Last year we had a small eight foot by sixteen foot garden that produced an amazing amount of produce. The garden has a feebly constructed, yet amazingly effective fence. We attempt to exclude anything that would tamper with the garden – deer, rodents – and our perpetually hungry golden retriever. The retriever would actually press up against the fence until she could pop cherry tomatoes into her mouth. I didn’t think dogs were supposed to like tomatoes. Benners suggests that a small percentage of gardens require a dedicated gnawing fence of metal wire dug into the ground. I am following their recommendation and waiting until we determine if this is required before installing. The following is a recount of the design and installation of the fence.

Arbor

This year we discussed making a larger or at least more manageable garden. Key consensus point was creating an area inside the fence to facilitate weeding without actually having to walk on the plants or compact the soil. I had been reading about raised beds and the wonderful advantages they afforded – and had decided to create raised beds. We also wanted to build a compost and have that accessible to the garden. So the new design had raised beds in an essentially east-west orientation, with two and a half foot spacing between and outside the raised beds to allow access with a wheelbarrow and provide room to access the beds to work. There is a fair amount of grade change for the chosen site, so we realized the beds would be quite high at one end and close to the ground at the other. We laid out a fence plan with gates providing through access. We hired Scott Jenkins to install red cedar (Juniperus virginianum) posts and I drilled in receiving holes for horizontal braces. The idea behind the fence is using a Benners Garden fence (five foot high) with additional line above if required to exclude deer.

As a member of the CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation I’d had the opportunity to install or observe several Benners Garden fence installations using both the standard Salem and the Northern CT Land Trust Swann Farm, but then also some hybrid systems such as at the Guilford Orchard. Subsequently, I have a fair understanding of the process and pitfalls, and had some specific ideas of the problem areas to avoid. One of the issues I’d encountered was sagging fencing. It is very difficult to get the fencing tight, and if there is any topography that has to be followed, the fence needs to be adjusted to follow the contours. I had come to the conclusion that the best way to install the fence was to actually hang it from a tensioned wire. With the tension, I was concerned about the posts being able to resist the compressive loads and remain upright – so this became a big consideration. Yet the garden is too small to created braced corner posts without bracing essentially the entire garden. After thinking about it, I decided that would in fact be the best solution.

So the plan is to the fence framework is in tension with the actual fencing material hung from a nylon monofilament wire. The monofilament is fairly thick and when stretched tight could produce a fair amount of pressure. I’m guessing close to 100# or more, but will report back once installed. The horizontal braces are in compression preventing the collapse of the corners under the tension. To keep it looking rustic, I purchased rough sawn two by fours (actual dimensions 2.5 inches by 4). They were inexpensive and should weather to a dull grey color. I installed them by drilling receiving mortises with a forstner bit, and then cutting tenons on the ends of each brace. This proved somewhat, though not excessively labor intensive. Red cedar has an exceptionally variable toughness and I was glad to be done with the drilling. This required the AC powered holeshooter. The tenons were cut by drawing the receiving mortise diameter on the butt ends with a simple hole jig and then cutting with a jigsaw and sharp chisel.

The arbor braces the fence and provides a firm support for the proposed gates, preventing sagging. The arbors are not in the compression circuit but are designed with assistance from Architect Malcolm Goodspeed to resist both compression and tension.

Garden View

One unknown is how the fencing will wrap. Based on the topography, I believe two of the corners will wrap without tucking, and two will require tucking. The uphill theoretically should require tucking at bottom and the bottom-most post would require tucking at top. I’ll report back.

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