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Homesteading observations: Fencing and fruit

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 July Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler

New orchard fence with electric rope; note cylinder on tree trunk

Pru and I were thrilled to host a very well-attended NOFA/Mass workshop on fruit here at our homestead, Wild Browse, last weekend. We were floored by the unexpected number of folks, traveling from far and wide, across the state and beyond (Haverhill, Plymouth, Arlington to West Stockbridge, Conn. and points in between) who found their way here to Wendell. Thank you all for attending. We hope that you enjoyed the day as much as we did and that your effort was rewarded.

One non-fruit question that arose was about our fencing. Over the years, we’ve tried many different strategies, depending on our time and energy, cost of materials, size of area, duration of need, purpose- keeping something in or OUT, etc.

It’s important to know the purpose of your fencing. If it’s trying to prevent vegetable and fruit pillage, it’s good to identify the possible culprits. Fencing for rabbits is different than that for deer. We live in the middle of the forest, so we are dealing with a wide range of foragers: those who crawl, climb, dig, jump, and fly. Early on when money was scarce, we spent our energy installing temporary solutions, only to have to change them later when we could afford better. At one point, we had each of our fruit trees in individual cages made from a friend’s old sheep fencing. This kept the deer away, but made it very difficult to do routine maintenance and failed to keep the porcupines out.

Our first major fence installation was around our vegetable garden, about 550 linear feet. We were lucky in obtaining used horse fencing (2”x4”x4’) at a reasonable price. Of course, using used material makes for a more difficult installation! This type of fencing keeps out any crawler smaller than 2”x4”, but that left the diggers, climbers and jumpers to deal with. So, to prevent woodchucks and friends from digging, we secured galvanized chick fencing flat along the ground on the exterior side of the perimeter, bending it up 8 inches and securing it to the bottom of the vertical fence. The grass and weeds soon grew through the fence on the ground. Diggers will approach a fence and try to dig near the vertical and thus be thwarted. The bent up section also helps keep smaller crawlers, like rabbits, out.

Fencing with "floppy" attached.For the climbers, we used a “floppy” deterrent at the top of our vertical made from poultry fencing. We had scavenged a tangle of #10 galvanized wire that we cut into 4’ lengths that we folded into a U shape. When attached to the fence posts, facing/arching outward, they became the support for the chicken wire that was attached 8” from the top of the vertical fence and extending out over the U’s. Anything (porcupine, raccoon) climbing up the vertical ran into this floppy fencing above their head, which prevented them from gaining access. This same floppy fence also worked to prevent deer from raiding the garden. Deer would approach, stop and look up. Seeing an obstacle above, they’d walk away instead of assessing the height and jumping.

All in all, this system has worked well for us for many years. We’ve had to replace the rusted out floppy fence a couple of times. We still have portions of this system in use. However, as it rusts out, I am changing the top deterrent to an electric rope, which I’ll explain below.

New orchard fence with electric rope; note cylinder on tree trunkThe garden has been “secure” for many years, but the orchard continued to be a challenge. Our fruit trees are on a steepish slope with stonewalls on two sides, and fencing it seemed daunting. We have tried many temporary solutions. Pru pruned the trees so the fruiting branches were higher from the ground, hoping the deer wouldn’t eat all the fruit buds. And we installed wide (18”) flashing, made into cylinders and hung about 2’ from the ground to prevent porcupines from climbing. Porcupines have done major damage to our trees and cane fruit. These cylinders do work well, but they need maintenance, adjusting circumference as the trees grow and making sure they aren’t habitat for overwintering insects.

Three years ago, we upgraded our electric fence charger to better protect our summer-pastured poultry from marauders. We use electro-mesh fence, which needs a lot of juice to function properly, as we’re running almost a thousand feet of mesh. This coincided with the rusting out of the garden floppy fence. It seemed like a good time to try something that would need less upkeep. The charger is strong enough to run a lot of fencing, so we decided to replace the floppy fence with electric rope. Electric rope is made up of multiple fine metal strands intertwined with black and white nylon cords to make a ½” diameter rope. It’s very visible and much easier to work with than single strand aluminum or galvanized wire.

The farm supply store has all the accessories needed to run the rope safely so that it is insulated from the metal posts and fencing. If you have a vertical fence that is straight and taught between fence posts, the installation is simple.  However, our used garden fencing is far from that. I wanted the strand to be about 6” out from the top of the vertical fence to prevent the climbers from getting in. So, I used many more insulators to follow the wobbles while keeping the rope from touching any metal, not necessarily pretty, but effective.

This was so successful – we quickly enclosed the berry area and have enjoyed abundant crops of black raspberries (the favorite cane of the porkies) ever since. Recently, the tree fruit orchard has been added to the secure list. This spring, we actually hired a strong young friend to pound the posts, and run fencing, most of it brand spanking new materials! Wow, what a difference. Running the rope was a piece of cake as the fence line was straight and taught. Amazing! Now we have three separate areas fenced this way, while still using the electro-mesh in the pasture. I’m hoping that this system will serve us well far into the future. I’m looking forward to many years of fewer fence worries and work. Well, we still have to remove the tree cylinders, as they are no longer needed. Then, we can sit back and watch the fruit ripen. There is nothing like homegrown fruit and vegetables to satisfy your taste buds and make all the effort worthwhile.

 
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