How to protect your berries from marauding squirrels and birds

Each day I head outside I am trying to grow food for our family consumption. I am not growing it for the squirrels and birds (wild or kept). Over the years, I have tried a variety of techniques to keep some amount for our harvest. My attempts have been as varied as erecting scarecrows, to hanging tin pie plates, to sprinkling predator urine near the plants. None of which has worked well for my little urban plot. I’ve reached the most success with various caging for our food crops. That said, a lot of it has been hit or miss. Slowly over the years, I have devised tailored solutions for different foods/beds. This year, I have come closest to hitting the sweet spot for most of our crops.

Not surprisingly, I have a lot to say on this topic. So in this post, I’m going to start with how I protect my berries. I have different approaches for my small blueberry bushes and strawberries versus my caning berries – the blackberries and raspberries. In a follow up post, I’ll talk about tomatoes and fruit trees and other veg that I’ve had to protect.

Before I tell you what I have found works for us, these are the criteria I strive to meet:

  • We humans get most of the food
  • I have reasonably easy access to harvest the food
  • If it is for a rotating crops, I can put up the cage and take it down fairly easily and easily store it
  • The cage is either actually attractive (preferred) in the landscape or at a minimum is not visually jarring; and
  • Minimize cost and materials.

This is what is working best for us to protect our berries:

Strawberries and Blueberry Bushes: I have a 4‘ x 8‘ bed with three blueberry bushes (about 2 years old) underlain with strawberries. In a few ways this is probably our easiest bed to protect. I have easy access on the long side to this bed as it abuts our *ahem* lawn.

In early to mid spring I stick 8, 2-foot lengths of small bamboo stakes paired across from one another about 2 feet apart. I push those canes into the earth as far as I can get them to go (between 8-12 inches). That usually leaves enough of a sturdy stick sticking out of the ground that the PVC pipe can simply side over. Then, I connect each pairing with a curved PVC pipe across the short width of the bed. Once that basic frame is place in, I cover the whole thing with bird netting and hold the netting down with metal ground staples. When I want to harvest berries I just pull out the ground staples and pick berries.

I usually just leave the cover on during the harvesting season. I remove the PVC pipes, bamboo canes, bird netting and staples when harvesting is over. I also keep a short garden fence up to keep the chickens out of the bed for the rest of the year. This is fairly low maintenance. It takes very little time to set up and take down. Also, when not in use, it doesn’t take up much room in the shed. The only drawback is I have to kneel and pull up the ground stakes to harvest the berries, and I don’t particularly like the whiteness of the PVC pipes. I may end up painting them. But overall, it works great, is very inexpensive and can be used anywhere with similar conditions.

Caning Berries: For our blackberries and raspberries, I have found that a permanent cage system works best. About five years ago my dad offered me my mom’s old canopy tent. My mom, who was an author, would use it when she went to bookselling events. I didn’t need a tent. But I quickly realized I could essentially upcycle the metal frame by placing it over my raspberry bed and covering it with bird netting. There are a couple of cool things I like about this solution. It generally looks very nice in the garden. Also, because our property has so much grade, the back of the bed is higher than the front and the adjustable legs let me account for the grade differences. The two primary challenges have been about access to the berries and keeping the birds out of it.

To keep the birds out, I custom made a cover from bird netting. Because the bed is a little shorter than 12 feet, I dropped the netting at about 8 feet. I did my best to minimize cuts that would need to be mended together but where there were seams, I essentially sewed the bird netting together with fishing twine. And each year, I need to check regularly for new holes. All of the netting is secured to the ground with ground staples.

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Access for harvesting was trickier. I made a horizontal 2 foot cut at about six feet from the ground and at the end made a straight cut down to the ground. To manage this floppy door opening, I lined both birdnetting edges with double face black outdoor grade duct tape. Then I lined the whole opening with sticky tape Velcro.

It’s been mostly working for the last three or four years. And it still looks attractive in the garden. Generally by later in the season a bird figures out how to get in. But by then, I’m usually pretty satisfied with what we got and I am ok sharing.

In my next post, I’ll cover what to do for tomatoes (and likely peas next year) and the plan for our fruit trees.

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