Brush Walls at Windhorse Farm

Yesterday I went on a tour of Windhorse Farm, a sustainable farming and forestry operation located up the LaHave River from Bridgewater.

Brush wall at Windhorse Farm
Brush wall and fence at Windhorse Farm

I was most curious to see their brush walls. When I first heard about Windhorse’s brush walls last winter, a light went on in my head. Here was the answer to several of my problems, including the strong north wind chilling the garden, and large amounts of brush available.

Windhorse’s brush walls are piles held in place by stakes 6 feet apart, making a thick wall. As the brush gradually breaks down, more is piled on top. Vines such as squashes and grapes are encouraged to climb over the brush, and in summer, the brush walls can be completely hidden by vegetation.

My picture also shows a higher brush fence that has been woven around taller stakes. In fact, it’s about 7-8  feet high, high enough to keep out deer.

The brush walls contribute greatly to the success of Windhorse’s garden. They enclose and shelter it, holding in heat. The decomposing brush adds to the fertility of the soil. And very importantly, the brush walls provide habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including the friendly critters that help control garden pests.

Click here for a description and a rather old low-res video about Windhorse’s brush walls.

I started building a brush wall last spring and will continue to develop it.

Deer fence around the garden

Deer fence around garden
Lee Valley plastic mesh with ribbons of flagging tape woven in

It’s not the ribbons of flagging tape that are keeping the deer out.  It’s the almost invisible black plastic netting that the ribbons are hanging from.

It works – so far.  This is my second year using it.  (See previous post about the deer fence.)  I regretted taking it down last fall, as it had been getting entangled in the grass, and removing it damaged the netting.  But I’m gradually enlarging the vegetable garden and wanted to reset the netting.  I have yet to see how well it will survive the winter.

There are different kinds of netting you can buy. The most lightweight is sometimes referred to as bird netting, with 1/2″ openings.  It is easy to throw over strawberries or blueberry bushes, and it catches in the twigs easily, keeping it in place and making it hard to remove!  It is very hard to see.  One of us got it tangled in a lawnmower wheel and it took half an hour to cut it out.  You can get it at a garden centre. If you’re in the US you can order from Amazon. [Easy Gardener 6050 DeerBlock 7-by-100-Foot Netting]

The next level is what I bought at Lee Valley last year.  It is a slightly heavier mesh, 7 feet high, with 7/8″ openings and reinforced margins top and bottom. (My 100-ft length didn’t go round the expanded garden this year, so I filled it in with some of the lighter-weight bird netting.) I pegged it down to the ground with twigs and it keeps the rabbits out, too. (I had a strange surprise, though, before pegging it down this year.)

This deer fence is not invincible. There are some tears in it that I need to fix. But we’ve seen a deer come up to it, and touch it with her nose, and go no further. My neighbour, who has come out on her porch to scare the deer away, has suggested attaching noisemakers to the fence.

Here’s an Amazon link (US only; they won’t ship this stuff to Canada) to a similar product: Easy Gardener LG400171 7-by-100-Foot Deer Barrier Fencing

Finally, there’s a much heavier gauge netting that I saw in a local hardware store. It was more expensive, but looks like it would last longer. It has 2 1/4  inch openings. If and when my current fence isn’t doing the job anymore, this is what I will get. Amazon link: Industrial Netting CXC90x100 Deer Net – 2.25 Inch Openings

The lightweight netting does not require strong posts. This year the garden was expanding, but I had no more of the aluminum posts that I put in last year, so I bought 8′ steel T-posts ($9 each) at the local farmers’ co-op store. They have pointed ends, but I would never be able to drive an 8′ post into the ground, so I cut one in half with a hacksaw, and pounded it 2 feet into the ground with a sledgehammer. (Thank you to my gardener grandfather from whom I’ve inherited all these tools!) After pulling the short post out, there was a T-shaped hole into which the tall post went in with just a bit of persuasion delivered from a stepladder. The rocks deep in the ground caused the post to be slightly askew, but that doesn’t really matter.

I’d love to hear from other gardeners about your experiences with animals in the garden – or with keeping them out.

Another morning wildlife guest

Photo taken in a hurry through the screened basement window.

Like the fox last week, this raccoon came up the road from Oak Island, saw the houses up ahead and decided the woods behind our house were a better bet.

In six years of living here, it’s the first raccoon I’ve seen.

