Protecting Fruit Trees and Bushes from Birds
Having lavished months of care and devotion upon your fruit bushes, nothing is more exasperating than to see birds gorging themselves on your just-ripening crops.
The problem is on the increase, since less soft fruit is grown nowadays than a few years ago.
It is of little use to erect scarecrows, or sticks bearing rattling lengths of silver foil. Within a short time, the birds will get used to them and the deterrent effect will be lost.
One measure worth taking is to place pans of water near the bushes in hot weather. There is no doubt that thirst adds to the birds’ determination to get at the fruit. But the only real protection is some kind of netting enclosure.
If you have only a few canes or plants, it is hardly worth building a permanent fruit cage around them. Protect them instead with a cheaper, temporary structure which can be easily removed at the end of the fruiting season.
This is most economically achieved by using ½—¾ in. (12-20 mm) plastic netting supported on stakes or canes. To prevent the mesh tearing, cover the tops of the sticks with inverted jam-jars or fish-paste pots, choosing jars to suit the diameter of the posts.
Even when firmly seated in the soil, the sticks should be long enough to support the netting well above the tops of the plants or bushes you wish to protect. Allow for the plants growing taller during the season.
Insert the canes or stakes in the ground no more than 4 ft (1.2 m) apart, and put the jam-jars on top. Peg the netting along one side of the plants, then carry the other edge up and over the stakes. Pull the netting taut so that it rides clear of the top of the plants, and peg it down firmly all round —including an overhang at each end of the structure.
Firm pegging is particularly important, since blackbirds and thrushes generally look for an entrance at ground level.
Protecting wall fruit
Loganberries and blackberries, as well as peaches, nectarines, apricots and other fruits grown against a fence or wall, also require protection.
This is best provided by fixing a 2 x 1in (50 x 25 mm) batten along the wall above the tops of the fruit trees or canes.
Stud the upper edge of the batten with smallspaced not more than 6in (150 mm) apart and hook the upper edge of the netting on to them. Bring the lower edge forward and pass it over stakes set in the ground in front of the trees or canes.
These forward supports need only be high enough to keep the netting clear of the fruit when pulled taut and pegged down at the front and ends.
Remove the netting as soon as the fruits are harvested.
These succulent fruits are a favourite target for almost every bird in the neighbourhood, and you have little hope of keeping many for yourself unless you protect the plants.
Many gardeners simply spread nets over them, but this is quite useless. The birds sit on the mesh and peck the berries through it as it sinks beneath their weight. In addition, some fruits always grow through the mesh and it is difficult to avoid pulling them off when lifting the net during picking.
The answer is to construct a temporary fruit cage by placing jar-capped canes around the perimeter of the bed and drawing the net tightly over them. A height of 2 ft (610 mm) is sufficient, but if the bed is a wide one it may be necessary to install one or more intermediate rows of supports to prevent the net sagging on to the strawberry plants.
The ideal, though rather more expensive, way of protecting your soft fruit against birds is by constructing a permanent fruit cage. Its size depends on how much space you are prepared to allocate to soft-fruit growing; but an area of, say, 20 x 15 ft (6 x 4.5 m) or more, would probably justify the building of a permanent enclosure — perhaps against a wall.
To make the best use of it, plant your bushes or canes as close together as you can without overcrowding. Expense can also be saved by using plastic or nylon mesh for the walls of the cage rather than the more traditional wire netting.
Support the netting on posts spaced no more than 6 ft (1.8 m) apart. In order to give plenty of headroom, the tops of the posts should be 6 ft from the ground, but allow an additional 2 ft (610 mm) to give a firm footing in the soil.
Long life for the cage is assured by using 2 x 2in (50 x 50 mm) pressure-treated timber for intermediate posts, with 3 x 2in (75 x 50 mm) braced posts at the corners. Alternatively, use metal piping. Link the tops of the posts with heavy-duty wire — 12-14 s.w.g. — stretched taut.
Further wires stretched from side to side across the cage should be enough to keep the roof netting from sagging unless the cage is wider than 18 ft (5.4 m), when an additional row of supports up the centre is advisable.
Lay plastic or nylon netting over the roof and take it down the sides to the ground. Fix the net to the posts with brass hooks and peg the bottom firmly to the ground, or secure with bricks or large stones.
If there is a risk of bullfinches stripping the dormant fruit buds during the winter, leave the netting up throughout the year. Shake snow off as necessary, otherwise a heavy accumulation may cause the entire structure to collapse or be distorted.