Gardening Tips: Fruit cages and supports
Although birds are generally the gardener’s allies, eating vast quantities of harmful insects, slugs and other pests, at other times they can do untold damage to ripening crops, leaving you with little or none to enjoy, while in the winter they can ruin any chance of a fruit crop developing by pecking out the dormant blossom buds.
You might think that the obvious method of protection would be to spray fruit trees and bushes with some preparation that repels the birds without harming them, and which is also harmless to other wildlife and to humans. This approach, however, has not proved very rewarding, mainly because you have to make repeated applications of the repellent, as it is washed off by rain.
Time of risk
The birds may start pecking the buds of red and white currants as soon as late autumn, and may carry on doing so until mid-spring. The buds of Morello cherries, plums and gooseberries are at risk between late autumn and mid winter. The spines on the gooseberries offer a certain amount of natural protection, so, if you have a bird problem, it is wise to delay winter pruning until early spring or mid : >L: spring, even until after the first leaves rayon web consists of a mass of very have opened. This way the buds will be protected by the spines until they open.
The buds of pears are in danger from mid-winter to early spring, while apple and blackcurrant buds are most likely to be taken in early and mid-spring.
Protection with threads and webs Bushes and trees can be protected from the ravages of birds by ‘stringing’ them with ordinary black cotton. It is quite unnecessary to cover a bush with an impenetrable maze of threads; an occasional strand of cotton here and there will be blundered into by a bird sooner or later. The bird will subsequently give the spot a wide berth, as may any others that saw the event.
Do not use the nylon thread now widely sold. Unlike black cotton, which will break fairly readily, the nylon does not do so and can inflict distressing injuries on birds which fly into it.
Another possibility is to use the white rayon web which is sold in hanks specially for this purpose. This material consists of a mass of ultra-fine rayon threads which you tease out over the bush. This is not strong enough to trap the birds, but it scares them off most effectively. After a few months it rots, floating away on the breeze.
Rayon web can be used for protecting the buds of all fruits and to guard ripening tree fruits in summer. It is not such a good idea to use it for berry fruits because of the difficulty of separating the ripe berries from the very fine threads.
Protection with bags
When it comes to fruit-ripening time, small numbers of fruit can be protected individually by enclosing them in muslin or polythene bags. Muslin is better because it allows some ventilation; plastic bags should always have a few holes punctured in them to let in the air. Provided that these ventilation holes are not too large, muslin and polythene bags have the additional merit of safeguarding the fruit from wasps. Peaches, nectarines and gages are always worthy of this individual treatment.
Old nylon stockings and lengths of polythene sleeving (the latter punctured at intervals for ventilation) may also be used in a similar fashion and with some trees and bushes can be used to enclose whole branches of fruit. A small office stapler, of the type designed for clipping sheets of paper together, is a useful device for sealing the open ends of the stockings and sleeves.
Protection with netting
A 2.5 cm (1”) mesh netting is often sold for bird protection but the smaller birds will be able to pass through this. The smaller the mesh, the more expensive is the net, but 19 mm (1”) mesh will generally suffice.
Old-fashioned tarred cotton netting had the great disadvantage of rotting after exposure to the weather. Modern nylon netting is strong and rot-proof, but it does eventually deteriorate under the action of sunlight. However, it is cheap and very light and therefore ideally suited for temporary coverings. Bitumen-treated Terylene netting is the strongest and longest-wearing type and may be obtained in medium or heavy quality.
In the past, many gardeners used galvanized wire netting for their fruit cages. This was satisfactory (but expensive) for the sides, but if this netting was used for the roof, rain dripping through the netting could become chemically polluted by the zinc galvanizing coat and cause scorching of the foliage beneath.
Small fruit bushes, such as currants, can easily be given individual temporary protection by throwing a squareof • -. netting over each one, preferably large enough to peg down to the ground all round.
Wall trees are also easily protected temporarily by inserting two or more tall stakes or canes in front of the tree, along its full width, and then wrapping a piece of netting round these. Hold it right up against the wall or fence by sliding a cane vertically through the squares of the mesh on either side and driving each cane firmly into the ground close to the wall. The canes against the wall must be higher than the tree, but those at the front need not be, though they should be high enough for the sloping roof of the temporary cage to clear the tree.
