Janet Luke wrote a great column in the NZ Gardener magazine this month about a crop protection netting she is using in her Hawkes Bay garden this season to beat the birds and the bugs. The Biological Husbandry Unit at Lincoln is selling it and I’ve heard good things about it from organic, permaculture inclined readers of the blog.
What made me laugh about Janet’s column was the way she described the devastation wreaked on her garden by armies of feathered and creeping, enemies. I could so relate to that. I’ve never had to garden under cover, but in recent years the list of crops I can grow to harvest-able quality seems to be rapidly declining. Like Janet our spuds, tomatoes and peppers have been decimated by the pysillid. The quails and sparrows strip silver beet to its white ribs like fossilized skeletons and the hares use the bark from the citrus grove as a zesty dental floss after dining on my parsley. What fruit the pukekos don’t make off with, the wasps suck dry. Yes gardening feels like them vs. us at times.
The only pest problems my garden doesn’t have are slugs, snails and cats. And that is because I have lots of beautiful wild birds. They eat the slugs and snails and if I had a cat it would eat the birds and then I’d have lots of slugs and snails and cat scratching. The problem is the birds eat the garden too. Balance is overrated Mother Nature.
I do appreciate you can’t have crops without pests and that if you just keep poisoning the be-Jesus out of them they will adapt and become oblivious to your chemicals (a bit like election campaigning). So what to do? Adapt back at them I say. Giving up is not an option for the serious gardener. I have tried psychology – offering them up something tasty over here so that they will leave alone my crops over there. They just saw that as entree then main.
My sister has big cat problems in her garden patch. Her problem is actually called a big cat called patch who believes the magnificent raised macrocarpa beds with their friable soil are one big dirt box for her to poo in. And every other neighborhood cat is joining the party.
A couple of weeks ago she showed me her latest idea in a long line of cat prevention strategies. The entire raised bed was carpeted with bamboo kebab skewers, pointy end up at bum width intervals (cats bum width). It looked like a bed of nails. Um how are you going to harvest and weed sis without ending up shish kebab’ed? We got closer only to find a few kebab sticks delicately pushed to one side and a nice fresh moggy deposit smiling up at us.
You name it, between our two gardens we have tried most crop protection methods out there. Sprinkling cayenne pepper, painting egg white and acrylic paint on bark, hanging CDs, nailed effigies, scarecrows even a concrete magpie. Granted, the kebab sticks was a low point. Enclosure it seems is the only solution.
If Janet’s netted garden looks like a shroud, mine looks like a bridal show! A friend gave me two rolls of white ex-vineyard netting and everything is getting draped in it.
All well and good but gardening is not a spectator sport and all this cloth needs something to drape on. Preferably something light that you can lift easily to get in and do the act of gardening and harvesting. My sister invested in some fiberglass rods, clips and clamps and a roll of mikroclima knitted polythene crop cover from Polynet Products in Christchurch, who she said were excellent to deal with. The clips let her slide the cloth up the rods for easy access, but she discovered the need to pin down the edges with ground pins at regular intervals when she found Patchy cat enjoying the nice new warm tent over her dirt box.
I tried making a cloche out of some square galvanised mesh I had that was left over from making rabbit guards. It is nice and stiff and light, but you can’t make anything too big or it wibbles around and don’t use your good secateurs to cut it! Cable ties work great to secure the ends on though.
So a few deep fat frying baskets and wire cloches were not going to do the job of covering my garden. I needed to go large and light. Luckily I saw an ingenious invention in a friends garden that is just the trick. So easy to make, so light and portable and you could make it in pretty much any width and height. Here is the plan:
- Get yourself a sheet of concrete reinforcing mesh from Bunnings, (the nice folk there even lent me a trailer to get it home when we discovered my eyes were bigger than my roof-rack).
- Measure the width and height you want your cloche and divide it by 150mm to get the number of squares long to cut (you can get two cloches 7 squares across x 8 squares long x 4 squares deep out of one sheet – I loved lego so this is my kind of project).
- Put your cut length on the ground and stand on it with your feet where you want the top of the side to be and bend it towards you. Do the same on the other side
- Chop the bottom row on each side to create feet to push into the garden
- Secure bird netting or mikroclima on with cable ties
- You can also enclose each end with off-cuts of metal if you want but I’ve just pinned each end down and so far so good.
So bring on the summer growing season. My garden is ready and follow our tomato blog to see how we get on with this net from Lincoln as we battle the pysillids.