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Jean Soarin
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I'm a wanna-be permaculturist who's just getting started, so I'm hoping for a simple solution.  I own a small lot in an older city neighbourhood in zone 3, which limits my options.  On the east side of my property, my 15 year old, 6 foot wooden fence is starting to falter.  Just yesterday as I was working outside, one of the fence boards just popped out when no one was near it.  I've repaired the fence in a few spots, but I'll need to replace it quite soon.  I should mention that the posts are still solid.  It's the panels there are falling apart (probably pre-fab from Home Depot or something similar).

Now the neighbouring property to the East is a multiplex, and there's a yard and play structure in the back, so children are often playing there.  They haven't always been kind to my fence.  Balls often hit my fence and come into my yard, and without a fence, the kids would be in and out all the time.  If they see something broken, they'll pick away at it the way one would at a scab.   

So I need to replace the fence and am thinking about my options.  I was thinking of chainlink because it would let more light into the yard, which would allow me to use more space for gardening.  But then I wondered what a permaculturist would do.  I've done some reading and got interested in sea buckthorn because it's hardy, is a nitrogen fixer, produces great berries, and acts like a natural barrier.   Is it rude to plant this next to a play area?  The kids often play soccer there.  Will hits from a soccer ball be hard on young plants?  (Or will the thorns be harder on the soccer ball?)  Also, how wide is a sea buckthorn hedge?  I ask because in one spot, I have a shed about four feet away from the fence, and I need to walk between the two to get to the back lane.  (I have space elsewhere in the yard where I could move the shed, but I'm hoping to avoid that for now if I can.)    Finally, I read that sea buckthorn sends out suckers several feet away.  I dealt with lilac suckers when I first bought my house and they drove me crazy.  I've read that there's a variety of sea buckthorn which doesn't produce suckers, but haven't been able to find any info on it.

I should also mention that my neighbourhood used to be a mixed residential & industrial area, and the neighbour's yard & part of my own used to be a dairy.  Just under the grass, mixed in with the soil, there's crushed limestone, a few bricks, and smaller broken pieces of concrete.  I haven't dug too much, but this is what I've hit when I've done some digging. 
So... I'm open to ideas.
 
Su Ba
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Personally, I would not choose to plant a thorny hedge near a child's play area. I still recall the afternoon one of my childhood playmates accidentally ran into a trifoliate orange bush while we were playing touch football. She lost the sight in her eye forever. Whether you like children or not, that's a horrible penalty to pay for running into someone's hedge while playing.

I'd opt for either a solid wood fence (if seeing children bothered me) or chainlink if I wanted light and a trellis to grow something on.....keeping in mind and accepting that a child will try to climb the chain link. Yup, I did that as a kid. And yes, we threw balls against solid wood fences, playing assorted ball games. I grew up not realizing that it was annoying. I had very tolerant neighbors who knew we were just being kids. In fact, my mom said that we'd play wall ball for hours after school, throwing the ball against our house. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. She learned acceptance and patience, just glad we weren't out roaming the neighborhood or getting into trouble.
 
Jean Soarin
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Ouch!  I didn't realize it could be that dangerous.  I was also trying to apply permaculture principles and plan a fence with a number of advantages. 

You're right about the need to be patient with the kids.  When I'm gardening, I enjoy listening to them play, and am trying not to nag about the soccer ball being kicked against the fence.  So I've been practicing patience, but sometimes forget when I see them picking at my fence or throwing rocks or garbage into my yard.  Sigh.

But I'm not ready to give up on the living fence concept.  Does anyone have any experience with the thornless sea buckthorn?  Or other suggestions for a cold climate hedge?  
 
Devin Lavign
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If your still wanting to consider living fences, http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Multifunctional+Living+Fences.html has a good article on the topic.

Something to consider, as they mention is fruit trees with flexible branches. While not my favorite technique, you can espalier fruit trees into an attractive living fence that could provide a tasty snack for you and the kids on the playground. This could be a way to offer the kids a treat for avoiding kicking balls into the fence. If they know they are welcome to some of the fruit, they might feel invested in protecting it.

Some espalier images if your not familiar











The one big problem would be this sort of thing is not an instant fence, it takes time to grow. You would likely need to put in some sort of support system at least for the short term while trying to train the branches to grow into the fence. However that said, it could be a rewarding option. As it would serve multiple purposes and possibly encourage respect and care from the kids through a little bribery of allowing them to pick fruit from their side of the fence.
 
