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Silvopasture + living fence. Yea or Nay?

 
Posts: 17
Location: Shelby IN, USA. Zone 6a
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We're buying sixty acres in south/central Indiana. I'm planning to set up a keyline planned silvopasture eg:

Grant Schultz:


or Mark Shepard:


Since there will be livestock grazing between the rows of trees, and since the intersection of safe fencing options for the mix of horses/cattle/hogs/chickens/geese/sheep I plan to end up with eventually is pretty limited, I'm considering interplanting the crop producing trees with a mixture of species and turning the tree line into a stock proof living fence. eg:



The upsides I can see for this are:
- The amount of cross fence that needs moving every day is reduced.
- The crop trees are protected from livestock/deer rubbing on their trunks.
- MOAR diversity!
- Some additional cropping opportunities that might not have been sufficiently profitable to make the "best crop trees" list - (coppice wood, fodder crops for the livestock, things I haven't even thought of yet??)
- Improved wildlife/pollinator habitat.
- Aesthetics.

The cons:
- ($$$) So many more plants to buy/plant.
- Maintenance on many miles of internal hedges.
- If planned poorly, could restrict my access routes around the farm.
- Possibly increased difficulty harvesting tree crops.

So far I'm leaning towards trying it out. It's gonna take years to plant and establish all this anyway, and the bits I get to later will be propagated on site.

Has anyone tried this? liked it? ripped it all out? What else should I add to my pro/con lists?
 
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I agree that traditional English hedge-laying (and buying all the buckthorn) sounds time-consuming.  What if you had a nitrogen-fixing tree (maybe Honey Locust) between say every 4 crop trees, and made them living fence posts for barbed wire?  Over time you could pollard them at 6 feet so they didn't block too much light and they'd grow around your barbed wire (I don't know if HL pollards well, and some recommend not nailing wire directly to trees, but on to a 2x4 attached to the tree).  Chickens could free-range through the wire but larger animals could be rotated.

You could potentially also build large woven wire fences and train berries or grapes on them, though I'm not sure how feasible that'd be on a large scale.
 
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I'm doing a border of my 80 acre property that way, but using osage orange, honey locust and black locust all grown from seed.  Expense drops to zero, time, not so much :)  I don't plan on having much maintenance after the first two or three years getting it established.  After that, I may just brush hog it to keep it from encroaching farther on to my property.
 
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I think the enhanced difficulty of harvest is not to be understated, *if* the tree crops are a big part of your plan..

If you anticipate battling small weasely predators, a hedge like that may well be a dog-proof weasel-highway?


The compromise of living fenceposts plus wire might make a nice way to ease into it, and certainly starting small and propagating on site would be vastly more affordable..
 
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Tansy,

I personally think the idea of a living fence is a great one.  I sort of have a living fence on part of my property, but I am sure it is not stock proof.  I really know it is not deer proof.  Osage orange makes an unbeatable living hedge in my opinion.  The “tree” grows fast, the wood is very strong and the thorns sharp.  

On the downside, due to the wood’s strength, it will be among the hardest of woods to work and the sharp thorns leave welts on my skin when they scrape even a little.

FWIW, my personal opinion is that a living fence is best used as a multi functional investment.  The stock proof fence is only one use.  An Osage fence will eventually provide you with the very best, hottest, longest burning firewood you can find anywhere.  The wood is very useful for handles if you have the interest.  Add in some additional varieties of plants and you can shelter all sorts of birds and other wild life.

Could you possibly start off with a strand of wire (barbed or otherwise) to give the vegetation something to grow onto?  My living fence is centered on an old barbed wire fence that has become over grown.  When I look at pictures from when we first bought the property 16 years ago, the wire fence was still visible and the vegetation barely topped the fence posts.  Today the fence is completely obscured, the vegetation is 20-30 feet tall and we have pathways for deer inside the “fence”.  If I did even the slightest maintenance, the fence would be very stock proof.

These are just my thoughts.  I think your idea is a great one.  Please keep us updated on your plans.

Eric
 
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I love the idea. I have described how I want to employ it in my case in several threads.

