Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Living Fence....Again

One of the most important tasks in Micro/Urban homesteading is learning to see everything has multiple uses.  There simply isn't space here for anything that just has one purpose.  You may remember that I attempted a willow "fedge" or living fence several summers ago.  While the essential idea was sound, my choice of plants wasn't appropriate for WeeHavyn. It is dry up here and willow likes wet feet. 

Yet I am determined to have my living fence.  I adore the idea of a woven row of trees, intertwined in an intricate network of branches.  It is a fence that does not require the digging of post holes, an arduous task in our rocky soil, and repairs itself with proper care.  A fedge is, by its very nature, multipurpose.  Not only will it serve as a property boundary, but provides habitat for insects and birds.  Depending on the type of tree planted, it may also produce fruit and fodder for livestock.  I had chosen willow with the idea of feeding the nutritious prunings to the goats and rabbits.  My new choice provides even more....

Today I ordered 100 seedlings of native red mulberry for my new fence, to be delivered in February.  I chose mulberry for several reasons.  Mulberry leaves are extremely high in protein and very palatable to livestock.  After all, it doesn't matter how nutritious the food is if the animals won't eat it.  I coppiced one of the wild mulberries in our hedgerow last Spring and the goats ate the resulting sprouts like candy all Summer.  While some of these seedlings will  be male and won't produce any berries, mulberries can be quite tasty and each tree will be a little different.  The downside... mulberry bird droppings stain!

Since I have not been able to find an example of anyone actually using mulberry to do this, I do have some concerns.... 
  • How will a tree that wants to grow up to 50 feet react to being kept at around 4 feet high?
    • Judging from the trees in the median, they should be fine.  These trees are mowed several times a year and seem to just put out new shoots and take it all in stride.
  •  Will I be able to graft the branches together to make a strong, integrated fedge?  
    • I would like my fedge to be tight enough to keep the dog in.  I know if you scrape the bark of a willow branch and tie the wounded parts together, the branches will graft into one tree.  I'm not sure mulberry will do this, but I guess we'll find out!
  • Will the severe pruning keep the trees from fruiting?  
    • While this isn't a deal-breaker, I would like fruit from the fedge.  Mulberries are highly variable in fruit taste and quality.  We have one volunteer mulberry tree that has tiny fruit with an amazing sweet-wild flavor and one with huge, almost tasteless fruit.  I'm curious to see what fruit variations would come of the fedge.
 Despite any misgivings, I am going to take the plunge and just try it for myself.  The only way to know for sure is to do it.  I'm brushing up on espaliering techniques and grafting so I'll have some idea of what to do once the seedlings get large enough to do anything with.  Mulberry is very fast growing (some consider it a weed and you know how I love those!), so there should be some semblance of a fedge by this Autumn.  After all....nothing ventured, nothing gained! 

What do you think, would you do this?


What do YOU think?