Well, what was to be a pruning session with the willow turned into living willow hedging thanks to hubby, who came up with the great idea of using some of the canes to start fencing off the kitchen garden from the chickens. We always intended to fence it off, but stopped short due to the expense and effort of getting fencing tall enough to stop them scrambling over. I also didn't really want any more concrete in the garden, which would have been necessary to fit fenceposts solidly into the bed.
So, this was the area to be fenced with living willow. A line of rosa rugosa would have to come out, which wasn't an issue as they hadn't been doing particularly well where they were. Far from being the thick solid line of thorns that would stop the chickens getting through as we had planned, there was one large plant, several small plants and a few straggly growths here and there formed from runners. Dismal.
Out it came, the area dug over and some blood, fish and bone put down, and a weed suppressant membrane laid on top. Willow won't grow where there is competition for nutrients from weeds so they must be prevented.
This is the willow patch before pruning - three different species for basketry, biomass and general purpose garden projects. They've done really well this year. Far from being just a single straight stem in their first year, many of them have sprouted several side canes each already.
The pruning begins, but after a while I notice a weird blood-like substance on my hands. I'm checking everywhere trying to find the source of it.
That's when I spot this on the end of a cane: willow aphids.Sap sucking pests that won't kill a plant but can devitalise it. A major squishing session ensues and I'm covered in red stuff which turns out to be all the old sap inside the aphids.
The canes for the living willow hedge are cut and laid out at 20cm intervals along the 14 ft length of bed. I used the willow variety which is often used for biomass, as the canes are thicker and straighter than the rest.
I cut a cross through the membrane at each point where they will go, and use a metal pole to drive a 1ft hole in the ground to take the willow whip. Willow need to be rooted a good foot into the ground.
Then I took the thinner shorter willow canes and began to weave them in diagonally, again driving holes into the ground up to a foot deep and placing them in diagonally. I was careful to ensure the weaved whips crossed at the same points front and back. I tied each one in with a rubber band, rather than string, so as the whips grow the rubber will expand with them until it degrades enough to break and fall off. At the base of each set of two diagonal whips I chose to pull them together with a band in such a way that it filled in what would have been a large chicken-sized gap to squeeze through. One day those pesky critter will be faced with this living willow hedge and they're not getting through!
The side of the willow fence is simply willow whips curled around and woven in. The top of the living willow hedge is made up of the very short leftover pieces of willow whips that couldn't be used for the diagonals, and around those were woven the ends of the longer diagonal whips which were sticking out to add strength. However, as you can also see some of the diagonal whips are not long enough. I'm hoping the the new growth will be enough for me to weave them in next winter.