Friday, 12 May 2017

Recycle to Protect Your Allotment Crops or Garden Fruit and Veg

Green Fingered BlogIf you are growing your own on a budget, either in a vegetable patch in your garden, or on an allotment, then here is an example of how to support and protect your crops without spending too much, by recycling whatever you have lying around.

If you are growing fruit or veg, or both,  you will probably at some point have experienced the frustration and dismay of arriving to check on your crops to find they've been damaged, spoiled or pinched by some unknown intruder. You may not even know for sure who or what it was that helped themselves to your produce. Often the culprit will have committed their crime while you were tucked up in bed. If your plot is an allotment, then you might only be there for a few hours a week, leaving plenty of time and opportunity for a number of creatures to deprive you of the fruits (and veggies) of your labour.

When young plants are ravaged by slugs and snails, there is at least a slimy silver trail to identify the culprits and enabling you to tackle them. If you have managed to keep the slugs and snails and insects from eating your plants when they are young and vulnerable, congratulations, but don't get too complacent. As they start to produce flowers, fruit, and mature stems or leaves ready for you to eat, they become a temptation to larger and cleverer animals. It could be birds, rabbits, mice, foxes or squirrels, and they may be after your onions, carrots, cabbages, lettuce, peas, beans, berries, grapes or whatever else you are growing. Basically if you think its tasty, something else will too.

Garden centres are filled with a wide range of items to keep the predators off your produce.  There are all sorts of plant supports or cage structures, with a wide range of methods to connect them together and to attach mesh, netting or fleece. There are hoops, canes, wires and pegs. So you could spend a small fortune to make sure your plot makes it onto your plate, and our paranoia often makes us succumb and with good reason. I have had carrot and parsnip seedlings disappear overnight, onion shoots and pea shoots munched, and strawberries eaten, without permission, by culprits unseen!

GREEN FINGERS TIP
GREEN FINGERS TIP: Don't net your crops too early. Many will need pollinating to produce a crop. You will want a net or mesh to stop birds or small mammals getting in, but if the gaps are small to stop insects getting through too, then wait until fruit is actually forming before putting them in place. This is why I want a permanent structure to which the nets can be attached fairly quickly and easily.

So as my allotment has developed over the last couple of years, I have been looking for a way of protecting my fruit and veg from predators. I've been given, and bought, several types of netting system. Some work, but some make it difficult to reach the plot to weed it, or to pick things when they're ready. Regularly removing and replacing netting is not easy or fun, so once it's in place it needs to stay there but still allow access. What I need, I decided is a way of covering crops completely, potentially to a good height (for beans/peas etc) in a way where I could still get inside to weed, and to pick them.
 
A six foot high cage to enclose the whole plot would be rather expensive, and I try whenever I can to avoid spending lots of money on mass produced, unsustainably made, plastic equipment, and find a solution from what is already lying around unused. So this is what I have come up with...


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Each quadrant has a post in each corner
I have a rotation system going on the allotment. There are 4 rectangular beds around a cross shaped pathway. My intention is to have a semi permanent structure around each bed so that whichever crop is in each bed it can be protected when necessary. Nets can be high enough that I can get inside each one to manage the bed and pick the produce. I want the structure to last a few years, but be able to adjust it if necessary, so it will not be concreted in, just dug and hammered in.   




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Fruit cage is tall enough to get inside to pick them!
I've bought the netting and mesh I am using, but the structure has cost nothing. All the posts are parts of either a dismantled broken bed, or the warped, worn out snooker table that I spent a large part of my childhood playing on. (I still wasn't quite emotionally ready to dispose of all of it completely!) Here's how I put it together:

  
 
 
 
  • In each corner of each bed, dig a hole, just wide enough for the post, about 9 inches deep.
  • Drop one end of the post into the hole.
  • Hammer it down a bit further with a rubber headed mallet.
  • Heel in the earth all around until it feels fairly secure.
  • Bang in a nail at the top of each post.
  • Hang the net or mesh over the nail.
  • Nail the bottom of the net or mesh to the bottom of the post, or use pegs to secure it to the ground.
  • Make sure to wrap the net round the corners and overlap where two pieces of netting meet. This avoids gaps remaining.
  • Add some canes or sticks in between the main posts and hang the net over the top of them for extra support. 
  • At a suitable time, spread out another net for the roof and hang this over each post, over the nails at the corners, and tying to the side nets to stretch out and close any gaps.  
After this you should be able to unhook the net from a nail at one end, in order to get inside when you need to. If you are just supporting crops like peas or beans, rather than enclosing them completely, the same method can be used, you just stretch the lengths of twine or pea netting between your posts rather than all round the plot. If you don't have an old bed or snooker table, then any lengths of wood can be used, as can old washing lines, scaffolding poles, or anything else. I have used spare weed control fabric in the past instead of mesh, to keep carrot fly away. In the picture below you can see the remains of an old mini greenhouse frame used to support netting to keep pigeons off the carrot seedlings, rather than net across the top as I have done for the strawberries. 
 
More from the allotment again soon, and more recycling ideas to come too. If you have some great recycles of your own, please share them using the comments box, or via my facebook page, I'd love to read more examples of giving things a second life on the allotment, or in the garden. 
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Me and my carrot fly-proof enclosure, and strawberry cage behind



2 comments:

  1. The Propagator5/13/2017 8:34 am

    Excellent bodging. Noble and worthy sacrifice on the part of your snooker table. I had a mesh delivered yesterday. I have a fruit cage arrangement in mind, although I was not planning to extend to the veg. Next year perhaps. It's a race against time, pesky birds always get the majority of the red gooseberries...

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    1. Hi, thanks for commenting. I always cover young veg plants as they feel very vulnerable to anything that takes a fancy to them, mainly pigeons round here I think. carrots seedlings and young onion shoots often seen to get nibbled! I was unsure whether to cover the peas though, but only yesterday was reading how much pigeons love both the foliage and pods, so I think I will cover that quadrant fully just to be on the safe side.

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