Berries and cream

Sweet, tasty berries are like magnets to humans, birds and, in my case, dogs. Our two terriers, Webster and Stella, love fresh, ripe, sweet strawberries just as much as I do.

In our old garden, I had a large berry house, constructed out of a simple timber frame covered with white bird netting. This kept both the feathered and furry pests away from my bounty. So it was easy for me to harvest and enjoy my raspberries, strawberries and tayberries with cream. Now, in our new garden, I am starting from scratch and it’s a different story altogether. We are in the process of resurrecting what was a large strawberry patch. The previous owner took her very fancy, purpose-built strawberry cage with her (I don’t blame her, it was magnificent). The downside is that I am now battling with birds, four-legged thieves and the odd visitor helping themselves to my crop. 

The patch is about 3m sq. To the soil I have added two bags of sheep pellets, 24 new strawberry plants – varieties include ‘Pajaro’, ‘Strawberry Sundae’ and ‘Chandler’, the latter because it crops reliably even in wet summers – one bag of strawberry fertiliser and Saturaid, a granular soil wetter made from coir and other non-toxic ingredients. I think Saturaid, which channels water to the root zone where it is needed most, has been the key to re-establishing this old bed. The soil was bone dry, pale and barren looking its water-holding capacity was nil. It needed a serious makeover. Blending in the Saturaid has enabled the soil to hold on to more moisture for longer and allows the plants to take up nutrients rapidly the only glitch is that the weeds are just as quick to take up on the free food and water as the berries are.

After the hard work was done, the main job was then to cover up the crop. As a temporary solution, I invested in store-bought blackbird netting and for less than $15, I was in business. It has been stretched out to cover the whole patch. I have attached it to a series of stakes and used some old flower hoops as well in the middle so that at its highest points, it’s sitting about 50cm above the berries. It doesn’t need to be this high because as long as it sits up about 20cm above the berries, it’s high enough to keep the birds at bay. I was eyeing up old net curtains and some chicken wire as well but this quick option will see me through this season.

My poor dog Stella was fooled by the netting for a few days. As it’s stretched quite tight, it’s hard to see so she went bounding into the berry bed chasing a blackbird and got caught up in the netting. She hasn’t been near it since, bless her. 

Bird and pet watch

Netting: Black, white or green, they all seem to work just the same. Secure or attach netting to pegs (tent pegs are good), bamboo stakes or stack bricks about three high and put the netting under the second brick. Use anything that is easy to undo as you don’t want to make it too hard for yourself to get in and harvest the berries.

Tunnels: These are excellent if you have your berries growing in straight rows less than 25cm apart. A Haxnicks tunnel will cover two rows.

Tinsel: Hang tinsel over taller berries such as boysenberries, blackberries, gooseberries and currants. The thorns on gooseberries are enough to deter the dogs but they don’t seem to be enough to keep the tenacious blackbirds at bay.

Sound: Some birds are frightened by certain sounds. In orchards, bird-scaring machines that sound like a shotgun blast are commonly used but these are not an ideal option for the home garden (not unless you fancy a visit from the armed offenders squad). Metal wind chimes deter some birds, the louder the better.

Scarecrow: An oldie worth a try. I suggest combining some tinsel or something else with movement to create a more lifelike structure.