Jean Soarin
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Hmmm.  I hadn't considered espalier as a possibility.  It would work with regards to the space issue mentioned previously, between the property line and the shed.  However, I'm not sure that I could do without a fence for too long while the trees are growing into the fence.  I'll have to do more research, but this is certainly worth consideration.  Thanks, Devin. 
 
Casie Becker
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It wouldn't be pretty, but one of the ways people around here do espalier is to build a trellis with sturdy posts and cattle panel stretched between. Depending on how well behaved these children are (would they refrain from actually tearing down a whole section of fencing?) The trellis itself would serve as a very light duty fence while the trees grew. Not pretty isn't the same thing as ugly either, just very unimpressive until it was covered with tree growth.
 
Dawn Hoff
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Casie Becker wrote:It wouldn't be pretty, but one of the ways people around here do espalier is to build a trellis with sturdy posts and cattle panel stretched between. Depending on how well behaved these children are (would they refrain from actually tearing down a whole section of fencing?) The trellis itself would serve as a very light duty fence while the trees grew. Not pretty isn't the same thing as ugly either, just very unimpressive until it was covered with tree growth.

I actually like the simplicity of cattle panels between fence posts - I think it is much prettier than most fences (and where I live most fences are chain link with barb wire on top and shade cloth for privacy... that ain't pretty!).

In zone 3 a willow hedge might be a good solution - they grow really fast. Maybe a few fruit trees in between?
 
Jean Soarin
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Thanks for all the ideas and suggestions. 

Regarding the espalier idea...

As I said, my fence panels are on their last leg, but the posts are solid.  I could remove the wooden panels and put in cattle panels.  Or maybe I could just string horizontal wire fencing between the posts.  I think that kids might have less of a tendency to climb wire as opposed to cattle panels.

The million-dollar question is:  would the kids actually respect it?  It all depends on the kids.  Because it's a rental building, families often move in or out.  Those there now are well-behaved, although when they play soccer, the ball does hit my fence once in a while. I'm assuming that an apple or plum trees could absorb a bit of gentle abuse like that.  However, there've also been some needy, unhappy kids who were downright destructive.  

But there's another issue with espalier.  I've looked at pictures on the net, and notice that there are large enough gaps whereby soccerballs or other toys would easily get into my yard.  Some kids are very respectful and wait for me to get home before they ask to retrieve their ball, but I've seen others who use this as a carte blanche to come into my yard and do whatever they please.  The largest gaps seem to be at the bottom.  I could imagine kids having fun crawling through those gaps to get their ball or toys back, and wrecking havoc in my garden...  I suppose I could put in some raspberry canes or something, but those are quite high maintenance...

Regarding the willow hedge...

I don't know much about willows, except that there are many varieties.  Could any of those varieties make a very thin hedge?  Remember, there's the 4-foot-wide walkway between the shed and the fence which needs to remain accessible.

 
Henry Jabel
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The cultivated seabuckthorn varieties I have hardly any thorns compared to the wild ones, are easier to harvest and have bigger fruits too. The variety names I have are 'sunny' , 'mary' and 'lord' with the latter being a male plant.

If you still want a nitrogen fixer elaeagnus could be another option too.
 
Deb Rebel
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I have some chainlink between myself and a neighbor with three very active young boys and their playmates. The boys can go over the chainlink about as fast as they can run. Their sneakered feet fit in the diamond holes and they go right up and over just like that. You need some sort of solid fence to keep peace with your neighbor kids. Perhaps a combo, the solid fence first, then espalier in front of it... (some of the other shared pictures are fantastic, thank you)
 
Jean Soarin
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Thanks, Deb.  You're probably right about the chainlink.  For active kids, it's like an invitation to climb.  (I used to teach in an elementary school.  The abuse that boys gave to chainlink fences was pretty bad, even if they didn't always try climbing it.)  However, the wooden fence & espalier combo wouldn't work because my fence goes north-south and my yard's on the west side, and wouldn't get enough sun with only a few hours in the afternoon because of another structure on the west side of my yard. 



 
Deb Rebel
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There are various other fencing that have spacings that are harder for small children to climb or get stuck in. Or putting a panel and carefully attaching 1/4" hardware cloth to that frame, and bending all the little ends over/wrapping around to prevent injuries. Painful to do for you but possible. That is also expensive. It does make GREAT trellis afterwards elsewhere, after you get the trees established well enough to keep the interlopers out. There is a farm supply store that carries garden wire fencing with 1" wide by 2" tall holes for reasonable prices depending on how tall and how long you need, that would pretty difficult for a small boy to climb. The 1" wide is pretty hard to hang your shoe on. It would allow the light through yet keep the kids on their side of the fence.
 
