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Chestnuts and the $2.00 farm gate

August 8, 2008

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Look around your property and find the tree that provides you with the most, for the least amount of inputs on your part.  This tree doesn’t necessarily have to be something you paid a large sum of money for, nor does it have to be particularly showy.   When you find this tree, plant as many of them as you can.

Like choosing animal breeds or species, you want the ones that thrive in the normal conditions that you have.  Make a list of truthful attributes (this works for animals and plants) and choose the one with the most.

A tree that thrives here with no extra care whatsoever and is planted by Steller’s Jays and Douglas squirrel, is the chestnut.  The variety we have is Chinese chestnut which over the years has morphed into a hybrid of Chinese and American Chestnut.

Chestnuts have always been part of my landscape, I rarely paid any attention to them, unless they were in the way of a fence, or we sought refuge underneath in the hot summer days of hay hauling.  Most of the time they were just there, only being noticed when we would eat the nuts green before drying.  Gradually though, we began to take notice when we started compiling our mental list of why we liked these trees.  Actually, we use these trees more than we realized.  I have clay ashtray my sister made in grade school, it used a chestnut leaf as a form.  Glazed and fired, it is beautiful and it’s been a long time since it had ashes in it.  Can you imagine teaching public school kids to make ashtrays for gifts these days?    I included a chestnut in a friend’s embroidered quilt.  So really, while I really identify myself with the stately Douglas fir that surrounds me, the Chestnut has crept in and become just as important in different ways.


Nuts come to mind first.  These two 50′ wildings near our corral, bear nuts every year.  Most of the time the burrs have 3 good sized nuts in them, depending on pollination and rainfall.  Notice the one on the right is green and doesn’t appear to be in bloom  –  that’s because it bloomed earlier and therefore it’s crop is ready sooner.  I’m saving seed from this tree. 

We have chestnut trees everywhere, the original is in our yard, and is barely alive anymore, at 120+ years it is now shaded out by Douglas fir and is ailing, but it has many descendants in our woods and hedgerows.  These trees provide pollen for many insects and nutritious nut meats for birds and wildlife.  Not to mention shade, and protein rich browse for our cattle.  We share in this bounty too, there always seems like enough to go around.   
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Firewood comes to mind next.  These trees are fast growing and are easily coppiced, or can be grown for lumber also.  This firewood is from seedlings that had grown up near the house, that needed to come out.  We also needed to make gate repairs.  These few saplings yielded enough wood for two gates, and a small bunch of firewood, for the cookstove.  Wood is our only heat source, so every little bit counts.  Two or three of these smaller rounds will burn for hours, at a nice steady pace and slow cook a great stew.

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 This is bowl a friend made for us out of piece of our chestnut firewood.
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You can use the forked pieces, for supporting fruit laden tree limbs or bushes.

Here are the gate sticks for our $2.00 gates.
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We have gates of all sizes, and widths.  Some come from the farm store, but most are homemade homestead farm and ranch gates.  These types of gates can be made out of scraps of wire left over from fence building, and hardwoods found on the farm.   This is our favorite kind of gate, because they can be opened easily in the snow.  There is nothing worse than trying to open a gate in a hurry, and suddenly it is no longer a gate, but a human powered snow plow. 

These light weight gates also don’t require the heavy duty bracing that a hung gate requires, and can be made to fit anywhere.  Gates made out of metal require a level area or you will have too big of gap underneath.  Cattle will put their head down and plow under a gate before they try to jump over a gate.  DH and DD built two gates this past weekend, in one afternoon.  One was 18′ feet, and the other was only 12′, because it is between the two chestnuts pictured above.

Supply list:
♣  Old gate that needs rebuilding.  Once we have a gate made, we just continue to use the wire, it lasts for years.

♣  5′ GREEN hardwood sticks, we use vine maple, hazel, or chestnut.  Any strong hardwood that grows naturally in your area will work.  Alder and Big Leaf Maple rot too fast, so don’t make good candidates.  They MUST be green, or you won’t be able to pound in the fence staples.  Don’t cut them until you are really ready to do this project. A log or tree is in any size is stronger in its original form, than a sawn board of the same dimension.  So this type of gate will not be as strong if you use a 2″ x 2″ from Lowes.
 
