Living Fences

Living Fences

I’ve always been intrigued by living fences and using trees and hedges to create a barrier that animals would be hardpressed to make it through. In the past, farmers often used plants that had thorns to keep livestock in or out of different areas, as well as keeping some wildlife at bay.

We have 14 acres here. When we lived in Los Lunas, we only had about 1 1/2 acres. I find that one acre is far more manageable than 14. Even five acres is a bit daunting to me. Not because of the size of the land, but because of how I plant and grow things. I take small spaces and pack them full of different types of plants, both edible and ornamental. If I am planning a 60’x60′ garden, I can pretty much guarantee you there will be more than 500 different species living and thriving in that space.

Our land has many steep hills that are more like a mountain. There are areas that go straight up to Mineral Creek (a seasonal creek). We’ll be getting a surveyor to give us the official boundaries of our land so we can properly plant our living fence.

I’ll most likely be using black locust to create the living fences as well as finding an area to grow them to harvest wood via coppicing. I chose the black locust because I can get over 25,000 seeds (about a pound) for under $10.00. I know I’ll need more than that, but it’s a good start.

The black locust tree is amazing. Here’s what Cornell Small Farms had to say:

This tree, which has often been given a bad name for its opportunistic rapid growth and robust thorns, is said to be native originally to the Appalachian Mountain range, though it has become naturalized throughout the United States, southern Canada, and even parts of Europe and Asia. The species is incredibly adaptive, growing in many elevations, microclimates, and soil types.

While some have named it an “invasive” tree given its rapid growth and willingness to spread by seed and root suckering, others see these characteristics as advantageous, if only populations are properly managed to harness these qualities. Make no mistake, locust is not a tree to plant and walk away from. It is best when incorporated into managed activities on the farm, of which there are a remarkable array of options and benefits, including:

  • Because it fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere, the trees grow incredibly fast (3 – 4 feet in a season) and can quickly become windbreaks, shelterbelts, and shade and shelter for animals in silvopasture grazing systems.
  • The nutritional value of the leaves is similar to alfalfa, making it a valuable feed for ruminant livestock. Some sources claim excessive consumption can lead to toxicity, but many farmers have found their animals naturally limit their intake. (horses excepted)
  • The tree has been used to support nutrition in other crops, from grains to other trees. Research has shown increases in nitrogen in barley grain crops interplanted with locust, and black walnuts interplanted with locust as “nurse” trees were shown to rapidly increase their growth.
  • The flowers are important sources of food for honeybees. In Hungary, Black Locust is the basis of commercial honey production.
  • The high-density wood is the most rot-resistant wood we can grow in our climate, making it an ideal material for fenceposts, hope poles, outdoor furniture, decks, and other projects that require weatherproof materials.
  • It’s BTU rating is among the highest, making it an excellent firewood in both heat value and coaling ability. At our last house, we actually ruined a woodstove by burning too much locust, which gets extremely hot.

If anything, Black locust is almost too good at what it does. All these attributes have resulted in extraordinarily high demand; both sellers of locust poles and lumber, as well as those in the nursery trade at the meeting, reported not even coming close to meeting the demand for their products. There is a lot of room in the market for more farmers to grow, harvest, and sell black locust products in many parts of the region.

We plan on using not only black locust but also honey locust, Siberian pea shrub, hawthorn, willow, dogwood, sea buckthorn, more sycamores, cottonwood, poplars, aspen, and I’m even thinking of trying my hand at sugar maple. I’m confident we could grow sugar maple here. Our day time temperatures are above 32 degrees and our evening temps fall below freezing most of the time.

It would be an interesting experiment, that’s for sure!

Anyway, knowing that black locust is a pretty rugged pioneer tree, I chose it to be our gatekeepers.

In the future, we plan on also terracing our steep mountain-like hills and planting berries. To do so, we need our living fences in place and doing their job at keeping out bears, deer, and other wildlife that would be hellbent on eating the buffet of delicious goodies we’ll be growing. Trying to fence the perimeter of our property with deer fencing is cost-prohibitive. But two pounds of black locust seeds planted and a few years growth will yield not only the fence we need for almost free, but will also provide us with wood, the bees with food, and a prolific source of new seeds which we can sell in our upcoming online store for Firelight Farm.