Strawberry beds need protection only during their brief cropping season and it is usual to improvise a temporary netting cage for them. This need be only high enough to keep the netting clear of the plants, but it must be possible to remove or roll up the netting very easily, otherwise picking becomes extremely tedious.
It is possible to buy a simple but ingenious device for joining together the supporting framework of such temporary cages. This consists of a tough weather-resistant solid rubber ball, with six holes bored into it. To construct the framework, you simply insert the ends of metal rods or bamboo canes into the holes. One of these balls can be used at each corner of the cage supported on an upright cane and’ joining laterals, .
A great advantage of using these balls for the joints rather than lashing or otherwise fastening the ends of the rods or canes is that the netting will ride easily over their rounded surface. Where they are not used, it is a good idea to allow the upright supports to extend a few inches above the laterals and then invert a glass jam-jar on the top of each; this, too, will allow the netting to be drawn smoothly over the top without catching.
Bamboo canes are perfectly adequate for the cage framework, but you can make it more durable by using 13 mm (2”) diameter aluminium tubing which is sold for this purpose. This tubing is lightweight, virtually indestructible and free of all snags. You can buy it in various lengths from 60 cm (2’) to 2.4 m (8’).
Permanent fruit cages
If you grow all your fruit trees and bushes together on one plot (a system which has a number of advantages), it is worth erecting a permanent cage to cover the whole fruit-growing area.
It is possible to construct such a cage at home with a timber framework and using whatever materials are most cheaply available. However, you can build a far better and longer-lasting cage, which will be more efficient and neater in appearance, from purpose-made framework. Several netting manufacturers offer such framework, made of sturdy galvanized steel, aluminium allov or tubular steel with shrunk-on plastic covering.
It is a simple matter to assemble such cages and, with most makes, you do not even need a spanner. Because they are so easy to put up, they can equally easily be moved as required from one crop to another, or dismantled and stored when not in use. The metalwork should always be wiped dry before storing, and the netting should be kept in a dark, dry place.
Apart from ease of assembly, another great advantage of these metal-framed fruit cages is that you can buy them to cover any area, even an irregular-shaped one; the cage is simply tailored by the manufacturer to fit your plot.
When ordering a fruit cage, there are a few points you should specially note. Some designs incorporate a metal-framed door. This is a great convenience and time-saver when picking and attending to the fruit, but do make sure before ordering that the door will be wide enough to allow your wheelbarrow to pass through.
The alternative to a doorway is a slit in the netting’ with a generous overlap. Tapes or wires must be provided to keep the flap bird-proof.
The netting can be secured to the top, horizontal members of the roof with string or wire but the specially-made net hooks, available from most manufacturers, are far superior for this purpose. You should also secure the netting at ground level with ground pins. Most firms supply sufficient net hooks and ground pins free of charge when you order a fruit cage.
The cage should be high enough so that not only are your crops covered but there is also room for you to work among the fruit and harvest it without any likelihood of your head touching the roof.
Always remove the roof netting whenever there is no risk of the birds picking buds or fruit, so that they are able to carry on their invaluable work of eating harmful insects, grubs and eggs.
It is also vital to remove the roof netting during a heavy snowfall, otherwise the snow will quickly fill the spaces in the netting and then build up rapidly to a great weight. This may tear poorer-quality netting but if you have used good-quality netting, the weight of the snow is likely to bring down the whole structure, bending metal poles and breaking trees and bushes. This is the sort of disaster which must be avoided, although it leaves buds unprotected.
Protecting fruit from other damage As well as protecting your fruit from birds, a netting cage will prevent your crops being damaged as a result of children’s games, but it will not keep out rabbits and hares. Squirrels may be deterred but they can be remarkably cunning at lifting up the netting and scrambling underneath. In districts where rabbits or hares are a menace, either fence the whole garden or fruit plot with 1.2 m (4’) wide, 2.5 cm (1”) mesh wire-netting buried 30 cm (1’) deep in the ground and bent outwards at the bottom, or encase the bottom 1 m (3’) or so of each fruit tree with a perforated plastic rodent protector, or a cylinder of 2.5 cm (1”) mesh wire netting, which will also foil claw-sharpening cats.