♣  New fence staples, this is the only cash outlay we have on these gates.  The gates last about 5 years, depending on how many times you run over them, when they are open and lying on the ground. 😉

♣ If you are buying wire for these gates, you will need 5 strands about 4′ longer than the gate span.  Plus, another 20′ for hinges and keepers at the latch end.   Smooth wire is only necessary for the top wire on the latch end.  This is where you will be handling the wire all the time to open and shut the gate.  Even though I said necessary, it isn’t, most of ours are barb wire.

First, you dismantle the old gate, and save the wire.  Using wire for the hinges, make three hinges.  Top, middle, and bottom.  The hinge is just wire wrapped and secured with staple on the fence post you are building off of.   Make the loop large enough for a gap between the stick and the post, to allow some movement for opening and closing the gate.

Put on the bottom wire, and twist and staple on hinge end.  Note the wire hinge on the bottom.
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On the latch end, you will make two loops of wire, one on the top and one on the bottom to act as keepers.  Use smooth berry wire for the top, if you want, this will be the loop that you use to open and close the gate.  Most of ours are barb wire, and even handling these everyday, I never get cut or even poked.  But, I understand barb wire puts a lot of people off, so use what ever you want.

Make the loops the same on the latch end.   Wrapped and stapled.  If you use a claw hammer, you can get the wire tight.  If you look closely you can see the wire loop in the grass at the bottom of the stick.  Again you need a gap. 
 

 Using the stick as a fulcrum allows you to get the wire tight.  Ditto for the twist.  You want this as tight as you can get it.  

 Twisted and stapled.  The staples are necessary to hold the wire in place.  Eventually, the wood dries and shrinks and the wire can slip off.  Note the green bark. 
Next, do the top wire the same, except the staple on the latch end, you may have to adjust the tension. Do the three middle wires the same.  At this point, you have the latch end and hinge end sticks in only.  All can be stapled except the top latch end.  Close the gate and check to see if you need to adjust the top wire.  Ladies, this is where you come in, make sure you can open and close these gates, the men tend to make them too tight.  So make yourself available for the test closing, or build them yourself.  It takes upper body strength to open and close these gates.  If the gate looks tight enough, and is easy to close and open, space out the remaining sticks and staple in place.  If it is a high traffic area, where your livestock will tend to push the fence, put in more sticks.  Cattle push fence for many reasons, sometimes it is just to be with the herd, if they are separated.   These two gates DH just built are within 75 feet of each other, and one needs to be very sturdy and the other is basically a suggestion.  This all has to do with how the cows are rotated and separated in this particular area.  One gate they won’t even look at and can’t get a run at, the other is down a slight hill and most likely will have cows on the other side, making it quite attractive for pushing through or jumping.  Learn your livestock’s habits, it will save you a lot of work.

 

 Stapled.  The wood split a little, but as this dries the staple will really bite in, and will be hard to get out even when the wood is almost rotten.  (In about 5 years.)

Here is the 18′ gate, with more sticks than we normally use.  This gate has to keep Henry on one side and the young ladies on the other.  I may just run a temporary hot wire about 3 feet from gate.  The bulls we’ve had have always respected the fence, so the wire will go on the girls side. 

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 The gate between the two chestnut trees.  Even though this gate is very close to the other and in the same small paddock, the cows will just stand there and look at it.  They never try to go through it. 
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This is a keeper made out of a scrap of barb wire, for when the gate is left open.  In this particular place there isn’t any room to lay the gate on the ground and keep it out of harms way (pickup tires.)

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Opening gate.  Push towards the post with your right hand and pull off the loop with your left.  Some of our gates are right or left handed, depending on which way we want them to swing open, so you have to be able to do this with either hand.  With green wood the gate will be heavy at first, but as the wood cures, it will become lightweight.  This weight will also stretch the wire a bit, so the gate will get more slack in it as time goes by.

