STIHL & Two Thirsty Gardeners

This month, we’re excited to welcome our new guest bloggers Rich and Nick; the Two Thirsty Gardeners.

We’re heading towards mid-March and large parts of the country are still counting the cost of garden damage caused by Storm Doris, February’s destructive – yet comically named – ‘weather bomb’ which brought with it 90mph gusts, snow, and lashing rain. Our allotment got off relatively unscathed – the shed (and attached guttering) held firm, plastic buckets and watering cans have been accounted for and, most importantly, all five cider apple trees are still standing upright. The only damage was caused by an airborne plastic composting bin, which took off in the high winds and careered about the plot, taking with it a few emerging stalks from our prized Timperley Early rhubarb.
My neighbour wasn’t so lucky. Doris had a field day, seizing upon his rickety fence and flattening it on top of his prize winning parsnips. Those parsnips may never recover but, with a bit of handiwork, the fence should be relatively easy to rectify.

Here’s how to repair a storm damaged fence post.

1. Remove any broken panels.
In strong winds, fence panels act like wooden sails, putting pressure on the posts that support them. In the majority of cases it’s the fence posts that will fail – rather than the panels – with rot at their bases the likely cause of their weakness. There’s a good chance that the panels themselves are salvageable, so give them a once over before consigning any that are beyond repair to the bonfire. If you do need to replace them, buy like for like, and buy weather treated panels if you can.

2. Remove the fence post
Extract the buckled post, like a dentist would pull a bad tooth. Rock the post back and forth to wrest it from the earth before attempting to lift it. Soaking the surrounding soil with a hose should make things easier, but if you’ve got a particularly stubborn post to remove, try deploying a hydraulic floor jack. Screw a block of wood to the side of the offending post, roll your jack underneath, and crank the handle. Posts that have snapped at or below ground level are a bit trickier to deal with. Try jemmying out the broken remains and, if all else fails, fetch your spade and start digging.

3. Dig a hole
If you need to dig any post holes afresh it’s worth considering getting your hands on an auger. These labour saving devices will create neat, perfectly excavated holes in a jiffy, saving you time and energy. Larger, two-man machines are available at a price, but Stihl’s BT 131 Professional single-operator earth auger should do the trick – just make sure you are fully aware of any underground mains supplies in the area in which you are excavating before setting one of these to work. For maximum stability, fence posts need to be sunk into the earth by at least two feet, and remember to dig your hole a tad wider than your posts, to make room for the concrete.

4. Prepare your posts
Ensure your replacement posts have been treated against rot. If they haven’t, douse them liberally with multiple coats of wood preservative, and if you’ve you’ve bought treated posts that required sawing to size, remember to treat the sawn off ends before proceeding.

5. Prepare your hole and insert the post
Fill the hole with a couple of inches of gravel and tamp it down. This will help with drainage, preventing the base of your post from sitting in water during wet spells. Wet plus wood equals rot. Wind plus rot equals flat fence, and back to square one.
Lower your post into the hole and use a spirit level to ensure it sits ramrod straight. Unless you have an assistant at hand, who is willing to hold your post in position until the concrete sets firm, it’s a good idea to brace the post with a couple of wooden battens to keep things stable.

5. Fix into place
Use postcrete for best results. This ready mixed, fast setting concrete is just the ticket for speedy fence construction. There are a couple of ways to tackle this – either fill the hole half full with water, then pour the dry mix into the hole, or fill with dry mix, tamp down, then pour water on top. If in doubt, follow the instructions on the back of the postcrete packet. Before your concrete sets, trowel up a small hillock at the base of the post, so that rainwater drains away from the seat of your post.

6. Put up the panels and admire your work.
With posts in place you’re now ready to re-fix the panels according to the method used on those still standing – just make sure any screws or nails are galvanised for outdoor use. Continue to keep an eye on your fence over the coming years. If you can spot a rotten timber before Doris’s sisters get to work then at least you can replace them before the adjacent plants get flattened.

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