Supporting fruit trees with stakes Unless trees are firmly supported immediately after planting, wind and frost will soon so loosen the roots before they have had a chance to secure a hold on thethat the tree is blown over by quite a light gale. Even if it is not blown over, an unstaked tree can suffer a severe setback. At best, a wind-rocked tree will be slow to re-establish itself because the roots have been deprived of their intimate contact with the soil particles. At worst, the soil around the base of the stem will be compacted by the rocking motion, rainwater will collect there and stagnate, and the tree may eventually die.
Standard and half-standard trees, infrequently planted in gardens these days, will eventually form roots deep and strong enough to provide a firm anchor; in their early years, however, they require particularly substantial support, because of the leverage exerted by the bushy top on its tall stem.
The safest method of supporting standards and half-standards is the double stake: before planting, drive two posts into the ground at least 45 cm (18”) apart, and tall enough to reach just below the lowest branch. Then screw or tie a strong crosspiece onto these near their tops and fasten the tree to that.
For bush trees, dwarf bushes and pyramids, the same double-post method can be used, and is best in very. This is not necessary on the average, reasonably-sheltered plot, ho-wever. Here, much shorter posts will suffice, as the lowest branch of a bush or pyramid is likely to be only 30-75 cm (1- 2-1/2’) above ground level.
Trees on weak-growing dwarfing rootstocks will never make deep and extensive root systems and so will need to be supported all their days; so, too, will bush trees growing in very light, sandy soil.
The most common method of sup-porting smaller trees is to drive in a single vertical post to which the stem can be fastened just below the lowest branch. To avoid root damage, all stakes should be inserted in the planting hole, before the tree itself is put in. If you were unable to do this, you should insert an oblique stake, driving it in at an angle of 45-60 , 45-60 cm (l-½ – 2’) from the trunk of the tree and pointing towards the prevailing wind. This should avoid any likelihood of root damage.
All stakes must be driven at least 45 cmOi’) mto the ground, or 60 cm (2’) on light soil. With plums and dwarf apples, it is a good idea, where a vertical stake is provided, to let it be as tall as the tree is likely to grow so that you can later fasten ropes or cords to the top branches and use them to support heavily-laden fruiting branches, maypole-fashion.
Choosing and treating stakes Substantial stakes of peeled chestnut are the best type, but larch, spruce or hardwood stakes are good and can often be obtained. Avoid the 2.5 cm (1”) square cedarwood stakes often seen in garden shops: they are not strong enough for the job of staking fruit trees.
You should always treat with a horticultural preservative the part of the stake which is to be buried in the ground, and also about 10 cm (4”) of the stake above ground level. The best stakes are those which have been pressure-treated commercially; you can buy these at good garden centres.
For home treatment, use either a copper-based proprietary preservative such as Cuprinol Green or a strong solution of copper sulphate. Never use creosote. The drawback of using copper sulphate is that you cannot keep it in a metal container.
The wood should be as dry as possible when you treat it. Merely painting the preservative on does not really achieve good enough penetration; soaking for a week is preferable, if you can find or make a deep enough container. One idea is to fill one end of an old drainpipe with concrete, to form a solid base, and then line the pipe with polythene sheeting. This home-made container will hold a sufficient depth of preservative to treat the lower part of the stake.
Fastening the tree to the stake When fastening the tree to its stake you must be careful to prevent any chafing between stem and stake and any biting into the bark by sharp wire or other binding material. Wrap the stem of the tree with hessian or other soft material to provide a buffer between tree and stake. The latter can be improvised with a stripe of old motor tyre, or by tying the fastening cord at right angles between tree and stake.
Better than home-improvised materials are the proprietary plastic tree-ties made specially for the purpose.
These ties incorporate a buffer and fasten with a buckle, which can be adjusted later as the tree grows.
You should inspect all stakes regularly during the month after planting to see that the action of frost has not loosened the soil. Tread firm as necessary and make sure that soil settlement has not left the tree suspended by its tie.
