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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Good Fences, blah, blah, blah

If you go back in my blog you'll find a post about good fences making good neighbors.  Turns out that good fences can promote good marriages too.  You see, my failure to build a fence around our berry garden has led to more than a little dissension in the Bailey household.  This is because, invariably, somebody leaves a gate open and the sheep, invariably, head straight for the berry garden.  Forget that lush, nutritious grass between the open gate and the berry garden.  But nooooo, those strawberry plants and the leaves of the raspberry plants with their herbal legerdemain, are the primary target of the formerly incarcerated ovines (this even stumped spell check. For the uninformed, Ovine is Latin for "damned sheep.")

In my prior post I shared with you my adventure of chasing the sheep out of the garden (and over hill and dale to spare the berry plants.)  In my post I claimed that I had saved the berry plants/bushes.  Not entirely accurate says Mrs. Bailey.  Turns out there was some damage, but nearly to the extent of prior incursions into the realm of the berry patch by the sheep. 

As I also alluded to in my prior post, the sheep are capable of inflicting serious damage to the berry plants/bushes by systematically stripping the leaves off bushes and uprooting entire strawberry plants.  In fact, the sheep have done that. Repeatedly. Again and again over the last three years.  OK.  So nowhere will you find in my prior posts any claims by me or anybody else that I'm a smart farmer.  I just have a very long learning curve and am an eternal optimist that all gates will be closed when somebody goes through them. 

Mrs. Bailey, being the more practical (realist) farmer, although I often find her to be far more idealistic than me (if I'm being realistic she tells me I'm being pessimistic), found a free picket fence on Craigslist.  She promptly called and advised me that the guy would hold it for the day for us.  I hooked up the livestock trailer and drove to West Des Moines and picked up about 250 feet of very nice picket fence panels and posts.  We took the fence home and put it in the barn.  And there it sat for three years until a few weeks ago. 

In light of my recent adventure with the sheep again getting out, in spite of my diligent efforts to contain them by constantly checking gates, I committed to installing the fence.  I woke up early a few Saturday's (by my standards anyway) and took the two little girls into Earlham for breakfast (a now weekly tradition).  Around 10:00 a.m. I was at the rental place in Desoto to pick up the post hole digger.  I'd intended to pick up the two man digger but the rental guy assured me the one man would work fine.  I was skeptical but it turned out to be good advice.  It's much lighter and easier to handle.  My back aches, but I'm guessing using the two man would have been debilitating.

The plan was to install the fence to protect not only the berry garden, but the main garden as well.  This is about a 200' square area bordered on one side by a wind row of evergreesn that's backed up a pasture fence.  Part of another side has some existing crappy fence that will require a chain saw to clear the area.  So the plan was to locate the corner post in the SE corner of the planned enclosure and move west and north from there.  As they say, a good plan executed poorly is better than no plan at all.  Let me be clear, execution was lacking on that day.

The first attempt at a hole for the corner post was  quickly aborted at about six inches.  The digger refused to bite through the compacted gravel and dirt at the edge of the drive.  I moved the hole about two feet further from the drive and met with success.  Our corner post was inserted and packed into place.  Now we could start marking for the next few holes and get drilling.

I guess I haven't mentioned I've never installed a picket fence or any other decorative type fence.  My limited experience consists of weaving woven fence lines using round fence posts intermingled with metal fence posts.  Since the fences are out in the pasture a modicum of straightness is sufficient for my needs. What is important is that the livestock can't get through, under or over the fences. 

While my prior fencing experience was helpful, it wasn't sufficient to overcome the shortcomings of my two dimensional brain which has trouble computing N, S, E, W and up and down for each post.  Not only is it important for the post to be vertical in the hole, it also need to be the proper distance from the prior post so that the panels will fit properly.  Too far apart and the panel can't be nailed to the posts.  Too short and it won't fit without being cut. 

