I recently enjoyed attending a hedge workshop in my neighborhood. The work and learning was wonderful! Hedging and natural fencing are great ways to develop edge space on any land, even a small urban yard can have a hedge.
At Leafhopper Farm, we’re putting in the plants which will eventually become the hedge for our farm. Recent hedge additions include Mock Orange, Red Flowering Current, Pacific Crab-apple, Big Leaf Maple, and Dogwood. These native species will be a base for the hedge. I’ll also be planting young Red Alder to quick set this hedge as I’ve done on the east fence line which I wrote about recently.
Setting new hedges takes a lifetime, but the long term production and service of a hedge as boundary will last hundreds of years if properly stewarded. This new hedge is planted with other ground covers like Yarrow and Comfrey too. Medicinal plants can be folded right in, creating a living wall of useful flora which will feed the livestock and wildlife which thrives in and around a diverse edge. With Salmon Berry and the woods backing this hedge line, deer will encounter a boundary of wide brush which cannot be jumped or pushed through easily. There will still be a livestock fence put in between the hedge and neighboring property. This act of enclosure will guarantee no smaller predators get in, or out, in the case of dogs if the farm does invest in another after Indo.
Predation is still the hedge’s greatest threat in this young stage. Rabbits, deer, voles, and goats are all hungry for this diverse snack pack of luscious young stalks. Even with netting, the single stems are still being nibbled down and destroyed. I’ve seen rabbits out in the dark with a spotlight, and hunting them will happen this summer. The deer have been moving out, finding the activity of this area off-putting to their shy habits. Voles are tricky, and perhaps collar protectors will be implemented to prevent feeding on the base of the main trunks. One can see how any young tree is at great peril as it grows, and many of the hardwood trees are prevented from ever reaching maturity.
Since humans have cleared the land for agriculture, the entire woodland space returning are mono-cultures with little diversity within. Because of such small pockets of wildness, the foraging wildlife ends up over-browsing the forests, preventing young plants from maturing. This is where conservation gets tricky. Human encroachment took out the native larders of diverse plant life, then people thing nature is at odds with its self and we come in to manage the forests. We trap and remove burdensome species like beaver to prevent what we see as devastation, not realizing that our clearing of the space for natural resources created the instability to begin with. Suburban homes are “worst hit” by hungry deer, raccoons, opossums, and mice, not to mention all the insects, which they see as pests. The homeowner is at war with nature, attempting to keep their fine lawns and gardens free of wildlife. Even birds can be targeted as a nuisance when they poop on cars or windows.
The wildlife is drawn to suburban yards because they are now the edge spaces with the most diversity in plants, though many of them are ornamental to us. When the beaver cuts down your expensive Japanese Maple, it’s because that’s the only hard wood tree found anywhere around the now over developed lake front. All the maples, alders, and cascara were cut away for the view, and replaced with dwarf species which preserve the water front views. Who is really the pest in this story?
In creating boundaries of exclusion at Leafhopper Farm, I always try to make sure the outside of the fence is just as productive and supportive to the wildlife as the inner side for my own animals and personal use. Birds can still feed on both sides, small animals can take shelter within, and more species of plant can be introduces and layered in over time to enhance the habitat. This way, the deer can munch all they want without disrupting the inner wall where farm activity takes place. If a beaver does come to our pond, I’ll have to negotiate that issue when it comes. Because our pond is so small, I’m not too worried about that issue arising. In the end, we can work with nature and improve all life in the hedge, or continue fighting a loosing battle against our very nature.