My take on it was actually to build swales on-contour with hugelbeet elements to them (anchored with wooden stakes pounded in to the height of the hugelbeet). The alleys themselves would form paddocks, and I would move animals around by shifting electronet fencing and tractors, where applicable.

I would also be concerned about harvesting. My ideas about food hedges as livestock-proof fencing revolve around not having to get in the hedge, but rather training the branches to be where I need them to be for harvest, if it's an issue.

I think that it's ultimately a great idea, though the weasel highway idea does give me pause. I think it might be necessary to choose species and training/pruning regimens that don't require you to contend with the fence at all.

Though I think there might be a difference in how you select species for an exterior perimeter fence versus internal dividing fences. I don't think you'd want the thorniness so much in places you need to go to harvest food.

-CK
 
Trace Oswald
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Chris Kott wrote:

Though I think there might be a difference in how you select species for an exterior perimeter fence versus internal dividing fences.



That is my thought as well.  I would do an interior row much differently than I am doing my perimeter fence.  I am building hedgerows interior to my property lines, but they are native species that feed my wildlife rather than "fences".  I have hazelnut, hackberry, nine bark, and some others.  The DNR has yearly sales of native species for about $1 a piece, so those are the main trees/shrubs making up my interior hedgerows.  

The perimeter fence is to keep my dogs and animals in, and people out and large animals out.  I'm not concerned about the aforementioned weasel-highway.  If I have small animals that want to leave, that's fine, and if I have them trying to enter, the dogs and cats can deal with that.

 
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I am a big fan of hedges, but the amount of time maintaining them almost cannot be emphasized enough. Otherwise you just have a hedgerow, which is great for maintaining humidity but lousy for stock control. Once you have shade, any break in the hedge will not grow in.  I think in England they figure they can lay about 10 yards per day. Mark Shepard's layout would take most of your time, our silvopasture layout calls for tree rows every 30-40'. I would do nothing but lay hedge. I did the math, moving a portable fence is a major time saver, I can move polywire in about ten minutes and net in 20 minutes, and even with a hedge you still have to "cap" the rows with electric.

Just do the math and come to your own conclusion. With rotation, you only are using the hedge a couple times a year.
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Location: Shelby IN, USA. Zone 6a
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Josh Garbo wrote:I agree that traditional English hedge-laying (and buying all the buckthorn) sounds time-consuming.  What if you had a nitrogen-fixing tree (maybe Honey Locust) between say every 4 crop trees, and made them living fence posts for barbed wire?  Over time you could pollard them at 6 feet so they didn't block too much light and they'd grow around your barbed wire (I don't know if HL pollards well, and some recommend not nailing wire directly to trees, but on to a 2x4 attached to the tree).  Chickens could free-range through the wire but larger animals could be rotated.

You could potentially also build large woven wire fences and train berries or grapes on them, though I'm not sure how feasible that'd be on a large scale.



Thank's for the ideas Josh!

I'm trying to avoid exposed wire as much as possible (Horse person, with some bad wire related vet expenses) Will definitely be planting some honey locusts though, for pig feed and nitrogen!
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Trace Oswald wrote:I'm doing a border of my 80 acre property that way, but using osage orange, honey locust and black locust all grown from seed.  Expense drops to zero, time, not so much :)  I don't plan on having much maintenance after the first two or three years getting it established.  After that, I may just brush hog it to keep it from encroaching farther on to my property.



How long do you expect it to take to get from seed to stock-proof-ish? I'd love to hedge our borders but I've been on the fence about it since I'd like to get stock on the property within the next 2 years. Growing from seed would certainly keep the expense down, and for internal fences I don't mind waiting a bit/relying on temporary electric fence.
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Dillon Nichols wrote:I think the enhanced difficulty of harvest is not to be understated, *if* the tree crops are a big part of your plan..

If you anticipate battling small weasely predators, a hedge like that may well be a dog-proof weasel-highway?


The compromise of living fenceposts plus wire might make a nice way to ease into it, and certainly starting small and propagating on site would be vastly more affordable..



For the majority of the farm I'm looking at oak/chestnut/pecan savannah with an understory of hazel and various berries, so I'm not so worried about the harvesting. If I were planting more dwarf fruit trees the hedge would definitely be more concerning.

