Until a few decades ago, our landscape was full of hedges that divided the cultivated fields. Often they were a dividing line between one property and another, but not only: the hedge has many ecological functions that help the success of our harvest.
The use of hedges around the vegetable garden or cultivated field is a practice that has fallen into disuse, partly to facilitate the action of mechanical means, partly to control the fauna and microfauna of our field. Those who want to do organic farming, however, must know that these are not real advantages.
The biodiversity of the environment in which it is grown is very important in creating a healthy and stable ecosystem, less prone to disease and pest infestation, the hedge is very important in this.
Usually a good hedge is made up of shrub or arboreal-shrubby species that have the characteristic of being "rustic" plants, that is, resistant to very hot or very low temperatures and able to bear cuts well. Evergreen plants are preferred but they can also be deciduous.
Covering the entire perimeter of a field with a hedge can have a considerable cost, especially if we intend to transplant already large shrubs purchased at the nursery. As we will see, the natural hedge is an alternative that can reduce costs and reduce work.
Advantages of a hedge for the vegetable garden
As anticipated, the hedge has an important ecological function in allowing the biodiversity of the environment, but it also has a number of other important qualities, it is not a simple demarcation of borders or fences.
- Windbreak action and improvement of the microclimate. Thanks to the foliage of the shrubs, the mechanical action of the wind is limited, creating some shade for the plants adjacent to the hedge and, if we arrange the plants with the right criteria, this can help. Obviously, the smaller the cultivated area, the more influential the presence of the hedge will be.
- Protection from external agents. In some situations, the hedge can intercept pollutants that move with the wind.
- Erosion protection (especially for sloping ground). The roots of shrubs have a great ability to stabilize soils, in particular positioned at the base of a slope they will have an effective action against erosion.
- Biodiversity reservoir. How many times have we said that diversity is a great resource for our crops and guarantees stability to the system. In this the hedge is an extremely positive factor: it is an environment that hosts many living beings of all kinds: useful insects, spiders, but also reptiles and birds that nest there. It can also attract pollinators with its blooms.
- Production. We can also think of a hedge that also has production capacity and can bear fruit. For example, the brambles that make blackberries, elderberries, currants, blueberries, hazelnuts. Or we can think of aromatic hedges, as in the case of laurel, rosemary and lavender.
Create a natural hedge
Making a hedge by buying seedlings in the nursery could be expensive, but all the benefits of the hedge can also be obtained at no cost by simply letting nature take its course and setting up a natural hedge. Natural hedges are composed of plants that have sprung up spontaneously in that particular place. Just take care not to mow the perimeter of our garden or our cultivated field and observe how the vegetation behaves.
The first phase will be thetall grass. The existing species will begin to grow throughout the season, especially the grasses. If the grasses are present in a too persistent way they could felt the surface, suffocating the other plants. In this case, when it will be autumn we could rake the perimeter of tall grass to remove the dry grass.
In any case, the following spring will be able to observe the first arboreal-shrub plants born spontaneously from seed. Some seeds will have arrived with the wind, others will have brought birds and other animals. We can also carry out a sowing ourselves by obtaining seeds of hedge plants, possibly indigenous.
At this point we need to start selecting the most suitable plants for the purpose. We need to thin out the hedge by eliminating shrubs that are too close, perhaps transplanting them where there are empty spaces. We must eliminate trees with an arboreal habit and too fast growing as in the case of poplar and acacia.
Depending on the geographical area, there will be many spontaneous species that will do well, for example in northern Italy they are easily found: privet, hornbeam, elderberry, dogwood, dogwood, rose, honeysuckle, hawthorn, hazel and so on.
An interesting example is the wild bramble: although it is annoying because it is very invasive and for the thorns, it provides a very dense habitat and therefore useful for various animal species, and obviously produces excellent blackberries.
Those who have very large fields could even consider restoring small groves on the edge of the fields using the same method, the greater the area of the wooded surface the greater the advantages for cultivation. Although it is true that the cultivated area will decrease a little, the environment in general will be grateful.
Article written by Giorgio Avanzo.