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Building the Fence

9 July 2012

Last year, the deer tore through the 8-foot high nylon mesh fence around my garden and pillaged everything.  They ripped up a dozen tomato plants and two dozen pepper plants by the roots, stripped most other vegetables of all their leaves, and even ate the hot peppers.  They left some herbs and the eggplant, which apparently are unappetizing.  People farther in the city say there just aren’t that many deer to worry about, and people farther out in the country say the deer won’t come that close to their house.  I guess that right here at the edge of the city, with suburban expansion all around us, the deer are more bold out of necessity.  I realized this year I would have to build a sturdier and more permanent fence or give up on growing anything deer will eat.

Since my parents own the land, I pitched to them the idea of a permanent or semi-permanent fence around the garden plot.  They’ve always had it demarcated with landscaping timbers and border plants, but in years past there wasn’t a need for a deer fence.  We discussed quite a number of plans, various construction materials and plot sizes, and eventually settled on a 16×32 foot fence with a height of 10 feet, with a permanent section made of wood and metal grid fencing and a detachable semi-permanent section made of aluminum poles and plastic nets.  My father decided he wanted the permanent section to mimic the fence around the pasture for aesthetic congruity.

Had I been left entirely to my own devices, I would have build the fence out of unwanted bamboo and abandoned construction materials, and possibly new plastic nets.  Bamboo is a great construction material; I’ve built a few things with it in the past, including tomato cages and clotheslines.  In this part of the country, it’s also an invasive weed, so I can usually acquire it at no monetary expense.  The landowner of a plot of bamboo often will permit me to harvest some for free, and if not, can usually be persuaded with a barter of manual labor or fresh produce from my garden (the sheer volume and diversity of basil my garden produces is usually a very convincing trade).

First we dug postholes using two different tools, a rental gas-powered augur and an old post-hole digger originally owned by my grandfather.  I had hoped to avoid using any gas-powered tools in this garden, but digging the holes manually in this compacted clay soil would have taken weeks.  First, we dug the hole with the augur, then the post-hole digger to clean out the hole and deepen or widen it with greater precision.  The augur broke several times during use, and was loud and unwieldy, but it still got the job done in only two days as opposed to weeks.  We used less than two gallons of gasoline.

Next, we inserted the posts, filled in the rest of the holes with dirt, and tamped them in place, all while measuring the level of the post to keep it perfectly vertical.  “Tamping” is a word I’d never heard before.  Apparently it involves adding a few inches of dirt, then pounding them with a wide stick, then repeating the process until the hole is full.  It was effective and didn’t require any concrete foundations.

We added just the top boards first to verify our measurements had been correct.  This process was simply screwing one end into one fence post, then the other end into the adjacent fence post.  For logistical reasons, we left the wooden section of the fence incomplete and began work on the wire section.  This way, between work days, we could rig up a temporary net fence which, when combined with the completed portions of the permanent fence, would create a complete barrier from the deer.

We drilled a hole at one end of each 10′ aluminum pole, then mounted each pole vertically onto the fence posts using two metal brackets.  We hung wire fence from the tops of these poles.  Originally, we bought enough wire fence to cover the entire perimeter of the garden from the ground to 8 feet up (or higher with a gap between them), but after seeing how much the heavy metal wire was bending the aluminum poles, we decided to just use the metal fence on the bottom and hang plastic netting on the top.  Though, we did buy a much heavier plastic mesh than the kind the deer tore through last year.  The metal fence at the bottom is stapled to the fence boards, while the plastic net at the top is hung from the top of the poles.

In the end, we are left with a mighty stronghold.  If Gimli had a hundred of his kinsmen and a year, he could turn my garden fence into a fortress upon which armies would break like water.  It is overkill, perhaps, but I’m pretty sure we won’t have deer eating our tomatoes and peppers this year.

After that, we constructed and attached the gate, which I will cover in a separate post.

The details:

  • 12 used fence posts, scavenged from the area about 20 years ago
  • 12 10′ aluminum poles  $2.04 each
  • 36 1″x4″x8′ decking boards  $4.39 each
  • 2 sets of 4’x50′ metal caging wire  $58.00 each
  • 3 sets of 4’x50′ plastic net  $19.97 each
  • 24 metal braces  $3.00 total
  • screws and tools, already owned by my father
  • rental of one gas-powered augur  $42.00
  • materials for the gate, which I will cover in a separate post

$380.46 total.  If bought new, the posts would have been another $100.  We used at least 200 screws, which my father already had, so that would have been a decent amount of money, too.  Some day, I will build a similar fence out of scavenged and foraged materials and compare.

We definitely could have built this fence for less money and with less materials.  However, my father wanted the most permanent section to look just like the pasture fence, which meant buying timber and constructing it in the same fashion.  He wanted the rest of the fence to be easily removable, which meant we were limited to light-weight materials and particular choices of design.  Also, he is of the opinion that if you are going through the effort and cost to build something, you may as well build it to endure weather, abuse, and the passage of time.  And we certainly did that.

View more images of dwarven craftmanship our handiwork in today’s gallery.

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One Comment
  1. As we’ve said before, anything that feller builds takes a while to build, more materials than originally thought, double the amount of people to move such heavy mass — but it will last for DECADES (and maybe longer)! He knows good workmanship.

    You guys put in a ton of work. Nice job,

    Your captions on the gallery photos crack me up.

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