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Annual living fence - Sunflowers?  RSS feed

 
Mike Jay
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Here's an idea the missus had and I'm looking for feedback.  It seems possible to me but maybe we're missing something.

We want to create several small planting fields for oats, wheat, corn and maybe a fourth crop for more chicken food.  The plots would generally be scattered around our property and not always touch one another.  We may want to change the size/shape once in a while as we learn how much room we need.  We have deer, raccoons, chipmunks and birds as our major garden nibblers.

The idea is a temporary junk pole fence with an annual fence growing behind it for future years. 

We'd start by putting in 7' t posts around the area that needs to be fenced.  String a line 6' high.  Then take junk poles or last year's sunflower stalks (7' long) and tie them in a criss cross pattern to the string.  Similar to the photo below of my pole bean trellis.  Lastly put a 2-3' high run of chicken wire around the base of the fence.  Then plant a double row of sunflowers about a foot inside of this temporary fence (8" spacing in row, 8" spacing between the two rows, give or take) as next year's fence.  Plant the main crop in the protected area.

Next year, take down the temporary fence or move it to the next potential field location.  The sunflower stalks from last year (7+ feet tall) would (I believe) still be standing strong and provide deer protection for the current year.  Plant another row of sunflowers just inside this dead fence to become the following year's fence.   If the crop to be protected is nibbled by smaller critters (coons, rabbits), keep the chicken wire in place.

This way we'd get a sunflower harvest for the chickens and ourselves.  We'd have a fence that is tall and very narrow.  With some work the fenced in area can be expanded or changed as needed.

My history with sunflower stalks is that for at least the first year after they're cut, they are quite sturdy.  The "stumps" are also quite tough for at least one year.  I presume that if I don't cut them and leave them stand the resulting dead stalk will be fairly sturdy as well.  I could let some other annual crop (peas, beans?) vine up the sunflowers to tie them together into a stronger matrix as well.

So that's the concept.  See anything we're missing?  Thanks!
DSC02587s.jpg
[Thumbnail for DSC02587s.jpg]
Sunflower stalk trellis for pole beans
 
Casie Becker
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Maybe domesticated sun flower stalks are sturdier than the wild varieties.  If we don't cut our wild ones down they fall over while still growing.  I guess that's part of what the t posts are for. I still doubt the would stand up to deer pressure unless dense enough to block their view. 

With all that said, I do throw the spent plants in our brush pile with all the other woody waste.  It's likely domesticated, single bloom sun flowers produce an even beefier stalk. Mongolian sunflowers apparently serve as cooking fuel in the fire. At the very least it's a sound experiment.  Seems sturdier than the reeds people use for fencing.
 
Mike Jay
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The big sunflowers we've been growing are 6-9' high and have a huge head and sturdy stalk.  In the fall I have to cut them at the base with a branch lopper or a saw and they're commonly 1.5" in diameter at the ground.  So I think they'd hold up for their second year but I'm not positive...
 
r ranson
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Great idea for a fence.  I use sunflowers to provide shade for my chickens.

The Mongolian Giant Sunflowers I have, grow over 10 foot tall.  Some were almost 16 feet and some of the trunks were as thick as my leg.  They take about 2 years to rot in our weather. 

According to the seed company, this variety was traditionally grown for cooking fuel.  The stems are dried and burnt for cooking.  The seeds are supposed to be great for oil.  Now that I've planted my sunflowers for the year, I'm going to try making oil from what's left.
 
john mcginnis
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Mike Jay wrote:Here's an idea the missus had and I'm looking for feedback.  It seems possible to me but maybe we're missing something.

We want to create several small planting fields for oats, wheat, corn and maybe a fourth crop for more chicken food.  The plots would generally be scattered around our property and not always touch one another.  We may want to change the size/shape once in a while as we learn how much room we need.  We have deer, raccoons, chipmunks and birds as our major garden nibblers.
<<snip>>
So that's the concept.  See anything we're missing?  Thanks!


Alternate idea -- Moringa. In your area it would be an annual. It can't stand hard freezes. It is a very fast grower and the stalks can get to 2" dia in a single season with decent summer weather.
 
Mike Jay
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john mcginnis wrote:Alternate idea -- Moringa. In your area it would be an annual. It can't stand hard freezes. It is a very fast grower and the stalks can get to 2" dia in a single season with decent summer weather.


Interesting, I don't even know what moringa is.  I wikipedia'd it and it looks like a tree with a fat trunk.  My "decent summer weather" is frost free starting about June 1, mid summer high temps topping out at 80F and fall frost coming along around mid September.  I have sandy loam and usually plenty of rain.  Does that jive with using Moringa as an annual?  Would the frost killed stems stay up as a fence for a while? 

