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Building a Working Living Fence this Spring

 
Joseph Lewis
Posts: 21
Location: NE Missouri
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I joined this forum as most of the talk on living fences seems to come from this forum. I was hoping someone here has gone down this road already. Here is what I am doing:

Along the west end of my property I will be planting a living fence this spring in order to contain cattle (mostly Dexter cattle). I will start on the corner of my property and work toward a ditch where a white board fence will replace the living fence in front of my house to the other corner of my property. The ditch is 370' from my house and I want an unobstructed view of the drive from the front of my house. I also have mature oak along the fence and currently store my firewood there, so there is no room.

I have 510 osage orange trees heading my way in a couple weeks. I also have enough plastic mulch and staples and will eventually have 2,000'+ of living fence. My plan is to plow the fence line and disc it before planting. I will place a concrete post every 250' along the property line. I will also have one gate through the fence to my neighbors field. I have searched the web pretty thoroughly and have found nobody who uses a fence constructed as outlined in Mother Earth News, which is close to what I am attempting to follow. I will be using 1-2' bare root trees from Musser forests. Missouri conservation was not selling trees this year, so Musser was the best deal I could find. I will plant these trees in a single line 1' apart. When they are tall enough I will bend the top down and bury it. I am also considering tying the bowed trees together with sisal baling twine, maybe shaving some bark so that they would grow together. The next year I will weave the new growth together, pretty much following the path outlined in Mother Earth by Ussery.

1' seems kinda close to me, but I have not found much good information on this subject. I have studied up on the way they use hedges in the UK, but they don't have the best tree for the job, the osage orange. I would love to hear about anyone that has done this and is using it as a fence. When the working osage fence is complete I will be adding another line of trees in front, making more of an edible fence, but function is the most important thing for me. My cattle went on a walkabout this winter and it wasn't fun.

I cannot find anyone who actually uses a living fence to scale on a working farm. There is a lot of talk, but I cannot find anyone who has documented from start to finish, which I will be doing for anyone later. I will document everything, and will find out if it works well or not. I need this fence to work, or else I will have to cut it out. I am sure my neighbor thinks I am a little weird, but he has agreed to let me attempt this along the property line. If it doesn't work a conventional fence will replace it.

Anything that will keep me from making a mistake will be appreciated. Here is a google earth picture of the planned fences location:

 
Judith Browning
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Hi, Joseph and welcome to permies....I added your topic to the 'trees' forum to help get some input and there might be some related topics listed at the bottom of the page that you haven't seen yet. good to have you here!
 
Dave Miller
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Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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I don't have any experience planting living fences, but I do a lot of volunteer work on some wildlife refuges near my home and I can tell you that thickets of thorny bushes seem to act as a fence to large wildlife (deer & elk). Around here, himalayan blackberry (a much-hated invasive) often grows thick enough to block animal passage. I have also seen thickets of native roses which block passage. The roses also provide food for browsers, birds & native insects. Browsers will eat the tender growth but not the stems, thus the plant survives. Native roses will spread by suckers so you may need to mow the suckers once a year.

If I were you, I would find some wild area nearby which has thickets of native roses or some other thorny native plant. Inspect them carefully to see if deer seem to be passing through the thicket. If not, you might consider using that plant as an experimental fence plot (since it sounds like you are already well down the osage orange route for your perimeter fence). I would guess that an annual mowing of rose suckers may be less work than the osage orange bending/weaving procedure? But maybe not.

I already have a fence around my property, otherwise I would try native roses.

Let us know how it turns out.
 
Cj Sloane
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Location? (consider adding your location to your profile).

I've planted some black locust at 1' intervals but the growth has been a little slow. It's on a hill in a shaded forested area to that makes sense.
 
Johnny Langeraap
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I have read up a little about osage orange fence. From what I understand, you need to plant them close together. In the fall, bend them down and stick the top into the ground. This will cause them to grow more vertical shoots. These vertical shoots are then bent down again but woven together this time, and then repeat with new shoots. At some point you allow it to grow, and trim it into a hedge. This fence will be made bull strong, horse high, and hog tight. Only down side is the constant trimming.
 
Carma Nykanen
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Location: Kalama, WA
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Hi Joseph
I am also quite intrigued about living fences. I will be following your posts as this journey continues. I hope to do a living willow wattle fence. I also have Dexters that did a walkabout when we went on a train ride for the weekend. Double not fun!
My thoughts about a living fence is that the thorny-ness isn't so necessary if they perceive it as impenetrable. We'll see how my experiments go as well.
 
Galadriel Freden
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Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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Hedges have been used for centuries in Europe as barriers for livestock. There's even a couple formulas for estimating the age of a hedgerow, depending on how many species of tree are in it. (see http://www.binghamheritage.org.uk/natural_history/surveys/binghams_hedges/binghams_hedges_date.php)

Hedge laying is a time honored technique for keeping hedges impenetrable: http://www.hedgelaying.org.uk/styles.htm According to this website, after hedge laying, a hedge just will need trimming for maintenance for up to 50 years before it needs to be lay again.