I had not considered weasels! I have no idea if they are common in the area, so will have to do some more research.
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Eric Hanson wrote:Tansy,

I personally think the idea of a living fence is a great one.  I sort of have a living fence on part of my property, but I am sure it is not stock proof.  I really know it is not deer proof.  Osage orange makes an unbeatable living hedge in my opinion.  The “tree” grows fast, the wood is very strong and the thorns sharp.  

On the downside, due to the wood’s strength, it will be among the hardest of woods to work and the sharp thorns leave welts on my skin when they scrape even a little.

FWIW, my personal opinion is that a living fence is best used as a multi functional investment.  The stock proof fence is only one use.  An Osage fence will eventually provide you with the very best, hottest, longest burning firewood you can find anywhere.  The wood is very useful for handles if you have the interest.  Add in some additional varieties of plants and you can shelter all sorts of birds and other wild life.

Could you possibly start off with a strand of wire (barbed or otherwise) to give the vegetation something to grow onto?  My living fence is centered on an old barbed wire fence that has become over grown.  When I look at pictures from when we first bought the property 16 years ago, the wire fence was still visible and the vegetation barely topped the fence posts.  Today the fence is completely obscured, the vegetation is 20-30 feet tall and we have pathways for deer inside the “fence”.  If I did even the slightest maintenance, the fence would be very stock proof.

These are just my thoughts.  I think your idea is a great one.  Please keep us updated on your plans.

Eric



Thank you Eric! I'll do my best to keep updating on our progress.

I've been reading Hedges and Hedgelaying by Murray Maclean, which has a ton of plant recommendations but is so far entirely focussed on Britain. I've been tossing up on ossage orange - I love that it's fast growing and makes such great firewood, but have read of cows choking on the oranges? I don't have a good idea of how large that risk might be though. I've also never seen an ossage orange in person, which is probably reason enough to plant a few :)

We will certainly need some temporary fences to keep the trees and young hedge safe from the deer. I know for sure there are deer walking through the property every day and have picked out at least two regularly used trails.

Would love to see some pictures of your hedge!
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Chris Kott wrote:I love the idea. I have described how I want to employ it in my case in several threads.

My take on it was actually to build swales on-contour with hugelbeet elements to them (anchored with wooden stakes pounded in to the height of the hugelbeet). The alleys themselves would form paddocks, and I would move animals around by shifting electronet fencing and tractors, where applicable.

I would also be concerned about harvesting. My ideas about food hedges as livestock-proof fencing revolve around not having to get in the hedge, but rather training the branches to be where I need them to be for harvest, if it's an issue.

I think that it's ultimately a great idea, though the weasel highway idea does give me pause. I think it might be necessary to choose species and training/pruning regimens that don't require you to contend with the fence at all.

Though I think there might be a difference in how you select species for an exterior perimeter fence versus internal dividing fences. I don't think you'd want the thorniness so much in places you need to go to harvest food.

-CK



I'm planning for the majority of the land to be in oak/chestnut/pecan savannah with an understory of hazel and berries, so I'm not too worried about the harvesting. Agreed I should probably pick non-thorny species for the internal fences where I may have to get in amongst it.

Glad to know there are others thinking about this! I'll check out your other threads!
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Trace Oswald wrote:

Chris Kott wrote:

Though I think there might be a difference in how you select species for an exterior perimeter fence versus internal dividing fences.



That is my thought as well.  I would do an interior row much differently than I am doing my perimeter fence.  I am building hedgerows interior to my property lines, but they are native species that feed my wildlife rather than "fences".  I have hazelnut, hackberry, nine bark, and some others.  The DNR has yearly sales of native species for about $1 a piece, so those are the main trees/shrubs making up my interior hedgerows.  

The perimeter fence is to keep my dogs and animals in, and people out and large animals out.  I'm not concerned about the aforementioned weasel-highway.  If I have small animals that want to leave, that's fine, and if I have them trying to enter, the dogs and cats can deal with that.