To close, insert the gate in the  bottom loop and…
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secure the top loop.

 

The gate latch in the pictures below, is the latch that is on the gate going into our pastures, from the county road.  I have yet to see anyone open or close it the right way at first.  So we can tell if someone has been in our pasture just by looking at the gate.  We have had metal thieves, campers, cyclists, berry pickers, and equestrians just open our gates and enter at will.  This one is 100′ feet from our house, and in plain sight, our dogs bark if anyone enters – but people still do it anyway, and are usually quite miffed when asked to leave.  However, we are liable if they get hurt while on our property, whether they have permission to be there or not.  So we always ask them to leave.

My least favorite job is opening and closing gates, sometimes just to get to one place, we are opening 3 or 4 gates and closing them behind us.  Then doing the same to get back out of the pastures.  Remember, always leave a gate like you found it.  If it’s open, leave it open, it it was closed, close it after you go through.  This is if your visiting someones farm, or helping a spouse.  If you’re trespassing, you won’t listen to this advice anyway, and the landowner will know you are there.

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This hinge works great, with an attached handle, when pulled back over center to close, it tightens up the gate very well.

Wild bovine testing gate.
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14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2008 1:25 pm

    Beautiful trees! And you build terrific gates too!

  2. August 8, 2008 1:28 pm

    What a great post! A nut tree or two is something I really want to add to our property. All the other uses are so good too.

    We tend to be cobblers here more often than not. We even keep little “stashes” of things like hinges, varios odds & ends for just these kinds of projects. Its so much handier and cheaper than running to the hardware store…

  3. August 8, 2008 3:23 pm

    Thanks for another great post. I was just reading up on Chestnut culture this morning after thinking about what trees would be good multipurpose, minimal effort trees for a small farm project. I helped put the holes in the ground this spring for about thirty chestnuts that Michael Ableman was planting up on Salt Spring Island for his kids, seeing as how they take up to 15 years to come into full production. According to my reading this morning they’ve been cultivated for over 5000 years, no wonder with all the uses.

  4. August 8, 2008 5:41 pm

    I’ll say men make gates way too tight! We don’t have any tree comparable to your chestnut. We use to use a lot of diamond willow for gate sticks and even pickets in a fence. They’ll last for years.

  5. August 8, 2008 6:30 pm

    The photography in this post is just wonderful. I love that opening photo, the one with the honeybee (because you know I love those little pollinators), the hinge shot that shows the old rings in the wood, the one with your house in the background, and, of course, the bovine (I can’t help it, I like those four legged beasts!).

    Your how to posts are so informative and the step by step photos are great. I love the tree info; we just trimmed down two of our vine maples and hubbyman loves to use them as firewood … they burn hot yet slow in our fireplace.

    So, bovines try to go under the fence! I always see them congregating along the fences, perhaps they really are talking among themselves like The Far Side Cartoons suggest. I hadn’t considered the weight of the gate and dealing with snow. Also, the twisting of the barbed wire, to this city girl, seems like it would be tough to do. (Loved the fulcrum reference — gotta love those simple machines.) I’d need a pair of pliers and a retractable third arm/hand to get the job done.

  6. August 8, 2008 7:42 pm

    How does that saying go? Necessity is the mother of invention. Great gate!! I’ll have to remember that in case we ever need to do that in a pinch.

    We have black walnut trees, though we don’t eat the nuts. The shells are very hard and by the time we have cracked them, there is very little meat for all that work. tasty, though.

    I’ll have to see if chestnuts can be planted where we are.

  7. August 9, 2008 2:25 am

    Great post especially about gates. I will have John read this one. He is real good at making use of what we have here on the farm.

  8. August 9, 2008 11:54 am

    I’m not sure if the walnuts or the sugar maples will be awarded MVP, but I’m guessing it’s between those two.

    Thanks for the gate lesson, I’ve bookmarked it for future reference!