Also keep in mind, depending on what species are in the hedge, the trimmings can be eaten by livestock--or livestock may browse directly from a hedge!

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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I have built "Mound Fence" before and you may consider "living hurdles," or "living fences," as well. This is an ancient tradition in many cultures that had to restrict and manage live stock with barriers.

Regards,

j
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Searches for the term 'hedge laying' will get you what you need. This is a traditional skill in the Uk and an experienced hedge layer can make a truly stock proof barrier.

The thing you need to realise is that these are labour intensive to setup and maintain which is why they have generally been abandoned to post and wire fences. Construction starts by partially cutting the stems as near to ground level as possible and bending them down to near horizontal. You weave them in and out of each other to make a very solid barrier with no holes, especially near ground level, as livestock will find the weakness and expand on it.

When I did a course on it a team of 8 of us managed to do around 80 meters of hedge laying per day - this was a pretty poor rate as some folks were unfit and we were working on an overgrown and neglected hedge so the hand tools were not really up to the task (we had one chainsaw operator so were often waiting for him).

The professionals, working on a 'good' hedge of the right age wood can lay around 100m in a hard day of work. Our 6 acre field has around 800m of wire fence... If I were to try and lay hedge myself for that I would expect to need a month to get round it, and it needs to be done every 7 years.

We don't have Osage orange in the Uk, so I can't say much about working with it, other than that you cannot expect it to be stocks proof in the first few years, and that it will likely need careful construction after planting to make sure it really is stock proof.

Separately - consider ditching the black plastic mulch, it is dreadful stuff especially when you need to come and rip it out later on. You might be able to get hold of some heavy weed lock paper rolls that will do the same job but will breakdown in 6 months or so.

Also, thee are many benefits to planting mixed species - rambling roses and brambles tie hedges together nicely and add to the generally thorniness, blackthorn gives sloes (sloe gin is fab), fruit and nut trees also integrate well (hazelnut/cobnut/apples/plums/damsons).

You may also like to think about planting an occasional tree to let grow up as a full height standard - ash can be pollarded at around 10ft for a regular firewood crop, others can make good leafy fodder to chop and throw into the pasture.

Mike
 
Joseph Lewis
Posts: 21
Location: NE Missouri
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Thanks for the input, and thanks for moving the post Judith. I have read and watched anything I can find about hedges in the UK. The biggest problem with that is they don't use Osage Orange which seems to be the perfect tree for the job. I will be adding more tress to the mix, but not until I am sure the Osage Oranges are established. I have the area clear, just waiting for the ground to be dry enough to prep. I ordered my trees several months ago and they should be here next month. I will be running a temporary electric fence behind the future hedge until it is established, hopefully by five years.

I am located in northeast Missouri.
 
Burra Maluca
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Here's a very nice illustration of building a living fence out of osage orange, taken from this site - Building a Living Fence

 
Joseph Lewis
Posts: 21
Location: NE Missouri
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Yep that is the general plan I am following. I have 330' planted so far. I bought a three point planter to plant the rest but unfortunately it doesn't plant deep enough for the larger saplings I bought. Here are some pics from this spring:










 
Jessica Hill
Posts: 23
Location: Schoharie County, NY
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Hi Joseph, I'm giddy with excitement over finding your post. I've been hunting around the internet for the exact same thing you were! How has the project come along during the summer months?

My family and I are buying property and am definitely going to be adding in osage orange hedges/hedgerows if we can. Though I'm hoping I can find a suitably prickly native alternative.

Thanks for the great pictures, btw!

(Oh, I also joined Permies just to watch this posting...lol)
 
Joseph Lewis
Posts: 21
Location: NE Missouri
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Jessica Hill wrote:Hi Joseph, I'm giddy with excitement over finding your post. I've been hunting around the internet for the exact same thing you were! How has the project come along during the summer months?

My family and I are buying property and am definitely going to be adding in osage orange hedges/hedgerows if we can. Though I'm hoping I can find a suitably prickly native alternative.

Thanks for the great pictures, btw!

(Oh, I also joined Permies just to watch this posting...lol)


Cool, since I am running a small farm the work is currently paused due to other obligations. I plan to continue work this fall. I am planting most of the remaining trees on 20 acres I have down the road from the farm. I will continue on this hedgerow in the spring as I have a lot of brush and undesirable trees in its path that I need to clear overwinter.

So far it looks like about every tree planted is going to make it. I still need to mulch the hedgerow and my brother brought me a truckload of uniform flat squares of cardboard that were used on pallets. We plan on using this cardboard and mulch that we can get free by the truckload from a local city. I will post pictures later when I finish mulching the hedgerow.

I plan on documenting the progress just for the reason you and I both have had. There is no good information about anyone that has done it on a scale to be usable. I want to find out how long it takes to establish, the cost, and how well it works as a fence.
 
Erin Cross
Posts: 13
Location: Spacecoast Florida
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Hey! This is what I want to do but with Willow and rose as Osage orange doesn't grow here. How has your project gone?
 
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