I would like to welcome to Nourishing Days a new contributor, my husband Stewart. He will be sharing his perspective on our homesteading journey as time permits. ~Shannon
When we first moved to our homestead plot there were many things to do that required immediate attention… such as where to go to the bathroom and how to stay warm in the winter. Once we got past basic survival we wanted to begin producing as soon as possible, but with a baby on the way we had to be realistic that there were lots of other things that needed attention in this new way of life. We managed to get garlic in the ground and a few other plants last fall. These did pretty well because they were in when there were few (if any) bugs around (and by God’s grace).
Before we could really start being productive though we needed to put up some fencing to stop rabbits, chickens, and free range cattle from destroying our hard work. Since money is usually tight I wanted to save as much as possible on fencing and I wanted a quick solution. We had access to free pallets from a local hardware store so I decided I could build a pallet fence around our first Back to Eden style garden. The "A-frame" pallet arrangement was to keep the cattle out. I wrapped the base in 3-4 feet of chicken wire to help persuade the rabbits and chickens that it wasn’t worth their time. This was fairly inexpensive and actually works pretty well. However, it required a lot of pallets to enclose a fairly small area.
Since Annabelle was born in February my focus was able to change to spring garden preparations. Knowing that some things take years to produce, I really wanted to get some food sources going that produce every year such as trees and berries. However, this would require more fencing… a lot more than I thought I could reasonably do with the same pallet fence design I used before. Plus, I wanted to do it fast to get trees and other things in before the Central Texas heat hit. I was driven by results. I had a "purpose driven" mentality in many ways instead of a "process driven" one.
This is where I thought I could get away with some minimal fencing such as barbed wire strung between pallets to keep the cows out. I initially ran just a few strands of barbed wire around an area I hoped to be an orchard. This worked for a time, but eventually the cows got in and wiped out half the stuff I had planted. Sad morning. After a slight pause I decided to try and salvage what was left by adding an additional strand of barbed wire and beefing up the pallet reinforcement where I thought they might have gotten through. I also enclosed a much larger field in the hopes of planting more. This also worked for a time and some of the trees even made a comeback until one cow got in again…. and then the rest followed.
The Casualties Mount (Or… the Oh Crap Moment)
In all, we lost the following when the "purpose driven" fence was destroyed:
- 5 Granny Smith Apple Trees
- 2 Hardy Kiwi Plants
- 1 Avocado Tree
- 2 Mulberry Trees
- 2 Concord Grape Plants
- 6 Blueberry Bushes
- 6+ rows of green beans (around 70 feet long each)
- 1 Fig tree
- Several Blackberry plants
While some of the losses may have come anyway from grasshoppers eventually, the failure of the fence was the primary means of losing the battle for these plants. Knowing the days and days of labor involved in building the fence, preparing, and planting left me defeated. It was time to take a step back and analyze what happened.
More than a Broken Fence
I learn a lot more usually in failure than in success though honestly I’m not a fan of the "failure" part. By God’s grace, I learned more about my own foolishness (and need of him) and a spiritual lesson that applies far more broadly than one small (okay, epic) garden failure. First, I realize my thinking was wrong. I wanted a quick and easy solution. I wanted results. I did not have at the forefront of my mind that I should engage in a process of hard work to build something of lasting value or that I should move slower and save up money to build a proper fence. I wanted production…and I wanted it now. Sound like a familiar mindset? It is the same mindset the modern culture indoctrinates into us from our youth. Rather than focus on daily obedience to God, and perhaps delayed results from doing something the proper way, I scrambled and relied upon my own understanding. Surely something I can see growing (even for a short time) is better than the delayed gratification of a plant that lasts and is properly protected, right? How foolish. Surely a fence I can see up and "working" is better than all the hard work of learning to build a proper fence and physical effort required, right? What an idiot. I didn’t want to spend the time or money to build a proper fence, so I didn’t. We always think we are doing things for the right reasons when we do them. It is only by God’s grace that we can ever see what we were truly thinking and why it was wrong.
The Other Fences
As I was pondering the epic (nice word for it so I’ll keep using it) fence failure I started thinking about what a fence is for. A fence is for separation. It is to keep certain things apart so that bad things don’t happen and so that the fruit of your plants is not destroyed (in this case). The same applies to spiritual fences. Christians are called to be separate (sermon link for those interested, skip if not). A word hated and abused by modern Christianity. Many who proclaim the name of Christ look and live just like the world. In fact, if you spotted them somewhere you would have no idea there was anything different about them. They might say things like, "But I’m separate in my heart". I’m telling you, this is a broken fence. The cows (or goats perhaps is a better analogy) will break in to steal and destroy whatever fruit seems to be growing in that heart. If you live in a field with goats you will probably end up smelling like them (or even be one).
Another example of building a shoddy fence is when you may start to separate from a wicked system but never complete it. Your fence might even have the appearance of being good. Maybe you put in some solid concrete foundations for some of the posts and properly made a straight fence. However, perhaps you left a small section of the fence incomplete. It does not matter how great the rest of the fence is if you didn’t finish it. Something will get in and destroy everything you have worked to protect. Your "property" may have the appearance of Christianity and being separate, but when the goats come around they will find their way into your field. Or, perhaps you will just wander out the hole you left for yourself through some rationalization that you are okay and everyone else in that fence was wrong. Or worse still, maybe the fence is "complete" but the foundation of one of the key corner posts is cracked and will show failure in time.
I imagine this can take many forms. Say you are leaving a former way of life but still love something from it more than where you are going. For example, if you love your family, friends, job security, health benefits, convenience, comfort, pleasure, or something that still binds you to the world system it is leaving that fence incomplete. It is leaving a hole that could destroy you and draw you back.
If we are not willing to forsake all to follow Christ and to live among his people… then we never really left. Maybe we were never really changed. While we cannot change ourselves, nor save ourselves, we would be wise to think upon who can (God) and what he would require of us after he changes our hearts.
And here is the real kicker, suppose someone loves you enough to point out you forgot to finish one section of your fence. Or suppose they see some cracks in the concrete you poured that might one day leave your field vulnerable. Do you get angry? Do you hate the person who told you about what might happen? Do you justify yourself and say, "But look at how good and ‘blessed’ all the other fence posts are?" or accuse them, "But your fence looks worse than mine", or "You have a hole in your fence too!" Do you rationalize and say, "But no animal is going to find that one section I forgot to finish." True love for someone else is doing what is best for them regardless of how much it hurts them (or you). This is a love that cannot be faked for very long. It is a love that only God can give us for other people. If someone in your life is showing you this kind of love (and telling you the truth about yourself) you would be foolish to ignore it. You would be blessed to listen to it… even when it hurts. It might require you to patch a hole in the fence. It might require hard work. It may even require that you shut up and think for awhile instead of just reacting. It may require you to keep your opinion to yourself, because your opinion might just be wrong.
I’m definitely thinking about these things more as a result of my epic fence failure. Thank God for his grace. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
The Practical Lessons
- Realize a proper fence is important to a successful garden
- Take the time and effort to build the fence right
- Take it one fence post at a time
- Make sure you have enough "fencing" in your life to protect your loved ones physically and spiritually
- "Physical fencing" could be a different way of life where you can still provide for your family if the consumer/industrial system collapses
- "Spiritual fencing" could be keeping your family separate from influences and a way of life that will seek to corrupt them
Lastly, someone might wonder why I think putting up a temporary fence with the resources you have may be wrong. It isn’t necessarily wrong. In fact, for one person it could be the completely right thing to do (whether it succeeds or fails). For someone else, it could be completely wrong. It is about a way of thinking and is person and situation specific. So don’t take away from my thoughts that I’m condemning or endorsing a certain method of building. What you build with your hands is far less important than what is being built and maintained in your mind. And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.
Starting a New Fence
Over the next few weeks, Lord willing, I will continue to put in a new and better fence so that we can contain our chickens and perhaps goats and pigs someday. This time though, hopefully my mindset is more correct and process driven.
Have any broken fences that need fixing? ~Stewart
Resources to Help with Your Fence Building