In this second part of my discussion on garden fence boxes, we’ll look at how I built the boxes for my garden. First a quick review.
Why boxes? Because my property is on a mountain side and our yard is sloping, I chose to use raised beds to keep my garden from washing down the slope every time we get a hard rain.
Why fencing? To keep rabbits and dogs out of my crops. If racoon, possum or deer were a problem for us I’d need to modify the design to suit the pest: at least cover the top with mesh too, and lock the boxes down.
Why not a perimeter fence? My garden cuts a swath up the center of my main “yard”: the area with fewest trees and the most sunshine. To perform routine maintenance I must traverse this area frequently with my lil tractor and wagon. Having to get off the tractor to open and close gates is a hassle, and I have yet to be able to build a rabbit-proof gate.
Variations on a Theme
I am converting the hoop houses I built last fall, for reasons that were discussed in the last segment, to use a different design.
The basic fence box or frame is a rectangular box and is open on top for easy access to the crops inside the box. The box lifts off easily when closer access is needed. This is the summer box. For winter use I could just wrap this in plastic, but the top would collect rain and snow and probably pull loose. I thought about incorporating bows to support the top, but adding stress back into the frame is something I wanted to avoid.
This house-shaped addition will effectively shed rain and snow when covered with plastic and adds no stress to the frame, so I don’t need to use glue in assembling it. It will offer enough height that even Brussels Sprouts can grow down the center two rows and not be brushing up along the wet cover for my winter crops.
The tricky joint is made from a tee in the side rail and two elbows, all joined together with short lengths of pipe.
For those crops that need something to climb on I built a special split box with a trellis section in the back fastened to the wooden garden box and a three sided fence box…
…that lifts out of the way to allow me access for planting and weeding.
I used some of the bows from the Hoop Houses to construct a frame to support bird netting over our blueberry plants. This is a short term solution. Once the bushes get some size to them…
I’ll extend these hoops with more saved from the last design to create arches from the front of the blueberry bed to the top of the grape arbor built right behind. I’ll extend these arches out the other end to enclose the strawberry bed as well. These three structures were sized and placed so I could cover the whole assembly with bird netting to protect them. The quarter-circle ends (one must include a door of some kind) will be the only tricky part.
Building the Frames
The basic frame is a box 46 inches square by 24 inches tall. No great challenge here. However, standard plumbing fittings would make this task daunting.
I found this fitting at Lowe’s, it’s called a “90 degree elbow with side port”. I do not think it’s a standard fitting as I’ve never encountered it before – but I’m not a plumber. But it works great for building square corners!
My workshop is equipped with a chop saw (aka compound miter saw) with a long stock support table and fence. This makes it a snap to set up for cutting identical lengths. If you are not so fortunate, a tape measure, sharpie and a hacksaw will do the trick.
Using this set-up it takes only a couple of minutes to cut all the straight parts and assemble with corners. Be sure you seat all the connectors fully by tapping or squeezing them. I do not use any form of glue or cement. Friction is good for now, once the chicken wire is added that will hold the frame together as I move it about.
Doing Chicken Wire the Hard Way
I already had a large roll of 48″ high chicken wire (poultry mesh) that I had bought to sheath the hoop houses. I figured I’d use that rather than spending more money on a roll of 24″ mesh. This proved to be penny wise and pound foolish.
I tried two ways of doing this. One is to cut 24″ high segments off the 48″ wide roll of mesh; four for each box. Sliding my arm through this gash as I snipped the wires resulted in some bothersome lacerations to my arms because of the many sharp pointy bits left sticking out of the cut.
Add to that the fact that in order to keep from sticking myself every time I handled the frame, I needed to bend over the prickly bits, at least along the top.
Then there was the task of folding and joining the four loose panels of wire mesh at the corners: 48″ wide mesh, boxes that are 46″ outside dimension leave approximately 44″ inside. Cutting the mesh off on one end didn’t work well because it cuts away the neat, reinforced edge wire. So folding, fitting and wiring both pieces to the posts, then more wire to hold the “flaps” down. This was time consuming.
I tried cutting a 16 foot length off the roll and splitting it in half. This allowed me to use the finished edge of both strips at the top of the box. Start at one post, apply the wire *inside* the posts (to provide an air gap when I cover the outside in plastic for the winter so the wire doesn’t rust so badly) work around the box and back to the starting post. Only one “flap” corner to deal with and I can cut away most of the excess here then weave the prickly bits sticking out into the wire to hold it flat.
This is better, but I’m still ripping up my arm cutting the wire. Now I’m wrestling with the wire in 16 foot lengths instead of 2, and…
There is a center wire down the middle of the 48″ span. This makes it ideal for my purpose – on one side. The other side is left with a ragged edge filled with long prickly wires and very little strength, meaning many more attachment points needed. Still a lot of work and harm done to my flesh.
The Easy Way
Just go buy the roll of 24 inch mesh and be done with it! I’ll use the 48″ mesh on something else. I attach the mesh to all corner posts first, then go back and secure it to the top and bottom rails.
I used standard bailing wire to fasten the poultry mesh to the rails and posts because… well… because I had bailing wire on hand. And because it works well. Bailing wire will rust fairly quickly and makes orange stains on your pretty white pipe. But it won’t rust through for a long time, it’s malleable and it’s strong. I also had some lighter gauge galvanized wire. This would not rust so fast, but it proved to be brittle and many of my lashings ended with the wire snapping as soon as any tension came into the joint.
You quickly learn what the ideal length is. It helped me a lot to make sure I lap the two pieces the same way each time so I’d be twisting the same direction each time. The end pointing to the right is in front of the end pointing up; that means that twisting these so the top rotates toward me will twist them around each other. Doing this consistently saves confusion and do-overs.
Grip the wires with the pliers at the junction and give it a twist or two to secure them. Gripping both ends evenly twists both around the other, get off-kilter and one will remain straight with the other winding around it: not nearly as strong.
I also found it beneficial to size the uprights so the mesh fits between the upper and lower rails. No big issue on the upper rail if it overlaps or even protrudes above, but this keeps the wire away from the damp soil under the lower rail, thus helping to prevent rapid rust-out of the mesh.
There ya have it. Nothing too challenging about any of this once I had the right materials.
I will mention that on the tall trellis panels I use two lengths of 24″ mesh run vertically with the finished edges attached to the side poles and overlapping at the center. A few stitches with light wire to tack the overlap together and the whole thing came together easily.
Because I had a bunch of extra fittings lying around I decided to make up planting aids. Again, no glue, so if I end up needing the fittings for something more important I can easily recover them. Each is 12 inches square, the one helps me plant 4, 8 or 16 plants to a square foot, the other covers 9 and 1. It was a novelty at first, but I’ve found it very useful.
So, what did you think? Find anything useful here? Do you have suggestions? Feel free to share!