Arguably, I could grow poplar (aka popple, aspen) as well.  They grow tall and thin and could be topped when they get tall enough.  Hopefully dead or alive they'd last longer than sunflowers.  With trees though I have to deal with more propagation or seed acquisition.  And if they grow too tall or I can't control them they would shade the field/plot.  With sunflowers they make plenty of seeds and I know they'll get big enough to be a good dead fence the following year.

I've thought about it a bit more.  My current plan would be to erect a temporary fence and then plant a double row of sunflowers inside it.  Interplant the sunflowers with snap peas.  In the fall, cut the heads off neatly so the bend of the stalk is still in place (to keep rain out of the hollow stalk).  Next year the temporary fence can come down and the double row of sunflower trunks will be standing firm with interlaced pea vines to help hold things together and further discourage pest penetration at the 0-3" elevation.  On that second year, plant a third row of sunflowers 8" in from the previous two.  Each year (or two if the stalks hold up well) plant another row of sunflowers and let the peas self seed.  The harvest of sunflower seed should be very significant, plus all the peas I can scrounge. 

The downsides I've thought of so far are:
-  The fence will encroach on the field by 8" each year
-  If a sunflower disease or pest arrives I won't be crop rotating them (unless 8" is considered a new planting area)
-  Deer may push their way through anyway
-  Dead stalks may look unsightly (until peas or other pretty vines cover them each year)
 
john mcginnis
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Mike Jay wrote:
john mcginnis wrote:Alternate idea -- Moringa. In your area it would be an annual. It can't stand hard freezes. It is a very fast grower and the stalks can get to 2" dia in a single season with decent summer weather.

<<snip>>
The downsides I've thought of so far are:
-  The fence will encroach on the field by 8" each year
-  If a sunflower disease or pest arrives I won't be crop rotating them (unless 8" is considered a new planting area)
-  Deer may push their way through anyway
-  Dead stalks may look unsightly (until peas or other pretty vines cover them each year)


Take a look at this pic -- https://freshfromthefarminthegorge.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/moringa-trees-in-a-row.jpg

Sort of the idea I had in mind. There are two moringa varieties. One does grow a fairly thick trunk, the other less so. The benefit of moringa over sunflower is the vitamin content of moringa is outstanding.

Good luck on your project.
 
Mike Jay
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Ok, that picture looks promising.  What do you harvest on a moringa to get high vitamins?  Would a dead sapling (due to winter freeze) be a sturdy stick for a few years?  How do you start them? 
 
Bernard Welm
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Mike Jay wrote:
Arguably, I could grow poplar (aka popple, aspen) as well.  They grow tall and thin and could be topped when they get tall enough.  Hopefully dead or alive they'd last longer than sunflowers.  With trees though I have to deal with more propagation or seed acquisition.  And if they grow too tall or I can't control them they would shade the field/plot.  With sunflowers they make plenty of seeds and I know they'll get big enough to be a good dead fence the following year.


Actually poplar can be easier then finding seeds. Poplar will grow vegitatively, or put an other way root from cuttings. So you could just start cutting branches from poplars and sticking them into the soil to start building your fence.

You could do the same thing with willow if you have any growing in your area as well.
 
Todd Parr
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Bernard Welm wrote:


Actually poplar can be easier then finding seeds. Poplar will grow vegitatively, or put an other way root from cuttings. So you could just start cutting branches from poplars and sticking them into the soil to start building your fence.



If you do, you'll have a heck of a time getting rid of them.  I have poplars growing on my property and they spring up everywhere.  I dug a 12 foot deep hole and they are showing up in the bottom of it.  They spread like crazy here.
 
Mike Jay
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Todd Parr wrote:If you do, you'll have a heck of a time getting rid of them. 


Good point, no poplar for me.  I don't want them spreading into the fields.

Does anyone know how long a mammoth/Mongolian/huge sunflower will stay standing?  And if removing the seed head will affect it's durability?
 
john mcginnis
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Mike Jay wrote:Ok, that picture looks promising.  What do you harvest on a moringa to get high vitamins?  Would a dead sapling (due to winter freeze) be a sturdy stick for a few years?  How do you start them? 


What do you harvest on a moringa to get high vitamins?

Practically the whole plant, but the leaves are what is generally used.

Would a dead sapling (due to winter freeze) be a sturdy stick for a few years?

I grew some about three years ago. The trunks I split then used them as a low wattle fence for a raised bed. They are still there.

How do you start them?

Mostly from seed.
 
Bobby Clark Jr
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Interesting idea! Not sure if it would keep deer out if they know something good to eat in there. So far the only things I have found to keep deer out is a 7+ foot fence or a bullet, and they are never there when I have the bullet! Moringa can also be started from cuttings once you have some going. If you planted the next years sunflowers on the outside they would not take garden space. If okra will grow there you may try it's close cousin kenaf. The leaves are up to 34% protein and it has many of the same uses as industrial grade hemp.
seeds of both moringa and kenaf are available on eBay, both kind of pricey.
 
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