Great tip on the DNR sales! Thank you! I've been looking at the Indiana state nursery which also has great deals on bare root natives (including hawthorn and hazel, which are definitely on my list!)
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Tj Jefferson wrote:I am a big fan of hedges, but the amount of time maintaining them almost cannot be emphasized enough. Otherwise you just have a hedgerow, which is great for maintaining humidity but lousy for stock control. Once you have shade, any break in the hedge will not grow in.  I think in England they figure they can lay about 10 yards per day. Mark Shepard's layout would take most of your time, our silvopasture layout calls for tree rows every 30-40'. I would do nothing but lay hedge. I did the math, moving a portable fence is a major time saver, I can move polywire in about ten minutes and net in 20 minutes, and even with a hedge you still have to "cap" the rows with electric.

Just do the math and come to your own conclusion. With rotation, you only are using the hedge a couple times a year.



Thanks Tj! hedge maintenance is the one `con` that really worries me. From what I've read so far, mature hedges end up about 2 meters wide if not trimmed back, and laying frequency gets quoted everywhere between 8 and 50 years. I'm still working out the precise plan for my alleys, so I'll have to work out exactly how many hours of labor to expect from that, but my boundary line is ~2500yards - which at your estimate of 10 yards a day would be 250 days of labor over ~15 years, or about 17 days of work a year. Yikes.

It’s not possible to have standard charges for hedge laying: if the hedge is overgrown, 20ft high and gappy, an expert could do three or four yards a day. A new hedge, clear of weeds, about 8ft–10ft tall, would allow a man of average skill to do about 30 yards a day. [...] The work is expensive, but a trimmed hedge can last 50 years before it has to be relaid. A good average is 15-20 years.

- https://www.countrylife.co.uk/gardens/how-to-lay-a-hedge-31977

This one seems a little more optimistic - 2500 yards at 30 yards a day is 83 days of labor over ~15 years, or 6 days of work a year.

Still, I'd better find some friends who want to learn to lay hedge!
 
Tj Jefferson
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I'm actually really excited people are discussing this. I did a lot of research two years ago while planning the layout here, which I am intending as a sort of tribute to the greats like Mark Shepard. I got to the point that I have read his book and seen about every youtube he has made, and I REALLY like his basic system, and what he says he would do differently.

My thread about this project, needs an update, will try to do it today.

First, the goal is to grow soil. You mentioned keylining. This really has to be repeated for best effect basedon my reading of the data. Mark uses it for root pruning, but I am not convinced that is necessary, and the data I have seen is conflicting on that too. I am making massive amounts of biochar and will incorporate it with a subsoiler on contour. We don't have enough hills to really keyline anyhow, but you are smart to build that in first.

Second is the forest strip/hedge. My issue was that for tree height canopy coverage in summer with dappled shade, you need trees every 35 yards or so. That is for the health of the alleys, to promote optimal forage with season extension preferring cool season grasses and forbs. You could use a hedge for the same, but they would have to be  much closer and use shorter plants- i.e much more hedge laying. Using taller trees would keep light from getting next to the tree and you would have an incompetent hedge there. If you look at the hedges, they tend to use relatively uniform and short species- that's the reason.

Third is predators. Thorns sound great, but you don't get them uniformly, and you can't count on them unless you can keep them near ground level where most of the predators are. What are the predators you are interested in? Changing your plan late in the game is tough. I am trialling coppacing honeylocust basically at ground level after 3 years growth, with the idea that they can be woven on regrowth, and they grow really fast. But they can't be higher than fox height or they won't be effective, those buggers are constantly probing. If you are doing bigger animals, its mainly bigger canids, but they can slink in low spaces. I am putting the electric wire 6" off the ground.

Species for the hedge- if you have a thorny species, you really can't chop and drop. Optimally you would think a suckering species would automatically fill in. The "thornless" honeylocusts I got from Arbor day (don't do it) have such big thorns I have to cart the cuttings to a big pile. I could chip them but I don't want to. These would easily wound an LDG or puncture the soft area between hooves. This is true for honeylocust and Osage Orange. I decided on thornless honeylocust, and any that have thorns bigger than a black locust get chopped. They will puncture tires. I got some seeds from a Hershey, and am sprouting them out, will soon know what percentage are true to parent and thornless. They both grow very fast once you have retained moisture, and the animals will be happy to prune the honeylocust. Nothing eats osage orange in my experience. That is the reason willow is so popular for hedges, cheap and easy to propagate, flexible, and if woven will keep big animals from pushing through. Degrades quickly once on the ground. Useful for construction historically. I think you could use thornless honeylocust much the same, but with a yield of nitrogen and pods for forage. That's why it is my basis here (I do have some tests with kentucky coffee tree and black locust, but Mark is REALLY down on black locust so I will probably kill them).