It’s coming. We’ve been working on what we’ll be selling in our store as well as on Etsy. I’ve been working on our branding for the last few months and I can’t wait to launch! It won’t be until the end of the summer, however. I have way too many things on my plate right now.

Between scaling up our coffee company, and repairing the rig we’re living in, I’ll go nuts trying to also take on our farm’s products.

This weekend we’ll be ordering the black locust tree seeds, ornamental grass seed for the duck yard, and asparagus crowns. The crowns will go in the ground way before we ever plant the black locust.

It’s an exciting time for me. I only planted a few things last year and spun my wheels doing so. We had chickens and roosters run amuck, big dogs to contend with (they come rambling through the property often with their dog gangs), deer and bear browsing our oaks and juniper berries, skunks invading our personal space, and coati chasing away feral cats and kittens.

But still, it’s amazing to start planning how everything will work together and then taking action and watching things take on a life of their own.


How Time Flies!

Wow, we have been in our home for one month now, yet I feel like we just moved in.
We are settling in, getting into the groove of things and acclimating to our lives here.

I took a few days off from painting since my body was just aching and I was definitely feeling exhausted, but now I’m definitely more refreshed and ready for the next project.

So far, I did some of the prep work this past weekend, and today I’ll be finishing it so I can start to paint.

Our bathroom, like the office and laundry room must have had some work done to it, because upon closer inspection, I can see where they fixed the walls, sanded them down and left them with a very smooth surface.

There were little holes just from nails and then all the holes that I made taking the molly’s out of the wall. There were old wooden towel bars which were painted over, and when I removed them, off came the top layer of paint, to show the oil based enamel underneath.

I have no problem with enamel, but when a person just applies semi-gloss paint on top without doing the prep work, you can take just a fingernail and start peeling the paint off. Not good!

The next problem was the god-awful light fixture that looks like a relic from the dark ages to me. It glows yellow when the light is on, to match the “sunshine” yellow paint that covers almost every room in the house…floor to ceiling.

We have the same problem with the front entry door. It has this orange glass that when the sun is shining through, it casts a yellow/orange haze into the foyer and dining room. Anyway, Dom removed the light for me yesterday so that I could get back to work in there.

When I tried to remove the light fixture myself, after unscrewing the face plate, I was standing on the sink in horror as I saw wiring that was just coming out of the wall.

There was no box inside the wall to house the wires! Horror.  He’ll be putting in a new box over the next few days, and when I’m done painting, the new fixture will go up.

I know that in the future we’ll be doing an overhaul on the bathrooms, getting rid of the old cabinets and cultured marble vanity, and bringing each of them into the 21st century, but for now, a paint job, new fixtures and faucets, mirrors and such will go a long way!

While I was enjoying those few days off, my mind began to focus on the exterior of the house and the land.

We have a great slope to the property. I was busy observing where the water has been flowing down the property and also the greenest areas overtaken by tumbleweeds that are still young.

It helps to know where the water flows so we can best decide which fruit trees need more water, and where to place other trees that do not require much at all.

It makes me antsy just sitting there planning it all out. I want to do it now! A week ago I ordered Italian Cypress seeds, Honey Locust and Quaking Aspen seeds.

They are the first in my collection. Next will be Acacia, Black Locust, Choke Cherry, Sand Cherries, Mulberry, Apricot, and a few others that will definitely serve as forage for our future chickens.

I’m only talking about some trees right now, but the list kind of keeps growing so I don’t want to put everything here in this entry.

I’ll talk more about the chickens and the kind of coop we’ll be building at a later time.

Needless to say, I have chickens on the brain and I’m looking forward to providing a place they can be happy and thrive.

Everyone has their favorite chickens, but for us it’s the Silkie Bantam.

They are just the sweetest things ever. Of course we plan on having many favorites, but for now the Silkie takes the cake.