Further, as I quickly noted after about four posts, the height of the posts are important, not so much for structural reasons, but more so for aesthetic reasons.  To further complicate this process was the mild rolling terrain of the area that I was fencing.  This was most notable with the corner post being in the lowest area that I was fencing.  My two dimensional brain trying to digest the implications of a three dimensional fence was making my brain hurt.

Now I need to back up just a bit to the point where we were marking our holes.  I started by grabbing one of the panels to measure how long it was.  It measured out to six feet which I thought was odd since I would have guessed the panels would be eight feet.  Nonetheless, the boys (another factor to contend with) and I proceeded to mark the areas to drill using a tape measure.  I'd already set up a line on the ground to make sure we stayed in a straight line.

We drilled the next three holes and that's when I noticed my first faux pas.  We hadn't really been paying attention to the depth of the holes.  That meant that we had a small, rolling wave of fence post heights with the corner post that started it all much lower than the others. 

I'd originally planned to install the panels as the posts were installed.  I was going to use my nail gun and had one of the boys drag the compressor and electrical cord out to where we were working.  I quickly realized that the nails would be way too short.  That meant I'd be screwing the panels on instead.  I decided to run to the hardware store for screws and asked the boys to continue digging holes while I was gone.

I returned about 20 minutes later to one post installed that was wobbly enough that a crow would have had trouble keeping its balance on the top.  The next hole was obiously off by about six inches. 

And then yet another revelation.  Stepping away from the job and allowing my brain a break started an epiphany of sorts.  Somewhere along the way those stray synapses in my brain started to connect and wonder why that section of fence I'd measured was only six feet and not eight.  I went to our pile  of panels and, lo and behold, almost all of the other sections were eight feet.  That meant that of the six holes we'd dug and the same number of fence posts installed, only five of the six had to be removed.  The first because it was too deep and the four others because the spacing was wrong. Alas, the non-blushing longeshormen, and my nearby kids, were safe as nary a tool or angry word was thrown.  The mistakes were mine, except for the off center holes dug by my progeny.  But, that wouldn't matter because not only was the hole off center by six inches, it was also off by another two feet in spacing from the prior hole. 

Essentially, two hours into our fence installation, we were starting from scratch.  But, lessons were learned.  I switched from a tape measure to an 8' board to measure distance between posts.  I also got better at watching to make sure the post was as close to perfect vertically and that it was at the right depth.  By the time we quit working on Saturday evening, we had posts in for 96' of fence.

Sunday was another cool day with conditions pretty darn near perfect for fence work.  Seth had track practice in the afternoon so I didn't even get started fencing again until almost 4:00.  But I'd rented the post hole digger on Saturday and had it until Monday morning at no extra charge.  Two of the boys helped me when I started digging holes but, after about six holes were dug, I noticed that I was on my own.  I had six holes dug, only two more posts installed and another six holes to dig and ten posts to install.  Undaunted, I plugged away and a mere two hours later, all of the holes were drilled, posts installed and even a gate temporarily installed.

This all started about six weeks ago and here we are with 90 degree plus days now and for the foreseeable future and I still have yet to put the three final panels on one side.  I also still need to make and install a gate on the other side.  Procrastination is the only excuse.

Having not yet completed the fence the berry garden was again accosted by the sheep last week.  We had them in a temporary paddock made with electric netting. I'd checked the fence the day before and it was fine.  The next morning, while I was out of town, Lorraine woke to a gun shot. She knew by that alone the sheep were out.  We don't know if the neighbor across the drive was shooting at them or just to scare them, but she was rattled.  I'm thinking that the wind/thunderstorm the night before blew a section down low enough for the sheep to jump over.  Once one goes, they all go.  They broke out of the paddock into the hay field full of young oats and orchard grass yet, they opted to walk about 100 yards to a gate that opens into our yard.  From there, and totalling ignoring a plethora of lush, uneaten grass, they headed up the driveway and for the berry garden and then towards our neighbor's yard. 

For now at least, no more temporary paddocks outside of areas with proven fencing.


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