Fencing around a garden primarily serves one purpose: keeping pests out. Before choosing a type of fence, you need to decide which pests are likely to be a bother to you and select an appropriate style of fencing. A little research is recommended before making your final decision.
Two years ago I decided to start a small garden. It was approximately 30’ x30’ with one corner taken out by a 10x12 barn. Deer and coon have not been a problem here. I expected rabbits would be a problem, and I suspected dogs would as well: they love digging in soft dirt to bury their treasures and the last thing I wanted was to fork up a potato patch and find a desiccated possum. I chose (without research) to use a standard four foot high welded wire fencing using 2” x 3” grids. I drove in metal fence posts and attached the fencing to the posts with bailing wire. It was simple, quick and fairly inexpensive.
This fencing kept the dogs out, but not the rabbits. I expected that itty-bitty baby bunnies would get through the fencing, but the big fat hares would have to hang around outside and watch. I was wrong. It seems rabbits don’t actually have any bones; for the things can squeeze through some amazingly small spaces. When I caught the adult rabbits in the garden and went running down the hill yelling and waving my arms, the hasenpfeffer on the hoof would take off like a shot, there would be a “clang” when they hit the fence, but it didn’t even slow them down, they ran right through it.
Had I done my research, I’d have discovered that there is a “rabbit fence” that is similar to the fencing I used but has smaller grids at the lower 18 inches to keep the bunny vermin out. I pinch-hit with chicken wire.
This year I expanded the garden by a factor of four. I thought about re-fencing with the rabbit fence, but there are a few additional problems with that. One is the topography: my garden is not flat and level. Wire fencing does not conform to hills, dips and slopes well. Another is the fact that the garden now cuts a swath through the middle of my “front yard” meaning that I will need to traverse it with the lawn tractor to mow and do routine maintenance. Gates are a pain in the keester. Last year I did have two gates, but I use the term loosely for they were more like flaps of fence with a board stapled to the free end. One gate at each end of the fence run where it butted up to the barn. Bent nails held the board against the barn to close the “gate”. Such a rudimentary system would not work this time.
Last fall (actually early winter) I decided to build hoop houses to cover the 6 raised bed garden boxes I had then so I could continue to grow food through the winter. I designed the covers out of PVC pipe, covered with chicken wire (excuse me: poultry mesh), then covered that with “transparent” plastic sheeting. The idea being that the mesh would help support the plastic during the winter, then the plastic could be peeled off in the spring and the mesh would form individual (and rabbit proof) fencing to keep out all the vermin.
I built one this way. That one took an entire afternoon to cut and fit the mesh to the frame. It was already later in the year than it should have been because… well, because I procrastinated some. I didn’t have time to go this route, so I built the rest of the hoop houses with just plastic over the PVC. I was able to build and install the other five houses in just two afternoons. They served me well during the winter, but I’ve decided to make a design change in these covers.
The hoops introduce a lot of tension into the frame that tends to pop joints loose. I did not use cement (glue) to fasten the frames together, in case they needed tweaking or re-thinking (which is often the case in my life).
Putting the mesh over the outside of the frame added too much bulk and it was difficult to get the frame down into the box. Also, having the mesh on the outside placed it in direct contact with the plastic cover; the constantly wet plastic cover. This rusted the mesh quickly.
I decided to try a different design this year. I dismantled the hoop houses and used as many of their parts as I could in the new design. This one has the fencing (mesh) attached to the inside of the frame so when the frame is covered with plastic there will be a 1” air gap between mesh and plastic. The summer boxes have an open top to allow plants to grow tall. While the plants are small it is no problem to lift the fence box out of the way to get in to plant seedlings, maintain the plants, or harvest. At 24” high, it is possible to reach over the fencing to work with plants and harvest, it’s a reach to get to the middle section (for me – I’m short) but it can be done. Tall plants won’t be a problem at all.
The key to this design is this nifty fitting I found: it’s called a “Ninety degree elbow with side port”. Not all hardware stores carry them. In fact the one I normally go to for plumbing supplies and advice never heard of it. But Lowes has them, and I suspect they may be there more for people like me than for plumbers.
To adapt these boxes for winter use I’ll need to add a roof/cover of some sort to support the plastic sheeting and provide active rain/snow removal. I kicked around a number of designs before deciding to stick with the original idea I had during the winter.
By using this construct at each of the four corners I can add rafters coming up from each side, meeting at another of those 90° elbow/side port things that will join the upper ends of the rafters and accept the end of a ridge pole across to the structure on the other side. Adding this to the boxes I have built will mean shortening two side rails and adding a Tee fitting at each end of them. Everything else would be built up from those tees.
When winter comes, affix a four foot wide piece of plastic to the lower side rail, run it up, across and down the other side to be trimmed off and taped to the opposite side rail. Add a sort of pentagonal shaped piece to each end and I have a winter shelter. The mesh can stay in place all year round and not be in the way.
In the spring, peel off the plastic and it's ready for summer use. If the roof structure is awkward, pull it off at the tees and cap them to keep wasps from nesting in there.
I’ll cover the construction of these boxes, what I learned along the way (hard way vs. easy way) and share some tips for newbie farmer wannabes on working with these materials and tools. Won't you join me then?
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