  9. August 10, 2008 1:11 pm

    I love this post. The pictures are incredible!

    Are you familiar with Maryjane’s Farmgirl Connection? It’s a website and forum for people who enjoy being self-sufficient and most of them are organic farmers.

    The Maryjane people didn’t like me because we don’t farm organically. They would delete my posts (my blog name was in my signature line) if I’d blogged about spreading fertilizer or something that day. 😦 But I bet they’d LOVE you!!

  10. August 10, 2008 3:03 pm

    I’ve been lurking around for a while and just taking in all the amazing pictures and information. Your writing and your life fills me with such peace. My time here is always well spent.

    Blessings and thanks for another terrific post!

    Lacy

    RazorFamilyFarms.com

  11. August 10, 2008 8:44 pm

    I love the gate and the hinge. That is something that I could sure use in my pasture. Thanks for the idea and the GREAT pictures.

    Chris

  12. August 10, 2008 10:42 pm

    Threecollie, thanks, and I can’t take credit for these recent gates. Good ‘ol DH.

    Kathie, chestnuts are delicious, we eat them green mostly, crunchy, sweet and habit forming.

    I know what you mean about cobbling, we have stashes of all kinds of stuff, you never know when some of that will come in handy, and we live too far from the store.

    Josh, that’s great you helped plant those trees, they are such beautiful trees. When you go back, you will probably be surprised how much they have grown. I’m not surprised they have been revered for 5000 years, they are very useful.

    Linda, luckily he’s nursing a sore shoulder, or that gate would be a killer, but they turned out perfect, not too tight and not too loose, and kept the cows in to boot.

    Willows are kind of shy around here, do you have to go the river to get them, or do they come up around creeks, too?

    Paula, thanks for the photo compliments, the kid takes most of them, I took the one of the blueberries with the dog sneaking in to grab a morsel.

    I love our “vineys,” they have the best fall colors of all the deciduous trees that grow here. That’s usually what we use for gates, but these chestnuts had to go.

    You would be surprised how crafty cattle are about fencing. It’s funny you should mention Gary Larson, I wish he would come back out of retirement. He was right on, with cattle and dogs. My favorite was the one with the cows as dinosaurs, “65 millions years ago, when cows ruled the earth!”

    You could twist that barb wire, it’s easier than it looks, the secret is having good wire, if it tries to slap you, then you know it has life in it and is good wire!

    Jenny, you’re right on that saying, these cheap gates are perfect. We do have to buy some though, but each place that needs a gate has different applications, so we build them if we can, because heavy duty gates are very expensive.

    Yum, black walnuts are tasty, but very good. We have one old tree, but it doesn’t bear much and the squirrels get there is. Can you grow pecans?

    Kim, thanks, you might find you can have gates like this in your pastures. It’s a good way to save money.

    Hayden, sugar maples sound too good to use for gate sticks. But, maybe that is because they don’t grow around here. I would love to be able to make our own syrup.

    CottonWife, Thanks, someone sent me MaryJanes magazine, but it seemed to “fluffy” to me. That’s terrible they would delete your posts. I like reading about your farm and the crops you grow, not everybody has to be an organic farmer. I had a comment deleted yesterday on someones site, so oh well. I find your farm interesting, and your photos are great. At least your family is still farming and not planting subdivisions.

    Lacy, thanks, your new website looks great – I can’t get 100% lye anymore at the store, I have to special order it from a soapmaking company. Are you able to buy your lye from the store?

    Chris, thanks, you could scavenge those materials, and have new gates in nothing flat.

  13. August 12, 2008 11:06 pm

    I grew up with those kinds of gates. You did a great gate tutorial. I don’t think we have chestnut trees here but there are plenty of other kinds to use.

  14. Steve permalink
    October 13, 2013 6:53 am

    Great explanation on the gates. My father worked with a water district and he always loved when brother and I could go to work with him. Our job was to open and close gates, and there were some I as a boy couldn’t close. I do like the “hinges” gates and will have to try one.

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