Supporting trees on wires For wall trees, you can plug the wall, if it is made of brick, and insert screw-type vine eyes to hold the wire in place; alternatively, erect posts close to the wall into which you can screw cup-hooks or vine eyes. Use galvanized wire of at least 2.50 mm gauge (gauge 12), and at the end of each horizontal wire insert an adjustable fence strainer (straining bolt), which you can buy from ironmongers or builders merchants.
For free-standing trees, the top wire should be at least 3.15 mm gauge (gauge 10), and the end posts will require diagonal braces with their lower ends well buried in the ground and bedded firmly against a brick.
For cordons provide three wires, the lowest 60 cm (2’) above ground level and others at 60 cm (2’) intervals. For raspberries you can provide three single wires, to which you then tie the canes. This is the best method, particularly in exposed, windy gardens. Alternatively, provide two rows of double parallel wires between which the canes will grow.
Fruit on trellises
Ready-made trellis constructed of plaster laths used to be the most favoured type, and it can still be purchased or made up at home by the handyman. Today, however, plastic-covered wire trellis is most popular and this, in differing sizes and patterns, can be bought in panels at most garden shops or centres. This plastic-covered trellis-work has the merits of being weatherproof, and light and easy to erect.
The trellis-work can provide adequate support only if it is itself adequately supported. Fastening screws are provided with the ready-made plastic-coated panels and these may be screwed directly into woodwork. Brick walls must have plugs inserted in the mortar joints to provide a firm housing for the screws. Substantial posts with strong horizontal joining pieces will be necessary to support a free-standing trellis.
A herb that is a vegetable Grow this hardy perennial herb for its-like leaves to use fresh in salads or made into a classic sorrel soup.
Garden or French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) belongs to the POLYGONACEAE family, and it is a close relative of. Common or wild sorrel (R. acetosa) is also grown for culinary use; it is native to the British Isles and, hence, does very well in a cool, temperate climate. French sorrel is the one to be preferred for cultivation; its fleshy, shield-shaped leaves have the best flavour, and it reaches about 30 cm (1’) high. Common sorrel is a larger plant, growing to about 90 cm (3’) tall, with oblong leaves which are less well flavoured.
It is better to include sorrel in your vegetable garden, rather than in your herb garden. You will want to encourage a lush and rapid growth of the leaves, so a moderately rich and moist soil, containing nitrates in particular, is essential. A good site is one recently vacated byor beans, since these leguminous plants leave nitrogen behind in the soil. Alternatively, you can dig in well-rotted farmyard manure or poultry manure to provide sufficient nitrogen. Sunny or shady sites are equally suitable.
Sorrel is very much like spinach in that it reduces considerably in cooking; hence, quite large quantities of leaves are required each time you cook it. For an average family, it is a good idea to allow enough room for at least 20 plants—say, two 3 m (10’) rows—if you plan to use a lot of it. Or you can put in just a few sorrel plants to use the leaves for salads and garnishing.
Sow the seed thinly in shallow drills in late spring. Once theappear, keep the rows well watered and well weeded. When they are large enough to handle, start to thin until they have a final spacing of 38 cm (15”); you can transplant the thinnings if desired. The plants will require frequent watering, particularly if the weather is dry. If growth is slow, an application of liquid manure will stimulate the formation of leaves. Soak the roots with this once a week, after watering them beforehand.
Once sorrel plants are established, they form a leafywhich keeps down . Continue to water well. Leaves should be ready for gathering from mid-summer onwards; regular harvesting is necessary to promote further growth. Gather leaves from the outside of the plants, and never strip any one plant of all its leaves at once.
Sorrel has a tendency to spread in the garden and must be kept strictly to its own quarters. It will become a nuisance if the flower heads are allowed to develop and disperse seeds, as the seeds germinate readily. Pinch off the flower buds when they appear in mid- to late summer to prevent this and to encourage leaf production. The pale pink-green flowers are very pretty, and the buds can be dried and used in floral arrangements. If you wish to increase your stock, the seeds should be allowed to form and can be sown in early spring. French sorrel, however, is best increased by division of the plants in autumn.
The plants will die down in the autumn, and growth will resume early the following spring. Overwinter protection is not necessary. Harvesting can begin again when the plants are in full growth.