Jean Soarin
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I was starting to like the idea of espalier apple trees, yet was thinking it wouldn't be possible because of all my challenges.  But it seems that the hardware cloth would address all of these issues, and allow me to go ahead with the espalier project.  Woohooo!   Thanks so much to everyone who contributed ideas to this discussion! 

And Henry, thanks for those sea buckthorn varieties.  I won't be using any for a living fence, but I'd like to put some in my yard, and I was concerned about gathering the fruit with all those thorns.  Do you have the sea buckthorn as part of a guild?  If so, what else is in that guild? 

I don't know what elaeagnus is, but I will look it up. 

 
Karen Herløv Horte
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About willow fences.
You can get dry panel to put up but as I bootstrap everything due to the utter lack of of funds willow is my go to as I have a willow waste water facility which has to be cut down in rotations every year leaving me with plenty to faff around with. Willow grows bananas. You basically stick a the pieces of twig in the ground and it will root. You have concerns about the width of the fence. You can make a pretty woven fence and the width will not exceed 4-5 inches depending on how many years it grows it will eventually thicken - you know all tree-like as it is. You can make it for free if you find some willow growing. I think you can use any kind except for the weeping kind. Just cut of 2-3 feet lengths of sticks and stick them in the ground. It has to be cut back anyway and will grow back willingly.

(Try searching for live willow fences for inspiration)
As you can see in the picture it neat and tidy. You do however need to trim it like a hedge to keep it controlled up top. The branches will eventually fuse and become a solid fence.

You want a fence that has more functions.
When you trim the fence snip the offcuts into finger length pieces and soak them in water for about a week, then strain off the wood and now you have fantastic rooting hormone for you various plant cuttings. Use it to water the plants 2-3 times to begin with and they will root more easily and save you money on buying the root hormone as powder. The fence can be used as a trellis for you climbers like peas and beans. That's a 3 for 1 right there
 
Lorinne Anderson
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As I understand it you are seeking to prevent children and their toys from using your property as an extension of their playground.  I am not sure if you are also seeking privacy or from having animals accessing your yard also, but as lovely as a living hedge or espalier wall would be I do not think this would work without a solid barrier to protect the growing plants from the playground children - the errant balls flying through would break branches and not prevent the youngsters from entering your yard to retrieve their balls...nor would it keep out dogs, cats, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels or act as a visual or sound barrier for many years, if ever.

At the very least I think you must first create a barrier that prevents the intrusion of both children and their toys - either a mesh (chain link etc) or solid (wood/metal) backing to your ideal plantings.  As your posts are solid my go to is always metal roofing panels - it is climb proof (kids and kritters), requires no maintenance, and creates a micro climate by limiting wind, retaining heat, and if shiny metal is used to even increase (albeit slightly) the temp in the enclosed area - like a micro climate.  Often these panels can be obtained for free if you contact someone who replaces metal roofs (it doesn't matter to you if there are small, 1/4 (1cm) screw holes in them), a metal salvage yard or someone who is replacing the metal siding on a barn. If you like, it can be painted, or if you are really clever, create a mural on it.  Even if you purchase it outright from a home improvement store they usually run $20-$30 for an 8 foot by 3-4 foot panel - two metal roofing sheets, stacked one on top of the other, horizontally, creates a "fence panel" that is a minimum of 6 feet high, 8 feet long for about 60 bucks. They can also be installed vertically, assuming you can and want an 8 foot high fence or would like to cut the 12 footers in half creating two 6 footers.  They are available in every color in the rainbow on the exterior (side facing playground) and generally silver, white or whitish grey on the underside which would face inward to your garden.

Installation on your existing posts would simply mean the addition of stringers top, middle and bottom so you have a nailing/screwing surface for the edges of the metal roofing panels.  If digging beneath the fence is of concern (dogs, rabbits, etc.) then it can also be "trenched in" and buried several inches to several feet deep (this can also retain water within your garden - however deep the panels are trenched prevents surface run off to that depth so be cautious if you have a high water table or water drainage issues).  Install the panels on the OUTSIDE of the posts (if using the colored panels the colored side is on the exterior of the fence, this creates an impenetrable surface on the exterior and on the inside you still have all your posts for trellises, espalier trees, netting for stuff to grow up...BUT, it would be noisy every time a ball hit it...

Chain link is an option - you can get various "slats" to feed through the chain links that preclude climbing of humans, but it is a pricey and time consuming process as every 2 inches you must cut, size, and feed a slat.  There is a pricier alternative that comes with very realistic looking fir slats already installed - looks like a lovely evergreen hedge is poking through and filling in the chain link.  These "fill in" slats could solve the climbing issue and offer you more privacy.