A neighbour told me he saw a black bear just down the road about five years ago. He figures it was just passing through, as he hasn’t seen or heard tell of one around here since.

But over 1000 black bears were killed by registered hunters in Nova Scotia in 2009. So they are around.

The 2009 deer harvest in Lunenburg Co., which has been increasingly plagued by deer ticks in recent years, was the highest in the province:  3,104.  Many gardeners will be relieved to hear this news.  But it won’t stop me from putting a deer fence around the garden again. I recently saw 4 or 5 white-tailed deer in our backyard.

Department of Natural Resources personnel examine roadkill to see what shape the animals are in.  In the winter of 2008, they found that a high proportion of deer were experiencing malnutrition and starvation.  So the 10,280 deer bagged by hunters across the province was less than the previous year, according to the Truro Daily News, as fewer permits were issued to hunters for antler-less deer.

Pioneer garden

The deer netting is practically invisible so I've run flagging tape around it so the deer will know that something is there.
The deer netting is practically invisible so I've run three levels of flagging tape around it so the deer will know that something is there.

My deer fence looks like a carnival, the thin mesh festooned with orange and yellow flagging tape. What’s inside is not terribly tempting to deer, not yet anyway. It may not be big news for hungry humans either. The potatoes should do OK, and I hope to get some beans – especially if we get a bit of heat around here. But when your broccoli matures early with heads the size of a loonie, you know the plants are feeling stressed.  They somehow know that under these conditions, they’d better reproduce while they can.

This broccoli plant has given up already. It doesn't think it'll grow big enough to support a floret larger than a loonie.
This broccoli plant has given up already. It doesn't think it'll grow big enough to support a floret larger than a loonie.

How many pioneers tried to feed their families out of soil no better than this?  Recently forested, no topsoil brought in, rocky, no manure integrated into the dirt yet – not  much  good for anything but potatoes.

It takes time to build up soil like this – plus compost, manure and other organic matter.  My ambition is to enlarge the garden with time.  Newspaper and black plastic are smothering the weeds in future sections of garden.

I’m sure glad I can BUY my groceries!

Update on the deer fence, July 3, 2010

Will the deer fence hold?

Thin, almost invisible netting separates my garden from this deer.
Thin netting separates my garden from this deer.

I’m determined to develop a garden on this corner of our property. Grass won’t even grow there, just weeds and wild strawberries. Over the 5 years that we’ve lived here, I’ve cleared a 15’x15′ patch and tried growing things like beans, potatoes and broccoli. But deer, and maybe rabbits, have munched whatever managed to grow – even potato plants, which surprised me as potato leaves are rather toxic.

This year, however, the recession and the spike in oil prices last year have got many of us thinking more about growing our own food. So I’m getting more serious with the garden. It’s time to learn to grow food!

The soil is terribly poor. Over the years, I’ve added a bit of seaweed and compost, but finally this year I paid for a load of manure. That was the first firm step of commitment.

The second step: a fence. But I needed to do it cheaply, using mostly materials at hand.

The only thing I actually had to buy was 100 ft of 7′ high “deer fence” – black plastic netting – from Lee Valley for about $27 plus shipping. For the support posts, I had some 8-foot lengths of old aluminum tubing from a shed structure which had collapsed in a winter storm some years ago, and some leftover copper pipe which happened to fit just inside the aluminum tubes.

To erect the support posts, I pounded 4′ lengths of the copper tubing halfway into the ground with a sledge hammer, then used a plumber’s pipe-cutting tool to cut off the top bit that had got mashed by the force of the sledge. The aluminum tubing slid over the copper and another foot or so into the ground. Hopefully it will be strong enough at the level of the ground to withstand bending forces. In fact, I haven’t had to run guy lines or construct inside props to support my fence posts.

Then I attached the deer netting to the posts, which have boltholes at the top and halfway down, with plastic ties. I cut pegs from twigs and hammered them through the netting into the ground to keep the rabbits out, although there are a few gaps which concern me where the netting doesn’t reach the ground.

The black netting is practically invisible from a distance, so I’ve run plastic flagging tape around the perimeter halfway up for the deer to see. Deer can jump up to seven feet high, so I need to finish the job by running more tape all the way around the top. Another thing to buy.

So far so good. But with the weather we’ve had, the garden is growing slowly, so the temptation may not yet be very great. The wild strawberries are much more interesting to grazers (me included). Stay tuned.  [Update on the deer fence, July 3, 2010]