard takes some years to plant but is extremely productive and has the added benefit of needing minimum maintenance. Simply cut back plants which are over zealous and lay down thick straw for winter to protect them. You'll find that the leaves from the trees provide good mulch for the plants below and the plants themselves are established before the trees burst into life. All you then have to do is walk through your orchard gathering fruit and vegetables and herbs as you go.


The Weather

Learn how to predict the weather from clues around you. Clouds can provide a fairly accurate forecast for the coming few hours. Wildlife and domestic animals can often sense impending weather changes. Even aches and pains in your joints can be from a drop in atmospheric pressure. Listen to old wives' tales. they are not all true but often it's surprising how correct they are.

Be creative

Let your imagination go. You could even grow your own wheat in sufficient quantity to make bread. Other ideas are to build a clay oven where you can use pieces of wood which are too small for your log burner, in which you can make your own bread. Even a carp pond, usually considered only ornamental, is a cheap and good source of protein. Local Bulgarians would not usually dream of buying fencing but use wood from their own plot.

Always do what is the most appealing to you as in that way you'll get more enjoyment out of all the work.

Tips and Hints

- Watch what your neighbours are doing; they know the seasons, what grows well and are a great source of information
- Zone the land, so that things you need all the time are close to the house
- Money. There will be investment before return, so make sure you have enough money behind you
- Be realistic about the size of property you can manage. If you are a first-timer and have a very large plot, then set out only part of it to start with
- Have some areas as "wild" areas, this will reduce the workload

The Smallholding Year

Prepare your veg beds and plant seeds
Clear new beds
Harvest any wild greens
From the polytunnel broad beans and asparagus

Lots of tomatoes and peppers
Don't forget to water!
Order your wood ready for winter
You'll have a glut of some vegetables at this time, so get in touch with your neighbours and see if you can do some exchanges
Great time for soft fruits from your orchard - after you've cut back any invasive plants under the trees

Harvest crops
This is the time to be making rakia or wine
Cover plants under the trees in your orchard with straw
You'll have plenty of fruit, vegetables and other crops so make the most of them

Put compost around your fruit trees
Repairs and maintenance time
Collect any firewood from your land
Plan for the following year

The local Bulgarians will be a mine of information for you and they will be more than willing to help and teach you the ropes and give "hands on" training.


Because of the low purchase and start up costs in Bulgaria to obtain suitable land and property, you may find that once you have sold your property at home, you have plenty left in the bank to support the establishment of your smallholding: perhaps even retire on the money in the bank and just enjoy a rich and fulfilling self supportive lifestyle.

If you're thinking about setting up a smallholding, then go for it - but do your research and plan carefully, especially the financial side.

Don't plan for self-sufficiency straight away but look longer term.

Once you've got the hang of it you might even enjoy it so much that you decide to expand and start selling your produce!