Netting is another option, old fishing nets, bird netting, stucco wire...this could be the entire fence or as an add on to whatever fence you decide on - just an inward slanting panel (run on clothes line or angled supports from fence) - this would quietly "catch and return" the wayward balls.  Vertical net panels would not keep out most critters or provide a visual barrier, but they would also not block light, wind, etc.  Attach to existing posts with horseshoe staples or heavy staple gun, or with slats of wood that sandwich the netting to the existing posts.

Are pallets readily available??  They can be taken apart and used for their wood slat components or simply stacked, on edge,  two or three high to create an inexpensive, efficient, kid proof fence, but the visual appeal could be lacking.

What ever you go with do think about long term maintenance - how will you paint/stain a wood fence that has espalier trees or hedge against it?  Plus anything green will cause greater retention of moisture in the wood it is against.

Lastly, look at deterrents to discourage the kids from climbing in and retrieving their own balls like a sign telling them what to do to get their balls back (they could leave their phone number...or post a sign warning of stinging nettles on other side of fence, a beware of dog sign backed up with a motion activated barking dog alarm....
 
Jean Soarin
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Thanks, Karen, for the info on willow fences.  I'd almost forgotten those, in my enthusiasm about espaliered apple trees.  I think I'm going to go with the espalier idea if I can find some sturdy hardware cloth to put up between the posts.  And if my apple trees don't survive, then a willow fence will be my plan B. 
 
Jean Soarin
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Lorrine, thanks for the time you took to share your knowledge. I gave your idea about metal roofing panels some thought until I realized that it being to the east of the trees, it would prevent them from getting enough sun.  I had first considered  6 foot chainlink until I started figuring the cost.  And the slats would cost even more.   I know that the espalier on its own won't keep balls and toys out of my yard, but strong hardware cloth just might do the trick. 
 
Hans Quistorff
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The 1 x 2" spaced welded wire works very good and is less expensive than chain link. For instant coverage legume try scarlet runner beans planted under the wire. I have seen them used to screen houses from railroad tracks in europe.  I did it for the doctors office and the clients were welcome to pick the green beans  before they got big and tough.  Explain to the neighbors that they get to harvest all the beans that grow on their side.  You may infect them with permaculture.
 
Jean Soarin
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Great idea!  I enjoy pole beans (especially rattlesnake!), but I hadn't considered planting them in that new spot this spring. And they're nitrogen fixers to boot! Thanks!
 
Jean Soarin
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One more question.  When is the best time to plant my apple trees?  I'm in zone 3, and spring it's finally starting to feel like spring: days are getting longer, the birds are singing, and buds are appearing on the trees.  Should I try to plant my apple tree now, or would I be better off preparing the soil for a fall planting? 

I know enough to get the soil tested, and if they suggest amendments, then I'll probably be back here to ask for natural solutions according to my soil's needs. 
 
Hans Quistorff
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You may have a problem with bare root trees in the fall because of ground freezing before roots can recover. Spring planting is stressful if the trees are budding out and the roots can't support their needs. So if you are not ready now it probably would be good to plan on as soon as the ground can be dug next spring. This year plant fruit tree seeds; you will probably get stronger trees that way. My peaches and a nectarine came from seeds sprouting in the compost. I am in zone 7 so I can transplant trees all winter long but I have lost some that were transplanted too late in the spring..
 
Jean Soarin
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Thanks, Hans.  How do you know when it's too late in the spring?  I ask because we had a good snowfall today, and it's going to be quite cool until midweek.  Nightime temperatures will be a few degrees  below freezing all week.    (Although daytime temperatures have been around 10 - 15 degrees Celsius for a couple of weeks now.)

If I don't plant this spring, I guess I should still be preparing the soil?  I'm assuming that planting pole beans is still a good idea, in order to fix nitrogen.  I can also get the soil test done, and see if I need to amend in any way. 
 
Hans Quistorff
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I would judge by the plants you can get. If they are still dormant, not much leaf or bloom bud opening then now is the time.  If you can get some forest soil to inoculate the planting hole with the proper soil biota is probably the best amendment you can make at planting time. The rest can come from arborist chips on the surface as they become available.
The reason for my cautionary post was because the large chain stores deliver plants hre based on latitude which makes them too early in the fall and too late in the spring because of our mild maritime climate. If you have a good nursery they will have plants at the right time for you.
 
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