 
Dillon Nichols
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Tansy Arron-Walker wrote:

Dillon Nichols wrote:I think the enhanced difficulty of harvest is not to be understated, *if* the tree crops are a big part of your plan..

If you anticipate battling small weasely predators, a hedge like that may well be a dog-proof weasel-highway?


The compromise of living fenceposts plus wire might make a nice way to ease into it, and certainly starting small and propagating on site would be vastly more affordable..



For the majority of the farm I'm looking at oak/chestnut/pecan savannah with an understory of hazel and various berries, so I'm not so worried about the harvesting. If I were planting more dwarf fruit trees the hedge would definitely be more concerning.

I had not considered weasels! I have no idea if they are common in the area, so will have to do some more research.



I am meaning predators in the weasel family; around here the big deal is mink. Since I hope to have ducks and maybe chickens if I can address the major eagle threat, these are definitely critters I want to keep out.

I figure dogs will be the answer.. but if I do end up with hedges I will position them well away from planned poultry areas. I guess a small enough dog might be able to chase such predators into the fence, but I really don't like yappers, and in any case it would probably get munched by a cougar or some such.


Another downside that has been on my mind. Won't apply everywhere...

The most common highly appealing native plant for this use in my area is the crabapple.

A salmon creek flows through my property. Along with the eagles this also means I have an extra strong black bear population, who eat a *lot* of crabapples. I have seen them feeding from my window, and there is an enormous amount of bear scat on my roads/trails comprised primarily of crabapple skins/pits.

I figure any hedgerow laden with useful food producing trees/shrubs is going to look like lunch to these guys. It may also draw coons. Maybe longer thorns than the crabapples would slow them down... but maybe not, too!


In reality, reviewing my list of things I wish to keep out...
I think a classic living fence would work fine for deer, dogs, and wolves. I don't have coyotes, and the wolves don't come down this far very often at all. I've yet to see a stray dog, I hear people are really... proactive... about this in my area.

The cougars will jump anything of practical height. The bears and coons seem likely to be drawn in. Small weasely things seem likely to be assisted. The beavers will probably not be deterred but it might slow them down while they eat it..

It seems like it would work fine as a secondary barrier to keep things *in*. I am not sure how well it would stand up to goats and hogs without electric in between... maybe alright in fast rotations but not sacrifice paddocks?

If anyone has any experience to confirm or deny my theories I'd love to hear it! At this point I think the closest I will come is strategically planted living fenceposts, primarily as interior fences so that I can hopefully exclude the bears from climbing them..
 
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In the west and south west US it would be too much of a fire hazard: because its wildfire fuel + access restriction.  In the mid-west and east of there... perhaps this isn't a major concern.    
 
Dillon Nichols
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Efren Turner wrote:In the west and south west US it would be too much of a fire hazard: because its wildfire fuel + access restriction.  In the mid-west and east of there... perhaps this isn't a major concern.    



Great point. Fire is definitely a concern here.

Not sure how the risk would compare to say standard orchard or silvipasture... but seems likely to be worse given density and probability of deadwood building up inside the living fence.

Upside... when else will you get a chance to come tearing into the house screaming 'THE WEASEL-HIGHWAY IS ON FIRE!!1'?
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
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Dillon Nichols wrote:

I am meaning predators in the weasel family; around here the big deal is mink. Since I hope to have ducks and maybe chickens if I can address the major eagle threat, these are definitely critters I want to keep out.

I figure dogs will be the answer.. but if I do end up with hedges I will position them well away from planned poultry areas. I guess a small enough dog might be able to chase such predators into the fence, but I really don't like yappers, and in any case it would probably get munched by a cougar or some such.


Another downside that has been on my mind. Won't apply everywhere...

The most common highly appealing native plant for this use in my area is the crabapple.

