Summer is winding down and it has been a summer of extremes, fluctuating temperatures, squally showers and winds; it's a miracle that our Painted Lady runner beans pulled through and we have to thank our hedges for that. You may not know but if you have a hedge it is protecting a large growing area. If your hedge is five feet high it is protecting around forty feet of open ground. The ratio is rough but measure the height of your hedge and then times it by eight or ten (ten being the maximum distance that a hedge may protect) and you will get an idea of how much a good, well maintained hedge will do for your garden.
The runner beans above prove that the hedge is working because in 2011-2013 when the hedge was still short we even considered ditching beans because they never seemed to grow as well as they used to do on our allotment, which was surrounded by large hedges. Even this year we can see the difference, we planted a runner bean in a small planter by the front door, it has been well fed but as you can see, every leaf has been stripped by the wind and our front garden is a good fifteen feet lower than the field area.
Even when we took this photo, a wind of only fifteen miles per hour pummelled the leaves into a blur. You can see from the two photos the shocking difference. The runner bean by the front door will never give us a harvest, it is too exposed and even the stone wall has not protected it once it poked its head over the parapet. Beans can give you wind but they can't stand up to it, just shows what a good hedge will do. So, try and protect your crop.
How do you protect a crop? #saveourskills
1) If you have the space, plant a hedge. Just remember first to talk with any neighbours and make sure they are happy for you to do so. They can't stop you but a quiet, polite word will stop any later arguments. We chose hornbeam because unlike our previous hedge of laurel, it is a deciduous hedge and drops its leaves in autumn. Our neighbours where delighted by this as the laurel hedge shaded their gardens in winter. The hornbeam doesn't do that and hornbeam is a forgiving hedge. It also gives us leafmould when we compost the fallen leaves. Don't plant conifers, they'll annoy your neighbours and turn your soil acidic. Before planting any hedge, make your choice carefully and be patient if you are planting barerooted whips in winter (which is the cheaper option) as you won't have a full grown hedge with some varieties for five years. Don't forget that with some hedges you will have to cut them up to twice a year but it does bring a massive abundance or wildlife into your garden.
2) Whilst waiting for that hedge to grow or if you don't have the space for a hedge. Consider a baffled fence. This is an old fashioned picket fence or even a pallet fence does the job (you can get pallets for free if you look around and use posts to join them together), the wind will hit the fence and be baffled and weakened by passing through the gaps. This is exactly what a hedge does but a fence takes up less room but unlike a hedge, it doesn't last a lifetime and regular maintenance is needed. If you plant a hedge and still need to protect your crops, consider hurdles (these are screens that can be moved and are traditional craft making) or windbreak; often a synthetic material that should be secured to posts to prevent it blowing away. Hurdles are great because they can be regularly treated to stop them rotting and can be easily moved but they are not cheap but at an average cost of £65 for a 6 x 4 foot hazel hurdle and with a regular treatment, you could have it for over a decade (that's £6.50 a year!).
3) There is another way, and that is to cover all crops and grow them undercover. This can be done under cloches, greenhouses, polytunnels and coldframes but your plot could quickly become a reflective eyesore that your neighbours will complain to the council about. Also, this is the more costly end of protecting your crops and the wind takes no prisoners and can pluck up structures in your garden easily. There are many ways to protect your crops from the wind and in the end common sense must prevail, so make sure that you select the best for you and your garden.