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.