A salmon creek flows through my property. Along with the eagles this also means I have an extra strong black bear population, who eat a *lot* of crabapples. I have seen them feeding from my window, and there is an enormous amount of bear scat on my roads/trails comprised primarily of crabapple skins/pits.

I figure any hedgerow laden with useful food producing trees/shrubs is going to look like lunch to these guys. It may also draw coons. Maybe longer thorns than the crabapples would slow them down... but maybe not, too!


In reality, reviewing my list of things I wish to keep out...
I think a classic living fence would work fine for deer, dogs, and wolves. I don't have coyotes, and the wolves don't come down this far very often at all. I've yet to see a stray dog, I hear people are really... proactive... about this in my area.

The cougars will jump anything of practical height. The bears and coons seem likely to be drawn in. Small weasely things seem likely to be assisted. The beavers will probably not be deterred but it might slow them down while they eat it..

It seems like it would work fine as a secondary barrier to keep things *in*. I am not sure how well it would stand up to goats and hogs without electric in between... maybe alright in fast rotations but not sacrifice paddocks?

If anyone has any experience to confirm or deny my theories I'd love to hear it! At this point I think the closest I will come is strategically planted living fenceposts, primarily as interior fences so that I can hopefully exclude the bears from climbing them..



Wow! You have a ton of nearby predators!

I am informed we are in “Northern East-Central Mid West” which... really? Those are terrible directions. We’re about an hour south of Indianapolis. So, mostly flat, covered in corn fields, and with 40+ inches of rain spread evenly over the year.

So, no bears, no cougars, but a bunch of white dudes with rifles and glyphosate. :( I’m hoping to eventually attract a beaver. Tons of white tailed deer and the major threat to the chickens are the turkey vultures and my mother in laws eldest dog.

The intended grazing strategy is to be moving animals ~daily, so I’m hoping browsing pressure is just enough to keep the hedges lightly trimmed. If I end up needing a sacrifice area I will fence it with something even goats won’t eat (or at least nailed down well enough they can’t eat it.)

I can only hope to one day be concerned about the kinds of predators you’re dealing with!
 
Tansy Arron-Walker
Posts: 17
Location: Shelby IN, USA. Zone 6a
cattle trees homestead
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Dillon Nichols wrote:

Upside... when else will you get a chance to come tearing into the house screaming 'THE WEASEL-HIGHWAY IS ON FIRE!!1'?



😂 I’m dying. Thank you for the laugh first thing this morning

I’m not too worried about fire as we’re in a very well hydrated area (40+ inches of rain a year, spread out pretty evenly.) but it’s definitely a good thing to keep in mind!
 
Trace Oswald
pioneer
Posts: 1158
Location: 4b
204
dog forest garden trees bee building
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Tansy Arron-Walker wrote:

Trace Oswald wrote:I'm doing a border of my 80 acre property that way, but using osage orange, honey locust and black locust all grown from seed.  Expense drops to zero, time, not so much :)  I don't plan on having much maintenance after the first two or three years getting it established.  After that, I may just brush hog it to keep it from encroaching farther on to my property.



How long do you expect it to take to get from seed to stock-proof-ish? I'd love to hedge our borders but I've been on the fence about it since I'd like to get stock on the property within the next 2 years. Growing from seed would certainly keep the expense down, and for internal fences I don't mind waiting a bit/relying on temporary electric fence.



I'm not planning on "laying" the hedge in the way that I've seen done in other places.  My understanding of the way that osage orange fences were done is by planting the seeds, waiting until they are a foot or two tall, and then bending them over and pinning the top of the plant down.  After a season or so of growing, you bend and weave the branches that are now growing upwards together, and continue.  I have also read that you can prune them very heavily, coppicing them really, to make them bush out, and then weave the branches together.  I think one of those ways, or both, would be much faster for me than traditional hedge laying.

I'm assuming it will take at least three years, and probably more like four to be a dog-proof fence.
 
Trace Oswald
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Location: 4b
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Here is a very good article that outlines the way I am planning to make my hedge:  Osage Orange fence
 
There's a way to do it better - find it. -Edison. A better tiny ad:
dry stack retaining wall
https://permies.com/t/85178/dry-stack-retaining-wall
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