When installing a garden fence the most important preparation is sitting with your intention for a spell. I also recommend reading Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall. In this poem Frost is working with his neighbor to rebuild a stone wall that stretches between their properties:
“Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down'” (1).
Now sit with your intention a bit longer and ask those questions Frost posed: “Why am I doing this? What and who will this fence keep in, and what and who will this fence keep out?” And because whatever the intention, fences can still give offense, ask yourself “Is this necessary?”
Consider too some less philosophical angles. Remember that if you use a tractor or tiller, fencing in your garden can mean you lose precious acreage at the end of rows because you’ll now have to leave space within the garden to turn the equipment. If your garden is especially big and the fence tall, you will now be relegated to entering from gates only. But it can also mean that the rabbits and deer will no longer eat your soybeans. And a tall fence makes a great trellis for the climbers. As in all things, nothing comes for free, so weigh this transaction carefully and proceed accordingly.
- Post-hole Digger
- Pulaski Forester’s Axe (or anything similar)
- Rake and/or Hoe
- Staple Gun
1. Define the space to be fenced. Mark it with stakes and flagging tape or twine. Keep in mind that it’s easier to fence a straight line than a curved line.
2. Measure the perimeter of the space. Then use this measurement to determine the number of stakes you need, which is roughly one every eight feet, though on a curve, you may need to space your posts closer together. Also use it to determine the length of fencing material you will need.
3. Decide what to utilize for posts and purchase them. We recommend mature cedar trees, measuring 4-10″ in diameter at breast height (DBH). These posts are not finished but instead are covered in the lovely, shaggy bark of the cedar. We recommend cedar because its heartwood is particularly good at resisting rot. We also chose this unfinished, wooden post route because it’s dirt cheap: $2/post. Compare this to about $25/post for the finished variety at Home Despot. I should say that my husband is a forester, so we know he’s planting lots of trees; and when we look around us for what we can easily use for a project, wood is abundant. If you don’t have a direct relationship with a timber farmer, you can try to find one through your local Farm Service Agency or State Forest Service Agency (for North Carolina’s click here). You may also try contacting direct timber sellers who offer firewood in bulk. Metal fence posts can also work well and be economical. If you select them, you will need to identify something other than staples to affix your fencing!
4. Decide what to utilize for fencing and purchase it. We recommend 6′ tall black vinyl coated chicken wire. I know, it’s got petroleum in it, but when we looked around us, this was the best material choice, so we went for it. We promise to utilize this petrol to the bitter end of its life, milking its energy for all its worth! In all seriousness, fencing comes in many different heights and materials and with tons of different cell widths. We chose the 6′ tall black vinyl coated chicken wire because we wanted something that would last a long time, would keep out rabbits and deer and would be almost invisible so that we’d see more garden than fence.
5. Assemble all other tools and materials. Purchase staples relative to the size of the job. You can rent a post-hole digger if you don’t have one or can’t borrow one.
6. Install the posts at 8′ intervals around the marked perimeter. Adjust spacing as needed to go around a curve or to accommodate where you’ll have a gate. Dig a hole first with the post-hole digger. This is easiest when the ground is loose and wet from rain, but not so wet that it’s water-logged and thus very heavy. Sink each post about 2 1/2′, taking care to keep it straight when tucking earth back in around it to hold it in place.
7. Dig a fire line, or trench, along the fence line. This should be about 1-2′ wide path that pulls up dirt to a depth of one pass of the tool, a few inches. Stand outside the fence line looking into the area being fenced in and pull the dirt toward you. This dirt will be used to shore up the bottom of the fence line once fencing is installed.
8. Stretch the fencing material out along the ground beside the perimeter and turn up a few inches at the bottom. Orient the fold so that it is turned outward along the fence line.
9. Hang the fencing. This job is best done by two people. One holds the fencing in place while the other secures it with the staple gun. Choose a sturdy corner post and start working your way around. I’m a widdershins (counter clock-wise) fan myself, but deosil or widdershins will do the job. The good news is that the staples are easily removed, so you get more than one shot at this. When stretching the fencing, start at the top of the fence and work your way down — though others recommend pulling first from the middle, then stretching and securing the top and the bottom. Do what works best for you. The goal is fencing that is tight, secure and level, with the bottom fold in the trench you dug. Remember to leave a gap for your gate.
10. Rake or hoe dirt over the bottom fold. This is not the fun part. You may also want to till around the perimeter first to loosen the soil before pushing it up against the bottom of the fence (essential if it’s rabbits you are seeking to keep out). For an added barrier, sow flower seeds like marigolds along the outer fence line. (Marigolds are easily propagated for free from year to year by collecting faded blooms which contain the seeds.)
11. Use a chainsaw to level the cedar posts to the same height. Or use a hand-powered saw because you are much cooler than we are. Or leave them random, as you wish.
12. Hire a carpenter to craft gates from the leftover cedar posts and fencing. In this arena we are blessed to have a dear friend who is an excellent carpenter, so there isn’t much else we can offer in the way of how-to. Don’t forget you can always offer stock in the future output of the garden as payment for the gates.
Today’s post is offered as part of the SOP for Our 43,560 project.
© Jennifer S. and harvestliberty.net, 2012.