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There are stronger fences out there. Fences more precise in their dimensions, more uniform in their materials. Fences that took less time to build because they were planned out ahead of time, or even bought as an E-Z prefab kit. Mine I kind of made up as I went along.
We needed the fence because we have deer. Many deer. Also foxes, bobcats, coyotes, the occasional river rat, chipmunks, squirrels, and something that makes tracks we haven’t been able to identify. I don’t know how many of these animals enjoy eating vegetables, but enough that the fence was mandatory.
This is ostensibly a how-to article about fencing in your backyard vegetable garden, but even if you were to follow these steps by the number, your fence would turn out different. As it should. It’s your yard, and your fence, and I learned while building this one that a fence can have personality. My yard, for example, has about a 30-degree slope in the area where my wife wanted the garden, and I wanted the fence to move with the slope. That’s one way our fence developed its particular personality.
But don’t build this fence. Build your fence.
These Tools Will Help
Till the Plot
In the preceding fall I tilled two parallel strips into the grass, each forty feet by ten feet—these would be the planting beds. I left a six-foot runway of grass between them, which provides both a place to walk without stepping on the vegetables and a barrier against erosion (because it’s on a slope).
I didn’t peel away the sod before tilling, I just tilled the grass right into itself. This is not the best way to do it, because it encourages the grass to regrow. But for one thing, I used aggressive machinery: a Kubota BX25D-1 tractor with a fifty-inch power take-off tiller. Each tine clawed six inches of loamy soil with every revolution, and there were six tines in total. I dragged that thing over both forty-foot plots at least ten times.
And again, this was in the fall, so the grass didn’t pop right back up anyway. We covered all the dirt with a layer of hay, then it snowed all winter, and by spring the grass seemed to have been put in its place.
Dig the Postholes
I intended to buy four-by-four cedar posts—I don’t like pressure-treated wood—but then a friend told me about these beautiful, ten-foot, bark-on cedar poles at a local lumberyard, Mahopac Railroad Tie Corp. They were $18 each and I needed 15 posts, but I liked the natural look so I sprang for them.
I rented a two-man General brand auger with a Honda engine from Decker Tool Rental in Danbury, Connecticut, my reliable local supplier. The other man was my neighbor Andy, and we spent most of a Saturday wrestling the corkscrew through very good but very rocky soil. We started with the two holes that would mark either side of the garden gate and worked our way around from there, digging each hole at least 30 in. deep. You have to go at least that deep, especially if you’re not planning to anchor the posts in concrete, which I wasn’t. Some holes, in truth, were less than 30 in. because we hit enormous rocks and gave up.
Set the Posts
The drill: Throw a shovelful of gravel in the bottom of each hole. Set the bottom of the post on the gravel (for drainage). Fill the hole, alternating a few inches of soil with a few inches of gravel, topping off with a layer of sand, which my father told me keeps bugs away. (Even with cedar, you can’t be too careful.) Don’t worry if some of the posts wiggle a little. Eventually they will draw strength from each other.
I halved the remaining four cedar poles on a 45-degree angle with a chainsaw and used them as braces on the four corner poles (pictured), fastening the braces to the poles using four-inch GRK #8 construction screws.
Then I realized the gateposts should have braces, too, because they would be under stress every time someone opened or closed the gate. I had no more cool cedar poles. So I picked through the brush pile that had grown behind my barn and found some good branches.
Now for the part that makes the fence useful: one hundred feet of 14-gauge galvanized steel mesh, fastened using ¾-inch poultry-fence staples and a low course of poultry netting to keep out small rodents.
First we dug a foot-deep trench to bury the steel mesh. Some varmints burrow deeper than that, but it was getting hot, so that’s as deep as we dug.
Once we stapled the beginning of the mesh roll to one of the gateposts, two guys (me and my father) pulled the roll taut while a third guy (my brother Mike) madly hammered staples into the next post. Whenever Mike hammered his thumb, we’d switch. Afterward, you can tighten the wire to fit by kinking it with a set of linesman pliers (pictured). Complete the fence by stapling up the poultry netting.
💡 Tighten the chicken wire after you wrap your fence. Pinch the horizontal wire with a pair of linesman pliers, then rotate your hand to kink the wire tight.
Level the Tops
Because our holes were all different depths (remember the rocks), our posts were all different heights. They had to be even. The only question was: What did even mean? The ground sloped. Should the posts make up for that—that is, should the lower posts be taller so the tops were all on plane? Or should they all be the same height, so they sloped with the hill? I chose the latter. No need for a tabletop top.
On this day, Andy was back, and with my Sawzall he buzzed them all at about nine feet. We saved the nubby tops for some future use, which still has not been determined.
Run the Wire
A strong deer can jump eight feet from a dead standstill, so we ran a single 16-gauge galvanized steel wire around the tops of the posts, simply wrapping once and stretching it to the next one (pictured). At the last post, I wasn’t sure how to finish, so I just wrapped it around ten times and it hasn’t budged.
Make a Gate
You need a top, a bottom, and two sides, plus hinges and some poultry netting. Some cedar boards left over from a barn-door repair became the bottom and the sides. The top was scrap. I bolted the four edges together and added a diagonal for strength. My door is a parallelogram, because of the slope, and so far it’s worked fine. I never added a latch, so we just kick a river rock back and forth to keep it shut or open.
No animal of any kind has been spotted in the garden, ever.