The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The conundrum of thieves in the soft fruit cage

rhubarb and fruit cageEarlier this year I built a fruit cage for our raspberry canes. I have since discovered that the metal rods from the giant’s staircase are a bit bendy on a windy day. But this has given me a lot of experience with knots and stabilisers. It’s like being on board ship after a storm. Hauling and heaving and trying to predict how to survive the next choppy sea.

I have another soft fruit border and used to wonder why we have such a poor harvest. Anne Mary gave us superb red currant tarts with melt in the mouth sweet pastry, made from the bounty of her bushes. I didn’t know that unripe berries attract birds, just thought that our bushes were a bit inferior.

Last year I talked to an old boy in the village.
“Once the flowers drop, you need to net your bushes well.”

I flapped about with unsecured nets but these were gossamer thin and tossed aside by birds and wind. This year I bought some sturdy wooden poles and strong netting. I was so early that the poles were being sold at last year’s prices. The border is a good twenty five feet long and an unusual shape as it incorporates the newt pond. But it has the advantage of being south facing and butts onto the chicken run and our neighbours’ warm red brick wash house walls.

It took quite a while to construct a run that would not be bobbing about when the weather got rough. I used the wall to secure the netting at the back and the end of the chicken run meant that I only needed to net the roof and two sides.

Finally it was finished, weeded and secure. For several days I stalked past with pride. Then one morning I was gazing like Silas Marner on my potential harvest and I noticed that there were less berries than I remembered from the day before. Was I going crazy? I checked that all the netting was totally secure.

Then I saw the tell tale skeletons of stalks stripped bare. Just a few.
“Something is eating the soft fruit in the Newt Pond Border.”
Danny looked up from his toast.
“Are you sure that the nets are anchored well?” The floppy raspberry cage has brought out the nautical in us all.
I’d checked them with a magnifying glass that morning.
“What’s eating them? Slugs? Mice?”
“Could it be Fairies?”

The conundrum has continued for several weeks. Having spent so much time constructing this cage I could hardly bear to look at the slight but constant decimation of our harvest. This morning I was pottering in the chicken run and a robin swept down to take some of the seed I’d scattered for the chickens. He then flew through the chicken run netting into the fruit cage. For a few seconds he panicked as he brushed against the fine nets and then he turned and slipped back into the chicken run. After a brief snack he was away.

There might be netting at the end of the chicken run but a three centimetre gauge allows smaller birds easy access to the first class fruit lounge.

I spend my lunch hour securing the end of the chicken run with the sturdy plastic nets that we use on the lawn when it gets muddy in the winter. If anything can get through, it almost deserves to feast on the fruit.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Joanna

    Interesting thought!

    Some raspberries will be available as a few canes have grown outside the nets. We also have a large blackcurrant bush that has self seeded in the middle of the rose border that’s almost impossible to net. So bounty available there. And all the mountain strawberries – Dr Quito is very partial to them.

    But my red and white currants and big strawberries, never!

    Hi Magic Cochin

    Blackbirds have never struck me as caring sharing types!

    Yes, that robin is a canny fellow.

    Hi Sally,

    I planted two cherry trees three years ago. The blossom is so pretty but I’ve never eaten a cherry yet.

    In fact the birds have helpfully dropped some of the stones so we have a seedling morello cherry tree beside the one in the front garden!

    Hi Pat

    You are so lucky to have a good crop of red currants.

    Hi Pamela

    I’m going to try this snake trick. I bet that it works!

    Hi Pat

    I always wondered what those owl shapes were for!

  2. I would forget they were there and go off screaming. I don’t think they are a good idea in my garden. I have heard of folks using owl shapes in their gardens too.

  3. Pamela

    LOL at the idea of soft fruit bushes full of toy snakes! I can just imagaine the looks on unsuspecting visitors’ faces.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Leslie

    This idea is quite brilliant. Can’t wait for the shops to open tomorrow!

    I have some blueberry bushes that always grow through the nets and these would be a great and decorative alternative.

  5. Leslie

    I don’t know why I said “toy baby snakes.” I meant little toy snakes. As opposed to a giant faux python, perhaps. Although that might do the trick as well! (Though a bit hard on the nervous systems of unwary visitorsm perhaps…)

  6. Leslie

    My daughter tried this:

    Get some toy baby snakes. Twine them about the branches especially so the eyes show. Birds avoid, as who wouldn’t. (She tried on high bush blueberries with good results.) Fun to buy the toy snakes, as well.

  7. Fiona, I have noticed the black birds hanging around my red currants and some of the currants are missing!!! We usually have plenty so I won’t begrudge a few to the birds here.

  8. I planted a cherry tree three years ago. So far, I have eaten about four – and they weren’t even ripe. I do enjoy the blossom though.

  9. magic cochin

    I really don’t think the local blackbirds would do “sharing” – given the chance they’d just wooof down the lot while your back’s turned!

    It’s a lesson learnt and not forgotten seeing a redcurrant bush stripped bare of small hard pale green currants. We’re always late to put the nets on so they get their “share” first.

    Pretty clever of that robin to sneak in via the chicken run!


  10. Joanna

    You are SO determined, and so energetic. One of the standard pieces of advice bandied about is to grow enough to share with wildlife, which always seems to me to be tricky unless you own a stately home with gardens to match. Maybe the birds would stop trying to go into your cage if you had one cane outside that they could easily access. Especially worthwhile if it was somewhere you could easily see them. Just a thought


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