Birds and Berries

Much discussion today on one of my favourite lists of the difficulty of persuading birds to share the berries you grow for them. You didn’t know that was who you were growing them for? You must be new to fruit growing.

An American friend asked whether owl cut outs will scare them off – well not here they won’t.

Hawk cut outs can work on a field scale but in the garden blackbirds, thrushes and other berry snatchers sneak around under cover of the fruit bushes and munch away. In the end the only solution is to plant enough to share or net. However, one does not wish small birds to get entangled in netting – finding just wings in the netting because predators have taken entangled birds before you could release them is extremely distressing, and cutting holes in the netting to release trapped wings does not make one exactly happy. Another friend mentioned the difficulty of crawling under nets and getting buttons caught in them. This is another problem which I am very familiar with. The best solution is to make sure one constructs a rigid frame, high enough to get into, with a  doorway.At one point we had a frame some 12m square when we were doing small scale commercial growing. The blackbirds found this very handy since they had sole use of all the berries around their nest in a blackcurrant bush.

Quite a bit of our soft fruit is now planted under a disused polytunnel frame. Unfortunately we didn’t clear the nettles and scutch properly before we planted it so at the moment we haven’t bothered to net it but, clearing the weeds and completing the movement of the soft fruit garden to that frame is part of the very long to do list

My experience is that the birds head first for the redcurrants, which they take as soon as they have the first hint of colour, then gooseberries, then black currants, white currants and raspberries about equally. So if I plant enough raspberries they graciously allow me to keep a few of those and the blackcurrants. They didn’t bother to wait for colour to show on the redcurrants this year and ate every berry before I could get the nets out. As I type a thrush is bouncing up and down on the netting of a gooseberry bush close to the house – but ignoring the ripening blackcurrants only four or five feet away. (yes, I know that I said there should be tight netting over a frame but this was a late night job in gathering darkness and I’m going to pick the whole bush at once so I’ll take the net right off for that)

Water is certainly a significant factor – they get it from the fruit, and if I remember to put out plenty of water they do slow down their consumption a little – but only a little. But then we usually have wet summers so  they don’t normally need berries as water sources. I’m certainly putting it out at the moment though. Yippee! summer continues! we’ve had record temperatures this week –  – indeed we’ve nearly got up to 30C occasionally. Only a couple more days before normal July weather returns though.

I only have two blueberry bushes and once again they weren’t pollinated this year because of our insect free spring. In the days before the death of the insects they got eaten by hares before ripening.

In summary

It is possible to plant enough raspberries here to share with the birds if you have sufficient acreage – about 40 square meters gives us enough for all. 14 blackcurrant bushes is just enough to give us each a handful of berries with breakfast for about 80 days of the year, plus a few crumbles through the winter – the birds probably get about four times as much as we do. Six netted huge old gooseberry bushes gives enough for wine and pies. Un-netted they give a few handfuls. A dozen or so red currants, massively laden with berries, give us no ripe berries at all – I need to start new plants somewhere I can net – these are against a boundary fence so the birds come from the other side. It took the birds two years to discover mulberries were edible. We went from 30 lbs three years ago to about three pounds last year despite the fact that the bushes tripled in size and production in that time. They are too big to net

I got a cherry or two last year – now they know about them so although there was a good set this year we wont’ get any.

Discovery is their favourite apple variety. If I was starting again I’d probably get all dwarf trees and put them in a cage and abandon cider making.
No I wouldn’t. I love my big trees and we get quite enough of them for eating and if I can only get some bees we’ll have cider apples again

And now back out to the courtyard while it is shaded by the house to deal with sneaky dandelions that have somehow managed to get established

And to take lots and lots and lots of cuttings of the cottage pinks and lavender. Of which more another day

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