Living fences and gourmet school-lunches

Growing your own fence, local oak-tree restoration and France’s school-lunch program

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It’s alive
I was recently in the southeast-Arizona town of Tombstone. Surrounding Tombstone’s famous Boothill Graveyard is a visually striking “living fence” constructed by lashing together super-close, side-by-side plantings of the tall, slender and thorny Ocotillo cactus.

Coincidentally, I had just read an article in the October/November 2010 issue of Mother Earth News about living fences by Virginia homesteading expert Harvey Ussery.

“A living fence is a permanent hedge tight enough and tough enough to serve almost any of the functions of a manufactured fence,” writes Ussery, “but it offers agricultural and biological services a manufactured fence cannot”—such as “edge habitat” for insects, spiders, toads, birds, etc., and an increase in soil humus from the breakdown of leaf litter and root hairs. Living fences are long-lasting, attractive, and provide shade and a windbreak for animals, as well as renewable fodder (or people-food), depending on the plant.

Ussery’s piece includes detailed instructions on creating a living fence from Osage orange, which was used in the United States in the 1800s as prairie fencing before the invention of barbed wire.

I contacted Ussery for some advice on what might make a good living fence in the Chico area.


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“In a sense, just about anything will work,” he said, “if you plant them a foot apart in a row—ash, alder, honey locust.” He also suggested the hardy evergreen shrub tagasaste, which is grown in Australia and New Zealand as a fodder crop, as well as the jujube, or Chinese date.

Many species, he said, will “inosculate” (grow together into a natural graft), making an impenetrable, long-living, single-organism hedge. Annual pruning not taken care of by grazing livestock is required to keep the fence at the desired height.

Visit Ussery’s website:

Riparian restoration
Cindy Weiner, of the local Mount Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, is seeking volunteers to help with the Woodson Bridge Valley Oak Restoration Planting on Saturday, Dec. 4.

“Meet at Chico Park and Ride west lot at 9:30 a.m. to organize informal car pools or at the kiosk of Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area at 10, with lunch and drink,” says Weiner. “Wear gardening gear. We will be planting valley oak acorns in a new riparian area on the Sacramento River presently plagued with invasives. Nature walk through the new natural area included.” Call event leaders Jim (846-1435) or Wes (342-2293) for more info. No advance sign-up necessary.

Cards for a cause
KCHO gardening-show host and CN&R contributor Jennifer Jewell is offering a line of Christmas cards featuring photographs of wreaths made from seasonal local fruits and foliage. Part of the proceeds go to a number of regional and national horticultural organizations. Order at

Here’s how they do it in France writer Tom Laskawy describes it as “an antidote to the American hostility toward school lunch”: It’s a video of a recent CBS News report on the school-lunch program as it is carried out in France. Forget microwaved Jose Olé burritos, chicken nuggets and Froot Loops. French school kids are eating fresh, chef-made, five-course lunches every day (at only $2.50 a pop), consisting of such things as bouillabaisse and ratatouille turnovers. Check it out: